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September 4, 2001: Counterterrorism Chief Clarke Warns that Hundreds of Americans Could Die in an Al-Qaeda Attack

White House counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke sends a memo to National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice in which he warns that hundreds of Americans could die in an attack by al-Qaeda and complains that the Bush administration is not doing enough to combat the threat posed by the terrorist network. [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004; Washington Post, 3/25/2004] The National Security Council’s principals committee—a group of senior officials who advise the president on issues of national security policy—is set to meet today to discuss al-Qaeda. Before the meeting takes place, Clarke sends a memo to Rice in which he criticizes US counterterrorism efforts.
Al-Qaeda Could Kill 'Hundreds of Americans' - The “real question” before the members of the principals committee, Clarke writes in the memo, is, “[A]re we serious about dealing with the al-Qaeda threat?” He suggests: “Decision makers should imagine themselves on a future day when the [White House Counterterrorism Security Group] has not succeeded in stopping al-Qaeda attacks and hundreds of Americans lay dead in several countries, including the US. What would those decision makers wish that they had done earlier?” “That future day could happen at any time,” he adds.
Clarke Complains about the Lack of Response to the USS Cole Bombing - Clarke criticizes the US military for failing to respond to the attack on the USS Cole in Yemen, in October 2000 (see October 12, 2000). “Many in al-Qaeda and the Taliban may have drawn the wrong lesson from the Cole: that they can kill Americans without there being a US response, without there being a price,” he writes. He states that he cannot understand “why we continue to allow the existence of large-scale al-Qaeda bases where we know people are being trained to kill Americans.”
Clarke Warns of a Possible 'Big Attack, with Lots of Casualties' - Clarke complains that without adequate funding: “You are left with a modest effort to swat flies, to try to prevent specific al-Qaeda attacks by using [intelligence] to detect them, and friendly governments’ police and intelligence officers to stop them. You are left waiting for the big attack, with lots of casualties, after which some major US retaliation will be in order.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 212-213]
Rice Later Says Memo Is 'Not a Warning about September 11th' - Rice will later say of Clarke’s memo: “It would not be appropriate or correct to characterize what Dick [Clarke] wrote to me on September 4th as a warning of an impending attack. What he was doing was, I think, trying to buck me up so that when I went into this principals meeting, I was sufficiently on guard against the kind of bureaucratic inertia that he had fought all of his life.” The memo, she will say, “was a warning to me not to get dragged down by the bureaucracy, not a warning about September 11th.” [9/11 Commission, 4/8/2004] The principals committee’s meeting today is the committee’s first meeting on al-Qaeda issues. [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 212] Clarke had “urgently” called for such a meeting back in January this year (see January 25, 2001). [Clarke, 2004, pp. 237]

Entity Tags: Richard A. Clarke, Condoleezza Rice, Al-Qaeda

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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