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The billionaire Koch brothers, Charles and David, launch the first of a number of “citizen advocacy” groups they either found or fund, Citizens for a Sound Economy. The Kochs are staunch right-wing libertarians determined to successfully combat government regulation and oversight of businesses, government taxation, and government funding of social programs (see August 30, 2010). Between 1986 and 1993, the brothers will provide $7.9 million to the group, even as it promotes itself as a “grassroots,” “citizen-driven” organization. (Such organizations that call themselves “citizen-based” while actually being founded, operated, and funded by corporate interests are called “astroturf” organizations.) Matt Kibbe, who will go on to head a Koch-funded lobbying organization, FreedomWorks, will later say of Citizens for a Sound Economy that its driving force was to take the Kochs’ “heavy ideas and translate them for mass America.… We read the same literature Obama did about nonviolent revolutions—Saul Alinsky, Gandhi, Martin Luther King. We studied the idea of the Boston Tea Party as an example of nonviolent social change. We learned we needed boots on the ground to sell ideas, not candidates.” One organization participant will say that the brothers are “very controlling, very top down. You can’t build an organization with them. They run it.” By 1993, the organization will become powerful enough to successfully thwart the Clinton administration’s efforts to place a “BTU tax” on energy, and mounts successful “citizen protests” against Democrats, sometimes funnelling millions of Koch monies into the political campaigns of their Republican opponents. (Mayer 8/30/2010)
As part of its ongoing battle against drug trafficking, the US routinely monitors the phone records of thousands of US citizens and others inside the country who make phone calls to Latin America. The NSA works with the Drug Enforcement Agency in collecting phone records that show patterns of calls between the US, Latin America, and other drug-producing regions. The program is significantly expanded after George W. Bush takes office in 2001. Government officials will say in 2007 that the phone conversations themselves are not monitored, but the NSA and DEA use phone numbers and e-mail addresses to analyze possible links between US citizens and foreign nationals. The program is approved by Justice Department officials in both the Bush and Clinton administrations, and does not require court approval to demand communications records. In 2004, one US telecommunications firm, who is not identified, will refuse to turn over its phone records to the government (see 2004). (Lichtblau, Risen, and Shane 12/16/2007) The Bush administration will repeatedly claim that the government did not begin monitoring US citizens until after the attacks of September 11, 2001. However, this NSA/DEA program proves otherwise.
In his State of the Union address, President Bush announces a drastic revision of the controversial Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI, or “Star Wars”) missile defense system (see March 23, 1983). The system, still in its research and development stages, will no longer attempt to protect the majority of the US population from nuclear assault. Now, Bush says, SDI will be retooled to “provid[e] protection against limited ballistic missile strikes—whatever their source.” The system, called Global Protection Against Limited Strikes (GPALS), will include some 1,000 space-based “Brilliant Pebbles” interceptors, 750 to 1,000 long-range ground-based interceptors at six sites, space-based and mobile sensors, and transportable ballistic missile defenses. (Federation of American Scientists 1/15/2008) The concept is based on an earlier proposal by nuclear weapons experts Edward Teller, Lowell Wood, and Gregory Canavan of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, who came up with the idea of a “Smart Rocks” defense system based on thousands of small rocket-propelled canisters in Earth orbit, each capable of ramming an incoming ballistic missile and exploding it outside the lower atmosphere. The “Smart Rocks” concept was one component of the original SDI concept, but was retooled, upgraded, and renamed “Brilliant Pebbles” to be the main component of the program. It will never be deployed, and will be defunded entirely during the first year of the Clinton administration. (Claremont Institute 12/24/2007)
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.” (Mann 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)). (Kurtz 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). (Abel 3/29/2004; Kaplan 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). (Gellman and Schmidt 3/1/2002)
Paul Wolfowitz, the neoconservative undersecretary of policy for Defense Secretary Dick Cheney, promotes the export of advanced AIM-9M air-to-air missiles to Israel. This is discovered by a lengthy investigation by the Bush administration into the export of classified weapons technology to China. The Joint Chiefs of Staff, aware that Israel has already been caught selling an earlier version of the AIM missile to China in violation of a written agreement between Israel and the US, intervenes to stop the missile sales. Wolfowitz retains his position at the Defense Department until he and most of his neoconservative colleagues are turned out of the federal government by the onset of the Clinton administration. (Green 2/28/2004)
The Clinton administration reorganizes the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), shifting resources away from secret projects and into disaster relief programs. During the previous two administrations, FEMA’s resources were overwhelmingly geared towards the highly classified Continuity of Government program, meant to keep the government functioning in times of extreme national emergency (see April 1, 1979-Present). The changes to the disaster agency are prompted by strong criticism of FEMA’s response to Hurricane Andrew (see August-September 1992). The secret COG programs are scaled back, but not totally discontinued. The newly appointed director of FEMA, James Lee Witt, eliminates FEMA’s secretive National Preparedness Directorate and shifts its responsibilities to other sections of the disaster agency. FEMA’s budget shows a dramatic drop in funding for secret projects, from about $100 million in 1993 to only $7.5 million in 1994. “What [Director Witt has] done is put FEMA in an all-hazards approach and put it aboveboard,” says FEMA spokesperson Morrie Goodman. “There are, of course,” Goodman adds, “certain areas that can’t be discussed or even acknowledged. That’s just the nature of the beast.” Indeed, uncertainties remain regarding the true extent of FEMA’s reformation. As Mother Jones magazine notes, the reduced classified budget “reflects only a fragment of FEMA’s investment in doomsday preparations, given that many former projects have been redesignated as ‘dual-use’ responses for both natural disasters and national security emergencies.” According to Mother Jones, “much of the doomsday bureaucracy remains intact, parts of the fifth floor are still restricted, and there has been no concerted effort to declassify the underground command posts.” Government officials will claim in 1994 that the COG program is coming to a total end (see April 18, 1994), but FEMA will continue to pursue its secret agenda for years to come (see April 1, 1979-Present). (National Academy of Public Administration 2/1993 ; Gup and Aftergood 1/1994; Weiner 4/18/1994; Sylves 5/1994)
Attorney General Janet Reno announces that all 93 US Attorneys must resign promptly, allowing the Clinton administration to appoint its own prosecutors for the positions. All 93 US Attorneys are Republicans appointed during the Reagan and Bush administrations, and US Attorneys are routinely replaced after a change in administrations, particularly when the incoming president is of a different party than the outgoing president. Jay B. Stephens, the US Attorney for the District of Columbia, suggests that the Clinton administration wants to derail his ongoing investigation of Representative Dan Rostenkowski (D-IL), a key Clinton ally thought to be involved in political corruption. While stopping short of directly accusing Reno or President Clinton of desiring to interfere in the case, he says, “This case has been conducted with integrity, and I trust the decisions in this case will not be made based on political considerations.” If Stephens or his successor indicts Rostenkowski, the congressman would have to relinquish his chairmanship of the House Ways and Means Committee, costing Clinton a key political ally in that powerful body. Reno denies any connection between the Rostenkowski investigation and the firings. Stephens is being treated like the rest of the US Attorneys, she says, and she would consider allowing some to stay on if they were critically involved in ongoing investigations. All 93 US Attorneys knew they would be asked to leave office if Clinton won the election, and 16 have already resigned. Reno says she wants the resignations “so that the US Attorneys presently in position will know where they stand and that we can begin to build a team.” Some Clinton administration officials call Stephens’s veiled allegations “absurd,” and say that it is surprising it has taken this long to ask for the US Attorney resignations. (Johnston 3/24/1993; Garland 3/24/1993) The Rostenkowski investigation will be pursued by Stephens’s successor, Eric Holder, and Rostenkowski will be found guilty of mail fraud and sentenced to jail. (Lacy 4/10/1996)
Stephen Higgins, the director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF), defends the bureau’s raid on the Branch Davidian compound (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993), and disputes accounts by some agents that the raid was poorly planned and executed (see March 27, 1993). “We did it in what we thought was the safest way, and we had a tragedy,” Higgins says on NBC’s Today show. Higgins and the BATF are weathering a pointed lack of support from Clinton administration officials. “If people want to re-examine us as an agency, that’s fine; we’re not afraid of that,” he says. “We think we’re an agency that does good work, that the people who were there that day performed bravely.” Higgins refuses to directly address the accounts of agents who say that the raid went poorly in part because the BATF lost the element of surprise before the raid began, saying: “This was a plan that depended on the element of surprise. We would not have executed the plan if our supervisors felt like we had lost that element. So my position has been and continues to be that we did not believe that we had lost that element of surprise.” He does admit that some agents had asked to carry heavier firearms than handguns and were turned down by their supervisors. (Labaton 3/30/1993; Labaton 4/3/1993)
Bruce Fein, an associate attorney general under the Reagan administration, accuses the Clinton administration of “politicizing” the Justice Department by asking for all 93 sitting US Attorneys to resign (see March 24, 1993). All 93 US Attorneys are Republican political appointees, and many expected to be asked to leave when President Clinton won the election in November 1992. But Fein accuses Clinton of “accommodat[ing] Democratic spoils” by asking the Reagan and Bush appointees to leave, and says the resignations will stop the investigation of Representative Dan Rostenkowski (D-IL), the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee and one of Clinton’s close allies in Congress. Fein accuses that the resignations are being carried out for “partisan political reasons,” though he cites no evidence to back this claim. “That genuflection to the Democratic Party undermines public confidence in the administration of justice, a consequence [Attorney General Janet] Reno was purported to deplore.… [M]aking allegiance to the Democratic Party the chief concern in selecting federal prosecutors creates, at a minimum, an appearance that justice will be skewed, not evenhanded.” Removing US Attorney Jay Stephens while his office is investigating Rostenkowski constitutes an “obvious political conflict of interest,” as, Fein says, a Democratic US Attorney can be expected to exonerate Rostenkowski. Moreover, Fein writes, “partisan Democrat” Eleanor Holmes Norton, the Congressional delegate from Washington, DC, will help select Stephens’s successor, and Norton, Fein says, “is thus likely to lobby for a US Attorney benignly disposed toward Rostenkowski.” (Johnston 3/24/1993; Fein 4/4/1993) The Rostenkowski investigation will be pursued by Stephens’s successor, Eric Holder, and Rostenkowski will be found guilty of mail fraud and sentenced to jail. (Lacy 4/10/1996)
David Koresh, the increasingly unstable leader (see April 9, 1993) of the besieged Branch Davidian sect near Waco, Texas (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993 and March 1, 1993), informs FBI negotiators in a letter written to his lawyer Richard DeGuerin that God has finally spoken to him; he will leave the compound once he has written a manuscript explaining the Seven Seals, a Biblical concept that is associated with the Apocalypse. According to the book Snapping: America’s Epidemic of Sudden Personality Change, Koresh’s lieutenant Steve Schneider tells negotiators that it might take “six months or six years” to complete the manuscript. Other sources say that Koresh intends to finish the manuscript within several weeks. (US Department of Justice 4/14/1993; Conway and Siegelman 1995, pp. 244; Moore 1995; Boyer 5/15/1995)
Religious Basis for Surrender? - The latest letter from Koresh is substantially different from his previous letters; while the earlier letters were primarily rambling Biblical dissertations, this letter states a deadline as to when the Davidians will leave and Koresh will surrender. Experts reading the letter note that it is far more prosaically written than the earlier letters, and states Koresh’s desire to leave the compound and “stand before man to answer any and all questions regarding my actions.” Some religious scholars, later reading the letter, will say that they believe Koresh has found a religious rationale for surrendering. James Tabor of the University of North Carolina will say, “Koresh used the religious arguments in this letter for why he had now seen that the scriptures told him to come out.” Tabor and his colleague, Philip Arnold of the Reunion Institute of Houston (see March 7, 1993), will note that Koresh now seems to believe that surrender is a viable option because he “could come out and preach his message.” (US Department of Justice 4/14/1993; House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight 8/2/1996)
Davidians 'Cheer' over Likelihood of Departure - DeGuerin, representing Koresh and the Davidians (see April 1-4, 1993), says that the Davidians are happy about the prospect of their imminent release. “[E]everyone was relieved they did not have to die,” DeGuerin will later recall. The Davidians obviously believe they are leaving; cheering can be heard on FBI surveillance audiotapes. Tabor will later testify: “You can exactly see the mental state of the people inside. It is buoyant. They are talking about coming out. They are excited about it.” Tabor will quote surviving Davidians as saying, “We were so joyful that weekend because we knew we were coming out, that finally David had got his word of how to do this legally, the lawyers, and theologically in terms of his system.” (House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight 8/2/1996)
FBI, Justice Department Refuse to Countenance Idea, Continue with Plans to Assault Compound - In Washington, Attorney General Janet Reno continues to review plans to flush the Davidians out with tear gas (see April 12, 1993), and meets with members of the Army’s elite Delta Force to fine-tune the strategy. Senior White House and Justice Department officials conclude that there is no hope of Koresh surrendering peacefully, a conclusion reinforced by FBI senior agent Byron Sage, one of the principal negotiators, who tells officials that in his opinion further negotiations would be fruitless. The FBI agent in charge of the siege, Jeffrey Jamar, gives DeGuerin and his fellow lawyer Jack Zimmerman the impression that he takes Koresh’s offer of surrender seriously, but as Jamar will later testify, he does not. Jamar will later testify: “It was serious in [DeGuerin’s and Zimmerman’s] minds. I think they were earnest and really hopeful, but in Koresh’s mind, never a chance. I’m sorry.” The Delta Force members are present at the request of FBI Director William Sessions, to convince Reno to go along with the tear-gas plan. They reassure her that tear gas presents no danger to both the adults and the children in the compound, and that it cannot catch fire. Richard Rogers, the head of the Hostage Rescue Team (HRT—see March 31, 1993), says that if the situation in Waco is not resolved soon, he will have to withdraw his men for rest and retraining. Reno asks why, if the HRT teams must be withdrawn, local SWAT teams cannot be deployed in their place; Rogers and other FBI officials say the presence of the HRT teams is “essential.” However, even with the pressure from the FBI officials, Reno rejects the plan. (Boyer 5/15/1995; PBS Frontline 10/1995) She will approve a modified version of the plan two days later (see April 17-18, 1993). She is apparently unaware that the FBI will lob pyrotechnic grenades either into or near the building (see August 25, 1999 and After).
Opinions Vary on Koresh's Intentions, Sincerity - Sage will later say that in his opinion, Koresh never intended to follow through with the proposed surrender. He will say that Koresh turns down offers to provide typists and word processors to help him complete his manuscript, though the FBI provides equipment to let Davidian Ruth Riddle begin typing transcripts for him. Sage is convinced, he will say, that the entire manuscript proposal is “just another delaying tactic.” (Dick J. Reavis 7/19/1995; PBS Frontline 10/1995) Others have a different opinion. Two religious scholars, Arnold and Tabor, have studied Koresh’s earlier broadcast (see March 2, 1993), and believe that Koresh has decided that the Apocalypse he believes is unfolding at Mt. Carmel still has a year or so before it concludes; Koresh’s decision to write the manuscript about the Seven Seals indicates to them that he has changed his mind about the timeframe of the End Days. They believe that Koresh means what he says and does intend to surrender after completing the manuscript. (Dean M. Kelley 5/1995)
The Clinton administration rejects the Reagan/Bush “broad interpretation” of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (see May 26, 1972 and October 6-11, 1985) in favor of the narrow, “traditional” interpretation. A senior government official informs Congress that “it is the position of the Clinton administration that the ‘narrow,’ or ‘traditional,’ interpretation of the ABM Treaty is the correct interpretation and, therefore, that the ABM Treaty prohibits the development, testing, and deployment of sea-based, air-based, space-based, and mobile land-based ABM systems and components without regard to technology utilized.” (Federation of American Scientists 1/15/2008)
Iraqi exile Ahmed Chalabi (see 1992-1996) approaches the Clinton administration with a plan to overthrow Saddam Hussein. Defense Intelligence Agency agent Patrick Lang will later recall that the plan, dubbed “End Game,” starts with a revolt by Iraq’s Kurdish and Shi’a insurgents that will, theoretically, trigger an insurrection by Iraqi military commanders. The military will replace Hussein with a regime friendly to both Israel and the US. Clinton officials give the plan tentative approval, though as Lang will later write: “The plan was based on a belief that Iraq was ripe for revolt and that there were no units in the armed forces that would fight to preserve Saddam’s government. Since the same units had fought to keep Saddam in power during the Kurdish and Shi’a revolts of a few years before, it is difficult to see why the sponsors of End Game would have thought that.” Meanwhile, Saddam Hussein learns of the plan and prepares his own response. When Chalabi puts the plan into action, the Iraqi military, instead of revolting against Hussein, kills over 100 INC-backed insurgents (see March 1995). After the debacle, neither the CIA nor the White House will have anything more than superficial contact with Chalabi until 2001. (Lang 6/2004; Unger 2007, pp. 126)
Walter Dellinger, the head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, writes of the necessity for presidential signing statements: “If the president may properly decline to enforce a law, at least when it unconstitutionally encroaches on his powers, then it arguably follows that he may properly announce to Congress and to the public that he will not enforce a provision of an enactment he is signing. If so, then a signing statement that challenges what the president determines to be an unconstitutional encroachment on his power, or that announces the president’s unwillingness to enforce… such a provision, can be a valid and reasonable exercise of presidential authority.” President Clinton will issue signing statements challenging or commenting on 140 legislative provisions during his eight years in office (see February 1996). (Savage 2007, pp. 235)
Neoconservative publisher and pundit William Kristol writes a five-page memo explaining why and how Republicans can ensure the Clinton administration’s health care proposal fails. The memo warns that if the Clinton health care plan is implemented, and actually improves the lives of Americans, the success of the program would badly damage the Republican Party by improving Americans’ relationship with government. Therefore, the plan must be stopped before it can begin. The memo’s strategy will be used in the powerful “Harry and Louise” media campaign, based on TV commercials featuring an older couple who worry that the program would destroy their relationships with their family doctor. Kristol writes in part: “Passage of the Clinton health care plan, in any form, would guarantee and likely make permanent an unprecedecented federal intrusion into and disruption of the American economy—and the establishment of the largest federal entitlement program since Social Security. It’s [sic] success would signal a rebirth of centralized welfare-state policy at the very moment we have begun rolling back that idea in other areas.… The long term political effects of a successful Clinton health care bill will be even worse—much worse. It will relegitimize middle-class dependency for ‘security’ on government spending and regulation. It will revive the reputation of the party that spends and regulates, the Democrats, as the generous protector of middle-class interests. And it will at the same time strike a punishing blow against Republican claims to defend the middle class by restraining government.… Its rejection by Congress and the public would be a monumental setback for the president, and an incontestable piece of evidence that Democratic welfare-state liberalism remains firmly in retreat.” In 2009, Washington Post columnist Greg Sargent will note: “Here’s what’s striking about this. Kristol repeatedly says defeating Clinton on health care would deal a death knell to something that at the time already appeared on its way towards extinction—the ‘welfare-state,’ or the idea that government can improve the lives of the middle class. Kristol describes this idea as ‘firmly in retreat,’ in the process of being ‘rolled back,’ in need of ‘re-legitimizing.’ At the time the defeat of health care was viewed as a potential final victory over liberalism.” (Plum Line 3/2/2009; Smith 3/2/2009; Sargent 3/2/2009)
Conservative New York Times columnist William Safire calls for a second “Team B” competitive intelligence analysis exercise (see November 1976), urging that “a prestigious Team B” be formed “to suggest an alternative Russia policy to Mr. Clinton.” Safire ignores the fact that the Team B procedures and findings were discredited almost immediately (see Late November, 1976). (Mitchell 5/2006 )
Ukraine agrees to give up its nuclear weapons. It is the last of the former Soviet states to give up its nuclear arsenal, and, as the New York Times’s Bill Keller will later observe, “probably the only one with the technological wherewithal to override Moscow’s centralized control systems and become an overnight nuclear state.” The Bush and Clinton administrations used a combination of diplomatic promises and pressure to convince Ukraine to give up its nuclear weapons; the US has agreed to funnel large amounts of financial aid into the country as well as entering into a military partnership with it. Keller will note that at this time: “possession of nuclear weapons [i]s still understood as a serious impediment for a country seeking admission into the Western world. If you want… to join the party, you checked your nukes at the door.” (Keller 5/4/2003) Ukraine will ship the last of its nuclear weapons to Russia in June 1996. (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel 6/2/1996)
Elizabeth “Betsy” McCaughey (R-NY), a lawyer and future lieutenant governor of New York, writes a scathing analysis of the Clinton administration’s health care reform plan. The article, “No Exit,” is published in the New Republic, and sparks not only a detailed rebuttal from the Clinton administration, but numerous editorials and responses praising the article and joining in the attack. Echoing McCaughey’s arguments, Newsweek writes, “The plan would reduce the quantity and quality of health care and medical technologies by vastly expanding government’s coercive role.” McCaughey and Newsweek question the proposed creation of a seven-member “National Health Board” which will, she claims, “guess the nation’s health care needs and decree how much the nation may spend meeting them.” According to Newsweek: “Everyone would be locked into one system of low-budget health plans picked by the government. Fifteen presidential appointees, the National Quality Management Council, not you and your doctor, would define the ‘medically necessary’ and ‘appropriate’ care a doctor could give you. Escaping government control to choose your doctor or buy other care would be virtually impossible. Doctors could be paid only by the government-approved plans, at rates set by the government. It would be illegal for doctors to accept money directly from patients, and there would be 15-year jail terms for people driven to bribery for care they feel they need but the government does not deem ‘necessary.’ Government would define a minimum level of care and herd people in particular regions into dependence on the lowest-cost organization able to deliver that level. Doctors would be driven into organizations in which they would be punished financially for giving more treatment than the organizations’ budget targets permit. The primary care physician assigned to you would be, McCaughey notes, a gatekeeper with an incentive to limit your access to specialists and high-tech medicine. The premise of the Clintons’ plan is not just that government knows best, but that government knows everything relevant, including how many specialists there should be no more than 45 percent of all doctors [sic]. McCaughey says many medical students will be told that the specialties they prefer are closed, or closed to them because they are not the right race or ethnicity. Yes, the plan subordinates medical values to ‘diversity.’” Prescription drug prices would be controlled through the Department of Health and Human Services, and, McCaughey and Newsweek claim, would “certainly suppress research” that might benefit patients of incurable diseases and disorders. (Newsweek 2/7/1994)
Refuting McCaughey - The Clinton administration details the “numerous factual inaccuracies and misleading statements” contained in McCaughey’s article. The administration’s response says that doctors and patients, not “government bureaucrats” or a board of governors, will decide what treatments are “necessary and appropriate.” The government will not decide what treatments are, and are not, provided: “If anything, the ‘necessary and appropriate’ care provision in the bill delegates authority to the medical profession—rather than imposing further government bureaucracy between the patient and the doctor.” The plan will not block Americans from opting into private health care plans just as they do now, nor will it block doctors and hospitals from accepting payments from “non-approved” health care plans. Nor does the plan require doctors and hospitals “to report your visit to a national data bank containing the medical histories of all Americans,” as McCaughey writes. And the so-called “National Health Board” will not “decide how much the nation can spend on health care beginning in 1996,” as McCaughey claims. The plan will not seek to reduce quality of care in the interest of saving money, and it does not contain price controls. (White House 1/31/1994) A year later, author and columnist James Fallows will call the article “a triumph of misinformation,” and refutes McCaughey’s (and others’) claims point by point. (Fallows 1/1995)
Instrumental in Derailing Reform - The article will later be cited by House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) as “the first decisive breaking point” in the plan’s initial support; the plan will never be implemented. The article itself will spark tremendous controversy, winning the National Magazine Award while being attacked for being fundamentally inaccurate. (In 2006, the new editor of the New Republic, Franklin Foer, will apologize for his magazine having run the article.) In 2009 McCaughey will be a fellow at the conservative Manhattan Institute and will soon join the equally conservative Hudson Institute. Both are heavily funded by health care corporations. (Sarlin 5/15/2009)
Government officials say the highly classified “doomsday” project, also known as the Continuity of Government (COG) program, is being shut down. The secretive program was first designed during the cold war to keep the government functioning in the event of a nuclear conflict with the Soviet Union. “The nuclear tensions of that era having subsided, the project has less than six months to live,” the New York Times reports, citing Pentagon officials. (Weiner 4/18/1994) Despite the claims, the classified plans will not be discontinued. The Clinton administration will actually update the protocols and place a new emphasis on weapons of mass destruction and counterterrorism (see June 21, 1995, October 21, 1998 and Early 1998). The COG program will be officially activated for the first time during the 9/11 attacks and later extended indefinitely (see (Between 9:45 a.m. and 9:56 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Gellman and Schmidt 3/1/2002)
During this six-month period, 52 percent of the women’s health clinics providing abortions in the US are subjected to violence, including arson, bombings, and shootings (see July 29, 1994, September 1994, and December 30, 1994 and After). Numerous abortion clinics and providers in Canada are also targeted by anti-abortion activists (see November 8, 1994). According to author and researcher Harvey Kushner, anti-abortion extremists escalated their violence against abortion providers because of the Clinton administration’s repeal of many anti-abortion regulations perpetuated by the Reagan and Bush administrations, and the passage of the FACE Act (see May 1994). (Kushner 2003, pp. 39-40)
Iraq masses its armored forces on its southern border, obviously threatening another incursion into Kuwait (see August 2, 1990). The Clinton administration responds forcefully, warning the Iraqis that it will deploy 40,000 US troops inside Kuwait within a week if the Iraqis remain in place. The US also increases its Air Force presence inside Kuwait. In response, Iraq withdraws its forces. However, the Iraqi threat impels the US to steadily increase its military presence in Kuwait. By 2000, the US will have increased its Kuwaiti troop deployment from 8,000 to 30,000. (GlobalSecurity (.org) 4/27/2005; Roberts 2008, pp. 121)
The US and North Korea sign a formal accord based on the outlined treaty negotiated by former President Jimmy Carter (see Spring and Summer 1994). The accord, called the Agreed Framework, primarily concerns North Korea’s nuclear program. The North Koreans agree to observe the strictures of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (see July 1, 1968 and December 12, 1985), keep their nuclear fuel rods in storage, and allow inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in to inspect their nuclear facility. In return, the US, along with its allies South Korea and Japan, will provide North Korea with two light-water nuclear reactors specifically for generating electricity, a large supply of fuel oil, and a promise not to attack. The Framework also specifies that once the first light-water reactor is delivered in 2003, intrusive inspections would begin. After the second reactor arrives, North Korea would ship its fuel rods out of the country—essentially ending North Korea’s ability to build nuclear weapons. The Framework also pledges both sides to “move toward full normalization of political and economic relations,” including the exchange of ambassadors and the lowering of trade barriers. North Korea will observe the treaty’s restrictions, at least initially, but the US and its allies never do; the economic barriers are not lowered, the light-water reactors are never delivered, and Congress never approves the financial outlays specified in the accord. By 1996, North Korea is secretly exchanging missile centrifuges for Pakistani nuclear technology. (Kaplan 5/2004)
Pressure from the Clinton administration for NATO air strikes in Bosnia leads to a crisis within the NATO alliance. Ivo H. Daalder, who is responsible for coordinating Bosnia policy on the National Security Council, later writes: “By Thanksgiving 1994, the differences within the NATO that had simmered for months below the surface had come to a full boil, creating the worst crisis within the Atlantic alliance since 1956… Faced with the possibility that NATO might be torn asunder by the rift over Bosnia policy, the administration decided to put NATO unity first and abandon any effort to convince the allies or the United Nations that air strikes remained necessary to turn the military tide in Bosnia.” (Daalder 2000, pp. 33)
Because neoconservatives have so little influence in the Clinton administration, two founding fathers of the movement, Irving Kristol and Norman Podhoretz, begin advocating for the forging of an alliance with the Christian Right, no matter how undemocratic some fundamentalists can be. In his book Neoconservatism: The Autobiography of an Idea (see 1965), Kristol wrote: “[C]onservatives and the Republican Party must embrace the religious if they are to survive.… Religious people always create problems since their ardor tends to outrun the limits of politics in a constitutional democracy. But, if the Republican Party is to survive, it must work on accommodating those people.” Following Kristol’s lead, Podhoretz writes that Jews should ignore the direct anti-Semitism of televangelist Pat Robertson because “Robertson’s support for Israel trumps the anti-Semitic pedigree of his ideas.” Neoconservative academic and intelligence figure Michael Ledeen makes numerous appearances on Robertson’s televised 700 Club to promote the strategy of revamping the Middle East to suit Israel and the US, reaching millions of fundamentalist viewers. (Unger 2007, pp. 150)
Enron’s $3 billion Dabhol, India power plant runs into trouble in 1995 when the Indian government temporarily cancels an agreement. The plant is projected to get its energy from the proposed Afghan pipeline and deliver it to the Indian government. Enron leader Ken Lay travels to India with Commerce Secretary Ron Brown the same year, and heavy lobbying by US officials continue in subsequent years. By summer 2001, the National Security Council leads a “Dabhol Working Group” with officials from various cabinet agencies to get the plant completed and functioning. US pressure on India intensifies until shortly before Enron files for bankruptcy in December 2001. US officials later claim their lobbying merely supported the $640 million of US government investment in the plant. But critics say the plant received unusually strong support under both the Clinton and Bush administrations. (Burger 1/18/2002; Milbank and Blustein 1/19/2002)
China begins to provide assistance to Pakistan with the construction of a plant to manufacture missiles that can carry nuclear warheads. China has been supplying missiles to Pakistan for some time (see 1989 and 1991), and the plant is to produce a generic version of one of the Chinese missiles that is being delivered, the M-11. The facility is to be operated by the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission, which is run by Dr. Samar Mubarakmand. Blueprints of the M-11 will be used to produce a Pakistani version of the missile called the Hatf 3, which will have a range of 150 miles. US intelligence picks up on these developments, and they are reported to Gordon Oehler, the US national intelligence officer for weapons of mass destruction. Estimates indicate that if the rapid progress is maintained, the facility will be completed by 1998. In addition, Oehler warns his superiors that if Pakistan does succeed in building the missiles and loading nuclear warheads onto them, it will probably sell this technology to other countries. However, the Clinton administration takes no action on this intelligence at this time. Authors Adrian Levy and Catherine Scott-Clark will comment: “If the president accepted the assessment, he would have to impose sanctions that would potentially cost American companies billions of dollars in lost revenues if Beijing lashed out at being censured by Washington—particularly Boeing, which was negotiating a major contract with the Chinese aviation industry, and Westinghouse Electric Corporation, which had a valuable deal with the China National Nuclear Corporation. However, not to act on Oehler’s analysis, backed as it was by hard intelligence, would have enhanced Pakistan’s nuclear capability, to the detriment of India.” (Levy and Scott-Clark 2007, pp. 257)
UN observers and others report that frequent flights entering Bosnia are supplying weapons to the Bosnian Muslims in violation of the UN arms embargo. The flights clearly have the support of the US. (Wiebes 2003, pp. 177- 198) A UN official who witnesses the flights is physically threatened by three American officers and warned to keep silent. (Wiebes 2003, pp. 192) Journalists are also pressured and threatened by the US embassy, which is later said to have been acting on instructions from the State Department. (Wiebes 2003, pp. 192) A subsequent investigation conducted with the support of the Netherlands government will conclude that the operation was conducted by a third party, probably Turkey, with “the assent of parts of the US government.” (Wiebes 2003, pp. 195-198) Tim Ripley, who covers the military conflicts in Yugoslavia for Jane’s Intelligence Review, blames the Tuzla flights and similar operations on “‘covert warriors’ of the NSC [National Security Council] and State Department.” (Ripley 1999, pp. 93) Prof. Cees Wiebes, who conducts the Netherlands investigation, agrees saying that “the State Department and National Security Council (NSC) were involved, but not the CIA or the DIA.” According to a confidential source, “the operation was… paid for from a Pentagon Special Operations budget, with the complete assent of the White House. Probably the most important members of Congress were informed in the deepest of secrecy, and they were therefore ‘in the loop’ concerning the events.” (Wiebes 2003, pp. 193) Ripley says that US NATO officers were not involved, but points out that NATO Commander Admiral Leighton Smith was careful to only deny “uniformed” US military involvement. Ripley suggests that American “freelance operatives” were brought in by “senior members of the Clinton Administration.” (Ripley 1999, pp. 62-63) According to Ripley, “Senior US military commanders and CIA officials were just staggered by the ‘duplicity’ and ‘deceit’ at the heart of the Clinton Administration’s policies.” (Ripley 1999, pp. 91)
Ramzi Yousef is arrested in Pakistan, in a safe house owned by Osama bin Laden (see February 1992-February 7, 1995). At the time, Yousef’s uncle Khalid Shaikh Mohammed is staying in the same building and brazenly gives an interview to Time magazine as “Khalid Sheikh,” describing Yousef’s capture. (Lance 2003, pp. 328) Yousef had recruited Istaique Parker to implement a limited version of Operation Bojinka, but Parker got cold feet and instead turned in Yousef (see February 3-7, 1995). (Lance 2003, pp. 284-85) Robert I. Friedman, writing for New York magazine, will later report that at this time the CIA “fought with the FBI over arresting Yousef in Pakistan—the CIA reportedly wanted to continue tracking him—and President Clinton was forced to intervene.” (Friedman 3/17/1995) Yousef is rendered to the US the next day and makes a partial confession while flying there (see February 8, 1995).
Representative Helen Chenoweth (R-ID), in her first two months as a member of the US House of Representatives, accuses the federal government of sending “black helicopters” filled with “armed agency officials” to terrorize Idaho citizens. Chenoweth, who has extensive contacts among area militias and will be characterized as the militia’s “best friend” in Congress (see May 2, 1995), is repeating a canard often used by far-right extremists who believe the UN and the federal government will use “black helicopters” filled with foreign troops to impose tyranny on US citizens. In a press release, Chenoweth says the federal government is violating the Idaho Constitution by using “armed agency officials and helicopters” to enforce the Endangered Species Act and other fish and wildlife regulations. The language of the press release implies that if a federal agent is armed and in Idaho, it is a violation of the Idaho Constitution. Chenoweth orders the government to immediately cease its alleged actions, and in the release, threatens Assistant Agriculture Secretary Jim Lyons by saying, “If it does not, I guarantee you I will be your worst nightmare for at least the next two years.” Chenoweth later tells a reporter, who asks about the black helicopters: “I have never seen them. But enough people in my district have become concerned that I can’t just ignore it. We do have some proof.” Brian Gorman, a spokesman for the National Marine Fisheries Service, says, “All I can say is, we have never had helicopters, have not flown them as part of any endangered-species activity, and we’ve always worked hand in glove with local officials.” (Egan 5/2/1995; Sierra Magazine 5/1996)
Musselshell County Attorney John Bohlman, frustrated at his and his fellow authorities’ failures to stem the flouting of the law by various area Montana Freemen (see June-July 1994 and February - March 1995), writes a letter to President Clinton pleading for federal assistance in curbing the heavily armed Freemen (see 1993-1994). “[P]ersonally, I believe we will have a confrontation that ends in gunfire before the end of the year,” Bohlman writes. Many area residents, who have grown more and more disgusted with the Freemen’s actions, believe that the FBI is likely conducting surveillance of the group, but no direct actions are taken. Local reporters believe the federal government’s refusal to act is due to what they call “Weaver Fever,” the backlash caused by the bloody standoff at Ruby Ridge, Idaho, in 1992 (see August 31, 1992). (Mark Pitcavage 5/6/1996)
The White House announces that the FBI will be the lead investigative agency for the Oklahoma City bombing (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995). Some in federal law enforcement feel that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) is the better choice to conduct the investigation, considering that agency’s expertise with explosives, but the White House wants to avoid the infighting and turf wars that ensued after the Branch Davidian raid (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993) and culminated in the tragedy that claimed 78 lives (see April 19, 1993). The FBI has also been training intensively since the Davidian tragedy on handling major events such as this one. The BATF will be involved, and some internal bickering will take place. FBI supervisor Weldon Kennedy, who runs the Phoenix FBI office, is named lead agent. Kennedy supplants Robert “Bob” Ricks, the FBI’s special agent in charge of Oklahoma City. Ricks had worked on the Branch Davidian siege. FBI Director Louis Freeh names Kennedy, not Ricks, to lead the investigation because of new FBI procedures, implemented after the Davidian tragedy, that call for increased group responses to major crisis situations. Kennedy has been training other agents in the new system and has experience working with a recent series of prison riots in Atlanta. Moreover, Kennedy has no connection to Oklahoma City and therefore does not know any of the victims or the law enforcement officials involved. (Serrano 1998, pp. 184, 191-192) Some 350 agents and specialists, many of whom have friends and co-workers in the Murrah Building, are assigned to the investigative task force. (Stickney 1996, pp. 33) In the following days, the FBI will perform intensive searches of the site of the bombing and of the surrounding area, marking off the areas in small grids and questioning everyone available. Gas stations and truck stops on highways leading in and out of Oklahoma City will be searched, and their employees questioned. A hundred and twenty-nine dump truck loads of debris will be carted to a sifting site at the county sheriff’s gun range 10 miles away, and the debris examined and sorted. In all, 1,035 tons of debris will be examined, much of it by hand. Telephone leads are followed up. The Justice Department’s Merrick Garland will spend the next three months leading the investigation until a group of US Attorneys named by Attorney General Janet Reno takes over. (Serrano 1998, pp. 221)
Representative Steve Stockman (R-TX), a freshman congressman who has won fans in the militia movement for his defense of “citizen’s militias” and his accusations that the Clinton administration deliberately caused the Branch Davidian tragedy (see April 19, 1993 and April 19, 1993 and After), receives a fax regarding the Oklahoma City bombings (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995). The fax reads:
Bldg 7 to 10 floors only military people on scene—
BATF [Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms]/FBI.
Bomb threat received Last Week.
Perpetrator unknown at this time.
According to a statement released by Stockman five days later (see April 23-24, 1995), no one in his office pays any attention to the fax until they learn of the Oklahoma City bombing. Once they realize that the fax may pertain to the bombing, a staffer forwards it to the FBI. Later investigation will show that the fax was sent by Libby Molloy, a former Republican Party official in Texas who now works for Wolverine Productions in Michigan, a firm that produces shortwave broadcasts aimed at militia audiences. (The fax has the word “Wolverine” stamped across the top as part of the sender information.) Molloy also sends the fax to Texas State Senator Mike Galloway and to the offices of the National Rifle Association (NRA). (Johnston 4/23/1995; 'Lectric Law Library 4/24/1995; Dallas Morning News 4/25/1995; Burleigh, Hylton, and Woodbury 5/8/1995; Simmon 6/22/1995)
The press reports that Representative Steve Stockman (R-TX) received a fax shortly after the Oklahoma City bombing (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995) that described the effects of the blast (see 10:50 a.m. April 19, 1995). FBI investigators initially believed that Stockman received the fax three minutes before the 9:02 a.m. blast, but later determined that it had been sent shortly afterwards. They believe that the fax may have been sent by Mark Koernke, a member of the Michigan Militia. Authorities are seeking Koernke for questioning, but say that questioning him is not a high priority. (Johnston 4/23/1995; 'Lectric Law Library 4/24/1995) The fax will later be determined to have been sent around 10:50 a.m., almost two hours after the blast. Subsequent reporting claims that Stockman received the fax from Libby Molloy, the former Republican chairwoman from Orange County, Texas, who has ties to the Michigan Militia. Texas State Senator Mike Galloway also says that his office received a copy of the fax the same day, and turned it over to the FBI. The fax contained the word “Wolverine” stamped at the top; Molloy now works for Wolverine Productions, a Michigan firm that produces shortwave broadcasts aimed at militia audiences. (Dallas Morning News 4/25/1995) Koernke broadcasts via Wolverine Productions. Stockman will deny knowing either Molloy or Koernke, though Molloy will later say that Stockman’s office has provided Wolverine Productions with information helpful for Koernke’s broadcasts. (Burleigh, Hylton, and Woodbury 5/8/1995) Stockman releases a statement concerning the fax and the subsequent press reporting, writing in part: “On the day of the Oklahoma City bombing someone sent our office an anonymous fax which appeared to relate to that tragedy. Our office—not aware of the bombing or the meaning of the fax—set it aside. Our office—like the offices of most public officials, receives every imaginable kind of mail from the public. This fax was no different. After my staff heard news reports of the tragedy—the fax was retrieved and I was made aware of it. I immediately instructed my staff to turn the fax over to the FBI. My office did so within minutes. There has been some confusion in the media over when my office received this fax and when we turned it over to the FBI. There has been no confusion in my office—we turned it over right away.” Stockman says the FBI has confirmed his version of events, and attaches a statement from FBI official John Collingwood showing that he sent the fax “at 11:57 a.m. on April 19, 1995, to the FBI Office of Public and Congressional Affairs.” Stockman also says that a member of his staff sent another copy of the fax to the National Rifle Association (NRA) on April 20, and says, “I believe the staffer acted in good faith, nonetheless, this was done without my knowledge.” Stockman believes he received the fax because of a memo he sent to Attorney General Janet Reno on March 22, 1995, asking if the Justice Department planned any raids against “citizen’s militia” groups and warning of a Branch Davidian-like debacle (see April 19, 1993 and April 19, 1993 and After) if the raids were actually carried out. ('Lectric Law Library 4/24/1995) The Houston Press will later report that the initial confusion about the timing of the fax was caused by the NRA, whom the Press will call “Stockman’s chief patron.” The Press will also note that Stockman has ties to the militia movement, and in a recent Guns and Ammo magazine article, accused the Clinton administration of deliberately killing the Branch Davidians and burning their compound in order to justify its ban on assault weapons (see September 13, 1994). Stockman says he regrets “some of the language he used” in the article. Stockman has also associated himself with anti-Semitic radio show host Tom Valentine, and railed against “outside influences,” presumably Jewish, in the Federal Reserve and other federal financial institutions. (Simmon 6/22/1995)
The Clinton administration succeeds in getting the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT—see July 1, 1968) extended indefinitely. The NPT Review and Extension Conference also calls for the successful conclusion of negotiations on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (see June 28, 1996) by 1996. (Federation of American Scientists 12/18/2007)
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)
Stephen Jones, the lead lawyer for accused Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995, July 11-13, 1995, and August 10, 1995), says his client will not use an insanity defense when he goes on trial. “The psychiatric and psychological evaluations aren’t 100 percent completed, but from what we know at this point we have no reason to assert a mental defect,” Jones tells reporters. “He’s as sane as any lawyer or reporter.” McVeigh has been pronounced competent by Dr. Seymour Halleck, a University of North Carolina psychiatrist hired by Jones. McVeigh is also being examined by other experts. “There is no mental defect,” Jones tells an audience at the University of Oklahoma, an audience that includes reporters from the Daily Oklahoman. “We’re not pleading insanity, incompetency, or anything like that. It’s a straight, factual defense. I have said he would testify. That’s the present plan.” Jones also accuses Clinton administration members of pushing for a quick conviction and execution before the 1996 presidential election. “This offers [those in] the Clinton administration the opportunity to prove themselves or attempt to prove themselves as tough on crime,” Jones says. In 1996, author and reporter Brandon M. Stickney will write that some of Jones’s comments during the speech seem to mirror McVeigh’s own conspiratorial, anti-government thinking. (Queary 11/17/1995; Stickney 1996, pp. 258-260)
The US and Russia agree on a framework for anti-ballistic (ABM) and theater missile defense (TMD) systems similar to the proposal issued by their respective leaders in May (see May 9-10, 1995). They consent to a number of restrictions on TMD capabilities and mutual verification protocols. The US declares that “with respect to those TMD systems with higher velocity interceptors, the status quo continues, which is to say that the United States will make compliance determinations based on the relevant provisions of the ABM Treaty.” (Federation of American Scientists 1/15/2008)
The Saudi Arabian government, which allegedly initiated payments to al-Qaeda in 1991 (see Summer 1991), increases its payments in 1996, becoming al-Qaeda’s largest financial backer. It also gives money to other extremist groups throughout Asia, vastly increasing al-Qaeda’s capabilities. (Hersh 10/16/2001) Presumably, two meetings in early summer bring about the change. Says one US official, “96 is the key year.… Bin Laden hooked up to all the bad guys—it’s like the Grand Alliance—and had a capability for conducting large-scale operations.” The Saudi regime, he says, had “gone to the dark side.” Electronic intercepts by the NSA “depict a regime increasingly corrupt, alienated from the country’s religious rank and file, and so weakened and frightened that it has brokered its future by channeling hundreds of millions of dollars in what amounts to protection money to fundamentalist groups that wish to overthrow it.” US officials later privately complain “that the Bush administration, like the Clinton administration, is refusing to confront this reality, even in the aftermath of the September 11th terrorist attacks.” (Hersh 10/16/2001) Martin Indyk, Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs, will later write, “The Saudis had protected themselves by co-opting and accommodating the Islamist extremists in their midst, a move they felt was necessary in the uncertain aftermath of the Gulf War. Since Saddam Hussein remained in power, weakened but still capable of lashing out and intent on revenge, the Saudis could not afford to send their American protector packing. Instead, they found a way to provide the United States with the access it needed to protect Saudi Arabia while keeping the American profile as low as possible.… [O]nce Crown Prince Abdullah assumed the regency in 1996 (see Late 1995), the ruling family set about the determined business of buying off its opposition.” Saudi charities are “subverted” to help transfer money to militant causes. “[T]he Clinton administration indulged Riyadh’s penchant for buying off trouble as long as the regime also paid its huge arms bills, purchased Boeing aircraft, kept the price of oil within reasonable bounds, and allowed the United States to use Saudi air bases to enforce the southern no-fly zone over Iraq and launch occasional military strikes to contain Saddam Hussein.” (Indyk 1/1/2002)
The FBI begin an investigation into two relatives of bin Laden in February 1996, then close it on September 11, 1996. The FBI wanted to learn more about Abdullah Awad bin Laden, “because of his relationship with the World Assembly of Muslim Youth [WAMY]—a suspected terrorist organization.” (Palast and Pallister 11/7/2001) Abdullah Awad was the US director of WAMY and lived with his brother Omar in Falls Church, Virginia, a suburb of Washington. They are believed to be nephews of Osama bin Laden. The coding on a leaked FBI document about the case, marked secret, indicates the case related to national security. WAMY’s office address is 5613 Leesburg Pike. It will later be determined that at least two of the 9/11 hijackers lived at 5913 Leesburg Pike for much of 2001 at the same time the two bin Laden brothers were working only three blocks away (see March 2001 and After). WAMY has been banned in Pakistan by this time. (BBC 11/6/2001; Palast and Pallister 11/7/2001) The Indian and Philippine governments also will cite WAMY for funding Islamic militancy. The 9/11 Commission later will hear testimony that WAMY “has openly supported Islamic terrorism. There are ties between WAMY and 9/11 hijackers. It is a group that has openly endorsed the notion that Jews must be killed.… [It] has consistently portrayed the United States, Jews, Christians, and other infidels as enemies who have to be defeated or killed. And there is no doubt, according to US intelligence, that WAMY has been tied directly to terrorist attacks.” (9/11 Commission 7/9/2003, pp. 66) A security official who will later serve under President Bush will say, “WAMY was involved in terrorist-support activity. There’s no doubt about it.” (Unger 10/2003) Before 9/11, FBI investigators had determined that Abdullah Awad had invested about $500,000 in BMI Inc., a company suspected of financing groups officially designated as terrorist organizations (see 1986-October 1999). (Simpson 9/15/2003) The Bosnian government will say in September 2002 that a charity with Abdullah Awad bin Laden on its board had channeled money to Chechen guerrillas, something that reporter Greg Palast will claim “is only possible because the Clinton CIA gave the wink and nod to WAMY and other groups who were aiding Bosnian guerrillas when they were fighting Serbia, a US-approved enemy.” The investigation into WAMY will be restarted a few days after 9/11, around the same time these two bin Ladens will leave the US (see September 14-19, 2001). (Palast 2002, pp. 96-99) (Note that Abdullah Awad bin Laden is Osama bin Laden’s nephew, and is not the same person as the Abdullah bin Laden who is Osama’s brother and serves as the bin Laden family spokesperson.) (Palast 2002, pp. 98-99; Simpson 9/15/2003) WAMY’s Virginia offices will be raided by US agents in 2004 (see June 1, 2004).
US intelligence services use United Nations arms controls teams to spy on the Iraqi military, without the knowledge of the UN Special Commission (UNSCOM) that oversees the teams. US intelligence infiltrates agents and espionage equipment into the UN inspection teams. Clinton administration officials have previously admitted inserting eavesdropping equipment into Iraq with the inspectors, but said that they did so in cooperation with UNSCOM to penetrate Iraqi concealment of its illegal weapons. However, US intelligence agents rig UNSCOM equipment and office space, without UNSCOM permission or knowledge, to intercept Iraqi military communications. Most of these communications have nothing to do with UNSCOM’s special weapons mandate. US government officials admit that they considered the risk that discovery of their infiltrations would discredit the UNSCOM teams, but they dismissed the risk as being quite low, and the intelligence gathered on the Iraqi military as critically needed.
US Installs Surveillance Equipment During Upgrade - The surveillance begins in March 1996, when UNSCOM upgrades a widespread video surveillance system to transmit signals from the camera to the inspectors’ offices in Baghdad, and terminates no later than December 1998, when the Iraqis ask all UNSCOM inspectors to leave the country. While the new system gives UNSCOM inspectors views of distant facilities in “near real time,” unknown to UNSCOM officials, the US signals and sensor technicians who install and maintain the system have covert transmission systems built into the UNSCOM transmitters that capture the Iraqi communications. The designer of the new system is a military intelligence operative and engineer; two of the technicians who install the system are CIA agents.
UNSCOM Says Surveillance Destroyed Its Ability to Function inside Iraq - UNSCOM officials now claim that the covert surveillance undertaken by the US has helped to destroy the agency’s ability to function inside Iraq, and have given credibility to Iraqi claims—previously dismissed—that the US was using UNSCOM to spy on their military facilities. (UNSCOM is aware of another, simultaneous surveillance operation called “Shake the Tree,” that used commercial scanners to intercept Iraqi radio transmissions; US officials now say that they chose to pursue the surreptitious eavesdropping because they wanted to preserve their “independence of access” to Iraqi military communications, according to a US official. “We did not want to rely on a multinational body that might or might not continue to operate as it was operating.” The US government decides not to inform either Rolf Ekeus, the Swedish diplomat who is UNSCOM’s executive chairman, or his Australian successor, Richard Butler, about the second eavesdropping operation. However, the CIA does inform the American deputy to both men, Charles Duelfer, to ensure that UNSCOM staff members do not interfere with the operation.
'Played for Suckers' - Ekeus will later say that while he has difficulty believing the US could have built covert antennas into the video relay system without the Iraqis’ knowledge, if the US did so, “We have always stood against that.” Though Butler refuses to comment publicly on the issue, a source reports that privately he is angered by the operation. “If all this stuff turns out to be true, then Rolf Ekeus and I have been played for suckers, haven’t we?” he is reported as saying. “I’ve spent a lifetime of helping build and defend the nonproliferation regimes. Piggybacking in this manner [by US intelligence] can only serve the interests of those who reject meaningful efforts at arms control.” In May 1997, British officials in the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) ask their counterparts, the American National Security Agency (NSA), if such an operation exists, and the NSA does not respond. A US official will explain: “We don’t tell the British everything, even if they are our closest intelligence ally. They don’t tell us everything they’re doing either.” (Gellman 3/2/1999)
The Clinton administration announces that it has refocused the US missile defense program to emphasize so-called “theater missile defense” (TMD) systems that protect against short-range nuclear missiles, and will defer deployment of more advanced TMD systems until after the year 2000. The administration also announces its “3-plus-3” vision of a national missile defense (NMD) system, which stipulates the development over the next three years of the basic elements of such a system that could be deployed in three more years if a threat emerges that justifies such a decision. (Federation of American Scientists 1/15/2008)
Counterterrorism expert Steven Emerson, head of the Investigative Project on Terrorism, criticizes the Clinton administration for its ties to Abdulrahman Alamoudi in a Wall Street Journal editorial. Alamoudi is a prominent Muslim activist and heads an organization called the American Muslim Council (AMC). Emerson notes that on November 9, 1995, President Clinton and Vice President Al Gore met with Alamoudi as part of a meeting with 23 Muslim and Arab leaders. And on December 8, 1995, National Security Adviser Anthony Lake, met with Alamoudi at the White House along with several other American Islamic leaders. Emerson notes that Alamoudi openly supports Hamas, even though the US government officially designated it a terrorist financier in early 1995 (see January 1995), and he has been the primary public defender of high ranking Hamas leader Mousa Abu Marzouk, who the US declared a terrorism financier and then imprisoned in 1995 (see July 5, 1995-May 1997). He notes that Alamoudi’s AMC also has close ties to other Islamist groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood, and in 1994 the AMC co-sponsored a trip to the US for Sudanese leader Hasan al-Turabi, a well-known radical militant who is hosting Osama bin Laden in Sudan at the time. Emerson concludes, “The president is right to invite Muslim groups to the White House. But by inviting the extremist element of the American Muslim community—represented by the AMC—the administration undercuts moderate Muslims and strengthens the groups committing terrorist attacks.” (Emerson 3/13/1996) It will later be reported that in 1994, US intelligence discovered that the AMC helped pass money from bin Laden to Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman, but it is not known if Clinton was aware of this (see Shortly After March 1994). But Alamoudi’s political influence in the US will not diminish and he will later be courted by future President Bush (see July 2000). He will eventually be sentenced to a long prison term for illegal dealings with Libya (see October 15, 2004).
Within 24 hours of the US Democratic Party receiving a $500,000 “donation” from Chiquita Brands International, the Clinton administration files a complaint with the WTO complaining about the EU’s banana trade policy with the Caribbean. (Barkham 3/5/1999; Jessen 2/6/2001) The US is opposed to the European Union’s quota system for Caribbean bananas which provides Europe’s former island colonies with a guaranteed market. The purpose of the quota system is to protect Caribbean growers from their regional competitors. Banana exporters in Central and South America tend to have lower production costs since they have large-scale, mechanized plantations that are often run by giant US-based corporations. The EU rule was aimed at enabling the countries’ economies to grow independently, without dependence on overseas aid. The EU, with 74 percent of its citizens willing to pay more for “fair trade” bananas, stands firm against the US challenge, making only a few small changes and leaving its quota intact. The US responds with punitive tariffs against the EU, forcing the EU to rescind its tariffs. (Oxfam 3/1998; Barkham 3/5/1999; Jessen 2/6/2001)
President Clinton signs the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, which the New York Times calls “broad legislation that provides new tools and penalties for federal law-enforcement officials to use in fighting terrorism.” The Clinton administration proposed the bill in the aftermath of the Oklahoma City terrorist bombing (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995). In many ways, the original bill will be mirrored by the USA Patriot Act six years later (see October 26, 2001). Civil libertarians on both the left and right opposed the legislation. Political analyst Michael Freeman called the proposal one of the “worst assaults on civil liberties in decades,” and the Houston Chronicle called it a “frightening” and “grievous” assault on domestic freedoms. Many Republicans opposed the bill, and forced a compromise that removed increased wiretap authority and lower standards for lawsuits against sellers of guns used in crimes. CNN called the version that finally passed the Republican-controlled Congress a “watered-down version of the White House’s proposal. The Clinton administration has been critical of the bill, calling it too weak. The original House bill, passed last month, had deleted many of the Senate’s anti-terrorism provisions because of lawmakers’ concerns about increasing federal law enforcement powers. Some of those provisions were restored in the compromise bill.” (CNN 4/18/1996; Mitchell 4/25/1996; Roberts 2008, pp. 35) An unusual coalition of gun rights groups such as the National Rifle Association (NRA) and civil liberties groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) led the opposition to the law. (Labaton 4/17/1996) By the time Congress passed the bill, it had been, in the words of FBI Director Louis Freeh, “stripped… of just about every meaningful provision.” (Roberts 2008, pp. 35) The law makes it illegal in the US to provide “material support” to any organization banned by the State Department. (Whitaker 9/10/2001)
Right-wing political leader Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu becomes Israel’s new prime minister. When the campaign to replace assassinated Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin (see November 4, 1995) began in early 1996, even Netanyahu’s fellow Likud leaders did not believe he had a chance of being elected. At at least one rally after Rabin’s death, crowds chanted “Bibi’s a murderer!” accusing Netanyahu of inciting the violence that led to Rabin’s death (see October 1995 and November 4, 1995 and After). Netanyahu’s opponent, Shimon Peres, cast himself as Rabin’s successor, and the Clinton administration tacitly endorsed Peres as the best hope for peace between Israel and the Palestinians. But Netanyahu is a polished orator with a strong following among the hardline conservatives and religious fundamentalists both in Israel and the US. He also knows how to appeal to America’s more secular, cosmopolitan Jewish community. He hired Arthur Finkelstein, a prominent Republican political consultant, to run a campaign smearing Peres as a weak, ineffective leader who will betray Israel to the Arabs. Peres was befuddled by Netanyahu’s slick, US-style attack campaign and his ability to secure financial and other support among American Christian fundamentalists. The election hung in the balance when a timely spate of Hamas bombings in February and March, and a Netanyahu ad campaign blaming the attack on Peres’s supposed weakness, gave Netanyahu enough voter support for him to eke out a razor-thin margin of victory. US envoy Dennis Ross, one of the Clinton officials involved in the Oslo peace talks, later recalls that he and his colleagues were horrified at Netanyahu’s victory. “Our collective relief became a collective dread,” he will later write. (Unger 2007, pp. 143-144)
Newly elected Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (see May 29, 1996) flies to Washington, DC, to visit one of his strongest political supporters, neoconservative Richard Perle. Perle is the chief author of a new strategy proposal called “A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Security in the Region” (see July 8, 1996). In essence, Perle’s policy proposal is an update of fellow neoconservative Paul Wolfowitz’s Defense Planning Guide (see February 18, 1992), which had so horrified Clinton and Bush officials. But Netanyahu is clearly pleased with the proposal. After meeting with Perle, Netanyahu addresses the US Congress. Quoting extensively from the proposal, he tells the lawmakers that the US must join Israel in overseeing the “democratization” of the Middle East. War might be a necessity to achieve this goal, he warns. While the “Clean Break” authors are primarily concerned with Iraq and Syria, Netanyahu takes a longer view. “The most dangerous of these regions is Iran,” he says. (Unger 2007, pp. 145-148)
State Department analysts warn the Clinton administration in a top secret assessment that bin Laden’s move from Sudan to Afghanistan will offer him an “ideal haven.” The warning comes exactly one month after he made the move (see May 18, 1996). Analysts say that “his prolonged stay in Afghanistan - where hundreds of ‘Arab mujaheddin’ receive terrorist training and key extremist leaders often congregate - could prove more dangerous to US interests in the long run than his three-year liaison with Khartoum,” in Sudan. Further, bin Laden’s public statements suggest an “emboldened” man capable of “increased terrorism.” Michael Scheuer, head of the CIA’s bin Laden unit at the time, will later comment, “The thinking was that he was in Afghanistan, and he was dangerous, but because he was there, we had a better chance to kill him. But at the end of the day, we settled for the worst possibility - he was there and we didn’t do anything.” (Lichtblau 8/17/2005)
The House Oversight Committee releases its report on the FBI’s siege and final assault on the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993, March 1, 1993, and April 19, 1993). The report was prepared in conjunction with the House Judiciary Committee. The report spans investigative activities undertaken on behalf of the committees by Congressional investigators from April 1995 through May 1996; the committees took almost three months to write the final report. As part of that investigation, the Oversight Committee held 10 days of public hearings (see August 4, 1995). (House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight 8/2/1996)
Findings - The report makes the following conclusions:
Branch Davidians Responsible for Situation, Deaths - “But for the criminal conduct and aberrational behavior of David Koresh and other Branch Davidians, the tragedies that occurred in Waco would not have occurred,” the report finds. “The ultimate responsibility for the deaths of the Davidians and the four federal law enforcement agents [referring to the federal agents slain in the February 1993 raid] lies with Koresh.” The Davidians set the fires themselves, the report finds. Moreover, the Davidians had time to leave the premises after their cohorts set the fires, and most either chose to stay or were prevented from leaving by their fellows. The 19 Davidians killed by gunfire either shot themselves, the report finds, were shot by their fellows, or were killed by “the remote possibility of accidental discharge from rounds exploding in the fire.”
Treasury Department 'Derelict' in Duties - Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bentsen and Deputy Secretary Roger Altman were “irresponsible” and “derelict in their duties” refusing to meet with the director of the BATF [Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, sometimes abbreviated ATF] in the month before the February raid, and failing to ask for briefings. Senior Treasury officials “routinely failed” to monitor BATF officials, knew little to nothing of the plans for the raid, and therefore failed to uncover the significant flaws in the plan. When the raid failed, Assistant Treasury Secretary Ronald Noble tried to blame the BATF for the failure, even though Noble and his fellow Treasury officials failed to supervise the BATF’s plans and activities.
BATF 'Grossly Incompetent' - Some of the worst criticism of the report are leveled at the BATF. The report calls the agency’s investigation of the Davidians (see June-July 1992, November 1992 - January 1993, and January 11, 1993 and After) “grossly incompetent” and lacking in “the minimum professionalism expected of a major federal law enforcement agency.” The agents in charge of planning decided to use a “military-style raid” two months before beginning surveillance, undercover, and infiltration efforts. The agency did have probable cause for a search warrant against Koresh and the Davidians (see February 25, 1993), but the affidavit applying for the warrant “contained an incredible number of false statements.” The BATF agents responsible for the affidavit either knew, or should have known, the affidavit was so inaccurate and false. Koresh could easily have been arrested outside the compound, the report finds; the BATF planners “were determined to use a dynamic entry approach,” and thusly “exercised extremely poor judgment, made erroneous assumptions, and ignored the foreseeable perils of their course of action.” BATF agents lied to Defense Department officials about the Davidians’ supposed involvement in drug manufacturing, and by those lies secured Defense Department training without having to reimburse the department, as they should have. The raid plan itself “was poorly conceived, utilized a high risk tactical approach when other tactics could have been successfully used, was drafted and commanded by ATF agents who were less qualified than other available agents, and used agents who were not sufficiently trained for the operation.” Plan security was lax, making it easy for the Davidians to learn about the plan and take precautions. The report singles out BATF raid commanders Philip Chojnacki and Chuck Sarabyn for criticism, noting that they endangered BATF agents’ lives by choosing to go ahead with the raid even though they knew, or should have known, the Davidians had found out about it and were taking defensive action. “This, more than any other factor, led to the deaths of the four ATF agents killed on February 28.” The report is highly critical of Chojnacki’s and Sarabyn’s rehiring after they were fired (see December 23, 1994). The report also cites former BATF Director Stephen Higgins (see July 2, 1995) and former Deputy Director Daniel Hartnett for failing to become involved in the planning.
Justice Department Decision to Approve Final Assault 'Highly Irresponsible' - The report charactizes Attorney General Janet Reno’s approval of the FBI’s plan to end the standoff “premature, wrong… highly irresponsible… [and] seriously negligent” (see April 17-18, 1993). Reno should have known that the plan would put the Davidians’s lives at extreme risk, especially the children inside, and should have been doubly reluctant because of the lack of a serious threat posed by the Davidians to the FBI or to the surrounding community. Reno should have been skeptical of the FBI’s reasons for ending the standoff: negotiations were continuing, the Davidians were not threatening to break out in force, the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team (HRT) could have gone longer without mandatory rest and retraining, the Davidians’ living conditions had not significantly deteriorated, and there was no reason to believe that children were being abused or mistreated any more than they may have been before the February raid. “The final assault put the children at the greatest risk.” The report calls the plan to use CS riot control gas “fatally flawed.” CS gas is a dangerous substance, and particularly threatening to children, pregnant women, elderly people, and those with respiratory conditions, all of which were represented in the compound. Some of those who died in the fires may have died from exposure to CS gas before the fires consumed them, the report speculates. The Davidians were likely to react violently and not submissively, as the FBI insisted, and the likelihood of armed resistance and mass suicide in response to the CS gas insertion was high. Moreover, the plan had no contingency provisions in case the initial insertion did not provide the desired result. Reno offered her resignation after the April 19 assault; the report says that President Clinton “should have accepted it.” (House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight 8/2/1996; House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight 8/2/1996)
FBI Pushed for Violent Confrontation Instead of Allowing Negotiations to Continue - The FBI was riven by the conflict between two teams with “incompatible methodologies,” the report finds: the HRT, which ultimately controlled the situation, and the negotiators. Senior FBI agent Jeffrey Jamar almost always sided with the HRT’s aggressive approach, but often “allowed the proposals of each team to be implemented simultaneously, working against each other.” The FBI’s chief negotiator on-site, Gary Noesner, told the committee that the dichotomy between the “action-oriented” HRT and the “nonviolent” negotiators is a problem that the FBI routinely experiences; it was not unique to the Davidian standoff. The two teams battled with increasing hostility and anger towards one another as the siege progressed, with the negotiators becoming less and less influential. The negotiators later testified that the pressure tactics used by the HRT against the Davidians undermined their efforts at winning the Davidians’ trust and rendered their efforts ineffective. FBI profiler Peter Smerick (see March 3-4, 1993, March 7-8, 1993, March 9, 1993, March 9, 1993, March 17-18, 1993, August 1993, and 1995) was particularly harsh in his assessment of the tactics of the HRT during the siege; during his interviews with investigators, Smerick said “the FBI commanders were moving too rapidly toward a tactical solution and were not allowing adequate time for negotiations to work.” Smerick told investigators that while the “negotiators were building bonds… the tactical group was undermining everything.… Every time the negotiators were making progress the tactical people would undo it.” The report concludes, “FBI leadership engaged these two strategies in a way that bonded the Davidians together and perpetuated the standoff.” (House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight 8/2/1996) After March 2, when Koresh and the Davidians broke what some considered to be a promise to come out (see March 2, 1993), Jamar believed nothing Koresh or the others said, and essentially gave up on the idea of a negotiated surrender. Chief negotiator Byron Sage did not share that view, but Jamar and the HRT officials began thinking, and planning, exclusively on a forced end to the standoff, even ignoring evidence that Koresh intended to lead his people out after completing his work on an interpretation of the Biblical Seven Seals (see April 14-15, 1993). Many FBI officials, particularly Jamar, Noesner, and the HRT leadership, became frustrated and impatient with what the report calls “endless dissertations of Branch Davidian beliefs” (see March 15, 1993), to the point where they ignored the assertions from religious experts that the Davidians could be productively negotiated with on a religiously theoretical level (see March 16, 1993). The FBI, the report says, “should have sought and accepted more expert advice on the Branch Davidians and their religious views and been more open-minded to the advice of the FBI’s own experts.” Jamar and the senior FBI officials advising Reno should have known that the reasons they gave to end negotiations and force an ending were groundless; their advice to Reno was, the report says, “wrong and highly irresponsible.” (House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight 8/2/1996; House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight 8/2/1996) However, some charges against the FBI are baseless, the report finds. CS gas would not have built up in any areas of the residence to anything approaching lethal levels. No FBI agents shot at the Davidians or the compound. No agent set any fires, either deliberately or inadvertently. (House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight 8/2/1996)
Defense Department Bears No Responsibility - The report finds no reason to fault the Defense Department or National Guard, as no DoD nor Guard personnel took an active part in the assault; the Posse Comitatus Act was therefore not violated. No foreign military personnel or foreign nationals took any part in the assault, though “[s]ome foreign military personnel were present near the Davidian residence as observers at the invitation of the FBI.”
Recommendations - The report recommends that:
the Justice Department consider assuming control of the BATF from the Treasury Department;
Waco residents who made the false statements to law enforcement officials included in the original search warrants should be charged with crimes;
federal agents should use caution in using such statements to obtain warrants; the BATF should review and revise its planning to ensure that “its best qualified agents are placed in command and control positions in all operations”;
senior BATF officials “should assert greater command and control over significant operations”;
the BATF should no longer have sole jurisdiction over any drug-related crimes;
Congress should consider enhancing the Posse Comitatus Act to restrain the National Guard from being involved with federal law enforcement actions;
the Defense Department should clarify the grounds upon which law enforcement agencies can apply for its assistance;
the General Accounting Office (GAO) should ensure that the BATF reimburses the Defense Department for the training and assistance it improperly received;
the GAO should investigate Operation Alliance, the organization that acts as a liaison between the military and other federal agencies;
the FBI should revamp its negotiation policies and training to minimize the effects of physical and emotional fatigue on negotiators;
the FBI should take steps to ensure greater understanding of the targets under investigation (the report notes that had the FBI and BATF agents understood more about the Davidians’ religious philosophies, they “could have made better choices in planning to deal with the Branch Davidians” (see March 15, 1993);
the FBI should ensure better training for its lead negotiators;
FBI agents should rely more on outside experts (the reports notes that several religious experts offered their services in helping the agents understand the Davidians, but were either rebuffed or ignored—see March 3, 1993, March 7, 1993, and March 16, 1993);
federal law enforcement agencies should welcome the assistance of other law enforcement agencies, particularly state and local agencies;
the FBI should expand the size of the Hostage Rescue Team (HRT) “so that there are sufficient numbers of team members to participate in an operation and to relieve those involved when necessary”;
the FBI should conduct further examinations on the use of CS gas against children, those with respiratory problems, pregnant women, and the elderly. (House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight 8/2/1996)
'Perhaps the Greatest Law Enforcement Tragedy in American History' - In a statement appended to the final report, Representative Steven Schiff (R-NM) calls the Davidian raid, standoff, and final assault “perhaps the greatest law enforcement tragedy in American history.” He writes: “It would not be a significant overstatement to describe the Waco operation from the government’s standpoint, as one in which if something could go wrong, it did. The true tragedy is, virtually all of those mistakes could have been avoided.” His statement decries what he calls the increasing “militarization of law enforcement,” recommends that the HRT be scaled back instead of expanded, expresses little confidence in the FLIR (forward-looking infrared radar) videotapes used to determine when and how the fires were started, calls for stringent limitations on the use of CS gas, and blames the FBI for not allowing many of the residents to escape. He accuses the Justice Department of a “breach of ethics” in what he says were its attempts to conceal and withhold evidence from the committee, and to shape its findings. (House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight 8/2/1996)
Dissenting Views - The investigating committees’ 17 Democrats issue a “dissenting views” addendum that is highly critical of what it calls the Republican majority’s use of “false assumptions and unfounded allegations” to besmirch the reputations of Reno and Bentsen, and the use of those “assumptions and allegations” to press for Reno’s resignation. (House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight 8/2/1996)
Author Brandon M. Stickney, a reporter for the Lockport Union-Sun & Journal in upstate New York, catalogs a number of unproven and sometimes extremist conspiracy theories that have sprouted in the aftermath of the Oklahoma City bombing (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995). Stickney includes his findings in his “unauthorized biography” of accused bomber Timothy McVeigh (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995, July 11-13, 1995, and August 10, 1995), All-American Monster. Among the theories Stickney presents:
The bombing was carried out by the Japanese. This theory was promulgated by Michigan Militia leaders Norm Olson and Ray Southwell (see April 1994), and proved so embarrassing for the two that they resigned their posts.
Both the Oklahoma City bombing and the Branch Davidian tragedy (see April 19, 1993 and April 19, 1993 and After) were engineered by Clinton administration personnel in order to kill two former bodyguards of President Clinton who were preparing to go public with lurid tales of Clinton’s sexual transgressions. Secret Service agent Alan Wicher was killed in Oklahoma, and BATF agent Robert William was killed at Waco. Clinton attended Wicher’s funeral, and William had worked for the BATF in Little Rock while Clinton was governor of Arkansas. Idaho resident Bill Trowbridge told an Associated Press reporter after a militia meeting: “[T]hat makes four different bodyguards killed. Three in Waco, and this one. Sure did benefit Bill Clinton, didn’t it? Check that out.”
The UN participated in the bombing plot. This theory has been promoted by the John Birch Society (see March 10, 1961 and December 2011), the editors of the white-separatist magazine The Spotlight, and other organizations and groups that have warned about a partnership between the UN and the US government to impose tyranny and martial law on American citizens, as part of the imposition of what they call the “New World Order” (see September 11, 1990). Gate Keepers information service representative Pam Beesley told an AP reporter that “this is what the UN does when they go in and overthrow a country. They produce unrest in the country first.”
The bomb was an “electrodynamic gaseous fuel device” impossible for amateurs like McVeigh and his accomplice Terry Nichols to have made. Instead, it must have been made by US officials possessed of “high-level, top-secret” information. This theory came from former FBI agent Ted Gunderson, who makes regular appearances in The Spotlight. According to Gunderson, “John Doe No. 2” (see April 20, 1995, April 21, 1995, April 29, 1995, and June 14, 1995) was “vaporized by design” in the blast, and McVeigh was a “throwaway” or an “expendable asset.”
Two bombs, not one, destroyed the Murrah Federal Building. It is true that two “incidents” were recorded at 9:02 a.m. on April 19, 1995, 11.9 seconds apart, but, according to Oklahoma chief geophysicist James Lawson, the second tremor was not caused by a second bomb, but by the building collapsing (see After 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995). Lawson told the AP he still gets calls from people demanding to know about the “second explosion.” “A lot of them are anxious to explain to me that our government committed mass murder,” he said. “They are disappointed that I’m not saying it was two blasts.”
Stickney writes that many people have told him flatly that “they know” the government caused the bombing, and writes: “No matter what I told them, or for how long I tried to tell it, they would not change their minds that the government was involved. Distrust in public officials has reached the point of delusion, where Americans create their own explanations they cannot understand. One of the people who spoke with me went so far as to say he’d obtained a photograph of the bombed-out Murrah (ordered through a late-night AM radio show) that ‘proves two bombs were set off. McVeigh was led to Oklahoma by his nose, by the government.’” A video titled Oklahoma City: What Really Happened sells well at gun shows and through militia magazines and Web sites. On the box, it poses the questions: “Was there more than one bomb?” “What happened to John Doe No. 2?” “Was there a Middle Eastern connection?” and “Did some occupants of the building have prior warning?” (Stickney 1996, pp. 265-267)
Newsweek columnist Jonathan Alter uses the occasion of former Vice President Spiro Agnew’s death (see September 17, 1996) to condemn the “wedge politics” of Agnew’s heyday (see 1969-1971). “Agnew led Richard Nixon’s campaign to win suburbia for Republicanism by exploiting white middle class anger at the poor, college antiwar activists, and the ‘liberal Eastern media’,” Alter writes. But “Spiro Agnew is gone, and the wedge politics he honed aren’t cutting for the GOP this year.” Agnew’s “politics of polarization” do not work anymore, Alter observes, but adds that Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole is still trying to use Agnew-like tactics in his own campaign to defeat incumbent Bill Clinton. Dole echoes Agnew’s language (see 1969-1971) in calling Clinton’s White House “a corps of elite who never did anything real, never sacrificed, never suffered.” Dole, writes Alter, is “still working from the 1968 playbook.” (Alter 9/30/1996)
Bowing to intense diplomatic pressure from the Clinton administration, Belarus agrees to give up its nuclear arsenal. It is the third former Soviet state to give up its nuclear weapons after negotiations and pressure from the US, joining Kazakhstan and Ukraine. (Federation of American Scientists 12/18/2007)
An independent panel issues its report on recently released National Intelligence Estimate NIE 59-19, “Emerging Missile Threats to North America During the Next 15 Years.” The panel, chaired by former CIA Director Robert Gates, was commissioned by Congressional conservatives as a “Team B” (see November 1976) to challenge and disprove the NIE’s finding that no rogue state such as North Korea or Iraq would be able to develop a nuclear-tipped ballistic missile capable of striking the continental US or Canada until at least 2011. Gates’s panel includes former ambassador Richard Armitage; nuclear scientist Sidney Drell; former State Department and National Security Council official Arnold Kanter; Brookings Institution fellow Janne Nolan; former Defense Department official and RAND Corporation president Henry Rowen; and Major General Jasper Welch, a retired Air Force flag officer and former National Security Council staffer. The panel’s findings enrage those conservatives who pushed for its creation; the panel not only agrees with the NIE’s conclusions about the capabilities of those rogue nations, but finds that the Congressional conservatives’ allegations that the NIE had been “politicized” and written to satisfy Clinton administration positions have no basis in fact. “The panel found no evidence of politicization,” it reports, and adds: “There was no breach of the integrity of the intelligence process. Beyond this, the panel believes that unsubstantiated allegations challenging the integrity of intelligence community analysts by those who simply disagree with their conclusions, including members of Congress, are irresponsible. Intelligence forecasts do not represent ‘revealed truth,’ and it should be possible to disagree with them without attacking the character and integrity of those who prepared them—or the integrity of the intelligence process itself.” (Central Intelligence Agency 12/23/1996; Scoblic 2008, pp. 172) Congressional conservatives will demand, and receive, another study of the NIE that will provide them with conclusions more to their liking (see July 1998).
Bill Clinton is re-inaugurated as president. An extensive set of security measures to prevent airplanes as weapons crashing into the inauguration is used. These measures, first used at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics and thus referred to as the “Atlanta Rules,” include the closing of nearby airspace, the use of intercept helicopters, the basing of armed fighters nearby, and more. This plan will later be used for the 1999 North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s 50th anniversary celebration in Washington, the 2000 Republican convention in Philadelphia, the 2000 Democratic convention in New York, and the George W. Bush inauguration in 2001. (Clarke 2004, pp. 110-11; Paltrow 4/1/2004)
Plans for Permanent Air Defense Unit Rejected - At some point near the end of the Clinton administration, the Secret Service and Customs Service will agree to create a permanent air defense unit to protect Washington. However, these agencies are part of the Treasury Department, and the leadership there will refuse to fund the idea. White House counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke will later recount: “Treasury nixed the air defense unit, and my attempts within the White House to overrule them came to naught. The idea of aircraft attacking in Washington seemed remote to many people and the risks of shooting down aircraft in a city were thought to be far too high.” The permanent unit will not be created until after 9/11. (Clarke 2004, pp. 131; Paltrow 4/1/2004)
Representatives of the Taliban are invited guests to the Texas headquarters of Unocal to negotiate their support for the pipeline. Future President George W. Bush is Governor of Texas at the time. The Taliban appear to agree to a $2 billion pipeline deal, but will do the deal only if the US officially recognizes the Taliban regime. The Taliban meet with US officials. According to the Daily Telegraph, “the US government, which in the past has branded the Taliban’s policies against women and children ‘despicable,’ appears anxious to please the fundamentalists to clinch the lucrative pipeline contract.” A BBC regional correspondent says that “the proposal to build a pipeline across Afghanistan is part of an international scramble to profit from developing the rich energy resources of the Caspian Sea.” (BBC 12/4/1997; Lees 12/14/1997) It has been claimed that the Taliban meet with Enron officials while in Texas (see 1996-September 11, 2001). Enron, headquartered in Texas, has an large financial interest in the pipeline at the time (see June 24, 1996). The Taliban also visit Thomas Gouttierre, an academic at the University of Nebraska, who is a consultant for Unocal and also has been paid by the CIA for his work in Afghanistan (see 1984-1994 and December 1997). Gouttierre takes them on a visit to Mt. Rushmore. (Dreyfuss 2005, pp. 328-329)
The Oslo peace accords between Israel and Palestine (see September 13, 1993) break down, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat accusing one another of noncompliance. Netanyahu has not implemented the first scheduled withdrawal of Israeli settlers from the West Bank, and the second is well overdue. The New York Times’s Anthony Lewis lays the blame squarely on Netanyahu: “There is and always has been only one way to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: land for peace. And the Netanyahu government has now made it clear that it has no intention of withdrawing from enough of the land Israel occupies in the West Bank to make a deal imaginable.” When the White House pressures Netanyahu to restart the peace process, he turns for support to America’s Christian Right (see January 19-23, 1998). (Unger 2007, pp. 156)
In Geneva, at the 1998 World Health Assembly, delegates from the US State Department and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA ) threaten to withdraw funding for the World Health Organization (WHO) when members propose including a provision in its resolution on the Revised Drug Strategy that would urge countries “to ensure that public-health interests rather than commercial interests have ‘primacy’ in pharmaceutical and health policies.” As a result of the United States’ opposition, the statement is not adopted. The US also opposes a proposal to give the WHO a role in monitoring international trade agreements. (Consumer Project on Technology 5/13/1998; Consumer Project on Technology 10/16/1998; Wilson et al. 11/27/1999)
David Bossie, an investigator for Representative Dan Burton (R-IN), is fired from his position. Bossie recently leaked transcripts of prison conversations featuring former Clinton administration official Webster Hubbell, who will be convicted of defrauding clients and sentenced to prison in 2004. Bossie fraudulently edited the transcripts to have Hubbell imply that First Lady Hillary Clinton broke the law while the two worked together in an Arkansas law firm. Bossie cut out portions of Hubbell’s conversations exonerating her from any wrongdoing, and sometimes rewrote Hubbell’s words entirely. In response to the controversy, House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) says of Burton and the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, “I’m embarrassed for you, I’m embarrassed for myself, and I’m embarrassed for the [House Republican] conference at the circus that went on at your committee.” (In late April, Burton had called President Clinton a “scumbag,” further embarrassing Gingrich and the Republican leadership.) Bossie came to Burton’s staff from Citizens United (CU), which he joined in 1994 and soon rose to become director of government relations and communications. In 1988, as a member of Floyd Brown’s Presidential Victory Committee (PVC), Bossie helped produce the infamous Willie Horton ad (see September 21 - October 4, 1988). In 1992, as executive director of the PVC, Bossie oversaw the release of a fundraising letter accusing then-presidential candidate Bill Clinton of having an affair with an Arkansas woman, for use in an ad that falsely suggested it was the product of President Bush’s re-election campaign. Then-President Bush accused the PVC of engaging in “filthy campaign tactics,” and his son and campaign aide George W. Bush sent a letter asking donors not to give to the organization. Bossie has encouraged Burton to open an investigation into the suicide of Clinton administration aide Vince Foster (alleging that Foster was murdered as part of some unspecified White House plot, or perhaps an Israeli intelligence “black op”). While an aide to Senator Lauch Faircloth (R-NC), Bossie was found to have tried to intimidate a federal judge during a Whitewater-related investigation. Bossie has earned a reputation as a “Whitewater stalker,” combing Arkansas for “evidence” of crimes by the Clintons, and repeatedly making false and lurid allegations against the president and/or his wife. For a year, Bossie has promised that Burton’s committee would soon produce evidence of Chinese espionage and White House collusion, but any evidence of such a scandal has never been produced. A former lawyer for the Oversight Committee, John Rowley, has called Bossie’s actions “unrelenting self-promoti[on]” and challenged Bossie’s competence. Bossie says his transcripts were accurate (though the tapes of Hubbell’s conversations prove he is wrong), and blames committee Democrats for the controversy. (Bresnahan 5/7/1998; Corn 5/7/1998; Media Matters 5/11/2004) WorldNetDaily reporter David Bresnahan writes that according to his sources, Bossie “was either extremely incompetent or was intentionally trying to sabotage” Burton’s investigations into the Clinton administration. Bresnahan also says that Burton allowed Bossie to resign instead of firing him, as other media sources report. (Bresnahan 5/7/1998)
Michael Scheuer, head of the CIA’s bin Laden unit from 1996 to 1999, later will claim that in a one-year period starting in May 1998, the CIA gives the US government “about ten chances to capture bin Laden or kill him with military means. In all instances, the decision was made that the ‘intelligence was not good enough.’ This assertion cannot be debated publicly without compromising sources and methods. What can be said, however, is that in all these cases there was more concern expressed by senior bureaucrats and policymakers about how international opinion would react to a US action than there was concern about what might happen to Americans if they failed to act. Indeed, on one occasion these senior leaders decided it was more important to avoid hitting a structure near bin Laden’s location with shrapnel, than it was to protect Americans.” He will later list six of the attempts in a book:
May 1998: a plan to capture bin Laden at his compound south of Kandahar, canceled at the last minute (see 1997-May 29, 1998).
September 1998: a capture opportunity north of Kandahar, presumably by Afghan tribals working for the CIA (see September-October 1998).
December 1998: canceled US missile strike on the governor’s palace in Kandahar (see December 18-20, 1998).
February 1999: Military attack opportunity on governor’s residence in Herat (see February 1999).
February 1999: Multiple military attack opportunities at a hunting camp near Kandahar attended by United Arab Emirates royals (see February 11, 1999).
May 1999: Military attack opportunities on five consecutive nights in Kandahar (see May 1999).
Also in late August 1998, there is one failed attempt to kill bin Laden.(see August 20, 1998) (Atlantic Monthly 12/2004; Scheuer 2008, pp. 284)
Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke later will strongly disagree with Scheuer’s assessment, claiming that the intelligence needed for such an attack on bin Laden was never very good. But he will also point out that the National Security Council and White House never killed any of the operations Scheuer wanted. It was always CIA Director George Tenet and other top CIA leaders who rejected the proposals. Scheuer will agree that it was always Tenet who turned down the operations. (Zeman et al. 11/2004)
The Project for a New American Century (PNAC) publishes a letter addressed to Congressman Newt Gingrich and Senator Trent Lott. The letter argues that the Clinton administration has capitulated to Saddam Hussein and calls on the two legislators to lead Congress to “establish and maintain a strong US military presence in the region, and be prepared to use that force to protect [US] vital interests in the Gulf—and, if necessary, to help removed Saddam from power.” (Century 5/29/1998)
Weapons inspectors with the United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM) report finding evidence that Iraq put VX nerve toxin into missile warheads before the 1991 Gulf War. Iraq has denied being able to make a weapon using VX payloads. The evidence comes from a classified US Army laboratory analysis of warhead fragments recovered by UNSCOM inspectors from a destruction pit at Taji, Iraq, in March 1998. Swabs from the warheads analyzed for the UN at the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland showed “significant amounts” of degraded “VX disulfide… and stabilizer” in the samples, according to the UN. The laboratory results seem to confirm suspicions raised by Iraqi defectors and other sources, which indicated that Iraq, contrary to its claims, had indeed succeeded in stabilizing and weaponizing VX nerve gas. VX is an intensely lethal compound; using such nerve toxin in a missile attack would potentially inflict large casualties on the targeted population. The discovery also lends credence to suspicions that Iraq has intentionally misled inspectors about its weapons of mass destruction. Iraq has refused to admit that it ever created weaponized VX or that it deployed the nerve toxin in missile warheads. (Hoagland and Loeb 6/23/1998; Ritter 3/17/2008)
Leaked by INC - The Aberdeen report is leaked to the Washington Post through officials at the Iraqi National Congress (INC), which the Post will describe as “the principal Iraqi exile opposition group.” Diplomatic sources later confirm the findings, and US government officials will not dispute the conclusion.
Used to Criticize Clinton Administration - The report gives fresh ammunition to conservative Republicans seeking to target the Clinton administration for what they see as its failure to strongly support UNSCOM weapons inspections and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS) will write in response to the report, “The latest example of a failed policy toward Iraq will not be swept under the rug.” Lott will write that he and other Republicans may use the issue to derail the Senate confirmations of US ambassador to the UN Richard Holbrooke and Energy Secretary Bill Richardson.
Republican Official: Iraqis 'Lied from the Start' - INC president Ahmed Chalabi will call the report “a smoking gun,” and add: “It shows that Saddam is still lying, and that this whole arrangement based on his turning his weapons of terror over to the United Nations is not workable. He has stabilized VX, which means he can store it for a long time and bring it out for use when he wants.” A Republican Senate official adds: “This report means that they have VX out there now, and can use it. They have lied from from the start.” (Hoagland and Loeb 6/23/1998)
Press Leak Alters UNSCOM Reaction - UNSCOM chief Richard Butler’s plans to announce a “major breakthrough” in diplomatic negotiations with Iraq are scuttled when the Post reports on the VX lab test results. The story focuses not just on the fact that traces of VX were found in Iraqi warheads, but on the harsh criticisms leveled by Lott and other Republicans. The Post writes: “The new indications of Iraqi deception also are likely to reverberate in US politics, where conservative Republicans are increasingly critical of what they see as a failure by the Clinton administration to support strongly either aggressive UNSCOM inspections for Iraqi weapons of mass destruction or efforts to overthrow Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.” (Ritter 3/17/2008)
Report Disproven - Further research will disprove the Aberdeen test results, and conclude that Iraq had not, in fact, packed warheads with VX nerve toxin (see July 1998).
UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter attempts to leak a confidential United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM) report on Iraq’s production of VX nerve agent to the American press (see June 10, 1998). The attempt spirals into an effort by Ahmed Chalabi and the Iraqi National Congress (INC—see 1992-1996) to recruit Ritter’s help in crafting a plan for Chalabi’s INC, with American assistance, to overthrow Iraq’s Saddam Hussein and place Chalabi in control. Ritter becomes aware of a report from a US military laboratory that proves in 1991 Iraq had manufactured VX nerve agent and deployed it in missile warheads. The Iraqis have admitted to attempting to produce the deadly toxin, but have long insisted that they were never successful in producing weaponized VX. Although there is no reason to believe that Iraq retains active VX from its former chemical weapons program, UNSCOM officials are furious about having been lied to for years by the Iraqis. UNSCOM chief Richard Butler, involved in delicate negotiations with the Iraqi government on developing a “road map” for addressing numerous outstanding issues between Iraq and the UN, decides to keep the report under wraps. UNSCOM officials are even more outraged at Butler’s decision; many believe that Butler is acquiescing to Clinton administration officials who want to avoid a confrontation with Iraq and the UN. When Ritter offers to leak the document in Washington in such a way that would not be traced to the UNSCOM officials who have seen the report, they quickly slip him a copy of the report, and Ritter prepares to fly to Washington.
First Meeting with Chalabi - Ritter is already scheduled to meet with CIA officials about other intelligence support programs. He calls Randy Scheunemann, the national security adviser for Senator Trent Lott (R-MS), the Senate Majority Leader, and sets up a meeting to, as Ritter will later write, “discuss some new developments” regarding the Iraqis. Scheunemann agrees, and asks if Ritter would be willing to meet with Chalabi at Chalabi’s Georgetown townhouse. Ritter is nonplussed at the request, but decides that since he had already discussed Iraqi weapons of mass destruction with Chalabi in a meeting authorized by Butler (see January 27, 1998), this Georgetown meeting could be construed as a legitimate followup. Ritter agrees. Upon arriving at Washington’s National Airport, he is met by Chalabi’s driver, who takes him to Georgetown. Chalabi presents Ritter with what Ritter will later recall as “an ambitious program, including briefings to senators and their staffs.” The meeting lasts well into the night, and Ritter agrees to stay overnight in a guest room.
Leaking the Report - The next day, Ritter meets with the CIA and then with Scheunemann. Ritter gives Scheunemann the UNSCOM report and explains its significance. “If it could find its way into the press in a way that removed any UNSCOM fingerprints, this would be ideal,” he tells Scheunemann. “That way the data remains uncompromised, and yet politically Butler and the White House can’t ignore it.” Scheunemann says with a smile, “I think we can manage that.”
'The Chalabi Factor' - Scheunemann then takes Ritter to meet Lott, who seems more interested in Ritter’s interactions with Chalabi than in the report. “I hope you take some time to talk with him, and some other interesting people I think you will be meeting with” Lott tells Ritter. “Exchange ideas. See if you can help him in any way. We’re all on the same side here, and we have to start finding ways to break down some barriers others have constructed between us.” Ritter returns to Chalabi’s home, where he meets with Francis Brooke, Chalabi’s principal American adviser, and Max Singer, a conservative foreign policy expert who specializes in what Ritter will term “political warfare.” Scheunemann has asked Singer to write a paper called “The Chalabi Factor” that touts Chalabi as the man to lead a revolution that would result in the ouster of Hussein. Chalabi asked Singer to share the paper with Ritter. Singer has sketched out a scenario that envisions Chalabi and INC fighters capturing the southern oil fields around Basra, giving the INC a political and military foothold inside Iraq, and then rallying disenchanted Shi’ites and Kurds into supporting his insurgency. Ritter later recalls: “I was somewhat taken aback by the content of the Singer paper. I was on dangerous political ground here, a UN weapons inspector charged with the disarmament of Iraq, suddenly dabbling in the world of regime change. Far from advising me on issues of intelligence regarding Iraqi WMD, Ahmed Chalabi had turned the tables and had me advising him on how to overthrow Saddam Hussein.” The three are soon joined by Chalabi and Stephen Rademaker, the lawyer for the House Foreign Affairs Committee and, as Ritter later describes him, an unabashed member of the far right and a Chalabi supporter. The conversation does not center on arms control, as Ritter had originally planned to discuss, but regime change. The others are uninterested in Ritter’s suggestion that pressure be brought to bear on the Hussein regime over the VX discovery. “[W]e all know Saddam is cheating, and that his days are numbered,” Rademaker says. “What we don’t have is a plan on what we are going to do once Saddam is out of office. Mr. Chalabi represents our best hopes in that regard, which is why we’re delighted that you and he are meeting like this.”
Handling the Ba'athists - Ritter tells the others that the Shi’ites and Kurds cannot be treated as “homogeneous movement[s],” but as loose, fractious amalgamations of disparate elements. He then asks: “The key to me is what is missing here: any discussion of the Ba’ath Party or the Sunni tribes. The Ba’ath Party is the only vehicle that exists in Iraq today that unites Sunnis, Shi’a and Kurds alike. It makes modern Iraq function. How do you plan on dealing with the Ba’ath Party in a post-Saddam environment? And what is your plan for winning over the Sunni tribes? How will you bring the tribes that represent the foundation of Saddam’s political support into the fold with your Kurdish and Shi’a supporters?” As Ritter later writes: “Steve Rademaker and Francis Brooke stared blankly. Chalabi was grinning ear to ear. ‘We have a plan. First, we will do away completely with the Baath Party. Those minor members who were forced to join out of survival, of course, they will be allowed to retain their jobs. But anyone who profited from Baathist rule will be punished. As for the Sunni tribes, we are already in contact with their representatives. We feel that the best way to negotiate with them, however, is to make them realize that there is no future with Saddam. Once they realize that, they will come over to our side.’ Chalabi’s ‘plan’ struck me as simplistic at best, and entirely unrealistic.”
The Downing Plan - In answer to Ritter’s questions about defeating the Iraqi military—the large Iraqi Army, the well-trained Republican Guard and other security forces—Chalabi shows Ritter a document, “The Military Plan.” Chalabi says: “This was written for me by Gen. Wayne Downing. I believe you know him from Operation Desert Storm.” Downing had been a Special Forces commander during the 1991 Gulf War; Ritter had worked with Downing’s unit in preventing Iraqi missile launches at Israel (see January 17, 1991). Downing has crafted a plan (see Late 1998) that calls for the US to train and arm several thousand INC fighters who would operate out of bases in western Iraq, out of Hussein’s control. They would fight from light vehicles armed with anti-tank missile launchers, and would rely on support from local tribes in the area, particularly the al-Duleimi in and around Ramadi and Anbar. Ritter is dubious, knowing that the al-Duleimi have provided many of Hussein’s best soldiers. Chalabi is unworried about their support, and tells Ritter, “My people have already had discussions with the tribal leaders of the al-Duleimi, who are ready to join us once we get situated on the ground.” Ritter then objects to Downing’s inclusion of US military advisers and US warplanes, both directly supporting and perhaps even fighting alongside the INC troops. “We don’t operate like that,” Ritter objects. “If we have forces on the ground, then we’ll need to have a base, with a base support element, and base security, and a quick-reaction force in case some of our boys get in trouble. The US presence would have to be much greater than what you’re saying here.” Chalabi merely smiles. “That may be so,” he says, “but we don’t have to highlight it at this time.” Ritter later observes: “The ‘Downing Plan’ was a nice bit of trickery, plotting what was ostensibly an Iraqi opposition military force with minor US military involvement, but masking what was in reality a much larger US military effort with a minor role played by Chalabi’s INC ‘army.’” Ritter is now thoroughly alarmed.
'My Friend Ahmed' - The small group is joined by Danielle Pletka, Rademaker’s wife and a staunchly conservative staffer on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and former CIA director James Woolsey. Over dinner, the group moves from discussing the military plans for overthrowing Hussein to a broader discussion of Chalabi’s political future. Woolsey, a vocal supporter of Chalabi, has no patience with the CIA’s objections to earlier actions by Chalabi and the INC (see January 1996). “This [criticism] is all bunk,” Woolsey says. “Chalabi is an Iraqi patriot and visionary who intimidates many lesser thinkers in Langley. My friend Ahmed is a risk taker who understands the reality of Iraq, unlike the desk-bound analysts and risk-averse operators at the CIA. Chalabi scares these people, so they have created false accusations in order to denigrate him and ultimately destroy him.” Pletka agrees: “We cannot allow this to happen. Ahmed Chalabi has many friends in Congress, and it is our goal to make sure Ahmed Chalabi gets the support he needs to not only survive as a viable opposition figure to Saddam Hussein but more importantly to prevail in Iraq.” Ritter is increasingly uncomfortable with what he will later call “a political strategy session.” It is clear, Ritter will write, “that Chalabi was being groomed for another run at power” (see March 1995).
Recruitment - According to Ritter, Chalabi suggests that Ritter would be very helpful to his organization, and Chalabi could be helpful to Ritter in return. “I have many friends here in Washington,” Chalabi says over breakfast. “With what you know about Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction, you can be of invaluable assistance to our cause. The VX story is but the tip of the iceberg.” Ritter will describe himself as “taken aback,” since he never told Chalabi about the VX lab report. Ritter replies: “Well, I am just a simple weapons inspector. In any event, it wouldn’t go over well back at the UN to have an UNSCOM inspector plotting regime change down in Washington, DC.” Then, locking eyes with Chalabi, Ritter says: “This is why you must be very discreet about the VX lab report. It simply won’t do for you to have your fingerprints on this information.” Chalabi smilingly replies: “I understand completely. As for your status as a weapons inspector, you must understand that those days are nearly gone. The inspection process has run its course. You need to think about what you are going to be doing in the future. I would like you to work for me.” Ritter objects, noting that an American citizen can’t be involved in plots to overthrow heads of foreign nations. Chalabi corrects Ritter: “You wouldn’t be working for me, but for the US Senate. My friends would create an advisory position for you, and you would in turn advise me. It wouldn’t pay much upfront. But don’t worry. One day I will be the president of Iraq, and will be in control of Iraq’s oil. When that day comes, I will not forget those who helped me in my time of need. Let’s just say that my friends will be given certain oil concessions that will make them very wealthy.”
Meeting with the Senator - Chalabi’s butler drives Ritter to meet with Pletka at the Capitol Building; the two go to the office of Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS), who is fully aware of the VX lab report. Brownback is angry that the Clinton administration is reluctant to fully assist the UNSCOM inspectors. “This will not stand,” he tells Ritter. “Believe me when I say you and your colleagues have friends here in the US Senate who will make sure America honors its commitments and obligations, especially when it comes to disarming a cruel tyrant such as Saddam Hussein.” Afterwards, Ritter and Pletka are joined by Rademaker in the Senate cafeteria, who says he has the ear of several influential Congressmen. “We’ve got their attention,” Rademaker says, “and I think you’ll find that serious pressure will be brought on the Clinton administration to better support your work.” Pletka and Ritter then meet Lott and Scheunemann again; Scheunemann once again asks Ritter for his future collaboration. Lott reassures Ritter that there would be no legal or ethical conflicts: “Well, maybe we can find a way to bring you down here working for us. That might be the most useful thing to do.” Leaving the Senate building, Ritter muses that “Chalabi’s schemes seemed to have some substance behind them.”
Long-Term Ramifications - Butler will drastically revise his report to the UN Security Council, and the news of a “major breakthrough” in disarmament work with the Iraqis is shelved. The Clinton administration will issue statesments publicly supporting the UNSCOM inspectors, undercutting behind-the-scenes attempts by National Security Adviser Sandy Berger and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to have the US pull back from blanket support of the inspections. Conservative Republicans will rally around the cause of Iraqi duplicity; Scheunemann will use the VX report to drum up support for the Iraqi Liberation Act, which will pass several months after Ritter’s dinner with Chalabi (see October 31, 1998). And Chalabi and the INC will become the leading candidates for replacing Hussein. Reflecting on Chalabi’s prominence in the Post report, Ritter will write, “After watching the Republicans build up Chalabi, I should have known that they could not have passed up this opportunity to interject his name into the limelight.”
Iraqis Truthful about VX - Later evidence and inspection findings show that the Iraqi scientists had been truthful: they had never succeeded in stabilizing VX, and had never filled any warheads with the nerve toxin. The lab results are later shown to be severely flawed. Ritter will write, “In the end, I was wrong to have pushed so hard to have the lab results made public.” (Mayer 6/7/2004; Ritter 3/17/2008)
Within days of the US African embassy bombings, the US permanently stations two submarines, reportedly in the Indian Ocean, ready to hit al-Qaeda with cruise missiles on short notice. Missiles are fired from these subs later in the month in a failed attempt to assassinate bin Laden. Six to ten hours’ advance warning is now needed to review the decision, program the cruise missiles, and have them reach their target. However, in every rare opportunity when the possibility of attacking bin Laden occurs, CIA Director Tenet says the information is not reliable enough and the attack cannot go forward. (Gellman 12/19/2001; Miller, Gerth, and van Natta 12/30/2001) At some point in 2000, the submarines are withdrawn, apparently because the Navy wants to use them for other purposes. Therefore, when the unmanned Predator spy plane flies over Afghanistan in late 2000 and identifies bin Laden, there is no way to capitalize on that opportunity. (Clarke 2004, pp. 220-21) The Bush administration fails to resume the submarine patrol. Lacking any means to attack bin Laden, military plans to strike at him are no longer updated after March 2001. (9/11 Commission 3/24/2004)
The US fires 66 missiles at six al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan and 13 missiles at a pharmaceutical factory in Khartoum, Sudan, in retaliation for the US embassy bombings. (Gellman 10/3/2001) The US insists the attacks are aimed at terrorists “not supported by any state,” despite obvious evidence to the contrary. The Sudanese Al Shifa factory is hit in the middle of the night when it is unoccupied. Intelligence will later suggest that the factory had no links to bin Laden (see September 23, 1998). Between six and 30 people are killed in the Afghanistan attacks. But no important al-Qaeda figures die. (Hirst 8/23/1998; Weaver 1/24/2000; Wright 2006, pp. 285) At least one of the missiles accidentally landed inside Pakistan and Pakistan may have been able to build their own cruise missile from examining the remains. There are additional reports that bin Laden was able to sell unexploded missiles to China for more than $10 million. (Wright 2006, pp. 285) President Clinton is soon widely accused of using the missile strike to distract the US public from a personal sex scandal (see August 17-Late August 1998).
Darwin Murrell of the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) emails a memo informing the department’s scientists that any research into terminator technology must now be reviewed by senior managers. The USDA jointly holds a patent on the technology with Delta & Pine Land (see March 3, 1998). This is a “sensitive issue,” Murrell says. “Imposing an extra level of review for this research will not create undue delays nor will it restrict the creative talents of our scientists, but it will help them avoid potential political and legal pitfalls.” (Edwards 10/10/1998)
Senior Clinton administration officials admit they had no evidence directly linking bin Laden to the Al Shifa factory at the time of retaliatory strikes on August 20, 1998 (see August 20, 1998). However, intelligence officials assert that they found financial transactions between bin Laden and the Military Industrial Corporation—a company run by the Sudan’s government. (New York Times 9/23/1998; PBS Frontline 2001) A soil sample is said to show that the pharmaceutical factory was producing chemical weapons, but many doubts about the sample later arise. (Weiner and Risen 9/21/1998; Hersh 10/12/1998) Two anonymous US officials will later tell NBC that the soil sample was not taken at the factory, but across the street. It also comes to light that the person the US thought owned the factory in fact had sold it five months earlier. The Sudanese government asks for a US or UN investigation of the attack, but the US is not interested. (Randal 2005, pp. 139-140) The US later unfreezes the bank accounts of the factory owner, Salah Idriss, and takes other conciliatory actions, but admits no wrongdoing. It is later learned that of the six camps targeted in Afghanistan, only four were hit, and of those, only one had definitive connections to bin Laden. Clinton declares that the missiles were aimed at a “gathering of key terrorist leaders,” but it is later revealed that the referenced meeting took place a month earlier, in Pakistan. (Hirst 8/23/1998; Weaver 1/24/2000)
President Clinton signs the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998 (ILA) into law. The act, which passed with overwhelming support from Democrats and Republicans in both the House and Senate, was written by Trent Lott (R-MS) and other Republicans with significant input from Ahmed Chalabi and his aide, Francis Brooke. (US Congress 10/31/1998 ; DeYoung and Pincus 1/25/2002; Mayer 6/7/2004) (Former Defense Intelligence Agency official Patrick Lang will later write that one of the driving goals behind the ILA is to revive the failed 1995 coup plans against Saddam Hussein, called “End Game”—see November 1993.) (Lang 6/2004) The act makes it “the policy of the United States to support efforts to remove the regime headed by Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq and to promote the emergence of a democratic government to replace that regime.” To that end, the act requires that the president designate one or more Iraqi opposition groups to receive up to $97 million in US military equipment and nonlethal training. The act authorizes another $43 million for humanitarian, broadcasting, and information-collection activities. To be eligible for US assistance, an organization must be “committed to democratic values, to respect for human rights, to peaceful relations with Iraq’s neighbors, to maintaining Iraq’s territorial integrity, and to fostering cooperation among democratic opponents of the Saddam Hussein regime.” (US Congress 10/31/1998 ; DeYoung and Pincus 1/25/2002; Mayer 6/7/2004)
Chalabi Receives Millions from State Department - Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress receives $17.3 million from the State Department to carry out what it calls the “collection and dissemination of information” about Saddam Hussein’s atrocities to the public. It will continue to receive hundreds of thousands per month from the Defense Department as well. (Fairweather 4/2006) However, the Clinton administration itself has little use for Chalabi. One administration official will say, “He represents four or five guys in London who wear nice suits and have a fax machine.” (Unger 2007, pp. 160)
Zinni Warns of Legislation Presaging Military Action - While few in Washington see the ILA as presaging military action against Iraq, one who does is Marine Corps General Anthony Zinni, the commander of CENTCOM. As the bill works its way through Congress, Zinni tells some of his senior staff members that the bill is far more serious than most believe. It is much more than a sop for the pro-war crowd, Zinni believes, but in reality a first step towards an invasion of Iraq. In 2004, former ambassador Joseph Wilson will write, “He was, of course, right, but few were listening.” (Wilson 2004, pp. 290)
Intelligence agents learn Mahfouz Walad Al-Walid (a.k.a. Abu Hafs the Mauritanian), an important al-Qaeda leader, is staying in a particular hotel room in Khartoum, Sudan. White House officials ask that he be killed or captured and interrogated. International capture operations of wanted militants, a practice known as “rendition,” have become routine by the mid-1990s (see 1993). In fact, over a dozen al-Qaeda operatives are rendered between July 1998 and February 2000 (see July 1998-February 2000). But in this case, both the Defense Department and the CIA are against it, although Al-Walid does not even have bodyguards. The CIA puts the operation in the “too hard to do box,” according to one former official. The CIA says it is incapable of conducting such an operation in Sudan, but in the same year, it conducts another spy mission in the same city. (Miller, Gerth, and van Natta 12/30/2001; Clarke 2004, pp. 143-46) A plan is eventually made to seize Al-Walid, but by then he has left the country. (Miller, Gerth, and van Natta 12/30/2001)
Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif comes to Washington to meet with President Clinton and other top Clinton administration officials. The number one issue for Clinton is Pakistan’s nuclear program, since Pakistan had recently illegally developed and exploded a nuclear weapon (see May 28, 1998). The second most important issue is Pakistan’s economy; the US wants Pakistan to support free trade agreements. The third most important issue is terrorism and Pakistan’s support for bin Laden. Author Steve Coll will later note, “When Clinton himself met with Pakistani leaders, his agenda list always had several items, and bin Laden never was at the top. Afghanistan’s war fell even further down.” Sharif proposes to Clinton that the CIA train a secret Pakistani commando team to capture bin Laden. The US and Pakistan go ahead with this plan, even though most US officials involved in the decision believe it has almost no chance for success. They figure there is also little risk or cost involved, and it can help build ties between American and Pakistani intelligence. The plan will later come to nothing (see October 1999). (Coll 2004, pp. 441-444)
On December 18, 2000, CIA receives a tip that bin Laden will be staying overnight on December 20 at the governor’s mansion in Kandahar, Afghanistan. Missile strikes are readied against him. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 130-131) Gary Schroen, head of the CIA’s Pakistan office, e-mails CIA headquarters with the message, “Hit him tonight—we may not get another chance.” However, principal advisers to President Clinton agree not to recommend a strike because of doubts about the intelligence and worries about collateral damage. The military estimates the attacks will kill about 200 people, presumably most of them innocent bystanders. Schroen will later recall, “It struck me as rather insane, frankly. They decided not to attack bin Laden because he was in a building in fairly close proximity to a mosque. And they were afraid that some of the shrapnel was going to hit the mosque and somehow offend the Muslim world, and so they decided not to shoot on that occasion. That’s the kind of reason for not shooting that the policy maker, anyway, came up with endlessly.” (9/11 Commission 3/24/2004; CBC 9/12/2006) Later intelligence appears to show that bin Laden left before the strike could be readied, but some aware of the intelligence felt it was a chance that should have been taken anyway. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 130-131) In the wake of this incident, officials attempt to find alternatives to cruise missiles, such a precision strike aircraft. However, US Central Command Chief General Anthony Zinni is apparently opposed to deployment of these aircraft near Afghanistan, and they are not deployed. (9/11 Commission 3/24/2004)
Secretary of State Madeleine Albright confirms that the Clinton administration now endorses “regime change” in Iraq, essentially supporting the ouster of Saddam Hussein (see October 31, 1998). Merely containing Hussein, adds National Security Adviser Sandy Berger, “is not sustainable over the long run.” (Roberts 2008, pp. 121)
In early February 1999, US intelligence gains good information that Osama bin Laden is bird hunting with members of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) royal family in an uninhabited region of Afghanistan (see February 11, 1999). A later book by Daniel Benjamin and Stephen Simon, both officials in the Clinton administration, will note, “At the moment the Tomahawks [US missiles] were being readied, the United States was in the final stages of negotiations to sell eighty Block 60 F-16s, America’s most sophisticated export fighter jets,” to the UAE government. “America’s relationship with the [UAE] was the best it had in the [Persian] Gulf, and the [Clinton] administration had devotedly cultivated Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the UAE’s president and the leader of the country’s royal clans.” (Benjamin and Simon 2002, pp. 281) The F-16 fighter deal is worth about $8 billion. Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke is particularly close to the UAE royal family, having negotiated arms deals and US military basing agreements with them for several years. He has a hand in negotiating the F-16 deal in 1998. In fact, just days before the US learned of bin Laden’s presence in the hunting camp, Clarke was in the UAE working on the fighter deal. (Coll 2004, pp. 486; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 128) Journalist Steve Coll will later say: “If the United States bombed the camp and killed a few princes, it could potentially put [business deals like that] in jeopardy—even if bin Laden were killed at the same time. Hardly anyone in the Persian Gulf saw bin Laden as a threat serious enough to warrant the deaths of their own royalty.” Clarke is one who votes not to strike the camp, and others within the US government will speculate that his UAE ties had a role in his decision. (Coll 2004, pp. 447-450) Michael Scheuer, head of the CIA’s bin Laden unit at the time, will later comment: “Why did President Clinton fail to attack? Because making money was more important than protecting Americans.” (Scheuer 2008) The missile strike does not take place and the fighter deal is successfully completed. Some US officials, including Scheuer, will be very irate and vocally complain later this month (see Shortly After February 11, 1999).
Congress approves legislation which repeals the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933, greatly reducing regulation of Wall Street and clearing the way for the cross-ownership of banks, securities firms and insurers. The measure is approved in the Senate by a vote of 90 to 8 and in the House by 362 to 57. President Bill Clinton will sign the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act into law on November 12th, 1999. (Library of Congress 3/27/2009) The New York Times reports that passage of the bill elicits optimism that the measure will enhance American competitiveness and ensure American dominance in the global financial marketplace, as well as concerns that deregulation will lead to a future financial meltdown. The Times further notes that experts predict the new law will result in a wave of large financial mergers.
Optimism over Passage of the Measure - Treasury Secretary Lawrence H. Summers praises the legislation, declaring that the law “will better enable American companies to compete in the new economy.” Among others praising passage of the measure:
Senator Phil Gramm (R-TX), sponsor of the bill, says: “We have a new century coming, and we have an opportunity to dominate that century the same way we dominated this century. Glass-Steagall, in the midst of the Great Depression, came at a time when the thinking was that the government was the answer. In this era of economic prosperity, we have decided that freedom is the answer.”
Rep Jim Leach (R-IA) remarks: “This is a historic day. The landscape for delivery of financial services will now surely shift.”
Senator Charles E. Schumer (D-NY) says, “There are many reasons for this bill, but first and foremost is to ensure that US financial firms remain competitive.”
Senator Bob Kerrey (D-NE) says, “The concerns that we will have a meltdown like 1929 are dramatically overblown.”
Warnings over Implications of the Measure - The measure provokes warnings from a handful of dissenters that “the deregulation of Wall Street would someday wreak havoc on the nation’s financial system,” according to the Times. Among the dissenters are:
Senator Byron L. Dorgan (D-ND), who says: “I think we will look back in 10 years’ time and say we should not have done this but we did because we forgot the lessons of the past, and that that which is true in the 1930’s is true in 2010;”
Representative Maxine Waters (D-CA), who remarks that the bill is “mean-spirited in the way it had tried to undermine the Community Reinvestment Act;”
Senator Paul Wellstone (D-MN), who says: “Glass-Steagall was intended to protect our financial system by insulating commercial banking from other forms of risk. It was one of several stabilizers designed to keep a similar tragedy from recurring. Now Congress is about to repeal that economic stabilizer without putting any comparable safeguard in its place.” (Labaton 11/5/1999)
In the wake of disrupting Ahmed Ressam’s millennium bomb plot at the end of 1999 and arresting his cohorts (see December 14, 1999) (see December 15-31, 1999), US intelligence remains concerned that al-Qaeda sleeper cells remain in the US (see March 10, 2000). However, Clinton’s National Security Adviser Sandy Berger later claims that the FBI still repeatedly assures the Clinton White House that al-Qaeda lacks the ability to launch a domestic strike. (Risen 9/22/2002) He says, “Until the very end of our time in office, the view we received from the [FBI] was that al-Qaeda had limited capacity to operate in the US and any presence here was under surveillance.” No analysis is done before 9/11 to investigate just how big that presence might be. (Priest and Eggen 9/20/2002)
Russia’s President Vladimir Putin will later recall, “I talked with the [Clinton] administration and pointed out the bin Laden issue to them. I was surprised by their reaction. They wrung their hands so helplessly and said: ‘the Taliban are not turning him over, what can one do?’ I remember I was surprised: if they are not turning him over, one has to think and do something.” (Interfax 9/21/2001; Steele et al. 9/22/2001) This exchange, if true, must take place in 2000 because Putin becomes acting president of Russia on the first day of 2000 and President Bush replaces Clinton in the US in January 2001. The Washington Post will report in December 2000 that “The United States has quietly begun to align itself with those in the Russian government calling for military action against Afghanistan and has toyed with the idea of a new raid to wipe out Osama bin Laden (see December 19, 2000),” but no such raid takes place.
The Clinton administration begins a push to fight terrorism financing by introducing a tough anti-money laundering bill. The bill faces tough opposition, mostly from Republicans and lobbyists who enjoy the anonymity of offshore banking, which would be affected by the legislation. Despite passing the House Banking Committee by a vote of 31 to 1 in July 2000, Senator Phil Gramm (R-TX) refuses to let the bill come up for a vote in his Senate Banking Committee. (Cohen 10/15/2001) Other efforts begun at this time to fight terrorism financing are later stymied by the new Bush administration in February 2001.
John Yoo, an associate law professor at the University of California at Berkeley, makes a presentation at a Cato Institute seminar on executive power. Yoo, who will go on to become one of the Bush administration’s primary advocates of unchecked executive power (see March 1996), accuses the Clinton administration of upending the Constitution to give the executive branch unwarranted authority (see March 24 - Mid-June, 1999). “[T]he Clinton administration has undermined the balance of powers that exist in foreign affairs, and [they] have undermined principles of democratic accountability that executive branches have agreed upon well to the Nixon administration,” he says. Regarding the Clinton administration’s stretched interpretation of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (see June 2000), Yoo says that the Clinton “legal arguments are so outrageous, they’re so incredible, that they actually show, I think, a disrespect for the idea of law, by showing how utterly manipulatible it is.” (Savage 2007, pp. 67)
Lieutenant Colonel Anthony Shaffer will later claim that Captain Scott Phillpott, leader of the Able Danger program, briefs General Peter Schoomaker, head of Special Operations Command (SOCOM), that Able Danger has uncovered information of increased al-Qaeda “activity” in Aden harbor, Yemen. Shaffer, plus two other officials familiar with Able Danger later tell the New York Post that this warning was gleaned through a search of bin Laden’s business ties. Shaffer later recalls, “Yemen was elevated by Able Danger to be one of the top three hot spots for al-Qaeda in the entire world.” This warning, plus another possibly connected warning from Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) analyst Kie Fallis (see May 2000-Late September 2000), go unheeded and no official warning is issued. The USS Cole is attacked by al-Qaeda terrorists in Aden harbor in October 2000 (see October 12, 2000). Shaffer later claims that Phillpott tells the 9/11 Commission about this warning in 2004 to show that Able Danger could have had a significant impact, but the Commission’s findings fail to mention the warning, or in fact anything else about Able Danger (see July 12, 2004). (Lathem 9/17/2005; Shaffer 9/20/2005) Representative Curt Weldon (R-PA) will similarly tell Fox News: “[T]wo weeks before the attack on the Cole, in fact, two days before the attack on the Cole, [Able Danger] saw an increase of activity that led them to say to the senior leadership in the Pentagon at that time, in the Clinton administration, there’s something going to happen in Yemen and we better be on high alert, but it was discounted. That story has yet to be told to the American people.” (Fox News 10/8/2005)
North Korean leader Kim Jong Il invites Clinton administration officials to Pyongyang, offering to sign a treaty banning the production of long-range missiles and the export of all missiles (see October 21, 1994). Secretary of State Madeleine Albright represents the US. Clinton administration officials at the negotiations between Albright and Kim acknowledge that the North Korean is, in reporter Fred Kaplan’s words, “clearly one of the world’s battier leaders,” yet they will recall his negotiations as quite sound. Clinton’s chief negotiator Robert Einhorn will later recall, “He struck me as a very serious, rational guy who knew his issues pretty well.” Albright’s policy coordinator, Wendy Sherman, will agree. “There were 14 unresolved issues, and he sat with the secretary, answering all her questions.” Einhorn will add: “When Albright presented him with the questions, at first he looked a little puzzled, as if he hadn’t known about them. Albright offered to give him time to look them over, but he said, ‘No, no, I can do this.’ He went down the list, one by one, and gave specific explanations. For example, on the question of missile exports, ‘Yes, I mean no exports of missiles of any range.’ And ‘Yes, I mean to ban the export of missile technology, not just the missiles.’ On issues where it was clear he didn’t want to be drawn out yet, he skipped over them. He understood where he wanted to be clear and where he wasn’t going to be.” The negotiations bear no fruit; Clinton chooses to spend the final weeks of his presidency working towards a peace treaty between Israel and the Palestinians, but, as Kaplan will write, “the stage was set for diplomatic progress—and, in the meantime, the [nuclear] fuel rods remained under lock and key.” (Kaplan 5/2004) Those negotiations will be abandoned by the Bush administration (see Mid-January 2001 and March 7, 2001).
During the single vice-presidential debate of the campaign, between Republican Dick Cheney and Democrat Joseph Lieberman, Cheney makes a number of assertions about his business experience that Lieberman does not challenge. No specific question is asked about Cheney’s tenure as CEO of Halliburton, but one is asked by the moderator, PBS newscaster Jim Lehrer, about “partisanship.” In the words of authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein: “Cheney used his answer to burnish a myth that largely exists to this day. In it, he stars as the triumphant CEO, a self-reliant insider-turned-outsider who competently and ethically grew his company while increasing shareholder value. While politically useful, it happens to be a lie.” In the debate, Cheney says: “I’ve been out of Washington for the last eight years and spent the last five years running a company [sic] global concern. And been out in the private sector building a business, hiring people, creating jobs. I have a different perspective on Washington than I had when I was there in the past.” Dubose and Bernstein will note that Lieberman, a pro-corporate politician himself, fails to challenge Cheney’s self-assessment. Lieberman does make one wry observation: when Cheney challenges the common wisdom that most Americans are financially better off now than at the beginning of President Clinton’s tenure, Lieberman retorts: “I think if you asked most people in America today that famous question that Ronald Reagan asked, ‘Are you better off today than you were eight years ago?’ Most people would say yes. I’m pleased to see, Dick, from the newspapers that you’re better off than you were eight years ago, too.” Cheney replies, “I can tell you, Joe, the government had absolutely nothing to do with it.” Dubose and Bernstein call Cheney’s retort “a whopper of a falsehood—and one more that Lieberman failed to dispute.” Cheney has become a multi-millionaire during his tenure at Halliburton, and will continue to receive compensation from the firm years after he becomes vice president. During Cheney’s five-year term as Halliburton CEO, the company had suffered due to what Fortune magazine will call his “poor leadership.” However, the large profits Halliburton made under Cheney came largely from government contracts. (Commission on Presidential Debates 10/5/2000; Dubose and Bernstein 2006, pp. 104-106)
Following the attack on the USS Cole in Yemen (see October 12, 2000), the Clinton administration discusses what standard of evidence it needs to launch a counter-strike against al-Qaeda, which it suspects of the bombing. Following the bombing of the US embassies in East Africa (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998), the administration fired a number of cruise missiles at suspected al-Qaeda targets (see August 20, 1998). However, the administration decides it must have evidence that bin Laden and al-Qaeda’s leadership has authority, direction, and control of the attack before initiating a response. CIA Director George Tenet will comment: “This is a high threshold to cross.” Tenet will also say that this threshold was not set by the CIA, but by “policy makers.” (Tenet 2007, pp. 128) Although the bombing is tied to three known leading al-Qaeda operatives, Khallad bin Attash (see November 11, 2000), Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri (see November-December 2000), and Ahmed al-Hada (see November 2000 or After), early on in the investigation, no counterstrike is initiated (see Shortly After October 12, 2000 and Late October 2000). Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke will express his frustration with the inaction: “[I]n Washington neither CIA nor FBI would state the obvious: al-Qaeda did it. We knew there was a large al-Qaeda cell in Yemen There was also a large cell of Egyptian Islamic Jihad, but that group had now announced its complete merger into al-Qaeda, so what difference did it make which group did the attack? [Counterterrorism staff] had worked around the clock piecing together the evidence and had made a very credible case against al-Qaeda. CIA would agree only months later.” (Clarke 2004, pp. 223) The authors of the 2002 book The Cell will later write: “The links to bin Laden were everywhere. Each of the suspects being held in Yemen had admitted training in the Afghan camps run by bin Laden… neither the FBI nor the CIA was ever able to tell the president that they had direct proof that the Cole was a bin Laden-ordered job, though now, in retrospect, it seems terribly obvious. In any case, even if there had been compelling proof that bin Laden was behind the Cole bombing, there was little chance that the Clinton administration would have launched an attack on any Islamic country while he was trying to get the Israelis and Palestinians to the peace table.” (Miller, Stone, and Mitchell 2002, pp. 238)
Shortly after the USS Cole bombing (see October 12, 2000), the US supposedly obtains intelligence that prompts President Clinton to consider another missile strike on bin Laden. The US presidential election is in early November. Author Lawrence Wright will later write, “Clinton maintains that, despite the awkward political timing, his administration came close to launching another missile attack… but at the last minute the CIA recommended calling it off because [bin Laden’s] presence at the site was not completely certain.” (Wright 2006, pp. 244) Additionally, the tie between the Cole bombing and al-Qaeda had not yet been confirmed. The first strong evidence of such a tie will come in late November 2000 when details of an al-Qaeda operative’s confession are given to the FBI (see Late October-Late November 2000). The 9/11 Commission will make no mention of any planned strikes around this time in their final report while discussing the missed opportunities to strike at bin Laden. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 237) However, the Washington Post will detail the opportunity, saying the target was a “stone compound, built around a central courtyard full of al-Qaeda operatives.” But the strike is canceled when CIA Director George Tenet calls National Security Adviser Sandy Berger and says about the quality of intelligence, “We just don’t have it.” (Gellman 12/19/2001) Ironically, it appears bin Laden was actually hoping to be attacked, anticipating that it would boost his reputation in the Muslim world. In the summer of 2001, the NSA will monitor two al-Qaeda operatives discussing how disappointed they are that the US did not retaliate after the Cole bombing (see June 30-July 1, 2001).
The Bush campaign works with Florida Republicans to orchestrate the so-called “Sore Loserman” campaign, playing off the names of the two Democratic presidential ticket members, Al Gore (D-TN) and Joe Lieberman (D-CT), to bring pressure for the Democrats to concede the presidency to George W. Bush. Throughout the day, Republican activists protest and wave “Sore Loserman” signs outside the canvassing board offices in the Florida counties that are still recounting votes. One Gore ally is physically threatened by protesters outside the Broward County courthouse and requires bodyguards to exit the courthouse unscathed. Democrats charge that the protesters are trying to disrupt the recount effort (see 9:00 a.m. and after, November 22, 2000) and send a letter to the US Justice Department asking for an immediate investigation. (Whitman et al. 12/13/2000) A few days later, Steven Meyer, a Democratic election observer in Palm Beach County, writes that both Republicans and Democrats are busing in protesters, but Republicans are paying protesters to participate. “I doubt that the people on the Democratic side are getting paid because we don’t have the cash,” he notes. Democrats who “infiltrate” the Republican protests will report being offered pay and expense money to keep coming back. He also writes: “Now, it’s reported that many of these protesters are the same people whom Cuban groups paid to stand outside of Elian Gonzalez’s home in Little Havana. It’s a regular cottage industry—have sign and clever slogan, will travel.” (Meyer 12/14/2000) Gonzalez is a young Cuban-American boy who became a cause celebre for some conservatives who accused the Clinton administration of enabling his Cuban father to “kidnap” him and return with him to Cuba after his mother died. (Haberman 1/14/2000)
Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke submits a plan to “roll back” al-Qaeda over a period of three to five years until it is ineffectual. (9/11 Commission 3/24/2004) The main component is a dramatic increase in covert aid to the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan to first tie down the terrorists and then “eliminate the sanctuary” for bin Laden. Financial support for terrorist activities will be systematically attacked, nations fighting al-Qaeda will be given aid to defeat them, and the US will plan for direct military and covert action in Afghanistan. The plan will cost several hundred million dollars. However, since there are only a few weeks left before the Bush administration takes over, it is decided to defer the decision until the new administration is in place. One senior Clinton official later says, “We would be handing [the Bush administration] a war when they took office on January 20. That wasn’t going to happen.” However, the plan is rejected by the Bush administration and no action is taken (see January 25, 2001). According to one senior Bush administration official, the proposal amounts to “everything we’ve done since 9/11.” (Elliott 8/12/2002)
National Security Adviser Sandy Berger asks CIA Director how he would go after al-Qaeda if he were unconstrained by resources and policies. He assigns Cofer Black and the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center to develops a plan for the incoming Bush administration. It is dubbed the “Blue Sky Memo.” The CIA presents it to counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke on December 29, 2000. It recommends increased support to anti-Taliban groups and especially a major effort to back Ahmed Shah Massoud’s Northern Alliance, to tie down al-Qaeda personnel before they leave Afghanistan. No action is taken on it in the last few weeks of the Clinton administration; and the new Bush administration does not appear interested in it either. (9/11 Commission 3/24/2004; Tenet 2007, pp. 130-131) The National Security Council counterterrorism staff also prepares a strategy paper, incorporating ideas from the Blue Sky Memo. (9/11 Commission 3/24/2004)
The heads of the US military, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have become frustrated by the lack of CIA disinformation operations to create dissent among the Taliban, and at the very end of the Clinton administration, they begin to develop a Taliban disinformation project of their own, which is to go into effect in 2001. When they are briefed, the Defense Department’s new leaders kill the project. According to Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Henry Shelton, “[Defense Secretary] Rumsfeld and Deputy [Defense] Secretary Paul Wolfowitz were against the Joint Staff having the lead on this.” They consider this a distraction from their core military missions. As far as Rumsfeld is concerned, “This terrorism thing was out there, but it didn’t happen today, so maybe it belongs lower on the list… so it gets defused over a long period of time.” (Benjamin 3/30/2004)
In January, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Henry Shelton is given a three hour briefing on Able Danger. Shelton supported the formation of Able Danger back in 1999 (see Fall 1999). The content of the briefing has never been reported. Then in March, during a briefing on another classified program called Door Hop Galley, Able Danger is again brought up. This briefing, given by Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer, is attended by Vice Adm. Thomas Wilson, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency; Richard Schiefren, an attorney at DOD; and Stephen Cambone, Special Assistant to the Secretary and Deputy Secretary of Defense. (Goodwin 9/2005; Office of Congressman Curt Weldon 9/17/2005 Sources: Curt Weldon) In mid-September 2005, Weldon will say, “I knew that the Clinton administration clearly knew about this. Now I know of at least two briefings in the Bush administration.” He calls these two briefings “very troubling.” He wants to know what became of the information presented in these briefings, suggesting it shouldn’t have been destroyed as part of the other Able Danger data purges. (Bender 9/16/2005; Office of Congressman Curt Weldon 9/17/2005)
Clinton and Bush staff overlap for several months while new Bush appointees are appointed and confirmed. Clinton holdovers seem more concerned about al-Qaeda than the new Bush staffers. For instance, according to a colleague, Sandy Berger, Clinton’s National Security Adviser, had become “totally preoccupied” with fears of a domestic terror attack. (Hirsh and Isikoff 5/27/2002) Brian Sheridan, Clinton’s outgoing Deputy Defense Secretary for Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict, is astonished when his offers during the transition to bring the new military leadership up to speed on terrorism are brushed aside. “I offered to brief anyone, any time on any topic. Never took it up.” (Benjamin 3/30/2004) Army Lieutenant General Donald Kerrick, Deputy National Security Adviser and manager of Clinton’s NSC (National Security Council) staff, still remains at the NSC nearly four months after Bush takes office. He later notes that while Clinton’s advisers met “nearly weekly” on terrorism by the end of his term, he does not detect the same kind of focus with the new Bush advisers: “That’s not being derogatory. It’s just a fact. I didn’t detect any activity but what [Clinton holdover Richard] Clarke and the CSG [Counterterrorism Security Group] were doing.” (Gellman 1/20/2002) Kerrick submits a memo to the new people at the NSC, warning, “We are going to be struck again.” He says, “They never responded. It was not high on their priority list. I was never invited to one meeting. They never asked me to do anything. They were not focusing. They didn’t see terrorism as the big megaissue that the Clinton administration saw it as.” Kerrick adds, “They were gambling nothing would happen.” (Benjamin 3/30/2004) Bush’s first Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman, Henry Shelton, later says terrorism was relegated “to the back burner” until 9/11. (Washington Post 10/2/2002)
A few days before President Bush assumes the presidency, several Clinton administration officials provide incoming Secretary of State Colin Powell and incoming National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice with a briefing about the unresolved negotiations between the US and North Korea concerning North Korean missiles (see October 2000). Powell is clearly interested; Rice is just as clearly not interested. One Clinton official will later recall, “The body language was striking.” He will add: “Powell was leaning forward. Rice was very much leaning backward. Powell thought that what we had been doing formed an interesting basis for progress. He was disabused very quickly.” When Bush publicly announces his intention to abandon any negotiations with North Korea, and in the process publicly insults the leaders of both North and South Korea (see March 7, 2001), it becomes very clear that the US has changed its tone towards North Korea. Powell is another victim of public rebuke; he is forced to retract statements he has made saying the US will continue its negotiations (see March 7, 2001). (Kaplan 5/2004)
On his first day in office, President Bush has his chief of staff, Andrew Card, issue directives to every executive department with authority over environmental issues, and orders them to immediately put on hold dozens of regulations passed by the Clinton administration. The Clinton regulations include lowering arsenic levels in drinking water; reducing the release of raw sewage into rivers and streams; setting limits on logging, drilling, and mining on public lands; increasing energy efficiency standards; and banning snowmobiles from Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. (Carter 2004, pp. 127)
The media reports that the Bush White House has apparently been victimized by pranks. During the last days of the Clinton administration, some Clinton officials apparently removed the “W” keys from computer keyboards in the White House and in the Old Executive Office Building, in apparent reference to incoming President George W. Bush’s middle initial. An anonymous White House aide says, “There are dozens, if not hundreds, of keyboards with these missing keys,” and adds: “In some cases the W is marked out, but the most prevalent example is the key being removed. In some cases the W keys have been taped on top of the doorways, which are 12 feet tall.” Chris Lehane, the press secretary for former vice president and Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore, jokes: “My guess is that the White House did not have many reasons to use the letter W over the last couple of years. It’s possible they just fell off because of sheer atrophy.” (Grove 1/23/2001) Lehane laughingly tells the Washington Post, “I think the missing W’s can be explained by the vast left-wing conspiracy now at work.” (Lauerman and Montgomery 5/23/2001) In the following days, the reports will mushroom from tales of a harmless prank into allegations of serious and systematic vandalism and theft by Clinton officials, becoming what many will call “Vandalgate,” or the “Clinton vandal scandal” (see January 26, 2001). These reports will be proven to be complete fabrications (see February 8, 2001, February 14, 2001, and May 18, 2001), apparently started by Bush officials and embellished by conservative reporters and pundits in order to besmirch the Clinton administration (see January 25, 2001).
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer says he cannot confirm the extent of the alleged vandalism carried out by Clinton staffers in the last days of the Clinton administration (see January 23, 2001). President Bush intends to change the tone in Washington to a positive one, Fleischer says, and as a result, the White House will not comment on the charges of rampant vandalism and theft. “Whether things were done that were perhaps less gracious than should have been, it is not going to be what President Bush focuses on, nor will it be what his staff focuses on,” he says. “Whatever may have been done, we are going to just put our heads down and look ahead.” (NewsMax 1/26/2001; Kettle 1/26/2001)
Hints and Innuendos - However, the White House is “cataloguing” the damage allegedly done by Clinton staffers, Fleischer says. When asked what is being catalogued, Fleischer responds: “I choose not to. I choose not to describe what acts were done that we found upon arrival because I think that’s part of changing the tone in Washington.” Sensing more to the story, reporters hone in, asking why make a catalogue “if you’re going to give them a pass,” what the dollar estimate of damage might be, and other questions. When a reporter says, “You’ve got to blame somebody,” Fleischer cuts him off: “President Bush is not going to come to Washington for the point of blaming somebody in this town. And it’s a different way of governing, it’s a different way of leading.” When asked what he knows of the supposed apology offered to Vice President Cheney’s wife by former Vice President Gore’s wife (see January 24, 2001), Fleischer says, “I know that a phone call was made to the vice president’s office, but I really—I don’t recall who made it.” When asked where the majority of the alleged damage was, Fleischer says, “You know, I really stopped paying attention to all the different places.” Finally, when asked whether some of the damage could actually be the result of renovations and normal repairs, Fleischer says, “I don’t think that the people who were professionals, who make their business to go in and prepare a White House for new arrivals, would cut wires.” Fleischer ends the briefing, having given reporters enough hints and implications of severe, widespread vandalism to whet their appetites. (Lauerman and Montgomery 5/23/2001)
Story Fed by Fleischer, White House Officials - The allegations of vandalism and theft will prove to be almost entirely false (see February 14, 2001 and May 18, 2001). Salon will later report that while Fleischer and other White House officials publicly remain above the fray, in private they are feeding the controversy by giving detailed off-the-record interviews to selected reporters, pundits, and talk show hosts. One White House reporter will later admit that the story was pushed by at least two “unnamed Bush aides.” Salon correspondents Kerry Lauerman and Alicia Montgomery add: “Fleischer and the off-the-record Bush staffers, meanwhile, got a lot of help from a press corps eager for early scoops from a new administration. For some reporters and pundits, the White House vandalism story was just too good to pass up.” (Lauerman and Montgomery 5/23/2001) A Washington Post report later states: “A high-level Republican who saw some of the damage said the White House was leery about putting information out about this because chief of staff Andrew Card Jr. did not want to appear to be ratting on the Clinton administration. ‘People wanted to talk about this, and Andy said no,’ an official said.” (Allen 1/26/2001)
Stories Debunked - It will not be long before the stories are proven almost entirely false (see February 8, 2001, February 14, 2001, and May 18, 2001).
Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke submits a proposal to National Security Adviser Rice and “urgently” asks for a Cabinet-level meeting on the al-Qaeda threat. (Clarke 2004, pp. 230-31) He forwards his December 2000 strategy paper and a copy of his 1998 “Delenda Plan”
(see August 27, 1998). He lays out a proposed agenda for urgent action:
Approve covert assistance to Ahmed Shah Massoud’s Northern Alliance fighting the Taliban. (9/11 Commission 3/24/2004)
Significantly increase funding for CIA counterterrorism activity. (9/11 Commission 3/24/2004)
Respond to the USS Cole bombing with an attack on al-Qaeda. (The link between al-Qaeda and that bombing had been assumed for months and is confirmed in the media two days later.) According to the Washington Post, “Clarke argue[s] that the camps [are] can’t-miss targets, and they [matter]. The facilities [amount] to conveyor belts for al-Qaeda’s human capital, with raw recruits arriving and trained fighters departing either for front lines against the Northern Alliance, the Afghan rebel coalition, or against American interests somewhere else. The US government had whole libraries of images filmed over Tarnak Qila and its sister camp, Garmabat Ghar, 19 miles farther west. Why watch al-Qaeda train several thousand men a year and then chase them around the world when they left?” No retaliation is taken on these camps until after 9/11. (Gellman 1/20/2002)
Go forward with new Predator drone reconnaissance missions in the spring and use an armed version when it is ready (see January 10-25, 2001). (9/11 Commission 3/24/2004)
Step up the fight against terrorist fundraising. (9/11 Commission 3/24/2004)
Be aware that al-Qaeda sleeper cells in the US are not just a potential threat, but are a “major threat in being.” Additionally, more attacks have almost certainly been set in motion (see January 25, 2001). (Gellman 1/20/2002) Rice’s response to Clarke’s proposal is that the Cabinet will not address the issue until it has been “framed” at the deputy secretary level. However, this initial deputy meeting is not given high priority and it does not take place until April 2001. (Clarke 2004, pp. 230-31) Henry Shelton, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman until 9/11, says, “The squeaky wheel was Dick Clarke, but he wasn’t at the top of their priority list, so the lights went out for a few months. Dick did a pretty good job because he’s abrasive as hell, but given the [bureaucratic] level he was at” there was no progress. (Benjamin and Simon 2002, pp. 335-36; Benjamin 3/30/2004) Some counterterrorism officials think the new administration responds slowly simply because Clarke’s proposal originally came from the Clinton administration. (Elliott 8/12/2002) For instance, Thomas Maertenson, on the National Security Council in both the Clinton and Bush administrations, says, “They really believed their campaign rhetoric about the Clinton administration. So anything [that administration] did was bad, and the Bushies were not going to repeat it.” (Bumiller and Miller 3/24/2004; Black 3/25/2004) The Bush administration will finally address the gist of Clarke’s plan at a cabinet-level meeting on September 4, 2001, just one week before 9/11 (see September 4, 2001). Clarke will later comment that the plan adopted “on Sept. 4 is basically… what I proposed on Jan. 25. And so the time in between was wasted.”
Fed by stories from unnamed White House officials, the media reports that Air Force One was vandalized and looted by Clinton officials during the aircraft’s last trip with Clinton and former Clinton staffers on board. NBC’s Andrea Mitchell tells viewers, “The Air Force will replace Air Force One glasses and four hand towels, apparently pilfered by passengers traveling with the Clintons on their last plane ride home.” Fox’s Brit Hume says: “The raid that was conducted aboard that Air Force plane, the presidential plane, although it’s not called Air Force One because the president was no longer—Mr. Clinton, Mr. Clinton was no longer president—on the last flight to New York… was stripped bare. The plane’s porcelain, china… and silverware, and salt and pepper shakers, blankets and pillow cases, nearly all items bearing the presidential seal, were taken by Clinton staffers who went along for the ride. The Washington Times quoted a military steward as saying that even a supply of toothpaste was stolen from a compartment under a sink.” CNN’s Kate O’Beirne tells viewers: “During Bill Clinton’s final flight, the plane was stripped bare and not by sentimental staffers seeking mementos. Air Force One souvenirs were quickly posted for auction online. Why not make a final buck off the White House? Outrageous, but not surprising.” (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting 5/21/2001; Lauerman and Montgomery 5/23/2001) Weeks later, the story will be debunked by an Andrews Air Force Base spokesman (see February 8, 2001) and by President Bush himself (see February 14, 2001).
The final paragraph of Mike Allen’s Washington Post report on allegations of systematic White House vandalism carried out in the last days of the Clinton administration (see January 26, 2001) states: “Some GOP officials are portraying the damage as a sordid coda to the Clinton years. A Bush campaign official said the White House staff and Secret Service agents welcomed the Bush entourage especially warmly on Saturday. Some of the kitchen staff hugged members of the Bush family, the official said, adding, ‘You could sense an attitude like, “Thank God you’re here.”’” (Allen 1/26/2001)
Skepticism of Allen's Reporting - Months later, skeptical Salon reporters Kerry Lauerman and Alicia Montgomery will observe of Allen’s report, “As if the portrait of Clinton’s staff members loading their pickups with White House valuables wasn’t enough, readers were treated to the heartwarming image of a service staff grateful that their rightful rulers had returned.”
Desired Effect? - Lauerman and Montgomery will report that Allen’s reporting, and the entire “vandal scandal,” apparently had its desired effect: a rise in positive media approaches to the incoming Bush administration paired with a final slap at the outgoing Clintons. Days after the Allen report, conservative media pundit and publisher William Kristol will tell Fox that the “vandal scandal” worked well for Bush and his conservative supporters: “It’s been really great for Bush to have people—and including many Gore voters, I think—just look up and think, ‘You know what? Maybe I didn’t want Bush to be president, but I am glad that Bill Clinton is gone.’” Lauerman and Alexander will write: “It couldn’t have gone better for members of the incoming Bush administration had they choreographed it themselves. And, in fact, they had” (see January 25, 2001). (Lauerman and Montgomery 5/23/2001)
Conservative pundit Tony Snow, who was a speechwriter for the first President Bush, alleges that Clinton aides rampaged through the White House and through Air Force One in the last days of the Clinton administration, leaving wholesale wreckage in both sites—giving Washington “one last White Trash Weekend,” he writes. The White House “was a wreck,” he alleges: “They trashed word processors, left obscene messages on voice-mail machines, cut some phone lines and re-routed others, tinkered with computers, scrawled obscenities on walls, soiled rugs and carpets, tipped over desks, vandalized file cabinets, left nasty messages for their successors—and generally went that extra mile to prove Team Clinton, for all its good and decent public servants, included a record number of punks.” Snow also repeats allegations that Air Force One was subjected to systematic theft, writing that after the presidential plane took former President Clinton and some aides to New York following the inauguration (“loaned graciously by President George W. Bush [after] Clinton insisted on the grand transport because he wanted something befitting his personal grandeur”), the aircraft “looked as if it had been stripped by a skilled band of thieves—or perhaps wrecked by a trailer park twister.” Snow alleges that many items, including silverware, porcelain dishes with the presidential seal, pillows, blankets, and even candy and toothpaste, were stolen from Air Force One by Clinton aides and perhaps the Clintons themselves. “It makes one feel grateful that the seats and carpets are bolted down,” he says. “Nothing better expresses the narcissistic tackiness of the Clinton years than the last-day exit, complete with its kangaroo-court justice, graceless self-celebration, opportunistic abuse of the gift-receiving privilege, and wanton desecration of the nation’s most important political shrine, the White House.” Snow’s assertions are contradicted by officials at Andrews Air Force Base, home of the presidential jets, who tell reporters that nothing is missing from Air Force One. Weeks later, President Bush will acknowledge that nothing was taken from Air Force One (see February 8, 2001 and February 14, 2001). (Snow 1/26/2001; Goldstein 5/18/2001) Snow also passes along allegations that the Clintons were given hundreds of thousands of dollars of illicit gifts and contributions, and that First Lady Hillary Clinton posted “a weird variation on a bridal registry, establishing password-protected sites in which contributors could pledge to purchase specific items selected in advance by the Clintons’ design teams for their his ‘n’ hers palazzos.” (Snow 1/26/2001) As with the Air Force One allegations, the allegations of vandalism and theft, and the gift registry, will prove to be almost entirely false (see May 18, 2001).
The Bush White House alleges that officials and aides from the outgoing Clinton administration vandalized the White House in the last days before Bush officials took over. Conservative news site NewsMax reports that the “slovenly misfits” of the Clinton administration “left the [White House] in a shambles” in the transition between the outgoing Clinton administration and the incoming Bush administration. Clinton aides engaged in “deliberate vandalism,” the report says, and cites a General Services Administration (GSA) official estimating that it may cost up to $250,000 to repair the damage. NewsMax quotes a report by another conservative publication, the American Spectator, which itself quotes “an inspector… called in to assess the vandalism as saying that several executive desks were damaged to the point that they must be replaced, and several more offices must be repainted because of graffiti.” (Kettle 1/26/2001; NewsMax 1/26/2001) Conservative Internet gossip writer Matt Drudge reports that “White House offices [were] left ‘trashed’” and so-called “[p]orn bombs [and] lewd messages” were left behind. No explanation of what Drudge meant by the “porn bomb” allegation is ever given. (Curl 1/27/2001) The allegations of vandalism and theft will prove to be almost entirely false (see February 8, 2001, February 14, 2001, and May 18, 2001).
Gore's Staffers Charged with Worst of Vandalism - British newspaper The Guardian repeats earlier claims that the worst of the damage was found in offices once occupied by staffers for former Vice President Al Gore, and that Gore’s wife, Tipper, has phoned Lynne Cheney, the wife of Vice President Dick Cheney, to apologize for the damage. The story is false (see January 24, 2001). (Kettle 1/26/2001)
Reports: Cut Phone Lines, Extensive Damage, Pornographic Photos - Both the Washington Post and The Guardian report allegations that computer and telephone lines were “sliced,” voice-mail messages were changed to “obscene remarks and lewd greetings,” desks were overturned, and trash strewn throughout the premises. The reports add that filing cabinets were glued shut with Superglue, pornographic photographs displayed in printers, and “filthy graffiti scrawled on at least one hallway wall.” The Spectator’s inspector adds that “[e]ntire computer keyboards will have to be replaced because the damage to them is more extensive than simply missing keys,” referring to allegations that some White House keyboards had the “W” keys pried off. The Spectator also reports tales of former Clinton staffers reportedly “laughing and giggling about the mess their former colleagues left behind.” A Bush White House official calls the White House “a pigsty” in the aftermath of the transition. “The Gore and Clinton people didn’t ‘clean out’ the place because there was nothing clean about what they did before they left.” The GSA will pursue the former Clinton officials for reimbursement and expenses. The Spectator reports that “investigators” conclude the damage was “the result of a carefully organized campaign of vandalism unlike anything ever seen in the aftermath of a presidential transition.” (NewsMax 1/26/2001; Kettle 1/26/2001; Allen 1/26/2001) The New York Daily News reports, “The destruction was so vast that a telecommunications staffer with more than a quarter-century of service was seen sobbing near his office one night last week.” (DeFrank 1/27/2001) CNN’s Paula Zahn observes: “All right, but this is the White House, for God’s sakes. We’re not talking about people living in a fraternity.” (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting 5/21/2001) Fox News is particularly vehement in its coverage. “They trash[ed] the place,” says Fox commentator Sean Hannity. ”$200,000 in furniture [was] taken out.” Fellow Fox commentator Oliver North (see May-June, 1989) adds: “We should expect from white trash what they did at the White House.… I recommend that what the Bush White House do is peel the wallpaper off that they defaced with their graffiti and ship it off to the Clinton Library so people can see it.” Fox host Bill O’Reilly says, “I mean, the price tag right now is about $200,000, so that’s a felony right there.” And O’Reilly guest Tom Schatz says, referring to the famous film about fraternity life, “They turned it into Animal House.” (Goldstein 2/8/2001; Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting 5/21/2001)
Air Force One 'Stripped Bare,' Reports Claim - The Guardian also reports that during former President Clinton’s last trip in Air Force One, the presidential jet was subjected to what it calls “an orgy of pilfering” (see January 25-27, 2001). It was “stripped bare” by aides, who reportedly took china, silverware, salt and pepper shakers, and other items, most bearing the presidential seal. (Kettle 1/26/2001) On Fox, Hannity charges, “They strip[ped] Air Force One of the china and everything else that wasn’t bolted down.” (Goldstein 2/8/2001)
Clinton Officials Admit to 'Pranks,' Bush Officials Allege Attempts at Theft - Clinton and Gore officials deny the reports of vandalism, but admit to carrying out pranks such as removing the “W” keys and affixing satirical signs to office doors that read, “Office of Strategery,” “Office of Subliminable Messages,” and “Division of Uniting.” A former Clinton official says, “It’s childish, but it’s also funny.” However, a senior Bush official accuses Clinton staffers of attempting to steal White House paintings and official seals from doors, and attempting to have those items shipped to themselves; Bush officials have ordered that all packages leaving the White House be X-rayed. (Allen 1/26/2001)
Bush Aide Documenting Damages - A Bush White House aide has been delegated to document the vandalism, videos are being taken of the damages, and White House officials are being interviewed. White House press secretary Ari Fleischer has confirmed that the administration is reviewing reports of the alleged vandalism. (NewsMax 1/26/2001) Bush himself downplays the reports, saying: “There might have been a prank or two, maybe somebody put a cartoon on the wall, but that’s okay. It’s time now to move forward.” (DeFrank 1/27/2001)
Former President Clinton asks aides to investigate reports of vandalism alleged to have been perpetrated by outgoing members of his staff (see January 25-27, 2001 and January 26, 2001). If warranted, Clinton says he and his former officials will “make amends.” Clinton spokesman Jake Siewert says that Bush officials declined to allow Clinton officials to examine the reported damage: “We made an offer to go over and survey what was done—take a look and see if we can make amends. We asked to take a look at the damage and offered to try to sort it out. They said that it was isolated incidents and that that would not be necessary.” (Los Angeles Times 1/30/2001) The allegations of vandalism and theft will prove to be almost entirely false (see February 8, 2001, February 14, 2001, and May 18, 2001).
According to Time magazine, “The US was all set to join a global crackdown on criminal and terrorist money havens [in early 2001]. Thirty industrial nations were ready to tighten the screws on offshore financial centers like Liechtenstein and Antigua, whose banks have the potential to hide and often help launder billions of dollars for drug cartels, global crime syndicates—and groups like Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda organization. Then the Bush administration took office.” (Cohen 10/15/2001) After pressure from the powerful banking lobby, the Treasury Department under Paul O’Neill halts US cooperation with these international efforts begun in 2000 by the Clinton administration. Clinton had created a Foreign Terrorist Asset Tracking Center in his last budget, but under O’Neill no funding for the center is provided and the tracking of terrorist financing slows down. Spurred by the 9/11, attacks, the center will finally get started three days after 9/11 (see October 2000-September 14, 2001). (Wechsler 7/2001; Cohen 10/15/2001) Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke will later claim that efforts to track al-Qaeda’s finances began to make significant headway in 2000, after Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin stepped down and was replaced by Larry Summers. But, Clarke will claim, “When the Bush administration came into office, I wanted to raise the profile of our efforts to combat terrorist financing, but found little interest. The new President’s economic advisor, Larry Lindsey, had long argued for weakening US anti-money laundering laws in a way that would undercut international standards. The new Secretary of the Treasury, Paul O’Neill, was lukewarm at best toward the multilateral effort to ‘name and shame’ foreign money laundering havens, and allowed the process to shut down before the status of Saudi Arabian cooperation was ever assessed.” (Clarke 2004, pp. 195-196)
Knight Ridder is the first newspaper publisher to express public skepticism over White House and media reports of the Clinton “vandal scandal,” which allege that Clinton staffers vandalized and looted the White House and Air Force One in the last days of the Clinton administration (see January 25, 2001 and January 26, 2001). “It was a news story that had a lot going for it,” Knight Ridder correspondent David Goldstein writes, “except on-the-record sources and many hard facts.” Goldstein calls the “vandal scandal” reporting “an example of post-election political warfare waged on a slapstick level” and “clearly a sample of how journalism in Washington is practiced in the age of the 24-hour news cycle and its unceasing demand for information, sometimes regardless of the provenance.” Tom Rosenstiel of the Project for Excellence in Journalism says, “The dirty little secret of the information revolution is often there’s not a lot of verification.” Earlier in the week, US News and World Report printed a story alleging that the White House is spending $10,000 a day repairing the White House telephone system after it was damaged by Clinton staffers, but a White House spokesman responded, “I can’t find any supporting evidence” of that charge. “No one can confirm it.” As for allegations that Clinton staffers looted Air Force One (see January 25-27, 2001), Lieutenant Colonel Dana Carroll of Andrews Air Force Base, which houses the presidential jet, says: “The public was misinformed. There was no china or anything like that missing.” Carroll says the only items missing from Air Force One after the Clintons’ final trip was a tray of 15 glasses, which Clinton staffers say broke during a moment of turbulence; reporters on the aircraft saw the glasses fall and break. Former Clinton strategist James Carville says the reports are little more than efforts to smear Clinton. “It just seems to be like everything else that happens to this president,” he says. Referring to the Whitewater investigations, Carville adds, “Next they’ll be calling for an independent counsel, bring back Ken Starr to investigate this.” House Republican Bob Barr (R-GA) is asking that the General Accounting Office investigate the story (see May 18, 2001). (Goldstein 2/8/2001) In July, Goldstein will call the “vandal scandal” stories “questionable from the beginning.” (American Journalism Review 7/2001)
President Bush tells reporters that Air Force One was not looted and/or vandalized by Clinton staffers, as reports have alleged (see January 25-27, 2001 and January 26, 2001). “I will tell you one thing, just in terms of the former president,” he says. “All the allegations that they took stuff off of Air Force One is simply not true, for example.” Bush says he was told by Air Force One’s chief steward that the stories were false. (Tapper 2/14/2001) Bush’s statement follows confirmation by an Andrews Air Force Base spokesman that nothing had been stolen from Air Force One (see February 8, 2001).
Paul Bremer, who will be appointed the US administrator of Iraq in 2003, says in a speech that the Bush administration is “paying no attention” to terrorism. Bremer says, “What they will do is stagger along until there’s a major incident and then suddenly say, ‘Oh my God, shouldn’t we be organized to deal with this?’” He speaks shortly after chairing the National Commission on Terrorism, a bipartisan body formed during the Clinton administration. (Associated Press 4/29/2004; Roberts 4/30/2004; Associated Press 5/3/2004)
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