Skip to comments.NEWSWEEK: Before 9/11, Justice Department Curtailed Program to Monitor Al Qaeda Suspects in the U.S.
Posted on 03/21/2004 8:03:29 AM PST by Brian Mosely
NEWSWEEK: In the Months Before 9/11, Justice Department Curtailed Highly Classified Program to Monitor Al Qaeda Suspects in the U.S.
Sunday March 21, 10:51 am ET
Richard Clarke, former counterterrorism chief of the national-security staff, tells Newsweek that at an April 2001 top-level meeting to discuss terrorism, his effort to focus on Al Qaeda was rebuffed by Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz. According to Clarke, Wolfowitz said, "Who cares about a little terrorist in Afghanistan?" The real threat, Wolfowitz insisted, was state-sponsored terrorism orchestrated by Saddam Hussein.
In the meeting, says Clarke, Wolfowitz cited the writings of Laurie Mylroie, a controversial academic who had written a book advancing an elaborate conspiracy theory that Saddam was behind the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. Clarke says he tried to refute Wolfowitz. "We've investigated that five ways to Friday, and nobody [in the government] believes that," Clarke recalls saying. "It was Al Qaeda. It wasn't Saddam." A spokesman for Wolfowitz describes Clarke's account as a "fabrication." Wolfowitz always regarded Al Qaeda as "a major threat," says this official.
Clarke tells Newsweek that the day after 9/11, President Bush wanted the FBI and CIA to hunt for any evidence that pointed to Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein. Clarke recalls that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was also looking for a justification to bomb Iraq. Soon after the 9/11 attacks, Rumsfeld was arguing at a cabinet meeting that Afghanistan, home of Osama bin Laden's terrorist camps, did not offer "enough good targets." "We should do Iraq," Rumsfeld urged.
Six days after the president's request, Clarke says, he turned in a classified memo concluding that there was no evidence of Iraqi complicity in 9/11-nor any relationship between Iraq and Al Qaeda. The memo, says Clarke, was buried by an administration that was determined to get Iraq, sooner or later. In his new book, "Against All Enemies," Clarke portrays the Bush White House as indifferent to the Qaeda threat before 9/11, then obsessed with punishing Iraq, regardless of the what the evidence showed about Saddam's Qaeda ties, or lack of them.
The Bush administration is already pushing back. A White House official tells Newsweek that Bush has "no specific recollection" of the post 9/11 conversation described by Clarke, and that records show the president was not in the Situation Room at the time Clarke recalls. "His book might be called 'If Only They Had Listened to Dick Clarke,'" says an administration official.
As soon as Clarke's charges began appearing in print, Sen. John Kerry, the Democrats' presumptive nominee, put them on his campaign Web site. But for Kerry and the Democrats, the catch is that President Bill Clinton did no better to tame the terrorist threat during his last years in office. As Washington Post managing editor Steve Coll recently showed in his new book "Ghost Wars," those in the national-security bureaucracy under Clinton spent more time wringing their hands and squabbling with each other than going after Osama bin Laden.
Clarke was the White House counterterror chief during the late '90s and through 9/11. A career civil servant, Clarke was known for pounding the table to urge his counterparts at the CIA, FBI and Pentagon to do more about Al Qaeda. But he did not have much luck, in part because in both the Clinton and early Bush administrations, the top leadership did not back up Clarke and demand results.
In his new book, Clarke recounts how on Jan. 24, 2001, he recommended that the new president's national-security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, convene the president's top advisers to discuss the Qaeda threat. One week later, Bush did. But according to Clarke, the meeting had nothing to do with bin Laden. The topic was how to get rid of Saddam Hussein. "What does that tell you?" Clarke remarked to Newsweek. "They thought there was something more urgent. It was Iraq. They came in there with their agenda, and [Al Qaeda] was not on it."
But Clarke, always a goofy conspiracy theorist, guessed that Al Qaeda would launch a cyberterror war. He had not a clue that Al Qaeda would use planes to attack buildings.
The fact of the matter is, nobody knew!
All these book-writing, Monday-morning-quarterbacks are shameless. They, of course, are trying to minimize any finger-pointing in their direction.
Clarke is as much to blame for 9/11 as anybody.
With the FBI on our side, who needs enemies?
During the Bush administration's first few months in office, Attorney General John Ashcroft downgraded terrorism as a priority, choosing to place more emphasis on drug trafficking and gun violence, report Investigativ
Yes, pot smokers are a lot more dangerous than a few deeply religious individuals. /s
The second point is that everyone believed that Iraq had WMDs at that time. In spite of all of their whining now, the Democrats were lining up to claim that Saddam must go during the Clinton administration. Concentrating on Saddam Hussein was a good idea also.
The real issue is that the Muslim jihadists have been our enemies for a couple of decades. Whether the enemy of the day is Al Qaeda, Saddam Hussein, Hezbollah, or some other group, they are all enemies. We must destroy them until they surrender or none are left.
What was the name of that judge? Why doesn't Clarke blame the judge for putting the kibosh on what program the WH had to monitor Al Qaeda at that moment?
Team Kerry hits back.
Great minds think alike.
That is false. I thought it self-evident.
This election is as much about getting good federal judges as it is about getting the terrorists!!
Of course you did, and you can point us to the pre-9/11 post in which you made this self-evident declaration.
I believe this refers to the chastisement of Janet Reno's FBI during the Clinton administration.
Reno's abuse of FISA led to limits on FISA investigations that weren't overturned until the Patriot Act.
15 March 2001
"India is believed to have joined Russia, the USA and Iran in a concerted front against Afghanistan's Taliban regime.
...Several recent meetings between the newly instituted Indo-US and Indo-Russian joint working groups on terrorism led to this effort to tactically and logistically counter the Taliban.
Intelligence sources in Delhi said that while India, Russia and Iran were leading the anti-Taliban campaign on the ground, Washington was giving the Northern Alliance information and logistic support. "
Bush stepped up cooperation with the Northern Alliance against the Taliban and AlQueda only two months after taking office. Six months before the 9/11 attack.
This doesn't say a whole lot about what Bush was doing but given the secrecy that would be involved I'm surprised even this much was reported.
Of course you weren't. I knew that before I posted to you.
I just wanted to see how self-serving you could actually be. (Nobody cares, Guv, about what you think you knew pre-9/11).
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