2004 March 28 Sunday
Richard Clarke Off The Record In August 2002

Richard Clarke seemingly disagrees with Richard Clarke. Here is a previously off-the-record briefing that Richard Clarke gave to reports in August 2002 about Bush Administration decisions in early 2001 on what to do about Al Qaeda.

And the point is, while this big review was going on, there were still in effect, the lethal findings were still in effect. The second thing the administration decided to do is to initiate a process to look at those issues which had been on the table for a couple of years and get them decided.

So, point five, that process which was initiated in the first week in February, uh, decided in principle, uh in the spring to add to the existing Clinton strategy and to increase CIA resources, for example, for covert action, five-fold, to go after Al Qaeda.

The sixth point, the newly-appointed deputies and you had to remember, the deputies didn't get into office until late March, early April. The deputies then tasked the development of the implementation details, uh, of these new decisions that they were endorsing, and sending out to the principals.

Over the course of the summer last point they developed implementation details, the principals met at the end of the summer, approved them in their first meeting, changed the strategy by authorizing the increase in funding five-fold, changing the policy on Pakistan, changing the policy on Uzbekistan, changing the policy on the Northern Alliance assistance.

And then changed the strategy from one of rollback with Al Qaeda over the course of five years, which it had been, to a new strategy that called for the rapid elimination of Al Qaeda. That is in fact the timeline.

Was Clarke being honest in the quote above? Or was he trying to put the best light on Administration policy on behalf of his then-employer President Bush? Is Clarke's big beef about the pre-9/11 Bush Administration that it took the Bush Administration 6 or 7 months from the time it took office to reach final approval for a big change in policy against Al Qaeda?

Well, I wish the Bush Administration had moved more quickly too but put it in context. Bush had 7 months in office before the 9/11 attacks. Previous to that Bill Clinton had 8 years or 96 months in office to deal with Al Qaeda. I am critical of Bush for an inadequate response to Al Qaeda and the threat of terrorism post-9/11. For instance, see my previous post for some of the immigration policy changes that could be implemented. But 7 months at the beginning of a new Presidential Administration does not strike me as a very long time to make a major foreign policy change.

The pre-9/11 portrayal of what Bush did or did not do seems to miss the point that the opening months of any new US Presidential Administration is taken up just trying to staff up and get started. The size of the policy changes needed to stop an attack like 9/11 just could not be done in 7 months given the many obstacles that Bush was faced with. It took a successful attack to, for instance, move Congress to break down some of the barriers between law enforcement and intelligence gathering. What was broken about the US pre-9/11 anti-terrorist response went deeper than any President's policies.

Much of what was broken in US intelligence and covert operations goes all the way back to the Church hearings into CIA conduct back in the 1970s and the subsequent restraints put upon CIA freedom of action. The result was that the CIA became an agency that was more reluctant and less able to run agents and conduct covert operations.

In the mid-'70s, packed hearing rooms heard of botched attempts on the life of Cuba's Castro that ranged from exploding cigars to acid in his shoes. In the wake of the just-completed Watergate hearings, the cautions stuck. At the end, assassination was no longer viewed as a legitimate tool of foreign policy, and the CIA was no longer considered a top career path for the "best and brightest."

Clarke is in the ranks of those who see the pre-9/11 CIA as having been so punished for doing covert operations that the institution as a whole was extremely reluctant to find justification for carrying out operations against enemies.

Many CIA senior managers, he said, had been "dragged up into this room and others and berated for failed covert action activities." The lesson that hit home was that "covert action is a very dangerous thing that can damage the CIA as much as it can damage the enemy," he added.

Post-9/11 standards of what is acceptable behavior for the FBI, CIA, and other US government agencies are being applied retroactively to judge pre-9/11 decisions. This retroactive move to judgement is coming from the political party that was the strongest supporter of the pre-9/11 standards that held back US intelligence and domestic law enforcement agencies from aggressive investigation of and operations against possible terrorists. There is an historical parallel between this and the treatment of high level US Army and Navy officers stationed at Pearl Harbor at the time that the Japanese attacked on Dec. 7, 1941. It becomes clear just how much a double standard is at work here when we consider how many of the decisions made since 9/11 would have been impossible to take before 9/11. It seems very unlikely, for example, that the Bush Administration could have gotten Congress pre-9/11 to approve allowing intelligence agents access to evidence collected by law enforcement agents collected while investigating terrorism. Yet investigation of the first WTC attack turned up evidence that could have been used to show connections between those attackers and Al Qaeda if only the FBI, DOJ, and CIA had been legally allowed to compare notes.

Given that the Democratic Party's leaders are not making substantive policy proposals that would improve the US response to the terrorist threat it is hard to take seriously their excited reaction to Richard Clarke's book. They want better performance by intelligence agencies and law enforcement agencies. But at the same time they stand in the way of proposals such as the DOD Total Information Awareness project.

There is a fundamental difference between trying to find terrorists and trying to find regular criminals. In the case of conventional criminals it is considered acceptable to try to find them after they have commited a visible crime. But to discover terrorists only after they have launched an attack is widely and correctly seen as unacceptable. Yet it is difficult to identify terrorists in advance because terrorists attempt to blend in and outwardly act law-abiding. Therefore it is difficult to discover them without sifting thru a lot of data about a large number of mostly innocent people to find patterns that seem odd. But leading Democrats in Congress (and not a few libertarian minded Republicans) are opposed to this approach. Given that mind reading is not an option it is not clear to me how terrorists can be stopped without a great deal of analysis of information about mostly innocent people.

Another area that is not getting the amount of attention it deserves from either major party is energy policy. Energy policy could be used to fight terrorism in the longer term. It is possible to accelerate the rate of development of energy technologies (see bottom of post) to reduce the world's demand for Middle Eastern oil and thereby reduce the amount of money available to the Wahhabis and the terrorists. If we fail to do that the US looks set to lose influence in the Middle East as China's demand for oil grows. The Democrats are not proposing a massive research and development program to obsolesce oil. They can't get beyond ranting about SUVs or against their opposition to the development of the Alaska National Wildlfe Refuge (ANWR) development to see that we need a massive shift in our energy policy.

While I am critical of the Bush Administration's response I do not see the Democrats promoting a better alternative. The Democrats are just as opposed to ethnic profiling of terrorists as the Bush Administration is with its TSA inspectors randomly pulling little old white ladies out of line in airports for frisking. The Democrats are just as opposed to effective border control and against restrictions on Muslim immigration. Still, I'd welcome evidence to the contrary. Has anyone come across prominent Democrats putting forth proposals for fighting Al Qaeda and other Islamic terrorists that go beyond what the Bush Administration is doing?

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2004 March 28 06:35 PM  Terrorists Western Response

A Berman said at March 28, 2004 8:12 PM:

I believe that the Homeland Security Act was originally called the Lieberman Act. At the last minute, when it was going to pass anyway, Bush promoted it and claimed it for himself (and thus, the Republicans). Now, rational men can disagree as to the worthwhileness of the Homeland Security Agency, but it was a clear Democratic initiative.

Randall Parker said at March 28, 2004 8:42 PM:


For a Democrat Lieberman is atypical on foreign policy. But yes, you are right, Lieberman originally introduced legislation to create a department of homeland security. That article says that the actual act that passed was a different piece of legislation. But Lieberman did first try to create the agency.

I wonder what else was in Lieberman's proposal.

Alene said at March 29, 2004 12:04 PM:

The Homeland Security Act does not affect the intelligence agencies. The legislation that took down the firewall between counterterror/intelligence (CIA et al.) and law enforcement (FBI +) is the much-maligned Patriot Act.

Luke Lea said at March 31, 2004 6:45 AM:

Let's face it, when Clinton was in power it was the Republicans who were the real traitors to the country. With their legal harrassment and wag-the-dog scenarios, it's a wonder the guy was able to do his duty as well as he did.

Randall Parker said at March 31, 2004 10:13 AM:

Luke, Clinton had plenty of time to change policy in many other areas.

If he had taken the threat of terrorism as seriously as some of his defenders claim then there are dozens of policy changes he could have made. He could have asked for more counter-terrorism funding for the FBI and CIA. Do you think the Republicans would have turned him down for this? That is the sort of thing that law and order and national security types on the Right go for.

He could have asked Congress for legislation to break down the walls between intelligence and law enforcement for information sharing. He could have made numerous changes in immigration policy.

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