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June 21, 1995: President Clinton Assigns New Counterterrorism Responsibilities

Concerns that terrorists may obtain a nuclear, chemical, or biological weapon inspire the Clinton administration to assign new counterterrorism responsibilities within the federal government. After at least a year of interagency planning, President Clinton signs classified Presidential Decision Directive 39, US Policy on Counterterrorism. According to author Steve Coll, the directive is the “first official recognition by any American president” of the threat posed by terrorists using weapons of mass destruction. [Coll, 2004, pp. 318] “The acquisition of weapons of mass destruction by a terrorist group, through theft or manufacture, is unacceptable,” the directive declares. “There is no higher priority than preventing the acquisition of this capability or removing this capability from terrorist groups potentially opposed to the US.” PDD-39 is never fully disclosed to the public, but parts of it will be declassified in February 1997. The directive assigns specific counterterrorism responsibilities to the attorney general, the directors of the CIA and FBI, and the secretaries of state, defense, transportation, treasury, and energy. PDD-39 also assigns “Consequence Management” responsibilities to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). When PDD-39 is partially declassified, a paragraph reaffirming a controversial detention policy is inadvertently disclosed. The paragraph, which is marked ”(S)” for secret, claims terrorism suspects may be detained by the US anywhere in world without the consent of the home country. “If we do not receive adequate cooperation from a state that harbors a terrorist whose extradition we are seeking, we shall take appropriate measures to induce cooperation,” the directive states. “Return of suspects by force may be effected without the cooperation of the host government, consistent with the procedures outlined in NSD-77, which shall remain in effect.” National Security Directive 77, or NSD-77, was signed by President George H. W. Bush and is entirely classified. [Presidential Decision Directive 39, 6/21/1995; White House, 6/21/1995; Associated Press, 2/5/1997; Federation of American Scientists, 9/26/2002; 9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004]

Entity Tags: George Herbert Walker Bush, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Clinton administration

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

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