By John Lawrence
The Donald just doesn’t know how to back up his statement with the actual facts, that’s all. Richard Clarke, the CIA’s National Coordinator for Counterterrorism, was running around with his hair on fire trying to get George W Bush to listen to him about the imminence of an attack by bin Ladin.
Bush blew him off and then demoted him so that he didn’t report directly to the President as he had under the Clinton and George H W Bush administrations. Now he had to go through Condoleeza Rice and her deputy who also blew him off. Bush simply was not interested in terrorism; he was only interested in getting the goods on Saddam so he would have some kind of rationale for invading Iraq. He wanted to invade Iraq the worst way so he went about manufacturing evidence that would justify his doing so. In the meantime, he totally ignored terrorism and the advice he should have heeded about an imminent attack.
In his memoir, Against All Enemies, Clarke wrote that Condoleezza Rice made a decision that the position of National Coordinator for Counterterrorism should be downgraded. By demoting the office, the Administration sent a signal through the national security bureaucracy about the importance they assigned to terrorism. Instead of Clarke reporting directly to the President, he would now report to National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice and her deputy Stephen Hadley, and they were hardly interested which reflected their boss’s malign neglect.
At the first Deputies Committee meeting on Terrorism held in April 2001, Clarke suggested that the U.S. target bin Laden and his leadership by reinitiating flights of the MQ-1 Predators and take other measures against terrorists. To these suggestions Deputy Secretary of Defense and neocon Paul Wolfowitz responded, “Well, I just don’t understand why we are beginning by talking about this one man bin Laden.” Clarke replied that he was talking about bin Laden and al Qaeda because it posed “an immediate and serious threat to the United States.”
According to Clarke, Wolfowitz turned to him and said, “You give bin Laden too much credit. He could not do all these things like the 1993 attack on New York, not without a state sponsor. Just because FBI and CIA have failed to find the linkages does not mean they don’t exist.”
The 9-11 Commission turned up the following facts about the days leading up to the 9/11 attacks.
On June 25, Clarke warned Rice and Hadley that six separate intelligence reports showed al Qaeda personnel warning of a pending attack. An Arabic television station reported bin Laden’s pleasure with al Qaeda leaders who were saying that the next weeks “will witness important surprises” and that U.S. and Israeli interests will be targeted. Al Qaeda also released a new recruitment and fund-raising tape.
Clarke wrote that this was all too sophisticated to be merely a psychological operation to keep the United States on edge, and the CIA agreed. The intelligence reporting consistently described the upcoming attacks as occurring on a calamitous level, indicating that they would cause the world to be in turmoil and that they would consist of possible multiple – but not necessarily simultaneous – attacks.
On June 28, Clarke wrote Rice that the pattern of al Qaeda activity indicating attack planning over the past six weeks “had reached a crescendo. A series of new reports continue to convince me and analysts at State, CIA, DIA [Defense Intelligence Agency], and NSA that a major terrorist attack or series of attacks is likely in July,” he noted.
One al Qaeda intelligence report warned that something “very, very, very, very” big was about to happen, and most of bin Laden’s network was reportedly anticipating the attack. In late June, the CIA ordered all its station chiefs to share information on al Qaeda with their host governments and to push for immediate disruptions of cells.
Bin Laden Determined to Attack Inside the United States
The headline of a June 30 briefing to top officials was stark: “Bin Ladin Planning High-Profile Attacks.” The report stated that bin Laden operatives expected near-term attacks to have dramatic consequences of catastrophic proportions. That same day, Saudi Arabia declared its highest level of terror alert. Despite evidence of delays possibly caused by heightened U.S. security, the planning for attacks was continuing.
At a July 5, 2001, White House gathering of the FAA, the Coast Guard, the FBI, Secret Service and INS, Clarke stated that “something really spectacular is going to happen here, and it’s going to happen soon.”
Clarke wrote that in the summer of 2001, the intelligence community was convinced of an imminent attack by al Qaeda, but could not get the attention of the highest levels of the Bush administration, most famously writing that Director of the CIA George Tenet was running around with his “hair on fire”.
On Aug. 6, 2001, President George W. Bush received a classified review of the threats posed by Osama bin Laden and his terrorist network, al Qaeda. That morning’s “presidential daily brief” — the top-secret document prepared by America’s intelligence agencies — featured the now-infamous heading: Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S. The brief warned of terrorism threats from bin Ladin and al Qaeda 36 days before the September 11, 2001 attacks.
The most controversial incident in Against All Enemies deals with the president’s eagerness to link the Sept. 11 attacks to Iraq, and comes on the night of Sept. 12. Clarke writes that he saw Bush wandering alone through the Situation Room. The president then stopped and asked Clarke and a few aides to ”go back over everything, everything. See if Saddam did this.”
Clarke said he was ”taken aback, incredulous.” He told the president, ”Al Qaeda did this.”
”I know, I know, but . . . see if Saddam was involved. Just look. I want to know any shred. . . .” After the president left, one of Clarke’s aides said, ”Wolfowitz got to him.”
Clarke and his communications with the Bush administration regarding bin Laden and associated terrorist plots targeting the United States were mentioned frequently in Condoleezza Rice‘s public interview by the 9/11 investigatory commission on April 8, 2004. Of particular significance was a memo from January 25, 2001, that Clarke had authored and sent to her. Along with making an urgent request for a meeting of the National Security Council’s Principals Committee to discuss the growing al Qaeda threat in the greater Middle East, the memo also suggests strategies for combating al-Qaeda that might be adopted by the new Bush administration.
Within a week of the inauguration, I wrote to Rice and Hadley asking ‘urgently’ for a Principals, or Cabinet-level, meeting to review the imminent Al-Qaeda threat. Rice told me that the Principals Committee, which had been the first venue for terrorism policy discussions in the Clinton administration, would not address the issue until it had been ‘framed’ by the Deputies.
Clarke Testifies “Your Government Failed You”
On March 24, 2004, Clarke testified at the public 9/11 Commission hearings. At the outset of his testimony Clarke offered an apology to the families of 9/11 victims and an acknowledgment that the government had failed:
“I also welcome the hearings because it is finally a forum where I can apologize to the loved ones of the victims of 9/11…To the loved ones of the victims of 9/11, to them who are here in this room, to those who are watching on television, your government failed you. Those entrusted with protecting you failed you. And I failed you. We tried hard, but that doesn’t matter because we failed. And for that failure, I would ask, once all the facts are out, for your understanding and for your forgiveness.”
Many of the events Clarke recounted during the hearings were also published in his memoir. Clarke charged that before and during the 9/11 crisis, many in the Administration were distracted from efforts against Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda organization by a pre-occupation with Iraq and Saddam Hussein. Clarke had written that on September 12, 2001, President Bush pulled him and a couple of aides aside and “testily” asked him to try to find evidence that Saddam was connected to the terrorist attacks.
In response, he wrote a report stating there was no evidence of Iraqi involvement and got it signed by all relevant agencies, including the FBI and the CIA. The paper was quickly returned by a deputy with a note saying “Please update and resubmit.” After initially denying that such a meeting between the President and Clarke took place, the White House later reversed its denial when others present backed Clarke’s version of the events.
Bush blew Clarke off because he was only concerned about “getting the goods” on Saddam. He was reaching for any tidbit of information that would make it feasible for him to invade Iraq. Bush desperately wanted to be a “wartime President” so he totally ignored the threat of terrorism.
According to Bush’s ghostwriter Mickey Herskowitz, Bush had been obsessing over invading Iraq since 1999. He told Herskowitz, “One of the keys to being seen as a great leader is to be seen as a commander-in-chief. My father had all this political capital built up when he drove the Iraqis out of Kuwait and he wasted it. If I have a chance to invade … if I had that much capital, I’m not going to waste it. I’m going to get everything passed that I want to get passed and I’m going to have a successful presidency.”
The Donald may be ignorant of the actual history involved here but somehow he has stumbled upon the truth much to the chagrin of Jeb Bush, his erstwhile adversary in the Republican circus of primary politics. Furthermore, the Donald may actually be right about two things: he’s with Bernie on taxing the hedge fund managers and their despicable tax dodge called “carried interest.”