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Context of 'January 25, 2001: Counterterrorism ‘Tsar’ Clarke Presents Plan to Roll Back Al-Qaeda, but Response Is Delayed'

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Following the cruise missile attack on al-Qaeda targets on August 20 (see August 20, 1998), immediate plans are made for follow up attacks to make sure bin Laden is killed. However, on this day, Defense Secretary William Cohen is advised that available targets are not promising. Some question the use of expensive missiles to hit very primitive training camps, and there is the concern that if bin Laden is not killed, his stature will only grow further. As discussions continue, counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke prepares a plan he calls “Delenda,” which means “to destroy” in Latin. His idea is to have regular, small strikes in Afghanistan whenever the intelligence warrants it. The plan is rejected. Counterterrorism officials in the Defense Secretary’s office independently create a similar plan, but it too is rejected. [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004] The Delenda Plan also calls for diplomacy against the Taliban, covert action focused in Afghanistan, and financial measures to freeze bin Laden-related funds. These aspects are not formally adopted, but they guide future efforts. [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004]

Entity Tags: Al-Qaeda, Taliban, Osama bin Laden, Military Industrial Corporation, Richard A. Clarke, William S. Cohen

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke submits a plan to “roll back” al-Qaeda over a period of three to five years until it is ineffectual. [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004] The main component is a dramatic increase in covert aid to the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan to first tie down the terrorists and then “eliminate the sanctuary” for bin Laden. Financial support for terrorist activities will be systematically attacked, nations fighting al-Qaeda will be given aid to defeat them, and the US will plan for direct military and covert action in Afghanistan. The plan will cost several hundred million dollars. However, since there are only a few weeks left before the Bush administration takes over, it is decided to defer the decision until the new administration is in place. One senior Clinton official later says, “We would be handing [the Bush administration] a war when they took office on January 20. That wasn’t going to happen.” However, the plan is rejected by the Bush administration and no action is taken (see January 25, 2001). According to one senior Bush administration official, the proposal amounts to “everything we’ve done since 9/11.” [Time, 8/12/2002]

Entity Tags: Richard A. Clarke, Northern Alliance, Bush administration (43), Al-Qaeda, Clinton administration, Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The Predator drone.The Predator drone. [Source: US military] (click image to enlarge)Even before President Bush’s official inauguration, Clinton holdover counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke pushes National Security Adviser Rice and other incoming Bush officials to resume Predator drone flights over Afghanistan (originally carried out in September and October 2000) in an attempt to find and assassinate bin Laden. [Washington Post, 1/20/2002; CBS News, 6/25/2003] On January 10, Rice is shown a video clip of bin Laden filmed by a Predator drone the year before. [Washington Post, 1/20/2002] Aware of an Air Force plan to arm the Predator, when Clarke outlines a series of steps to take against al-Qaeda on January 25 (see January 25, 2001), one suggestion is to go forward with new Predator drone reconnaissance missions in the spring and use an armed version when it is ready. [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004] The original Air Force development plan calls for three years of Predator testing, but Clarke pushes so hard that a Hellfire missile is successfully test fired from a Predator on February 16, 2001. The armed Predator will be fully ready by early June 2001 (see Early June-September 10, 2001). [CBS News, 6/25/2003; New Yorker, 7/28/2003] However, Rice apparently approves the use of the Predator but only as part of a broader strategy against al-Qaeda. Since that strategy will still not be ready before 9/11, the Predator will not be put into use before 9/11. [Associated Press, 6/22/2003]

Entity Tags: Stephen J. Hadley, Richard A. Clarke, Condoleezza Rice, George W. Bush, Central Intelligence Agency, Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Richard Clarke.Richard Clarke. [Source: Robert Flores/ Defense Information Systems Agency]Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke submits a proposal to National Security Adviser Rice and “urgently” asks for a Cabinet-level meeting on the al-Qaeda threat. [Clarke, 2004, pp. 230-31] He forwards his December 2000 strategy paper and a copy of his 1998 “Delenda Plan” (see August 27, 1998). He lays out a proposed agenda for urgent action:
bullet Approve covert assistance to Ahmed Shah Massoud’s Northern Alliance fighting the Taliban. [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004]
bullet Significantly increase funding for CIA counterterrorism activity. [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004]
bullet Respond to the USS Cole bombing with an attack on al-Qaeda. (The link between al-Qaeda and that bombing had been assumed for months and is confirmed in the media two days later.) According to the Washington Post, “Clarke argue[s] that the camps [are] can’t-miss targets, and they [matter]. The facilities [amount] to conveyor belts for al-Qaeda’s human capital, with raw recruits arriving and trained fighters departing either for front lines against the Northern Alliance, the Afghan rebel coalition, or against American interests somewhere else. The US government had whole libraries of images filmed over Tarnak Qila and its sister camp, Garmabat Ghar, 19 miles farther west. Why watch al-Qaeda train several thousand men a year and then chase them around the world when they left?” No retaliation is taken on these camps until after 9/11. [Washington Post, 1/20/2002]
bullet Go forward with new Predator drone reconnaissance missions in the spring and use an armed version when it is ready (see January 10-25, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004]
bullet Step up the fight against terrorist fundraising. [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004]
bullet Be aware that al-Qaeda sleeper cells in the US are not just a potential threat, but are a “major threat in being.” Additionally, more attacks have almost certainly been set in motion (see January 25, 2001). [Washington Post, 1/20/2002] Rice’s response to Clarke’s proposal is that the Cabinet will not address the issue until it has been “framed” at the deputy secretary level. However, this initial deputy meeting is not given high priority and it does not take place until April 2001. [Clarke, 2004, pp. 230-31] Henry Shelton, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman until 9/11, says, “The squeaky wheel was Dick Clarke, but he wasn’t at the top of their priority list, so the lights went out for a few months. Dick did a pretty good job because he’s abrasive as hell, but given the [bureaucratic] level he was at” there was no progress. [Benjamin and Simon, 2002, pp. 335-36; Los Angeles Times, 3/30/2004] Some counterterrorism officials think the new administration responds slowly simply because Clarke’s proposal originally came from the Clinton administration. [Time, 8/12/2002] For instance, Thomas Maertenson, on the National Security Council in both the Clinton and Bush administrations, says, “They really believed their campaign rhetoric about the Clinton administration. So anything [that administration] did was bad, and the Bushies were not going to repeat it.” [New York Times, 3/24/2004; Star-Tribune (Minneapolis), 3/25/2004] The Bush administration will finally address the gist of Clarke’s plan at a cabinet-level meeting on September 4, 2001, just one week before 9/11 (see September 4, 2001). Clarke will later comment that the plan adopted “on Sept. 4 is basically… what I proposed on Jan. 25. And so the time in between was wasted.”

Entity Tags: Henry Hugh Shelton, Northern Alliance, Richard A. Clarke, Condoleezza Rice, Clinton administration, Al-Qaeda, Bush administration (43), Central Intelligence Agency, Thomas Maertenson, Taliban, Ahmed Shah Massoud

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Steve Hadley.
Steve Hadley. [Source: NATO]Deputy National Security Adviser Steve Hadley circulates a draft presidential directive on policy toward al-Qaeda. Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke and his staff regard the new approach as essentially the same as the proposal that they developed in December 2000 and presented to the Bush administration in January 2001 (see December 20, 2000 and January 25, 2001). The draft has the goal of eliminating al-Qaeda as a threat over a multi-year period, and calls for funding through 2006. It has a section calling for the development of contingency military plans against al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Hadley contacts Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz to tell him these contingency plans will be needed soon. However, no such plans are developed before 9/11. Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and others later admit that the contingency plans available immediately after 9/11 are unsatisfactory. [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004; 9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004] The draft is now discussed in three more deputy-level meetings.

Entity Tags: Donald Rumsfeld, Bush administration (43), Taliban, Al-Qaeda, Paul Wolfowitz, Stephen J. Hadley, Richard A. Clarke

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

President Bush’s cabinet-rank advisers discuss terrorism for the second of only two times before 9/11. [Washington Post, 5/17/2002] National Security Adviser Rice chairs the meeting; neither President Bush nor Vice President Cheney attends. Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke later says that in this meeting, he and CIA Director Tenet speak passionately about the al-Qaeda threat. No one disagrees that the threat is serious. Secretary of State Powell outlines a plan to put pressure on Pakistan to stop supporting al-Qaeda. Defense Secretary Rumsfeld appears to be more interested in Iraq. The only debate is over whether to fly the armed Predator drone over Afghanistan to attack al-Qaeda (see September 4, 2001). [Clarke, 2004, pp. 237-38] Clarke’s earlier plans to “roll back” al-Qaeda first submitted on January 25, 2001 (see January 25, 2001) have been discussed and honed in many meetings and are now presented as a formal National Security Presidential Directive. The directive is “apparently” approved, though the process of turning it into official policy is still not done. [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004] There is later disagreement over just how different the directive presented is from Clarke’s earlier plans. For instance, some claim the directive aims not just to “roll back” al-Qaeda, but also to “eliminate” it altogether. [Time, 8/12/2002] However, Clarke notes that even though he wanted to use the word “eliminate,” the approved directive merely aims to “significantly erode” al-Qaeda. The word “eliminate” is only added after 9/11. [Washington Post, 3/25/2004] Clarke will later say that the plan adopted “on Sept. 4 is basically… what I proposed on Jan. 25. And so the time in between was wasted.” [ABC News, 4/8/2004] The Washington Post will similarly note that the directive approved on this day “did not differ substantially from Clinton’s policy.” [Washington Post, 3/27/2004] Time magazine later comments, “The fight against terrorism was one of the casualties of the transition, as Washington spent eight months going over and over a document whose outline had long been clear.” [Time, 8/12/2002] The primary change from Clarke’s original draft is that the approved plan calls for more direct financial and logistical support to the Northern Alliance and other anti-Taliban groups. The plan also calls for drafting plans for possible US military involvement, “but those differences were largely theoretical; administration officials told the [9/11 Commission’s] investigators that the plan’s overall timeline was at least three years, and it did not include firm deadlines, military plans, or significant funding at the time of the September 11, 2001, attacks.” [Washington Post, 3/27/2004; Reuters, 4/2/2004]

Entity Tags: Taliban, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Al-Qaeda, Northern Alliance, Donald Rumsfeld, George J. Tenet, Central Intelligence Agency, George W. Bush, Colin Powell, Richard A. Clarke, Condoleezza Rice

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Condoleezza Rice sworn in before the 9/11 Commission.Condoleezza Rice sworn in before the 9/11 Commission. [Source: Larry Downing/ Reuters]National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice testifies before the 9/11 Commission under oath and with the threat of perjury. The Bush administration originally opposed her appearance, but relented after great public demand (see March 30, 2004). [Independent, 4/3/2004] The testimony is a huge media event and major television networks interrupt their programming to carry it live. First, the Commission’s Democratic Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton reads a statement trying to establish a tone of non-confrontation and saying that the Commission’s purpose is “not to put any witness on the spot,” but “to understand and to inform.”
Rice Reads Lengthy Statement - Knowing that she has a deal to appear only once and for a limited time, Rice begins by reading a statement much longer than those read by other witnesses testifying before the Commission, a move specifically approved by Hamilton and the Commission’s chairman Tom Kean. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 293, 295] In the statement she repeats her claim that “almost all of the reports [before 9/11] focused on al-Qaeda activities outside the United States.… The information that was specific enough to be actionable referred to terrorists operation overseas.” Moreover, she stresses that the “kind of analysis about the use of airplanes as weapons actually was never briefed to us.” But she concedes: “In fact there were some reports done in ‘98 and ‘99. I think I was—I was certainly not aware of them.” [Washington Post, 4/8/2004]
Heated Questioning from Democrats - The exchanges with the Republican commissioners are polite, but Rice’s interactions with the Democrats on the Commission become heated. According to author Philip Shenon, her strategy is to “try to run out the clock—talk and talk and talk, giving them no chance to ask follow-up questions before the 10 minutes that each of the commissioners had been allotted had run out.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 295] During questioning several subjects are discussed:
bullet Why didn’t counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke brief President Bush on al-Qaeda before September 11? Clarke says he had wished to do so, but Rice states, “Clarke never asked me to brief the president on counterterrorism.”
bullet What was the content of the briefing President Bush received on August 6, 2001 (see August 6, 2001)? While Rice repeatedly underlines that it was “a historical memo… not threat reporting,” commissioners Richard Ben-Veniste and Tim Roemer ask her why it cannot therefore be declassified. [Washington Post, 4/8/2004] Asked what the PDB item’s still-secret title is, Rice gives it as “Bin Laden Determined to Attack inside the United States,” leading to an audible gasp from the audience. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 298] Two days later, the White House will finally publish it, and it will be shown to contain more than just historical information.
bullet Did Rice tell Bush of the existence of al-Qaeda cells in the US before August 6, 2001? Rice says that she does not remember whether she “discussed it with the president.”
bullet Were warnings properly passed on? Rice points out: “The FBI issued at least three nationwide warnings to federal, state, and law enforcement agencies, and specifically stated that although the vast majority of the information indicated overseas targets, attacks against the homeland could not be ruled out. The FBI tasked all 56 of its US field offices to increase surveillance of known suspected terrorists and to reach out to known informants who might have information on terrorist activities.” But commissioner Jamie Gorelick remarks: “We have no record of that. The Washington field office international terrorism people say they never heard about the threat, they never heard about the warnings.” [Washington Post, 4/8/2004]
bullet Under questioning from Democratic commissioner Bob Kerrey, she admits that she worked with Philip Zelikow, the Commission’s executive director, during the Bush administration transition, and that they discussed terrorism issues.
bullet She claims that a plan Clarke presented to her to roll back al-Qaeda in January 2001 (see January 25, 2001) was not actually a plan, but merely “a set of ideas and a paper” that had not been implemented. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 299-300]
Central Issues Unresolved - Rice does not apologize to the families of the victims of the 9/11 attacks, as Clarke did weeks earlier. The Associated Press comments, “The blizzard of words in Condoleezza Rice’s testimony Thursday did not resolve central points about what the government knew, should have known, did, and should have done before the September 11 terrorist attacks.” [Associated Press, 4/8/2004]
Testimony an 'Ambitious Feat of Jujitsu' - The Washington Post calls her testimony “an ambitious feat of jujitsu: On one hand, she made a case that ‘for more than 20 years, the terrorist threat gathered, and America’s response across several administrations of both parties was insufficient.’ At the same time, she argued that there was nothing in particular the Bush administration itself could have done differently that would have prevented the attacks of September 11, 2001—that there was no absence of vigor in the White House’s response to al-Qaeda during its first 233 days in office. The first thesis is undeniably true; the second both contradictory and implausible.” [Washington Post, 4/9/2004]
'Cherry-Picking' Rice's Testimony - In 2009, Lawrence Wilkerson, who is chief of staff for Secretary of State Colin Powell in 2004, will recall: “John [Bellinger, the legal adviser to the National Security Council] and I had to work on the 9/11 Commission testimony of Condi. Condi was not gonna do it, not gonna do it, not gonna do it, and then all of a sudden she realized she better do it. That was an appalling enterprise. We would cherry-pick things to make it look like the president had been actually concerned about al-Qaeda. We cherry-picked things to make it look as if the vice president and others, Secretary Rumsfeld and all, had been. They didn’t give a sh_t about al-Qaeda. They had priorities. The priorities were lower taxes, ballistic missiles, and the defense thereof.” [Vanity Fair, 2/2009]

Entity Tags: Jamie Gorelick, Lee Hamilton, Lawrence Wilkerson, George W. Bush, John Bellinger, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Bob Kerrey, Bush administration (43), Tim Roemer, Condoleezza Rice, Thomas Kean, Richard Ben-Veniste, 9/11 Commission, Richard A. Clarke

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline, 2004 Elections

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