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Context of 'October 7, 1998: Richard Clarke Warns of Terrorist Threat to New York and Washington, Advocates Aggressive Defensive Strategy'

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Richard Clarke, the chair of the White House’s Counterterrorism Security Group, updates the US Continuity of Government (COG) program. National Security Adviser Sandy Berger has become aware that terrorism and domestic preparedness are now major issues. He suggests the idea of a “national coordinator” for counterterrorism, and that this post should be codified by a new Presidential Decision Directive (PDD). Clarke therefore drafts three new directives. The third, tentatively titled “PDD-Z,” updates the COG program. [Clarke, 2004, pp. 166-167] This program, which dates back to the cold war, was originally designed to ensure the US government would continue to function in the event of a nuclear war with the Soviet Union. [Atlantic Monthly, 3/2004] Clarke will later say it “had been allowed to fall apart when the threat of a Soviet nuclear attack had gone away.” [Clarke, 2004, pp. 167] He will explain: “We thought that individual buildings in Washington, and indeed perhaps all of Washington, could still come under attack, only it might not be from the former Soviet Union.… It might be with a terrorist walking a weapon into our city.” [CBS, 9/11/2001] Therefore, “If terrorists could attack Washington, particularly with weapons of mass destruction, we needed to have a robust system of command and control, with plans to devolve authority and capabilities to officials outside Washington.” [Clarke, 2004, pp. 167] President Clinton will sign “PDD-Z” on October 21, 1998, as PDD-67, “Enduring Constitutional Government and Continuity of Government Operations” (see October 21, 1998). The two other directives drafted by Clarke will become PDD-62 (see May 22, 1998) and PDD-63. [Clarke, 2004, pp. 170; Washington Post, 6/4/2006] By February 1999, according to the New York Times, Clarke will have written at least four classified presidential directives on terrorism, which “expand the government’s counterterrorism cadres into the $11 billion-a-year enterprise he now coordinates.” [New York Times, 2/1/1999] Clarke is a regular participant in secret COG exercises (see (1984-2004)), and will activate the COG plan for the first time on the day of 9/11 (see (Between 9:45 a.m. and 9:56 a.m.) September 11, 2001).

Entity Tags: Richard A. Clarke, Sandy Berger

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

Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke advocates an aggressive approach to dealing with terrorists and countries that harbor them, and says terrorists are likely to go after America’s “Achilles’ heel,” which is “in Washington… in New York,” and “throughout the country.” He makes these comments during a two-day conference on countering chemical and biological warfare, held in Washington, DC. [New York Times, 10/8/1998; USIS Washington File, 10/8/1998]
Enemies Could Target Washington or New York - In his speech at the conference, Clarke says, “The United States can defeat in a conventional war any other military in the world.” Therefore: “Our enemies instead will use unconventional techniques, either exclusively or as a supplement to their attack. They will use terrorism. They will use cyber attack and information warfare. And they will use chem-bio attack.” He adds that America’s enemies “will go after our Achilles’ heel,” which is “in Washington. It is in New York. It is throughout the country. For no longer can we count as a nation on the two great oceans defending us from foreign attack here at home.”
US Willing to Take 'The First Step' - Clarke says that the US government has developed a strategy for dealing with chemical and biological weapons attacks, which includes an aggressive approach toward terrorist groups and rogue states. He says these groups and states “should know that those who engage in terrorist acts, including terrorist acts involving chemical and biological weapons, can be assured that they will pay a high price.” The government’s promise to them is “attack us and you will unleash a relentless and methodical machine against you.” Furthermore, Clarke says, the US is willing to act preemptively: “The United States reserves for itself the right of self-defense, and if that means our taking the first step, we will do so. We will not tolerate terrorist organizations acquiring or maintaining stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction.” [USIS Washington File, 10/8/1998]
US Will Target Countries that Harbor Terrorists - In an interview after his speech, Clarke emphasizes that countries that harbor these terrorist groups also risk being targeted by the US. He points to the recent missile attacks against Sudan in retaliation for the US embassy bombings in Africa (see August 20, 1998), and says the US will “definitely do something” about such countries. “The something depends on what the circumstances are.” [New York Times, 10/8/1998] Clarke will repeat his claim that the nation’s “Achilles’ heel” terrorists will come after is “here in the United States” in an April 2000 interview with the Washington Post (see April 2, 2000). [Washington Post, 4/2/2000]

Entity Tags: Richard A. Clarke

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke warns of the danger posed by Osama bin Laden and of the risk of a terrorist attack within the United States, and argues for an aggressive anti-terrorism strategy. His views are reported by the Washington Post, which calls him “one of the least known but most controversial members of [President] Clinton’s national security team,” who has “played a key role both in defining the new post-Cold War security threats to the United States and coming up with a response.” The Post says the central idea behind Clarke’s thinking is that “a new breed of global terrorist—embodied by bin Laden—has developed the ruthlessness and resources to carry its war to American soil.” These terrorists, Clarke says, “will come after our weakness, our Achilles heel, which is largely here in the United States.” Clarke “compares the current threat of global terrorism with the situation faced by Western democracies in the period leading up to World War II, when appeasement carried the day.” He is critical of those who are skeptical about the danger of a chemical or biological terrorist attack, saying: “The notion that this is an analytical problem and one can quantify the threat is naive.… We don’t know how many bio labs there are out there, how many tons of chemical agents. Frankly, it will only take one.” Clarke wants aggressive action to prevent terrorist attacks against Americans. He says: “We should have a very low barrier in terms of acting when there is a threat of weapons of mass destruction being used against American citizens. We should not have a barrier of evidence that can be used in a court of law.” Referring to bin Laden, he adds: “It’s not enough to be in a cat-and-mouse game, warning about his plots. If we keep that up, we will someday fail. We need to seriously think about doing more. Our goal should be to so erode his network of organizations that they no longer pose a serious threat.” [Washington Post, 4/2/2000]

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Richard A. Clarke

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke is told by an aide, “United 93 is down, crashed outside of Pittsburgh. It’s odd. Appears not to have hit anything much on the ground.” The timing of this event is unclear. [Clarke, 2004, pp. 14-15]

Entity Tags: Richard A. Clarke

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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