April 04, 2004

The Clarke-Keller Cycle

You'd think Bill Keller and Richard Clarke have been spending a lot of quality time together recently.

Consider today's New York Times.

A prominently featured article with the catchy title: "Uneven Response Seen on Terror in Summer of 2001." (There's even an accompanying graphic called, you guessed it, "A Stream of Threats." One wonders how significantly more voluminous such a graphic would have been for the '93-'00 period?).

Then this beaut from Elisabeth Bumiller:

"It is not a cliche to say that on Thursday, when Ms. Rice publicly testifies to the commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks, she will have to turn in a show-stopping performance as the woman on whose shoulders the credibility of the Bush administration now rests."

Translation: The Bush Administration's credibility, post-Clarke revelations, is in tatters.

I mean, if that's what W. 43rd St. feels, shouldn't we all?

But the Times has more on tap this Sunday.

There's MaDo's predictable two cents, of course:

"The Bushies are busy putting a retroactive glow on their terrorism efforts, asserting that their plan was more muscular and "comprehensive" than Mr. Clinton's. To support that Panglossian view, they held back a load of Clinton documents on terrorism from the 9/11 commission."

Finally, the Times (so helpfully) opens up its op-ed page to fifteen questions for Condi Rice per her impending testimony before the 9/11 commission.

Terrorism expert Peter Bergen has nine Qs.

And Scott Armstrong has another six.

Since we're all so busy asking questions, I thought I'd get into the game as well.

Instead of queries for Condi Rice, however, I've got a few for Richard Clarke. Twenty in fact (five more than the Times gears up for Condi!)

So here goes.

Twenty Questions for Richard Clarke

1) On page 134 of your Against All Enemies, you write: "(b)y 1997, the two hostile intelligence services had been checkmated by our bombing of Iraq's service headquarters, and by the intelligence operation against Iran."

But on page 284 of the same book, you write: "(w)hile the 'ties' and 'links' between al Qaeda were minimal, al Qaeda regularly used Iranian territory for transit and sanctuary prior to September 11th."

And later on the same page, you write: "Any objective observer looking at the evidence in 2002 and 2003 would have said that the U.S. should spend more time and attention dealing with the security threats from Teheran than those from Baghdad."

My question is, therefore, how then can we seriously take your claim that Iran was "checkmated" back in 1997?

Or Iraq, for that matter--as your estimation of the Iran threat appears erroneous.

2) On page 84, you say that the October 1993 Battle of Mogadishu may have involved an "al Qaeda role in an attack on Americans."

Later, President Clinton is quoted as saying to you: "I want us running this, not the State Department or the Pentagon. No more U.S. troops get killed, none. Do what you have to do, whatever you have to do."

Given that al Qaeda had been sending advisers to Somali warlord Aideed and may have been involved in the shootdown of U.S. helicopters, and given Clinton's casualty-averse posture regarding Somalia, do you believe that Clinton signalled U.S. weakness to al-Qaeda?

3) Related to number 2 above, you write that, al-Qaeda had indeed perceived a U.S.' cut and run' from Somalia. You ask: "Was Clinton right not to respond with some large-scale retaliation to the murder of eighteen U.S. commandos? "I was not sure then and I am not sure now."

Have you now been able to give this matter further thought? Do you have more concrete views on the matter?

4) You express frustration in your book about how, if the "NSC was going to coordinate counterterrorism policy and keep the President informed about what needed to be done, we needed to know what the FBI knew."

To that end, you describe a meeting between then NSC advisor Tony Lake and then AG Janet Reno to enhance inter-agency cooperation. You quote Reno as saying: "If it's terrorism that involves foreign powers or groups, or if it could be, the Bureau [FBI] will tell a few senior NSC officials what it knows."

You then write: "Lake and Reno agreed to sign a Memorandum of Understanding ("MOU") enshrining that principle. They never did. FBI and Justice Department lawyers slow-rolled the document for years."

You then complain that, usually, "the FBI acted like Lake-Reno was a resort in Nevada."

Question: If President Clinton had exerted his direct authority on FBI and DOJ lawyers, signalling that effectuation of this MOU was a real, personal priority for him, might the "slow-rolling" have been overcome?

Might this have had a material impact on the effectiveness of the Clinton Administration's handling of al-Qaeda through the 1990s?

5) You write that, in September of 1996, Clinton "formally requested $1.097 billion for counter-terrorism related activities."

Why did it take the Clinton Adminstration three years to make such a funding request if terrorism was treated, as you have said, as an "extraordinarily high priority" by the Clinton team?

6) On page 131 of your book, you write:

"The Secret Service and Customs had teamed up in Atlanta to provide some rudimentary air defense against an aircraft flying into the Olympic Stadium. They did so again during the subsequent National Security Special Events and they agreed to create a permanent air defense unit to protect Washington. Unfortunately, those two federal law enforcement agencies were housed in the Treasury Department and its leadership did not want to pay for such a mission or run the liability risks of shooting down the wrong aircraft. Treasury nixed the air defense unit, and my attempts within the White House to overfule them came to naught."

Can you please detail your efforts to gain approval, within the White House, for an air defense unit?

Was it "nixed" by someone there too? Or merely ignored?

Why, exactly, did your efforts come to "naught"?

7) On page 145, you write:

"Whether it was catching war criminals in Yugoslavia or terrorists in Africa and the Middle East, it was the same story. The White House wanted action. The senior military did not and made it almost impossible for the President to overcome their objections."

Mr. Clarke, who is the Commander in Chief of the United States Armed Forces?

Who has the ultimate authority to order the military to engage in "snatch" operations, whether in the environs of Pale or Kandahar?

8) On p. 146 of your book, you write:

"EMPTA is a compound that had been used as a prime ingredient in Iraqi nerve gas. It had no other known use, nor had any other nation employed EMPTA to our knowledge for any purpose. What was an Iraqi chemical weapons agent doing in Sudan? UNSCOM and other U.S. governement sources had claimed that the Iraqis werre working on something at a facility near Shifa. Could Sudan, using bin Laden's money, have hired some Iraqis to make chemical weapons? It seemed chillingly possible."

Mr. Clarke, please see question Number 1 above.

I thought Iraq, post our pin-prick Saturday night attack on their intelligence headquarters in 1993, had been decisively "checkmated"?

Why then, fully five years later, were you worried that Iraqi intelligence might be supplying Sudan with chemical agent?

9) You describe Muhammad jamal Khalifa, as "one of bin Laden's brothers-in-law, Muhammad Jamal Khalifa, [who] moved money to terrorist groups like the bag carrier in the 1950s television show The Millionaire."

You then go on to say that DOJ couldn't "generate an indictment" against him.

Were you concerned, at any point during your service during the Clinton Administration, that our approach towards al-Qaeda was too timid and legalistic?

10) At p. 149 of Against All Enemies, you describe a prospective operation you and George Tenet vetoed against al-Qaeda targets in Afghanistan circa 1997.

While you make a fair point that the operation was risky and might have resulted in "getting all our our Afghan assets killed for nothing," do you, in hindsight, believe we may have missed an opportunity to kill UBL?

Do you sometimes regret that we didn't pursue that operation--despite the risks?

11) When, also in 1997, you say we "had no other option available" but to request the Emir of Qatar's authority to "snatch" al-Qaeda terrorist Khalid Sheik Muhammad (the mastermind of 9/11), and that someone in Qatar promptly leaked to KSM the existence of the operation, allowing him to escape--is it really true "we had no other option" but to tell the Emir?

Put differently, couldn't we have pursued a snatch operation without the approval of the Emir?

What impact, if any, might a successful snatch operation against KSM have had on the 9/11 plot?

12) On p. 170 of your book, you complain:

"Some czar...I now had the appearance of responsibilty for counterterrorism, but none of the tools or authority to get the job done."

But wasn't the Clinton Admistration treating counterrorism as an "extraordinarily high" priority?

How does this jive with your description of your limited powers as the terror czar?

13) On p. 171 of your book you described how the Clinton Administration had a week-long series of "Theme Days" with "show and tells" about Clinton's budget priorities.

On the counterterrorism "theme" day, when you were invited to brief the President, you say he "chose to discuss the problems facing his cousin, a woman who administered public housing in Arkansas."

Do you think your counter-terror "theme" got the proper kick-off it merited within the Beltway?

14) On p. 185 of your book, you write:

"We had been dealing with al Qaeda as one of several terrorist threats. Now [after the East Africa 1998 Embassy bombings], I hoped we would gain interagency agreement that destroying al Qaeda was one of our top national security objectives, and an urgent one."

Why did it take until 1998 for the Clinton Administration to even consider treating al Qaeda as "one" of the most urgent national security priorities facing the U.S. (particularly given previous al-Qaeda terrorist actions against U.S. targets through the early 90's)?

15) Mr. Clarke, you devote an entire chapter to the "Millennium Alert."

Wasn't our cracking the LAX plot simply a result of amazingly good luck, resulting from the fact that Customs Agent Diana Dean apprehended Ahmed Ressam coming in to Washington State on a ferry from British Columbia, rather than a result of comprehensive Clinton Administration anti-terror measures?

16) Did Bill Clinton read Against All Enemies before it was published?

If not, Mr. Clarke, how did you source this passage from your book at p. 225?

"Why was Clinton so worked up about al Qaeda and why did he talk to President-elect Bush about it..."

17) You write: "Any leader whom one can imagine as President on September 11 would have declared a 'war on terrorism' and would have ended the Afghan sanctuary by invading....Exactly what did George Bush do after September 11 that any other President one can imagine wouldn't have done after such attacks?

But how can you be so certain that a President Al Gore would have held the Taliban (as the government of a 'terror state' harboring al-Qaeda--a key innovation of the Bush doctrine) as culpable as al-Qaeda themselves?

Therefore, how can you be so sure "any leader one can imagine as President" would have effectively "ended the Afghan sanctuary"?

18) On p. 267, you write:

"Never did I think the Iraqi chemical or biological weapons were an imminent threat to the United States in 2002."

Who exactly in the Bush Administration did say that the threat was "imminent", per se?

19) You write:

"When Prime Ministers wonder in the future if they should risk domestic opposition to support us, they will reflect on Tony Blair in the UK and how he lost popularity and credibility by allying himself so closely withi the U.S. administration and its claims."

How can you be so sure future political leaders around the world will view Tony Blair's legacy per your analysis? Will some, instead, be impressed by his consistently strong conviction in the face of domestic opposition?

And finally,

20) You write, at p. 283:

"Indeed, because the U.S. apparently believes in imposing its ideology though the violence of war, many in the Arab world wonder how the United States can criticize the fundamentalists who also seek to impose their ideology through violence."

Mr. Clarke, do you view America's current prosecution of the global war on terror as analogous to Islamic fundamentalist terror?

Put differently, do you agree with the "many in the Arab world" you purport to opine for above?

UPDATE: Tom Maguire writes in with an "addendum" to question No. 6 above:

"What steps were taken from 1996 to January 2001, when no subject had a higher priority than terrorism, to prevent such hijackings? Did the Clinton Administration implement measure(s) such as stronger cockpit doors? And for years, the standard advice had been to cooperate with hijackers - was this modified after 1996? What procedures did the government adopt to address this new tactic?

Finally, it has been reported in the Times that you, Richard Clarke, chaired the July 5, 2001 meeting intended to coordinate our domestic response to the enhanced terrorist "chatter". At that meeting, which you chaired, did you advise the FAA of the possibility that hijacked planes might be used as missiles? Is the Times in error when it reports that the FAA released a bulletin advising of an increased risk of hijackings intended to release prisoners? Did the FAA have in place procedures and policies to deal with the hijack/missile scenario, and if not, why not?"

Good questions all. Thanks Tom.

Posted by Gregory at April 4, 2004 10:00 AM
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