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Context of 'March 22, 2004: Richard Clarke Sees Halfhearted Effort in Afghanistan War because of Iraq War'

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President Clinton creates the new post of National Coordinator for Security, Infrastructure, Protection, and Counterterrorism. He names Richard Clarke for the job, and due to the length of the title, Clarke soon becomes known as the counterterrorism “tsar.” [New York Times, 5/23/1998; Washington Post, 4/2/2000] This position is outlined in a new presidential directive on counterterrorism, Presidential Decision Directive 62 (PDD-62), which also outlines goals of fighting terrorism and attempts to strengthen interagency coordination of counterterrorism efforts. [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004] Clarke, who had been working on terrorism issues since the start of the Clinton administration, has more symbolic than actual power in the new position. For instance, he only has a staff of 12, compared to a staff of hundreds for the drug “tsar,” and by law he is not allowed to order law enforcement agents, soldiers, or spies to do anything. He does not have any control over budgets. But he is allowed to sit on Cabinet level meetings that involve terrorism. [Clarke, 2004, pp. 170; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 101] Clarke has a long record of prior government service, beginning in 1973 as a nuclear weapons analyst in the Office of the Secretary of Defense. [CBS News, 3/30/2004] He came to prominence in the Reagan administration as the deputy assistant secretary of state for intelligence from 1985 to 1989. Having left the State Department in 1992, he has spent the past six years on the National Security Council staff. [Washington Post, 3/13/2003; BBC, 3/22/2004; Associated Press, 3/27/2004] After 9/11 Clarke will become well known for his criticisms of the George W. Bush administration (see March 21, 2004 and March 24, 2004), but some who know him consider him to be politically conservative. [Boston Globe, 3/29/2004] According to the Washington Post, many within the Clinton administration view Clarke as a hawk. [Washington Post, 3/23/2004] Robert Gelbard, who worked with him at the State Department in the early 1990s, says he is “no liberal. He is very hawkish.” [US News and World Report, 4/5/2004] Vince Cannistraro, a former CIA official who worked with Clarke in the 1980s, says, “You can’t accuse him of being passive or too liberal on foreign policy.” [Washington Post, 3/23/2004] At the time of the 2000 election he will be a registered Republican, and he votes that year for John McCain in the Republican presidential primary. [New York Times, 3/23/2004; Salon, 3/24/2004; Time, 4/5/2004] Larry DiCara, the former president of the Boston City Council who knew Clarke when he was younger, later recalls: “He was fiercely conservative at a time when just about everyone in Boston was a Democrat.… I’m amazed he worked for [President] Clinton.” Clarke, however, will later praise Clinton, and in an interview in 2002 will describe himself as “not a partisan figure.” [Boston Globe, 3/29/2004]

Entity Tags: Vincent Cannistraro, Larry DiCara, Robert Gelbard, Richard A. Clarke, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Khalil bin Laden at the Orlando, Florida, airport, about to be flown out of the country in the days after 9/11.Khalil bin Laden at the Orlando, Florida, airport, about to be flown out of the country in the days after 9/11. [Source: Lions Gate Films]Following a secret flight inside the US that is in violation of a national private airplane flight ban, members of the bin Laden family and Saudi royalty quietly depart the US. The flights are only publicly acknowledged after all the Saudis have left. [Boston Globe, 9/21/2001; New York Times, 9/30/2001] About 140 Saudis, including around 24 members of the bin Laden family, are passengers in these flights. The identities of most of these passengers are not known. However, some of the passengers include:
bullet The son of the Saudi Defense Minister Prince Sultan. Sultan is sued in August 2002 for alleged complicity in the 9/11 plot. [Tampa Tribune, 10/5/2001] He is alleged to have contributed at least $6 million since 1994 to four charities that finance al-Qaeda. [Vanity Fair, 10/2003]
bullet Khalil bin Laden. He has been investigated by the Brazilian government for possible terrorist connections. [Vanity Fair, 10/2003]
bullet Abdullah bin Laden and Omar bin Laden, cousins of bin Laden. Abdullah was the US director of the Muslim charity World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY). The governments of India, Pakistan, Philippines, and Bosnia have all accused WAMY of funding terrorism. These two relatives were investigated by the FBI in 1996 (see February-September 11, 1996) in a case involving espionage, murder, and national security. Their case is reopened on September 19, right after they leave the country. [Vanity Fair, 10/2003] Remarkably, four of the 9/11 hijackers briefly lived in the town of Falls Church, Virginia, three blocks from the WAMY office headed by Abdullah bin Laden. [BBC, 11/6/2001]
bullet Saleh Ibn Abdul Rahman Hussayen. He is a prominent Saudi official who was in the same hotel as three of the hijackers the night before 9/11. He leaves on one of the first flights to Saudi Arabia before the FBI can properly interview him about this. [Washington Post, 10/2/2003]
bullet Akberali Moawalla. A Pakistani and business partner of Osama’s brother Yeslam bin Laden. In 2000, a transfer of over $250 million was made from a bank account belonging jointly to Moawalla and Osama bin Laden (see 2000). [Washington Post, 7/22/2004]
There is a later dispute regarding how thoroughly the Saudis are interviewed before they leave and who approves the flights. Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke says he agrees to the flights after the FBI assures him none of those on board has connections to terrorism and that it is “a conscious decision with complete review at the highest levels of the State Department and the FBI and the White House.” [US Congress, 9/3/2003] Clarke says the decision to approve the flights “didn’t get any higher than me.” [Hill, 5/18/2004] According to Vanity Fair, both the FBI and the State Department “deny playing any role whatsoever in the episode.” However, Dale Watson, the head of the FBI’s Counterterrorism Division, says the Saudis on the planes “[are] identified, but they [are] not subject to serious interviews or interrogations” before they leave. [Vanity Fair, 10/2003] An FBI spokesperson says the bin Laden relatives are only interviewed by the FBI “at the airport, as they [are] about to leave.” [National Review, 9/11/2002] There are claims that some passengers are not interviewed by the FBI at all. [Vanity Fair, 10/2003] Abdullah bin Laden, who stays in the US, says that even a month after 9/11, his only contact with the FBI is a brief phone call. [Boston Globe, 9/21/2001; New Yorker, 11/5/2001] The FBI official responsible for coordinating with Clarke is Assistant Director Michael Rolince, who is in charge of the Bureau’s International Terrorism Operations Section and assumes responsibility for the Saudi flights. Rolince decides that the Saudis can leave after their faces are matched to their passport photos and their names are run through various databases, including some watch lists, to check the FBI has no derogatory information about them.” [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 196-197, 209 pdf file] Numerous experts are surprised that the bin Ladens are not interviewed more extensively before leaving, pointing out that interviewing the relatives of suspects is standard investigative procedure. [National Review, 9/11/2002; Vanity Fair, 10/2003] MSNBC claims that “members of the Saudi royal family met frequently with bin Laden—both before and after 9/11” [MSNBC, 9/5/2003] , and many Saudi royals and bin Laden relatives are being sued for their alleged role in 9/11. The Boston Globe opines that the flights occur “too soon after 9/11 for the FBI even to know what questions to ask, much less to decide conclusively that each Saudi [royal] and bin Laden relative [deserve] an ‘all clear,’ never to be available for questions again.” [Boston Globe, 9/30/2003] Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) says of the secret flights: “This is just another example of our country coddling the Saudis and giving them special privileges that others would never get. It’s almost as if we didn’t want to find out what links existed.” [New York Times, 9/4/2003] Judicial Watch will disclose FBI documents that say, “Osama bin Laden may have chartered one of the Saudi flights.” [Judicial Watch, 6/20/2007]

Entity Tags: Abdullah bin Laden, Al-Qaeda, Bush administration (43), Omar bin Laden, Bin Laden Family, Dale Watson, Charles Schumer, Michael Rolince, Richard A. Clarke, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Counterterrorism Division (FBI), Osama bin Laden, World Assembly of Muslim Youth, Sultan bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud, US Department of State, Khalil bin Laden, Saleh Ibn Abdul Rahman Hussayen

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Richard Clarke, who was counterterrorism “tsar” in the run-up to 9/11, briefs the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry about counterterrorism before the attacks.
Clarke's Status - Normally, a White House official such as Clarke would not be allowed to testify before Congress, but the administration makes an exception for him, although the testimony is behind closed doors and is classified. In addition, Clarke is not placed under oath and is not even considered a witness before the inquiry, just a briefer. Clarke’s boss, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, will not testify before the inquiry, and it is unable to obtain access to National Security Council files, which are privileged as they relate to advice given to the president.
Content of Briefing - House Intelligence Committee member Tim Roemer will say that Clarke is riveting during the six-hour briefing. According to author Philip Shenon, Roemer thinks that Clarke is “intelligent, articulate, seemingly candid in discussing his own failings as White House counterterrorism [‘tsar’].” Clarke will later be extremely critical of President George Bush and Rice (see March 21, 2004 and March 24, 2004), but now he is “coy about certain questions—especially about President Bush and Condoleezza Rice.” Shenon will add: “[I]f anyone knew whether Bush and Rice had reacted appropriately to the threats reaching the Oval office before 9/11, it was Clarke. Yet in front of these lawmakers, Clarke seemed unwilling to make any judgments about the president and Rice. He was certainly volunteering little about his bosses. He was still on the [National Security Council’s] payroll. Perhaps it was understandable that Clarke would want to hold his tongue for now.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 195-196]
Later Positive Briefing about Administration's Record - Two months later, Clarke will give journalists a positive briefing about the Bush administration’s record on terrorism (see August 22, 2002).

Entity Tags: Richard A. Clarke, 9/11 Congressional Inquiry, Philip Shenon, Tim Roemer

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Although he will later come to prominence for accusing it of failing to adequately address the al-Qaeda threat before 9/11 (see March 21, 2004), in a background briefing to reporters, former counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke appears to praise the Bush administration for aggressively pursuing al-Qaeda from the outset. [CNN, 3/24/2004]
'Rapid Elimination' - During the briefing, Clarke says that when the Bush administration came into office in January 2001, it had “decided then” to “vigorously pursue the existing policy” on al-Qaeda, “including all of the lethal covert action findings.” He says that in the first week of February 2001, the administration decided in principle “to add to the existing Clinton strategy and to increase CIA resources, for example, for covert action, five-fold, to go after al-Qaeda.” He says the strategy was changed “from one of rollback with al-Qaeda over the course of five years, which it had been, to a new strategy that called for the rapid elimination of al-Qaeda.”
Response to Time Magazine - Clarke responds to a recent Time magazine article that suggested the Bush administration was unwilling to adopt suggestions made in the Clinton administration because of a general animus against its foreign policy. He says: “This is the one issue where the National Security Council leadership decided continuity was important and kept the same guy around, the same team in place. That doesn’t sound like animus against, uh, the previous team to me.” He is asked, “You’re saying that the Bush administration did not stop anything that the Clinton administration was doing while it was making these decisions, and by the end of the summer had increased money for covert action five-fold?” Clarke replies, “All of that’s correct.”
No Plan, No Delay - One reporter asks about an alleged Clinton administration plan against al-Qaeda, to which Clarke responds, “There was never a plan.” Regarding problems the Clinton administration faced in dealing with the al-Qaeda threat, a reporter asks, “And none of that really changed until we were attacked [on 9/11]?” Clarke says: “No, that’s not true. In the spring, the Bush administration changed—began to change Pakistani policy, um, by a dialogue that said we would be willing to lift sanctions.… So that’s really how it started.” He is asked, “[W]hat you’re saying is that… one, there was no plan; two, there was no delay; and that actually the first changes since October of ‘98 were made in the spring months just after the [Bush] administration came into office?” Clarke replies: “You got it. That’s right.” [Fox News, 3/24/2004]
Comments Published - In March 2004, the White House will violate a long-standing confidentiality policy by authorizing Fox News to publish these comments that Clarke has made off the record (see March 24, 2004). [Columbia Journalism Review, 3/25/2004; FindLaw, 4/9/2004]
Clarke's Explanation - Around that time, when Clarke appears before the 9/11 Commission (see March 24, 2004), Commissioner James Thompson will ask him about the apparent discrepancies between his comments during this briefing and the criticisms he makes of the Bush administration in his book Against All Enemies. Clarke will explain that his briefing was in the context of Time magazine’s critical story. He will say, “So I was asked by several people in senior levels of the Bush White House to do a press backgrounder to try to explain that set of facts in a way that minimized criticism of the administration.” He will add, “I was asked to highlight the positive aspects of what the administration had done, and to minimize the negative aspects of what the administration had done.” [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004] Former Nixon White House counsel John Dean will defend Clarke, writing, “The truth is that the background briefing simply does not conflict with anything Clarke says openly, if more bluntly, in his book.” [FindLaw, 4/9/2004]
Previous Briefing for 9/11 Congressional Inquiry - Two months before this, Clarke had briefed the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry on the Bush administration’s counterterrorism record and had been largely uncritical of its policies (see June 11, 2002).

Entity Tags: Richard A. Clarke, Clinton administration, Bush administration (43), John Dean, Al-Qaeda

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

9/11 Commission Executive Director Philip Zelikow says that former counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke must be placed under oath when he is interviewed by the commission.
'I Know Dick Clarke' - Usually, former and current government officials being interviewed by the commission are not placed under oath; this only happens when there is, in author Philip Shenon’s words, “a substantial reason to doubt their truthfulness.” Zelikow tells the staff, “I know Dick Clarke,” and, according to Shenon, argues that “Clarke was a braggart who would try to rewrite history to justify his errors and slander his enemies, [National Security Adviser Condoleezza] Rice in particular.” Zelikow is close to Rice (see January 3, 2001, May-June 2004, and February 28, 2005). Zelikow had also previously told Warren Bass, the commission staffer responsible for the National Security Council, that Clarke should not be believed and that his testimony was suspect.
Staff Cannot Talk to Zelikow about Rice - Due to Zelikow’s constant disparagement of Clarke and for other reasons, the staff come to realize that, in Shenon’s words, “they could not have an open discussion in front of Zelikow about Condoleezza Rice and her performance as national security adviser.” In addition, “They could not say openly, certainly not to Zelikow’s face, what many on the staff came to believe: that Rice’s performance in the spring and summer of 2001 amounted to incompetence, or something not far from it.”
Effect of Recusal Agreement - Zelikow has concluded a recusal agreement in the commission, as he was involved in counterterrorism on the Bush administration transition team. As a consequence of this agreement, he cannot be involved in questioning Clarke on any issue involving the transition. Shenon will comment: “[Zelikow] had reason to dread what Clarke was about to tell the commission: It was Zelikow, after all, who had been the architect of Clarke’s demotion in the early weeks of the Bush administration, a fact that had never been aired publicly.”
First Interview - Clarke is first interviewed by the commission on December 18, and the interview is mostly conducted by Daniel Marcus, the commission’s lawyer. Marcus and the other staffers present at the interview realize within minutes what an important witness Clarke will be and what damage he could do to Bush and Rice. Marcus will later comment, “Here was a guy who is totally unknown outside the Beltway, who had been a Washington bureaucrat all of his life, who turns out to be a dynamite witness.” Clarke tells the commission of charges he will later repeat publicly (see March 21, 2004 and March 24, 2004), saying that Bush and Rice did not take terrorism seriously enough in the run-up to the attacks, that they were more focused on issues left over from the Cold War, and that Bush tried to get him to link the attacks to Iraq. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 145-146, 196-199]

Entity Tags: Warren Bass, Philip Zelikow, Daniel Marcus, 9/11 Commission, Richard A. Clarke, Condoleezza Rice

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Richard Clarke, counterterrorism “tsar” from 1998 until October 2001, ignites a public debate by accusing President Bush of doing a poor job fighting al-Qaeda before 9/11. In a prominent 60 Minutes interview, he says: “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.… I think he’s done a terrible job on the war against terrorism.” He adds: “We had a terrorist organization that was going after us! Al-Qaeda. That should have been the first item on the agenda. And it was pushed back and back and back for months.” He complains that he was Bush’s chief adviser on terrorism, yet he never got to brief Bush on the subject until after 9/11. [CBS News, 3/21/2004; CBS News, 3/21/2004; Guardian, 3/23/2004; Salon, 3/24/2004] Author Philip Shenon will call the interview “gripping” and comment that Clarke is “made for television.” This is because of his “urgent speaking style” and his “shock of white hair and ghostly pallor,” which makes it look like he has “emerged from years of hiding in sunless back rooms of the West Wing to share the terrible secrets he ha[s] learned.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 277] The next day, his book Against All Enemies is released and becomes a bestseller. [Washington Post, 3/22/2004] He testifies before the 9/11 Commission a few days later (see March 24, 2004).

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Richard A. Clarke, Philip Shenon

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

Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke, who remained in that position up until days before the October 2001 invasion of Afghanistan began, states in an interview that the Bush administration’s real focus at the start of the Afghanistan war was Iraq. “The reason they had to do Afghanistan first was it was obvious that al-Qaeda had attacked us. And it was obvious that al-Qaeda was in Afghanistan. The American people wouldn’t have stood by if we had done nothing on Afghanistan. But what they did was slow and small. They put only 11,000 troops into Afghanistan.… To this day, Afghanistan is not stable. To this day, we’re hunting down Osama bin Laden. We should have put US special forces in immediately, not many weeks later. US special forces didn’t get into the area where bin Laden was for two months.… I think we could have had a good chance to get bin Laden, to get the leadership, and wipe the whole organization out if we had gone in immediately and gone after him.” [Good Morning America, 3/22/2004]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Richard A. Clarke

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, War in Afghanistan, 2004 Elections

National Security Council spokesman Jim Wilkinson engages in rather unusual tactics against former counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke, in response to Clarke’s recent criticisms of the Bush administration’s lack of preparation for the 9/11 attacks (see March 22, 2004 and March 24, 2004). Wilkinson is abetted by CNN news anchor Wolf Blitzer.
'X-Files Stuff' - In the CNN studio, Wilkinson twists a passage from Clarke’s book Against All Enemies, saying: “He’s talking about how he sits back and visualizes chanting by bin Laden and how bin Laden has some sort of mind control over US officials. This is sort of ‘X-Files’ stuff.” [CNN, 3/30/2004] (The precise quote, as reported by the New York Times’s Paul Krugman, is: “Bush handed that enemy precisely what it wanted and needed.… It was as if Osama bin Laden, hidden in some high mountain redoubt, were engaging in long-range mind control of George Bush.” Krugman writes: “That’s not ‘X-Files stuff’: it’s a literary device, meant to emphasize just how ill conceived our policy is. Mr. Blitzer should be telling Mr. Wilkinson to apologize, not rerunning those comments in his own defense.”) [New York Times, 4/2/2004]
'Weird Aspects in His Life' - For his part, Blitzer later says in a question to CNN’s John King: “What administration officials have been saying since the weekend, basically that Richard Clarke from their vantage point was a disgruntled former government official, angry because he didn’t get a certain promotion. He’s got a hot new book out now that he wants to promote. He wants to make a few bucks, and that his own personal life, they’re also suggesting that there are some weird aspects in his life as well, that they don’t know what made this guy come forward and make these accusations against the president.”
CNN Clarification - Blitzer’s use of innuendo (“weird aspects in his life”) from unnamed administration sources causes enough of a backlash that Blitzer issues a “clarification” of his remarks: “I was not referring to anything charged by so-called unnamed White House officials.… I was simply seeking to flesh out what Bush National Security Council spokesman Jim Wilkinson had said on this program two days earlier.… Other than that… White House officials were not talking about Clarke’s personal life in any way.” As author and media critic Frank Rich will point out, Blitzer’s clarification is disingenuous in his implicit denial that his administration sources were anonymous, when in fact they were not. [CNN, 3/30/2004; Rich, 2006, pp. 114-119] (Krugman, who blasted Blitzer in his column, responds to Blitzer’s clarification by writing, “Silly me: I ‘alleged’ that Mr. Blitzer said something because he actually said it, and described ‘so-called unnamed’ officials as unnamed because he didn’t name them.”) [New York Times, 4/2/2004] Blitzer eventually admits that his source was not multiple administration officials, but a single official (whom he refuses to name), and that the “weird aspects” of Clarke’s life were nothing more than his tendency to obsess over terrorist attack scenarios. [CNN, 3/30/2004; Rich, 2006, pp. 114-119]

Entity Tags: Richard A. Clarke, Frank Rich, John King, Paul Krugman, Wolf Blitzer, James R. Wilkinson

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

White House counsel Alberto Gonzales works on questions that are to be put later in the day by the 9/11 Commission to former counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke (see March 24, 2004). Clarke has recently gone public with criticisms of the Bush administration and is being attacked by it (see March 21, 2004, March 22, 2004 and Shortly After, and March 24, 2004). The questions are supplied to two Republican commissioners, Fred Fielding and Jim Thompson, who author Philip Shenon will say “were seen as the administration’s most reliable supporters on the Commission.” Some of these questions may actually be asked at the hearing, and Shenon will add, “During Clarke’s testimony, Fielding and Thompson could be seen standing up from the dais periodically and disappearing to a back room to take phone calls, apparently from the White House.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 280] When the communications between the White House and the commissioners come to light after the hearing, critics will call it unethical interference in the hearings. [Washington Post, 4/1/2004] For example, Democratic commissioner Bob Kerrey complains, “To call commissioners and coach them on what they ought to say is a terrible mistake.” [New York Daily News, 4/2/2004] In addition to the questions for the commissioners, according to Shenon, Gonzales is in contact with the office of Senator Bill Frist, the Republican majority leader, and Frist is “prepared to rush to the Senate floor to denounce Clarke and question his truthfulness as soon as the hearing was over.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 280] Frist will soon ask “[i]f [Clarke] lied under oath to the United States Congress” in closed testimony in 2002. [Washington Post, 3/27/2004]

Entity Tags: Alberto R. Gonzales, Fred F. Fielding, Bill Frist, Bob Kerrey, James Thompson, Philip Shenon

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Richard Clarke sworn in before the 9/11 Commission.Richard Clarke sworn in before the 9/11 Commission. [Source: CBC]Former counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke testifies before the 9/11 Commission. Due to publicity generated by the publication of his book and a controversial appearance on 60 Minutes (see March 21, 2004), it is, in the words of author Philip Shenon, a “true Washington spectacle” and “one of those moments in the capital when anyone of importance in the city [is] in front of a television set.” Shenon will add, “It was being compared by reporters to the sort of drama that John Dean’s testimony provided in Watergate or Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North’s testimony offered in the Iran-Contra affair.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 281-282]
Clarke Offers Apology - Clarke’s opening statement consists of little more than an apology to the relatives of the 9/11 victims. He says: “Your government failed you, those entrusted with protecting you failed you, and I failed you. For that failure, I would ask… for your understanding and forgiveness.” This leads to a moment of silence, then gasps and sobs. Shenon will point out, “It was the first apology that the 9/11 families had heard from anybody of importance in the Bush administration,” adding that it “was the moment of catharsis that many of the wives and husbands and children of the victims had been waiting for.”
Praises Clinton, Criticizes Bush - Under questioning, Clarke praises the Clinton administration, saying, “My impression was that fighting terrorism, in general, and fighting al-Qaeda, in particular, were an extraordinarily high priority in the Clinton administration—certainly no higher priority.” But he is very critical of the Bush administration, stating, “By invading Iraq… the president of the United States has greatly undermined the war on terrorism.” He says that under Bush before 9/11, terrorism was “an important issue, but not an urgent issue.… [CIA Director] George Tenet and I tried very hard to create a sense of urgency by seeing to it that intelligence reports on the al-Qaeda threat were frequently given to the president and other high-level officials. But although I continue to say it was an urgent problem, I don’t think it was ever treated that way.” He points out that he made proposals to fight al-Qaeda in late January 2001. While the gist of them was implemented after 9/11, he complains, “I didn’t really understand why they couldn’t have been done in February [2001].” He says that with a more robust intelligence and covert action program, “we might have been able to nip [the plot] in the bud.”
Republican Commissioners Ask Tough Questions - However, Clarke faces tough questioning from some of the Republican commissioners. Jim Thompson, who had been in contact with the White House before the hearing (see Morning, March 24, 2004), challenges Clarke over a briefing he gave in 2002 (see August 22, 2002 and March 24, 2004), which, according to Thompson, contradicts what Clarke is saying now. In addition, fellow Republican John Lehman confronts Clarke over what he sees as discrepancies between Clarke’s book and his private interviews with the Commission. Clarke replies that the differences arose because the Commission did not ask him about all the issues he covered in his book, such as his opposition to the invasion of Iraq. He adds that he will not accept any position in any administration formed by Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry.
Clarke Approved Saudi Flights - Clarke also clears up a mystery about the departure of Saudi Arabian nationals after the attacks, which has caused some controversy (see September 14-19, 2001), saying that he was the White House official that approved them. He did this after clearing it with the FBI, although he does not know “what degree of review the FBI did over those names.” [Washington Post, 3/24/2004; New York Times, 3/24/2004; 9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004; Shenon, 2008, pp. 282-289]
Testimony 'Arresting' - Author and media critic Frank Rich will later call Clarke’s testimony “arresting.” Rich will write that Clarke’s forceful, confident demeanor—“sonorous voice, secret-agent aura, and vaguely intimidating body language”—serves to brush back antagonistic Republicans such as Lehman and Thompson. Rich will write that the juxtaposition of Clarke’s damning testimony with President Bush’s bizarre comedy routine that same evening (pretending to hunt for Iraqi WMD under the Oval Office furniture—see March 24, 2004) is jarring. [Rich, 2006, pp. 114-119]

Entity Tags: John Lehman, Clinton administration, Richard A. Clarke, Bush administration (43), Frank Rich, 9/11 Commission, James Thompson

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

At a campaign appearance in New Hampshire, President Bush refers to the 9/11 attacks, saying, “Had I known that the enemy was going to use airplanes to strike America, to attack us, I would have used every resource, every asset, every power of this government to protect the American people.” He also suggests that his predecessor, Democrat Bill Clinton, was more to blame for the attacks than he was, as the 9/11 Commission is looking at “eight months of my administration and the eight years of the previous administration.” This speech comes one day after his former counterterrorism “tsar,” Richard Clarke, had given damaging high-profile testimony to the Commission (see March 24, 2004). Author Philip Shenon will comment that Bush “was apparently hoping that his audience would forget that the August 6 [Presidential Daily Brief item (see August 6, 2001)] had warned specifically that planes might be hijacked by al-Qaeda within the United States.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 289]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Philip Shenon

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

Former counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke, lambasted by Bush administration supporters (see March 24, 2004) for his criticism of the administration’s foreign policies (see March 21, 2004 and March 24, 2004), counters some of that criticism by noting that when he resigned from the administration a year earlier, he was highly praised by President Bush (see January 31, 2003).
Differing Characterizations from Administration - On Meet the Press, Clarke reads aloud the handwritten note from Bush that lauds his service, telling host Tim Russert: “This is his writing. This is the president of the United States’ writing. And when they’re engaged in character assassination of me, let’s just remember that on January 31, 2003: ‘Dear Dick, you will be missed. You served our nation with distinction and honor. You have left a positive mark on our government.’ This is not the normal typewritten letter that everybody gets. This is the president’s handwriting. He thinks I served with distinction and honor. The rest of his staff is out there trying to destroy my professional life, trying to destroy my reputation, because I had the temerity to suggest that a policy issue should be discussed. What is the role of the war on terror vis-a-vis the war in Iraq? Did the war in Iraq really hurt the war on terror? Because I suggest we should have a debate on that, I am now being the victim of a taxpayer-paid—because all these people work for the government—character assassination campaign.”
Never Briefed Bush on Terrorism - Clarke also notes that the letter proves he never briefed Bush on terrorism because he was not allowed to provide such a briefing (see Early January 2001). He tells Russert: “You know, they’re saying now that when I was afforded the opportunity to talk to him about cybersecurity, it was my choice. I could have talked about terrorism or cybersecurity. That’s not true. I asked in January to brief him, the president, on terrorism, to give him the same briefing I had given Vice President Cheney, Colin Powell, and [Condoleezza] Rice. And I was told, ‘You can’t do that briefing, Dick, until after the policy development process.’” [MSNBC, 3/28/2004; Salon, 3/29/2004]
Administration Should Declassifiy August 2002 Briefing - Clarke also calls on the administration to declassify “all six hours” of the briefing he gave to top officials in August 2002 about the impending threat of a terrorist attack (see August 22, 2002). The administration has selectively declassified material from that briefing to impugn Clarke’s honesty and integrity. “I would welcome it being declassified,” Clarke says. “But not just a little line here and there—let’s declassify all six hours of my testimony.” He also asks that the administration declassify the strategy reports from 2001 that he authored, and all of his e-mails between January 2001 and September 2001, to prove that the charges laid against him by the administration are false. He calls on the White House to end what he calls the “vicious personal attacks” and “character assassination,” and focus on issues. “The issue is not about me,” he tells a CNN reporter. “The issue is about the president’s performance in the war on terrorism.” [MSNBC, 3/28/2004; CNN, 3/28/2004]

Entity Tags: Colin Powell, George W. Bush, Condoleezza Rice, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Bush administration (43), Richard A. Clarke, Tim Russert

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 2004 Elections

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