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Richard A. Clarke

Richard Clarke was a careerist; he had held high-level posts in the administrations of three Presidents -- Reagan, Bush (41), and Clinton -- before George W Bush came to Washington. And for whatever reason, Dubya chose to keep Clarke on as Terrorism Czar.

In mid-August of 2002, following a scathing piece in TIME magazine about the Bush administration's pathetic antiterrorism record prior to 9-11, the White House instructed adviser Richard Clarke to rebut the allegations in an off-the-record background briefing for a handful of favorite journalists. Which he did.

Clarke assured the reporters that the Bush administration had paid close attention to antiterrorism efforts during the eight months leading up to 9-11. He basically told them:

  • There was no detailed antiterrorism plan that the Clinton administration furnished to their successors. And what initiatives did exist only aimed to roll back Al Qaeda over the next five years.

  • The incoming Bush administration was briefed on the standing policies as well as a series of unresolved issues which had languished for the past couple of years. Consequently, in late January 2001 the Bush administration decided:

    1. Vigorously pursue the Clinton policy, including the lethal covert action efforts.

    2. Begin looking at those unresolved policy issues and start making some decisions.

  • They began that process in the spring, during which time they decided to build on the existing Clinton strategy and to increase the CIA's covert action funding five-fold to go after Al Qaeda.

  • In late March/early April, various cabinet deputies arrived and began working out the implementation details, and reporting their progress to the relevant senior officials. This process continued all summer.

  • Finally, the senior officials held a meeting at the end of the summer, during which they approved the new antiterrorism strategy, aiming for the rapid elimination of Al Qaeda. They authorized the five-fold increase in CIA funding for combatting Al Qaeda. The strategy also involved policy changes on Pakistan, Uzbekistan, and assisting the Northern Alliance.

The Largely-worthless Clinton Plan

21 Mar 2004 In a guest commentary for The Washington Post, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice asserts: "No al Qaida plan was turned over to the new administration."
22 Mar 2004 On the Today show, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice declares: "The list of ideas that he gave us were several -- several of which, by the way, we took up -- but most of which had been already tried or rejected in the Clinton administration."
23 Mar 2004 Richard Clarke tells CNN: "It's counterfactual. We presented the plan to her, told her the plan, told her the strategy. We presented it to her before she was even sworn into office. There are lots of witnesses."
24 Mar 2004 On the NBC Nightly News, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice tells Tom Brokaw: "He sent us a set of ideas that would perhaps help to roll back al Qaeda over a three-to-five-year period. We acted on those ideas very quickly... the administration was pursuing all of the avenues that the Clinton administration had been pursuing before."
28 Mar 2004 On 60 Minutes, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice tells Ed Bradley: "I would like very much to know what more could have been done, given that it was an urgent problem. We were looking for a more comprehensive plan to eliminate al Qaeda. But we weren't sitting still while that plan was developing. We were continuing to pursue the policies that the Clinton administration had pursued."

The Disputed September 12th Meeting

In his book Against All Enemies, Clarke recounts an impromptu meeting with the President the next night after the Pentagon/World Trade Center attacks:

"Later, on the evening of the 12th, I left the Video Conferencing Center and there, wandering alone around the Situation Room, was the President. He looked like he wanted something to do. He grabbed a few of us and closed the door to the conference room.

"Look," he told us, "I know you have a lot to do and all ...but I want you, as soon as you can, to go back over everything, everything. See if Saddam did this. See if he's linked in any way."

I was once again taken aback, incredulous, and it showed. "But, Mr. President, al Qaeda did this."

"I know, I know, but ... see if Saddam was involved. Just look. I want to know any shred."

"Absolutely, we will look ...again." I was trying to be more respectful, more responsive. "But, you know, we have looked several times for state sponsorship of al Qaeda and not found any real linkages to Iraq. Iran plays a little, as does Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia, Yemen."

"Look into Iraq, Saddam," the President said testily and left us. Lisa Gordon-Hagerty (from the Office of Emergency Response) stared after him with her mouth hanging open.

The implication of Clarke's story is that President Bush was hoping to pin some of the responsibility on Saddam to help justify invading Iraq. Eager to dispute this account, Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen A. Hadley essentially called Richard Clarke a liar on the March 21, 2004 episode of 60 Minutes.

60 MINUTES: Okay, now we go up to 9/11, we've had the tragic attack. Dick Clarke says that one day later, 9/12, the President pulls him aside and says, I want you to go find this link between 9/11 and Iraq. And according to the book, Dick Clarke says, there isn't a link. And the President, in effect, says, go out, look again and find one.
HADLEY: Well, we've tried to find evidence of an incident that would meet the description of Mr. Clarke and so far, quite frankly, I haven't seen it. Let me put in --
60 MINUTES: Well, it was just a communication between the two, according to the book.
HADLEY: I'm not sure that that happened.
[...]
HADLEY: We cannot find evidence that this conversation between Mr. Clarke and the President ever occurred.
60 MINUTES: Now can I interrupt you for one second? We have done our own work on that, ourselves. And we have two sources who tell us, independently of Dick Clarke, that there was this encounter. One of them was an actual witness.
HADLEY: I stand on what I said. A notion that the President met with Mr. Clarke in the Situation Room on September 12th, I just can't confirm that by what we know about the President's movements that night.

Despite 60 Minutes' alleged witness, the White House stuck to their guns. Press secretary Scott McClellan repeated the charge the very next day, telling the press corps: "There's no record of the President being in the Situation Room on that day that it was alleged to have happened, on the day of September the 12th. When the President is in the Situation Room, we keep track of that... He doesn't have any recollection of it, and, again, it purportedly took place in the Situation Room. There's no record to indicate that happened."

Later that same week, the White House finally conceded that Clarke probably had in fact met with Bush on September 12th, just as he said. So much for those infalliblity of that Situation Room sign-in sheet.

22 Mar 2004 Richard Clarke describes the September 12th Situation Room meeting to The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer: "What happened was: the President, with his finger in my face, saying, 'Iraq, a memo on Iraq and al-Qaeda, a memo on Iraq and the attacks.' Very vigorous, very intimidating, and in a way that left all of us with the same impression -- that he wanted that answer. Well, we couldn't give him that answer because it wasn't true."
22 Mar 2004 White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan asserts: "There's no record of the President being in the Situation Room on that day that it was alleged to have happened, on the day of September the 12th. When the President is in the Situation Room, we keep track of that... He doesn't have any recollection of it, and, again, it purportedly took place in the Situation Room. There's no record to indicate that happened."
26 Mar 2004 Responding to the eyewitnesses Richard Clarke named to the alleged meeting in the Situation Room on September 12th, White House officials finally admit: "We are not denying such a meeting took place. It probably did."

Out of the Loop

22 Mar 2004 National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice tells Good Morning America: "Dick Clarke just does not know what he is talking about. He wasn't involved in most of the meetings of the Administration."
22 Mar 2004 National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice tells ABC World News Tonight: "Dick Clarke just doesn't know what he's talking about. He wasn't involved in most of the meetings in the Administration."
22 Mar 2004 In a telephone interview, Vice President Dick Cheney tells Rush Limbaugh: "Well, he wasn't -- he wasn't in the loop, frankly, on a lot of this stuff... I suppose he may have a grudge to bear there since he probably wanted a more prominent position than she was prepared to give him."


Timeline

1951 Richard A. Clarke born to Isabella M. Clarke in Dorchester, Massachusetts.
1969 Richard Clarke graduates from Boston Latin School.
24 Jan 2001 Richard Clarke requests in writing a meeting with Condoleezza Rice and other principals to discuss the Al Qaeda threat.
25 Jan 2001 Richard Clarke memo to Condoleezza Rice.
7 Mar 2001 Richard Clarke conducts the Bush administration's first anti-terrorism meeting with NSC Deputies.
4 Sep 2001 NSC Principals finally hold the meeting Clarke requested seven months prior.
Aug 2002 Richard Clarke gives a backgrounder briefing to Fox News and other outlets on the Bush administration's counterterrorism efforts.
Feb 2003 Richard Clarke resigns from public office.
Oct 2003 Former adviser Richard Clarke submits the final draft of his book to the White House for a routine security review.
Feb 2004 The White House approves Richard Clarke's book for publication.
21 Mar 2004 Richard Clarke tells 60 Minutes: "Frankly, I find it outrageous that the President is running for re-election on the grounds that he's done such great things about terrorism. He ignored it. He ignored terrorism for months, when maybe we could have done something to stop 9/11. Maybe. We'll never know... I think he's done a terrible job on the war against terrorism."
22 Mar 2004 National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice tells CNN: "I really don't know what Richard Clarke's motivations are, but I'll tell you this: Richard Clarke had plenty of opportunities to tell us in the administration that he thought the war on terrorism was moving in the wrong direction, and he chose not to."
22 Mar 2004 In a vain attempt to own the soundbite, White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan quips: "This is Dick Clarke's 'American Grandstand.' He just keeps changing the tune."
22 Mar 2004 On Hardball with Chris Matthews, Deputy National Security Adviser for Communications Jim Wilkinson declares: "If you read the book, Clarke also talks about his belief that bin Laden may be somewhere chanting and exerting mind control over American leaders. This is really some strange stuff -- X-Files-type stuff -- that we're seeing in some of these writings."
22 Mar 2004 On CNN Wolf Blitzer Reports, Deputy National Security Adviser for Communications Jim Wilkinson declares: "If you look in this book you find interesting things, such as reported in the Washington Post this morning. He's talking about how he sits back and visualizes chanting by bin Laden and bin Laden has a mystical mind control over U.S. officials. This is sort of X-Files stuff."
24 Mar 2004 Two hours before Richard Clarke's scheduled testimony before the 9-11 Commission, Fox News releases a transcript of Clarke's press backgrounder from August 2002. The document had been declassified by the White House earlier that morning.
24 Mar 2004 White House counsel Alberto R. Gonzales phones 9-11 Commission member Fred F. Fielding and possibly commission member James R. Thompson (both Republicans) prior to Richard Clarke's scheduled testimony. The content of those conversations has yet to be divulged.
24 Mar 2004 Richard Clarke testifies publicly, under oath, before the 9-11 Commission. His testimony lasts 2 1/2 hours.
25 Mar 2004 On CNN's Crossfire, Robert Novak provokes Congressman Rahm Emanuel:
NOVAK: Congressman, do you believe -- you're a sophisticated guy -- do you believe, watching these hearings, that Dick Clarke has a problem with this African-American woman Condoleezza Rice?
EMANUEL: Say that again?
NOVAK: Do you believe that Dick Clarke has a problem with this African-American woman Condoleezza Rice?
EMANUEL: No, no. Bob, give me a break. No. No.
25 Mar 2004 Condoleezza Rice tells White House reporters: "Frankly, when Dick Clarke is asked which of his stories is he going to stand by, I think it will be very obvious to the American people that there's a real problem in saying the things that he's said about the President of the United States on 60 Minutes, when he's got a record of having said something very different just a little while ago."
30 Mar 2004 Former White House antiterrorism czar Richard Clarke appears on The Daily Show to shill his book.
31 Mar 2004 White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan opines: "I think most Americans view Dick Clarke and his contradictions as yesterday's story."


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