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Context of 'May 22, 1998: Clinton Creates Counterterrorism ‘Tsar’ Post; Selects Richard Clarke'

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Richard Clarke, who will be the counterterrorism “tsar” on 9/11, regularly participates in a series of highly secret “Continuity of Government” (COG) exercises. [Washington Post, 4/7/2004] Throughout the 1980s, the COG exercises rehearse how to keep the federal government running during and after a nuclear war with the Soviet Union (see 1981-1992). After the fall of the Soviet Union, the exercises continue, but based instead around a possible terrorist attack on the United States (see 1992-2000). [Atlantic Monthly, 3/2004] In 2004, Clarke will reveal that he has participated regularly in these exercises over the previous 20 years. He recalls that he had “gone off into caves in mountains in remote locations and spent days on end in miserable conditions, pretending that the rest of the world had blown up, and going through the questions, going through the drill.” He adds: “Everyone there play acts that it’s really happened. You can’t go outside because of the radioactivity. You can’t use the phones because they’re not connected to anything.” He also describes the COG plan requiring coded communications, saying: “There’s an elaborate system for the people in this network, first of all, to verify each other’s identity. That person on the other end has a certain password and information that they have to pass for us to believe that they’re who they say they are.” [Washington Post, 4/7/2004; ABC News, 4/25/2004] Clarke was a senior analyst at the State Department since 1979, and rises to prominence during the Reagan administration when he becomes deputy assistant secretary of state for intelligence. [Washington Post, 3/13/2003; BBC, 3/22/2004] After being a member of the National Security Council since 1992, in 1998 he is appointed as counterterrorism “tsar” (see May 22, 1998). [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004 pdf file; New York Review of Books, 5/13/2004; Independent, 6/14/2004] According to journalist James Mann, the COG program is of particular interest because it helps explain the thinking and behavior of the Bush administration “in the hours, days, and months after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.” [Atlantic Monthly, 3/2004] On the morning of 9/11, Clarke is in fact responsible for activating the COG plan, the first time it is ever implemented (see (Between 9:45 a.m. and 9:56 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Clarke, 2004, pp. 8; ABC News, 4/25/2004] Also participating in the COG exercises, at least throughout at 1980s, are Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, who on 9/11 are the vice president and secretary of defense, respectively. [Atlantic Monthly, 3/2004]

Entity Tags: Richard A. Clarke

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

During the 1980s, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld were regular participants in top-secret exercises, designed to test a program called Continuity of Government (COG) that would keep the federal government functioning during and after a nuclear war with the Soviet Union (see 1981-1992). Despite the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union, the COG exercises continue into the 1990s, being budgeted still at over $200 million per year.
Exercises Prepare for Terrorist Attacks - Now, terrorists replace the Soviet Union as the imagined threat in the exercises. The terrorism envisaged is almost always state-sponsored, with the imagined terrorists acting on behalf of a government. According to journalist James Mann, the COG exercises are abandoned fairly early in the Clinton era, as the scenario is considered farfetched and outdated. However another journalist, Andrew Cockburn, suggests they continue for longer.
Exercise Participants Are Republican Hawks - Cockburn adds that, while the “shadow government” created in the exercises had previously been drawn from across the political spectrum, now the players are almost exclusively Republican hawks. A former Pentagon official with direct knowledge of the program will later say: “It was one way for these people to stay in touch. They’d meet, do the exercise, but also sit around and castigate the Clinton administration in the most extreme way. You could say this was a secret government-in-waiting. The Clinton administration was extraordinarily inattentive, [they had] no idea what was going on.” [Atlantic Monthly, 3/2004; Cockburn, 2007, pp. 88]
Richard Clarke Participates - A regular participant in these COG exercises is Richard Clarke, who on 9/11 will be the White House chief of counterterrorism (see (1984-2004)). [Washington Post, 4/7/2004; ABC News, 4/25/2004] Although he will later come to prominence for his criticisms of the administration of President George W. Bush, some who have known him will say they consider Clarke to be hawkish and conservative (see May 22, 1998). [Boston Globe, 3/29/2004; US News and World Report, 4/5/2004] The Continuity of Government plan will be activated, supposedly for the first time, in the hours during and after the 9/11 attacks (see (Between 9:45 a.m. and 9:56 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Washington Post, 3/1/2002]

Entity Tags: Clinton administration, Andrew Cockburn, Richard A. Clarke, Donald Rumsfeld, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, James Mann, US Department of Defense

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline, Civil Liberties

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

President Clinton issues Presidential Decision Directive 67 (PDD-67), which updates the US Continuity of Government (COG) program in line with the emerging threat posed by terrorists. [Clarke, 2004, pp. 166-167 and 170; Washington Post, 6/4/2006] PDD-67, “Enduring Constitutional Government and Continuity of Government Operations,” requires agencies to plan for governmental continuity if the US is hit by a major terrorist attack. [Knight Ridder, 11/17/1999; Federation of American Scientists, 12/12/2000] The directive is classified and there is no White House fact sheet summarizing its contents. [Federation of American Scientists, 12/12/2000; US Congress. House. Committee on Government Reform, 4/22/2004] But according to Energy Department documents, the new COG plan “could be triggered by an event worse than what’s expected from the Y2K problem and comparable to the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing.” [Knight Ridder, 11/17/1999] According to the Washington Post, the result of PDD-67 will be that “every single government department and agency [is] directed to see to it that they could resume critical functions within 12 hours of a warning, and keep their operations running at emergency facilities for up to 30 days.” [Washington Post, 6/4/2006] The directive puts the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)—which is responsible for planning for and responding to disasters—in charge of the COG program. [US Congress. House. Committee on Government Reform, 4/28/2005, pp. 4 pdf file] Within FEMA, the Office of National Security Affairs will specifically be responsible for COG activities. [Larson and Peters, 2001, pp. 103] FEMA’s responsibilities will include providing guidance for agencies to develop their continuity plans (see July 26, 1999), and the coordination of interagency exercises. [US Congress. House. Committee on Government Reform, 4/28/2005, pp. 4 pdf file] Richard Clarke, who has now been appointed counterterrorism “tsar” (see May 22, 1998), drafted PDD-67 earlier in the year (see Early 1998). [Clarke, 2004, pp. 166-167] The COG plan will be activated for the first time on the morning of 9/11 (see (Between 9:45 a.m. and 9:56 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [ABC News, 4/25/2004]

Entity Tags: William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline, Civil Liberties

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

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

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