March 22, 2004

Former Terrorism Official Criticizes White House on 9/11


New York Times

In a new book, Richard A. Clarke, who was counterterrorism coordinator for President Bill Clinton and President Bush, asserts that while neither president did enough to prevent the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the Bush administration has undermined American national security by using the 9/11 attacks for political advantage and ignoring the threat of Al Qaeda in order to invade Iraq.

Mr. Clarke, who has spent more than 30 years as a civil servant in Republican and Democratic administrations, issues a highly critical assessment of the Bush White House in "Against All Enemies: Inside America's War on Terror," which is being released on Monday.

Mr. Clarke resigned from government in March 2003.

In an interview Sunday evening, Dan Bartlett, the White House communications director, dismissed Mr. Clarke's charges as "politically motivated," "reckless" and "baseless."

"If Dick Clarke had such grave concerns about the direction of the war on terror, why did he stay on the team as long as he did, and why did he wait till the beginning of a presidential campaign to speak out?" Mr. Bartlett said. He said the book's timing showed that it was "more about politics than policy."

In his book, Mr. Clarke accuses the administration not only of failing to take Al Qaeda seriously before the attacks, despite "repeated warnings," but also of mounting a lackluster, bureaucratic and politicized response to the attacks. Having failed to act against Al Qaeda before 9/11, Mr. Clarke writes, Mr. Bush "harvested a political windfall for taking obvious yet insufficient steps after the attacks." Mr. Clarke also accused the administration of starting "an unnecessary and costly war in Iraq that strengthened the fundamentalist, radical Islamic terrorist movement worldwide."

Mr. Clarke alleges in his book that Mr. Bush and others in his small inner circle tried to intimidate him and other officials into finding a link between Iraq and Al Qaeda despite the intelligence community's repeated determinations that no significant connections existed. He also refers to Vice President Dick Cheney as a "right-wing ideologue," who rejected facts inconsistent with the administration's political outlook and goals.

In an interview broadcast Sunday night on the CBS News program "60 Minutes," Stephen Hadley, the president's deputy national security adviser, denied that anyone at the White House had tried to intimidate Mr. Clarke into finding a link between 9/11 and Iraq.

Mr. Clarke denied that his book was politically motivated, saying in an interview that he had spoken up because he was "outraged" by the "terrible job" that President Bush had done fighting terrorism.

The book, whose manuscript was screened for classified information by White House lawyers before its publication, contains new allegations about steps the Bush administration took, or failed to take, before and after the attacks. Specifically, it asserts the following:

¶Condoleezza Rice, Mr. Bush's national security adviser, gave Mr. Clarke "the impression she had never heard the term" Al Qaeda "when she first took office." She also downgraded the position of counterterrorism adviser soon after taking office.

¶Less than a day after the attacks, Donald H. Rumsfeld, the secretary of defense, said at a cabinet-level meeting that "there were no decent targets for bombing in Afghanistan and that we should consider bombing Iraq" instead because it had "better targets." A spokesman for Mr. Rumsfeld said the secretary would not comment on a book no one in the administration had been able to read.

¶Paul D. Wolfowitz, Secretary Rumsfeld's deputy, repeatedly "belittled" the Qaeda threat and argued after the 9/11 attacks that Iraq was responsible for the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center and must have helped Al Qaeda carry out 9/11 because the attack was "too sophisticated and complicated" for a "terrorist group to have pulled off by itself." In an interview, Charlie Cooper, Mr. Wolfowitz's spokesman, said that Mr. Wolfowitz regarded Al Qaeda "as a major threat to U.S. security, the more so because of the state support it received from the Taliban and because of its possible links to Iraq, including Iraq's harboring of one of the 1993 World Trade Center bombers, Abdul Rahman Yasin."

¶As counterterrorism adviser, Mr. Clarke said he had only three meetings with Mr. Bush before the attacks in which he set the agenda, and was never given the "chance to talk with him about terrorism" until after the attacks.

Mr. Clarke also said that Tom Ridge, the president's first domestic security adviser and head of the Department of Homeland Security, opposed the creation of his own department on grounds, accurate ones in Mr. Clarke's view, that it would be too costly and difficult to integrate with other agencies. Mr. Clarke said that Mr. Ridge had to clear major statements and actions with Andrew H. Card Jr., the president's chief of staff.

In an interview Sunday night, Brian Roehrkasse, a spokesman for the department, denied that.

Mr. Clarke's book also accuses the Clinton administration of having done too little to fight the threat of Al Qaeda. But he attributes this to the fact that Mr. Clinton had been "weakened by continuing political attack" stemming from his involvement with a White House intern and by other scandals.