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MEET THE PRESS
Sunday, March 28, 2004
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Meet the Press (NBC News) - Sunday, March 28 2004
MR. TIM RUSSERT: Our issues this Sunday: Richard Clarke. President Bush's one-time counterterrorism czar leveled explosive charges against his former boss:
MR. RICHARD CLARKE: I believe the Bush administration in the first eight months considered terrorism an important issue but not an urgent issue.
MR. RUSSERT: The administration unleashes a ferocious counterattack:
MR. ANDREW CARD: The reflections in his book and what we hear in the media today are not the reality.
MR. SCOTT McCLELLAN: Deeply irresponsible. It's offensive and it's flat-out false.
MR. PAUL WOLFOWITZ: It just seems to be another instance where Mr. Clarke's memory is playing tricks.
DR. CONDOLEEZZA RICE: I just don't think that the record bears out Dick Clarke's assertion.
MR. RUSSERT: Who is right? What are Clarke's motives? How will all this affect the race for the White House? With us, the author of "Against All Enemies: Inside America's War on Terror," Richard A. Clarke. Former counterterrorist chief Richard Clarke, the man at the center of a Washington firestorm, our guest for the full hour.
And Richard Clarke is here.
Welcome to MEET THE PRESS.
MR. CLARKE: Good morning, Tim.
MR. RUSSERT: You have written "Against All Enemies: Inside America's War on Terror," testified before the September 11th Commission; also testified two years ago to a congressional joint inquiry, which prompted the leader of the Republicans in the Senate, Bill Frist, on Friday afternoon to take to the Senate floor and talk about you. Let's listen:
SEN. BILL FRIST, (R-TN): Mr. Clarke has told two entirely different stories under oath; two entirely different stories under oath. In July 2002 in front of the congressional joint inquiry on the September the 11th attacks, Mr. Clarke testified under oath that the administration actively sought to address the threat posed by al-Qaeda during its first seven months in office. Madam President, it is one thing for Mr. Clarke to dissemble in front of the media, in front of the press, but if he lied under oath to the United States Congress, it's a far, far more serious matter.
As I mentioned, the Intelligence Committee is seeking to have Mr. Clarke's previous testimony declassified so as to permit an examination of Mr. Clarke's two differing accounts. Loyalty to any administration will be no defense if it is found that he has lied before Congress.
MR. RUSSERT: Your reaction?
MR. CLARKE: Well, I think that this is part of a general pattern of the White House and the Republican National Committee and the president's re-election committee distributing talking points like that to senators and to press and to media trying to make me the issue and trying to engage in character assassination. I'm not the issue. Now, we can talk about the specifics of their allegations.
MR. RUSSERT: Is there any inconsistency between your sworn testimony before the September 11 Commission last week and two years ago before the congressional committee?
MR. CLARKE: No, there isn't. And I would welcome it being declassified, but not just a little line here or there. Let's declassify all six hours of my testimony.
MR. RUSSERT: You would request this morning that it all be declassified?
MR. CLARKE: And I want more declassified. I want Dr. Rice's testimony before the 9-11 Commission declassified, and I want the thing that the 9-11 Commission talked about in its staff report this week declassified, because there's been an issue about whether or not a strategy or a plan or something useful was given to Dr. Rice in early January. And she says it wasn't. So we now have the staff report of the 9-11 Commission, and it says, "On January 25th, Clarke forwarded his December strategy paper to the new national security adviser, and it proposed covert action to the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan, significantly increasing CIA funding, retaliating for the USS Cole, arming the Predator aircraft, going after terrorist fund raising."
Now, Dr. Rice has characterized this as not a plan, not a strategy, not a series of decisions which could be made right away, but warmed-over Clinton material. Let's declassify that memo I sent on January 25th and let's declassify the national security directive that Dr. Rice's committee approved nine months later on September 4th, and let's see if there's any difference between those two, because there isn't. And what we'll see when we declassify what they were given on January 25th and what they finally agreed to on September 4th, is that they're basically the same thing and they wasted months when we could have had some action.
MR. RUSSERT: But to be clear, Mr. Clarke, you would urge Congress, the intelligence committees, to declassify your sworn testimony before the congressional inquiry two years ago as well as your testimony before the September 11th Commission?
MR. CLARKE: Yes, and those documents I just referred to and Dr. Rice's testimony before the 9-11 Commission because the victims' families have no idea what Dr. Rice has said. There weren't in those closed hearings where she testified before the 9-11 Commission. They want to know. So let's take her testimony before the 9-11 Commission and make it part of the package of what gets declassified along with the national security decision directive of September 4 and along with my memo of January 25.
In fact, Tim, let's go further. The White House is selectively now finding my e-mails, which I would have assumed were covered by some privacy regulations, and selectively leaking them to the press. Let's take all of my e-mails and all of the memos that I've sent to the national security adviser and her deputy from January 20 to September 11 and let's declassify all of it.
MR. RUSSERT: As well as her responses?
MR. CLARKE: As well as her responses.
MR. RUSSERT: As you know, the White House has been rather aggressive trying to undercut your credibility. They've released an e-mail which says it's Richard Clarke vs. Richard Clarke. This is now last week on "60 Minutes." "...I find it outrageous that the president is running for re-election on the grounds that he's done such great things about terrorism. He ignored it. He ignored terrorism for months ... I think he's done a terrible job on the war against terrorism." And the White House then says then and they refer to a background briefing you gave reporters which has now been placed on the record. "...the Bush administration decided then, you know, [in late] January, to do two things. One, vigorously pursue the existing policy, including all the lethal covert action findings ... 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. ...[T]hat process which was initiated in the first 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. [T]he principals met at the end of the summer [of 2001], 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 in Afghanistan. And then changed strategy from one of rollback with al Qaeda over the court [of] five years, which it had been, to a new strategy that called for the rapid elimination of al Qaeda." There you are...
MR. CLARKE: And it's not inconsistent. Let me explain. I was asked by Condi Rice, by the White House press secretary, by the White House chief of staff, to give a press background. Why? Because Time magazine had come out--and this was almost a year after September 11. Time magazine had come out with a cover story, after extensive research, and the cover story was devastating. The cover story of Time magazine was that the White House had been given a plan by me on January 25 and had taken the entire nine months to get around to looking at it, at the principals level, that there had been over 100 meetings of Dr. Rice's committee on subjects involving Iraq, Star Wars, China, but only one on terrorism and that one was on September 4.
Now, the White House naturally wanted someone to say that things had been going on during that summer. I said, "Well, you know, it's true. Things had been going on. But the plan wasn't approved until September 4." And I was told, "But you can say that it was approved by the deputies. You can say that things were approved in principle." I was told to spin it in a positive way.
Now, the question is: Why do you do that? I thought Pat Buchanan, a conservative Republican, former White House aide, put it pretty well last night when he was asked the same question. He said, "When you're in the White House, you may disagree with policy." But when you're asked to defend that policy, you defend it, if you're a special assistant to the president, as Pat Buchanan was and as I was. I had a choice. I could have done what I was asked to do and defend them when they were being criticized for not having done enough before September 11 or I could have resigned. Why didn't I resign? Because I believed it was very, very important for the United States to develop a plan to secure its cyberspace from terrorism. And the president had asked me to do that. I did it. I didn't get it done until February of 2003. Here it is: The National Plan to Secure Cyberspace, which the president thanked me for effusively. I wouldn't have been able to do this--important document if I had quit on the date that you suggest. And so there's no inconsistency. I said the things that I was told to say. They're true. We did consider these things but no decisions were taken. And that's the point. It was an important issue for them but not an urgent issue. They had a hundred meetings before they got around to having one on terrorism.
MR. RUSSERT: But if you were willing to go forward, and, as you say, "spin" on behalf of the president, then why shouldn't people now think that this book is also spin? Why should people believe you?
MR. CLARKE: Because I have no obligation anymore to spin. When you're in the White House, you spin. And people have been doing a lot of that against me this week. You know, they're engaged in a campaign. People on the taxpayers' rolls, dozens of people, are engaged in the campaign to destroy me, personally and professionally, because I had the temerity to suggest that the American people should consider whether or not the president had done a good job on the war on terrorism. The issue is not me. The issue is the president's job on the role on terrorism.
I think, before 9/11, he himself said--if you look at what he said to Bob Woodward, he himself said before 9/11, "This was not an urgent issue for me. I didn't feel a sense of urgency." He acknowledged bin Laden was not the focus of him or his national security team. So, before 9/11, not as focused. After 9/11--I say by going into Iraq, he has really hurt the war on terrorism. Now, because I say that, the administration doesn't want to talk on the merits of that. They don't want to talk about the effect on the war on terrorism of our invasion of Iraq. And so, instead, A, they try to do character assassination of me; but, B, they try to punish me for having said it by going after my professional life, by going after me, besmirching me. This is just not appropriate.
And you know, Tim, what I would like to do, beginning today, it's been going on for a week now. What I would like to do beginning today, is let's raise the level of discourse. Let's get some civility back into this issue. And let's talk about the issues. Let's not talk about the personalities. I have great respect for Dr. Rice. People have been saying all week that, you know, I must have a grudge against Condi Rice. I have known Condi for a long time. I think she's a very, very good person. And I don't want this to be about personality. I want it to be about the issues, about the war in Iraq and its affect on the war on terror.
MR. RUSSERT: You did tell Time magazine that the review that the administration did moved as fast as could be expected.
MR. CLARKE: I said it was the normal process for the consideration of issues. Now, it's not a normal issue, however. Every day George Tenet was going in to see the president in the Oval Office. Because George Tenet, the director of Central Intelligence, now gives the president his daily briefing. And almost every day the president was hearing from George Tenet that there's an impending al-Qaeda attack. As far back as February, George Tenet testified before the Congress that al-Qaeda was the major national security threat. And yet, they have 100 meetings before they get around to dealing with it.
MR. RUSSERT: On a scale of one to 10, how would you rate President Bush's performance on the war on terror prior to September 11?
MR. CLARKE: Well, there wasn't any personal performance by the president prior to September 11. Now, the only thing that I was ever able to detect that he did on the war on terrorism was after Tenet had been briefing him day after day after day after day about an al-Qaeda threat, the president said, in May, "Well, let's, you know, get a strategy." That's the only thing I ever heard that he got involved in personally. And when he said that, Dr. Rice called me and said, "The president wants a strategy." And I said, "Well, you know the strategy was what I sent you on January 25, and it's been stuck in these low-level committees." And she said, "Fine. I'll deal with that." Well, she didn't deal with it until September.
And, interestingly enough, the president never said after that May conversation, "Where's the strategy?" And, again, if you go back to what the president himself says to Bob Woodward, he said, "I knew there was a strategy in the works. But I didn't know how mature the plan was." He's saying this on September 11. He didn't know where the strategy was. The strategy that he had asked for in May? He'd never come back and asked where it was. You know, basically, it wasn't an urgent issue for them before September 11.
MR. RUSSERT: It sounds like a failing grade.
MR. CLARKE: Well, I think they deserve a failing grade for what they did before because, frankly, they didn't do--they never got around to doing anything. They held interim meetings, but they never actually decided anything before September 11.
MR. RUSSERT: Now, when you resigned, you sent a very polite letter to the president: "It's been an enormous privilege to serve you these past 24 months. I will always remember the courage, determination, calm leadership you demonstrated on September 11. I thank you again for the opportunity to serve you. You have provided me"--was that just being polite?
MR. CLARKE: Yeah.
MR. RUSSERT: Or are you now just being disloyal?
MR. CLARKE: No. Well, my mother taught me to be polite. Let me read another line from the letter, which I have. I don't know what you have over there. But this is the actual letter. "I will always have fond memories of our briefings for you on cybersecurity." Not on terrorism, Tim, because they didn't allow me to brief him on terrorism. You know, they're saying now that when I was afforded the opportunity to talk to him about cybersecurity, it was my choice. I could have talked about terrorism or cybersecurity. That's not true. I asked in January to brief him, the president, on terrorism, to give him the same briefing I had given Vice President Cheney, Colin Powell and Condi Rice. And I was told, "You can't do that briefing, Dick, until after the policy development process."
MR. RUSSERT: Who told you that?
MR. CLARKE: Condi Rice. And I said, "Well, can I brief him on cybersecurity?" "Oh, yes, you can brief him on that." Now, you read my letter to him. Let's read his letter back to me. Maybe you'd like to read it, if you can read this.
MR. RUSSERT: Go ahead, please.
MR. CLARKE: This is his writing. This is the president of the United States' writing. And when they're engaged in character assassination of me, let's just remember that on January 31, 2003: "Dear Dick, you will be missed. You served our nation with distinction and honor. You have left a positive mark on our government." This is not the normal typewritten letter that everybody gets. This is the president's handwriting. He thinks I served with distinction and honor. The rest of his staff is out there trying to destroy my professional life, trying to destroy my reputation, because I had the temerity to suggest that a policy issue should be discussed. What is the role of the war on terror vis-a-vis the war in Iraq? Did the war in Iraq really hurt the war on terror? Because I suggest we should have a debate on that, I am now being the victim of a taxpayer-paid--because all these people work for the government-- character assassination campaign.
MR. RUSSERT: We'll get to that particular debate, but let me go back to September 11 and what led up to it. The Washington Post captured this way: "On July 5 of 2001, the White House summoned officials of a dozen federal agencies to the Situation Room. `Something really spectacular is going to happen here, and it's going to happen soon,' the government's top counterterrorism official, Richard Clarke, told the assembled group, including the Federal Aviation Administration, Coast Guard, FBI, Secret Service, Immigration and Naturalization Service. Clarke directed every counterterrorist office to cancel vacations, defer non-vital travel, put off scheduled exercises, place domestic rapid-response teams on much shorter alert. For six weeks in the summer of 2001, at home and overseas, the U.S. government was at its highest possible state of readiness--and anxiety--against imminent terrorist attack."
Did Dr. Rice instruct you to organize that meeting?
MR. CLARKE: No. I told her I was going to do it. And I had already been doing it two weeks before, because on June 21, I believe it was, George Tenet called me and said, "I don't think we're getting the message through. These people aren't acting the way the Clinton people did under similar circumstances." And I suggested to Tenet that he come down and personally brief Condi Rice, that he bring his terrorism team with him. And we sat in the national security adviser's office. And I've used the phrase in the book to describe George Tenet's warnings as "He had his hair on fire." He was about as excited as I'd ever seen him. And he said, "Something is going to happen."
Now, when he said that in December 1999 to the national security adviser, at the time Sandy Berger, Sandy Berger then held daily meetings throughout December 1999 in the White House Situation Room, with the FBI director, the attorney general, the head of the CIA, the head of the Defense Department, and they shook out of their bureaucracies every last piece of information to prevent the attacks. And we did prevent the attacks in December 1999. Dr. Rice chose not to do that.
Now, in retrospect, we now know that there was information in the FBI that hadn't bubbled to the top, that two of the hijackers were in the United States. If we had had that kind of process in the summer of 2001 that we had in December '99, where the national security adviser was every day in the White House asking the FBI director and the attorney general and the secretary of defense, "Go back to your building, find out all that you can"--if we had done that in the summer of 2001, maybe the information that was in the FBI would have shaken loose.
MR. RUSSERT: But you kept your guard up for six weeks, through the end of August. Why didn't you stay on high alert through September 11th? And you regret this day that you didn't because you may have stopped that attack.
MR. CLARKE: We kept up the high alert for some facilities that could keep up the high alert. The Defense Department, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs and others, said that they were physically not capable of keeping the troops overseas, for example, on high alert any further, that they were exhausting the troops. And, therefore, they unilaterally came down off of alert. We kept all of our counterterrorism forces in the United States on alert. We continued to send out threat advisories to the airports and the airlines. We continued to send out information to 18,000 state and local police departments and to Immigration and Customs and Secret Service and Coast Guard.
MR. RUSSERT: You included the FAA, the Federal Aviation Administration. Was there any briefing at that time or around that time which suggested that al-Qaeda may hijack an airplane to be used in a terrorist attack?
MR. CLARKE: Apparently, the president got a briefing when he was on vacation in Texas. Apparently, the CIA gave him a paper that listed all of the things al-Qaeda could do. It didn't focus on a hijacking. But apparently, it listed a hijacking as among the things that al-Qaeda could do, even though al-Qaeda had never done it before. But long before that August 6 briefing at the ranch in Texas, we had brought in the FAA, which under the presidential directive was in charge of airline security, and told them increase security in the United States on airlines at airports, not because we had the intelligence that this was about to happen, but because it was a prudential thing to do, knowing that some unknown attack was coming.
MR. RUSSERT: Dr. Rice has said that no one could have predicted the use of an airline hijacking for this kind of attack.
MR. CLARKE: Well, actually we did, beginning in 1996. As I describe in the book, at the Atlanta Olympics, the counterterrorism team from Washington, which I chaired, came down three months before the Atlanta Olympics and checked out the security. And we asked, "What happens if someone hijacks a jet and flies it into the stadium?" and no one had a plan for that. And so we quickly cobbled together a plan for that using helicopters, no-fly zones, snipers, air-defense radars. We did that again for five or six events over the course of the next five years. And I tried to get the authority, and I tried to get the money to make it a permanent capability to protect the Congress and the White House. But I wasn't able to do that.
MR. RUSSERT: You mentioned the September 15 e-mail that you sent to Dr. Rice. And here's a portion of it.
"Note to: CDR. When the era of national unity begins to crack in the near future, it is possible that some will start asking questions like did the White House do a good job of making sure that intelligence about terrorist threats got to FAA and other domestic law enforcement authorities.
"As the attached paper (which we sent you in July) and e-mail (also July) note: In late June, the interagency Counter Terrorism Security Group which I chaired warned of upcoming `spectacular' al-Qaeda attack that that would be `qualitatively different.' We convened on 5 July a special meeting of domestic law enforcement.
"...Thus, the White House did insure that domestic law enforcement (including FAA) knew that the Counterterrorism Strategy Group believed that a major al-Qaeda attack was coming and it could be in the US ...and did ask that special measures be taken. -rac," Richard A. Clarke.
MR. CLARKE: That's right.
MR. RUSSERT: Is that a CYA memo saying, "Condi, this is how you spin if you're criticized for not doing enough?" Were you complicit in that?
MR. CLARKE: I wasn't complicit in anything. There was a great fear in the White House after 9/11 that people would wonder why things hadn't been done and who was involved. Was the president involved? Was Dr. Rice involved? Was--who did what? And so what I was saying to them in answer to their concern was I did these things. My committee did these things.
Now, again, contrast that to December 1999 when we had similar indicators that something big was going to happen around the period of the millennium, there were going to be three major attacks around the world. Actually we thought at the time there would be five. And all of those kinds of things that I described in that e-mail that I did at my level in 2001, the national security adviser did at his level in December 1999.
MR. RUSSERT: But you're saying the White House did this. You're suggesting to Condi, "These are your talking points. This is your spin if you're asked whether or not the White House was prepared for this kind of attack."
MR. CLARKE: That's not spin. It's facts. I'm recounting what I did. She had asked me, "What did you do prior to 9/11?" And I'm telling her what I did prior to 9/11.
MR. RUSSERT: As you know, your motivation has been widely questioned both at the White House and by some on Capitol Hill. One article captured it this way: "Mr. Clarke... who had sought the No. 2 spot at Homeland Security, was passed over for the post in October 2002 and demoted by Secretary Tom Ridge and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice to the position of special adviser for cyberspace security." You had applied for a position and didn't get it. Are you a disgruntled job-seeker?
MR. CLARKE: Now, here we go again, you know, with it's about Dick Clarke and it's about his motivation, when really this is what the White House is trying to get you and others to do is to focus on me. I'll answer the question, Tim, but I want to point out again that this is about the president's job in the war on terrorism. This is about how going into Iraq hurt the war on terrorism. This is not about Dick Clarke. Dick Clarke's not running for office.
MR. RUSSERT: But the messenger's important.
MR. CLARKE: No, no, I understand. So let me answer the question.
MR. RUSSERT: And people have questioned your motivation. Were you happy? Did you feel dissed for being passed over?
MR. CLARKE: No. And the information you read is somewhat inaccurate. I wasn't demoted to a position of national cybersecurity adviser. I--and there's lots of paper trail on this one. I asked in June of 2001 to be transferred from the terrorism job, I did and my chief of staff, Roger Cressey, did, because in June 2001, we were so frustrated with the administration's lackadaisical attitude toward terrorism that we no longer wanted to work on the issue. As obsessed as I was with going after al-Qaeda, I felt I had to get out of the terrorism business because I couldn't work for an administration that was treating it in such an unimportant way. I asked the president to create the position of special adviser to the president for cyberspace security so that I could go into it. I didn't consider it a demotion. I considered it an important job and I consider it today, the protection of our cyberspace, to be a very important task which we haven't done...
MR. RUSSERT: But you were turned down for the number-two job at Homeland Security?
MR. CLARKE: No, I wasn't turned down for it. What happened was the White House was developing lists of people to consider for various jobs. And I said, "If you want to consider me, fine. I've been working on homeland security issues for five years."
MR. RUSSERT: Did you interview for it?
MR. CLARKE: I was interviewed for it. Am I disgruntled about it? No. Is that the reason I wrote the book? Let's talk about motivation. You're asking me is that the motivation. So let's talk about what the motivation actually is. The actual motivation for writing this book is to, number one, tell the people who have been asking me for two or three years, you know, what happened on 9/11 and why couldn't we stop it. I hope the 9-11 Commission answers those questions, too. But I had to get it off my chest. I had to tell the families of the victims. I had to tell lots of people who have been asking me, "What went wrong? And how, with all of your experience, can you advise us on what mistakes you made personally? Can you advise us not to make those mistakes again, and with that experience, how do you advise us about structuring the government so that we can avoid this kind of thing in the future?" I had to get it off my chest. That's the motivation.
MR. RUSSERT: Publishers Weekly in January said that your book would come out, as it shows on the screen here, on April 27. It was then released the day before the September 11th Commission hearings. Was the book released, accelerated and timed for maximum exposure before those hearings?
MR. CLARKE: I left the White House in February. I started working on the book in March. It's the first time I ever wrote a book. It turns out it's a lot harder to write a book, Tim, than it is to write government memos; had to do a lot of research, and I didn't have any access to my government files. I didn't have any classified papers. So I finished the book in October and had to turn it in to the White House for them to approve it. As a former White House official, your books have to be approved by the White House. And the White House took a very long time to approve my book. As soon as the book was approved by the White House in February, I gave it to the publisher and it was out of my hands after that. The publisher got it out as fast as they could. Our original intention was to...
MR. RUSSERT: Because the White House delayed publication. You had scheduled April 22.
MR. CLARKE: No, I hadn't scheduled anything.
MR. RUSSERT: The publisher had. You moved it up by more than a month to coincide with the hearings?
MR. CLARKE: I didn't. Tim, I turned the book in in February. I have no control over what Publishers Weekly says or when the printing presses are available. I wanted it to be a Christmas book. And I turned it in time for it to get out at Christmas had the White House not sat on it in the White House approval process.
MR. RUSSERT: And, again, this has become part of the controversy. Again, Senator Frist went to the Senate floor and let's listen:
(Videotape, March 26, 2004):
SEN. FRIST: Assuming the controversy around this series of events does, in fact, drive the sales of his book, Mr. Clarke will make a lot of money, a lot of money for exactly what he has done. I personally find this to be an appalling act of profiteering, of trading on insider access to highly classified information and capitalizing upon the tragedy that befell this nation on September the 11th, 2001. Mr. Clarke must renounce, I think, any plan to personally profit from this book.
MR. RUSSERT: The book is dedicated to those who were murdered on September 11 and you apologize to the families. Would you consider giving the royalties or profits from the book to the children of those families who were murdered?
MR. CLARKE: Tim, long before Senator Frist said what he said, I planned to make a substantial contribution, not only to them but also to the widows and orphans of our Special Forces who have fought and died in Afghanistan and Iraq. And when we see the results of the book sales, we'll know how much we have to make donations. I also have to consider the fact that friends of mine in the White House, because I still have friends in the White House, having worked there for 11 years, are telling me that the word is out in the White House to destroy me professionally. One line that somebody overheard was "he's not going to make another dime again in Washington in his life." So I have to take that into account, too, this sort of vicious personal attack is also directed at my bank account. But this is not about me making money. It's about getting the truth out. And long before Senator Frist said what he said, I planned to make substantial donations, and I will make substantial donations.
MR. RUSSERT: Forty-two family members wrote an open letter which is in the papers today saying that the book is offensive and profiteering and maximizing book sales because of September 11. What do you say to those families?
MR. CLARKE: Well, I say I'd like them to read it. You know, as to Senator Frist's comments, that it's filled with highly classified information, it was approved by the White House for release. And anything that the White House found in it that they thought was highly classified was removed. You know, I had a very emotional meeting with the families after the commission hearing. I had asked for their forgiveness in my testimony. And several of them came up to me and said, "I forgive you, I forgive you." It was a moment that I will never forget. And for Senator Frist to say that I didn't have the right to ask for their forgiveness, that I didn't have the right to apologize, I just think is an example of how this whole debate has gotten overheated. And I'd like to return to a level of civility here.
MR. RUSSERT: Do you believe that President Bush should apologize to the families?
MR. CLARKE: Everyone has to make their own decisions about that. If he doesn't feel it in his heart that he has anything to apologize for then, no, he shouldn't.
MR. RUSSERT: How about President Clinton, when the planning for September 11 largely occurred?
MR. CLARKE: Again, I think if they feel it in their heart, they should do it. If they don't, they shouldn't. It's a matter of personal decision.
MR. RUSSERT: We're going to take a quick break and come back and talk about the role of terrorism during the Clinton administration and the Iraq war. A whole lot more. Richard Clarke, the former White House terrorism chief, is with us this morning. More after this.
MR. RUSSERT: More with the man at the center of a storm here in Washington, Richard Clarke, after this station break.
MR. RUSSERT: We are back with former White House counterterrorism chief and author of "Against All Enemies: Inside America's War on Terror," Richard Clarke.
Vice President Cheney also offered some comments about your performance during the Clinton administration, and here's what he said: "The other thing I would say about Dick Clarke is that he was here throughout those eight years, going back to '93, and the first attack on the World Trade Center; and '98, when the embassies were hit in East Africa; in 2000, when the USS Cole was hit. And the question that ought to be asked is, what were they doing in those days when he was in charge of counterterrorism efforts?'"
The Washington Post did an analysis of the September 11 Commission reports, your book and testimony and everyone else's, and concluded in an analysis piece, "Bush, Clinton varied little on terrorism." Would you concur with that?
MR. CLARKE: No, not really. Let's answer Dick Cheney's question: What was the Clinton administration doing and what did it fail to do? Because it failed to do some things. Thirty-five Americans over the course of eight years--35 Americans--were killed by al-Qaeda during the Clinton years. And as a result of those 35 deaths, President Clinton ordered the assassination of Osama bin Laden, breaking with years of tradition and precedent, and the assassination of his deputies, by CIA. He fired cruise missiles into a base where he thought bin Laden was going to be. He launched a series of diplomatic, intelligence, law enforcement, military steps against al-Qaeda.
What he failed to do was to take all of the camps in Afghanistan where these terrorists were being trained on a conveyor belt that was turning out thousands of people and sending them overseas--what he failed to do was to eliminate them, just to bomb them. Now, there were lots of other things going on in the world. And to be fair, he had the Middle East peace process close to an agreement. He was bombing in Serbia. He was bombing in Iraq. In retrospect, with 20/20 hindsight, people now understand that he should have bombed the camps. I said so at the time.
MR. RUSSERT: In '96 when Osama left Sudan, stopped and refueled in the country of Qatar to go to Afghanistan, there were also discussions at that time, according to President Clinton, to turn Osama over to the Saudis or perhaps, some others suggested, snatching Osama at the refueling.
MR. CLARKE: Right.
MR. RUSSERT: Should we have done that?
MR. CLARKE: Well, if the CIA had been capable of doing it, we would have. We began looking with the CIA and Delta Force at options to snatch bin Laden in 1996, 1997, 1998, and they were unable do so. And this is one of the things I talk about in the book, the need to strengthen our intelligence and military capability so that we can do things like that.
What else did Clinton do, however? We had Iraqi-sponsored terrorism against the United States; he used military force, and they stopped. We had Iranian-sponsored terrorism against the United States; he used covert action against them, and they stopped. We had al-Qaeda attempts to blow up things in the United States during the millennium period, attempts to blow up embassies around the world, attempts to take over Bosnia during the jihad in Bosnia. And all of those attempts were thwarted.
Now, that doesn't mean that he did everything he should have done, but the president of the United States was active on these issues in the Clinton administration. The president of the United States was not active on these issues prior to 9/11 in the Bush administration.
MR. RUSSERT: Some critics have said, Mr. Clarke, that you're much more forgiving and tolerant of President Clinton than you have been of President Bush. Charles Krauthammer wrote this essay.
"In March of 2002, a `Frontline' interviewer asked Clarke whether failing to blow up camps and take out the Afghan sanctuary was a `pretty basic mistake.' Clarke's answer is unbelievable; `I'm not prepared to call it a mistake. It was a judgment made by people who had to take into account a lot of other issues." The Middle East was going on. "There was the war in Yugoslavia going on. People above my rank had to judge what could be done in the counterterrorism world at a time when they were also pursuing other national goals."
"This is significant for two reasons. First, if Clarke of 2002 was telling the truth, then the Clarke of this week--the one who told the September 11 Commission under oath that `fighting terrorism in general and fighting Al Qaeda, in particular, were an extraordinarily high priority in the Clinton administration-- certainly [there was] no higher priority'--is a liar."
"Second, he becomes not just a perjurer but a partisan perjurer. He savages President Bush for not having made Al Qaeda his top national security priority, but he refuses even to call a `mistake' Clinton's staggering dereliction in putting Yasser Arafat and Yugoslavia (!) above fighting Al Qaeda."
And also, when the USS Cole was bombed, there was a riveting scene in your book with Mike Sheehan from the State Department, who screamed out, "What's it going to take, Dick? Who the" expletive "do they think attacked the Cole," expletive "Martians? The Pentagon brass won't let Delta go in there? Hell, they won't even let the Air Force carpet bomb the place. Does al-Qaeda have to attack the Pentagon to get their attention?"
MR. CLARKE: I...
MR. RUSSERT: President Clinton did not bomb the al-Qaeda camps that you wanted, destroy them, did not respond after the Cole was attacked, 17 sailors killed.
MR. CLARKE: Sure. Right. Right.
MR. RUSSERT: And yet, you're saying that he was more aggressive than President Bush?
MR. CLARKE: Well, he did something, and President Bush did nothing prior to September 11. So, yeah.
But let's talk about the Cole. The Cole was attacked in October of 2000. President Bush was running for office; he never mentioned it. Vice President Gore was running for office; he never mentioned it. The media hardly touched it. What were they focused on? They were focused on the election, and they were focused on the Middle East peace process. I thought it was a mistake, and the very fact that I quote Mike Sheehan in the book as saying that I think is indicative of how he felt and how I felt. If I didn't think it was a mistake, that wouldn't be in the book.
The facts have come out, and the facts have come out before the 9-11 Commission that the FBI and the CIA refused to say who did it in October of 2000. And the president was, therefore, faced with the problem, "Can I go ahead and bomb somebody in retaliation for the attack on the Cole when my CIA director and my FBI director won't say who did it?"
Now, this is the same president who, when he bombed Afghanistan, when he bombed al-Qaeda camps, because George Tenet and I and Sandy Berger recommended he do it in order to get bin Laden and the leadership team, where we thought they were going to be meeting, the reaction he faced to that was the so-called wag the dog phenomenon. No one in the media, Tim, no one in the media, no one in the Congress said, "Oh, that's a great thing that you're retaliating for the attack on the United States," they said, "This is all about Monica Lewinsky, and this is all about your political problems."
So now the same president who had that experience last time he fired cruise missiles at bin Laden wants to fire cruise missiles at bin Laden, but he's got a CIA director and an FBI director who won't say, "Bin Laden did it, Mr. President." I would still have done it; I recommended doing it. Do I think it was mistake that we didn't do it? Yes. But let's understand the context.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me turn to Iraq and this is what you told the September 11th Commission on Wednesday:
(Videotape, March 24, 2004):
MR. CLARKE: By invading Iraq, the president of the United States has greatly undermined the war on terrorism.
MR. RUSSERT: And in your book, you write this. "From within the White House, a decision had been made that in 2002 congressional elections and in the 2004 re-election, the Republicans would wrap themselves in the flag, saying a vote for them was a vote against the terrorists. `Run on the war' was the direction in 2002. Then [Karl] Rove meant the War on Terror, but they also had in mind another war that they would gin up." You are saying that President George W. Bush ginned up the war in Iraq for political reasons.
MR. CLARKE: Oh, no, I'm not. Oh, no, I'm not. Don't put words in my mouth or words in the book.
MR. RUSSERT: What are you saying?
MR. CLARKE: Read the book. What I'm saying is that when it was clear within the White House that the president intended to fight this war on Iraq, his political advisers sought to capitalize on it, just as his political advisers are seeking to capitalize on 9/11 by the ads that they're running.
MR. RUSSERT: Did you speak out against the war inside the government?
MR. CLARKE: I had spoken out again the notion of bombing Iraq immediately after September 11. And the Defense Department, deputy secretary, the secretary, talked to my bosses in the White House and indicated how unhappy they were with my attitude on Iraq. And as I say, I had asked to go and become cyberspace security adviser, so I did and I wasn't asked about foreign policy in that role. But when I had spoken out, when I said, "Invading Iraq after 9/11 is like invading Mexico after Pearl Harbor," that didn't go over well and I was very quickly sidelined as someone whose opinions were going to be taken into account.
MR. RUSSERT: Why do you think the Iraq war has undermined the war on terrorism?
MR. CLARKE: Well, I think it's obvious, but there are three major reasons. Who are we fighting in the war on terrorism? We're fighting Islamic radicals and they are drawing people from the youth of the Islamic world into hating us. Now, after September 11, people in the Islamic world said, "Wait a minute. Maybe we've gone too far here. Maybe this Islamic movement, this radical movement, has to be suppressed," and we had a moment, we had a window of opportunity, where we could change the ideology in the Islamic world. Instead, we've inflamed the ideology. We've played right into the hands of al-Qaeda and others. We've done what Osama bin Laden said we would do.
Ninety percent of the Islamic people in Morocco, Jordan, Turkey, Egypt, allied countries to the United States--90 percent in polls taken last month hate the United States. It's very hard when that's the game where 90 percent of the Arab people hate us. It's very hard for us to win the battle of ideas. We can arrest them. We can kill them. But as Don Rumsfeld said in the memo that leaked from the Pentagon, I'm afraid that they're generating more ideological radicals against us than we are arresting them and killing them. They're producing more faster than we are.
The president of Egypt said, "If you invade Iraq, you will create a hundred bin Ladens." He lives in the Arab world. He knows. It's turned out to be true. It is now much more difficult for us to win the battle of ideas as well as arresting and killing them, and we're going to face a second generation of al-Qaeda. We're going to catch bin Laden. I have no doubt about that. In the next few months, he'll be found dead or alive. But it's two years too late because during those two years, al-Qaeda has morphed into a hydra-headed organization, independent cells like the organization that did the attack in Madrid.
And that's the second reason. The attack in Madrid showed the vulnerabilities of the rails in Spain. We have all sorts of vulnerabilities in our country, chemical plants, railroads. We've done a very good job on passenger aircraft now, but there are all these other vulnerabilities that require enormous amount of money to reduce those vulnerabilities, and we're not doing that.
MR. RUSSERT: And three?
MR. CLARKE: And three is that we actually diverted military resources and intelligence resources from Afghanistan and from the hunt for bin Laden to the war in Iraq.
MR. RUSSERT: But Saddam is gone and that's a good thing?
MR. CLARKE: Saddam is gone is a good thing. If Fidel were gone, it would be a good thing. If Kim Il Sung were gone, it would be a good thing. And let's just make clear, our military performed admirably and they are heroes, but what price are we paying for this war on Iraq?
MR. RUSSERT: We have to take another quick break. We'll be right back with Richard Clarke after this.
MR. RUSSERT: And we're back. Did you vote for George Bush in 2000?
MR. CLARKE: No, I did not.
MR. RUSSERT: You voted for Al Gore.
MR. CLARKE: Yes, I did.
MR. RUSSERT: In 2004 you'll vote for John Kerry?
MR. CLARKE: I'm not going to endorse John Kerry. That's what the White House wants me to do. And they want to say I'm part of the Kerry campaign. I've already pledged I'm not part of the Kerry campaign and I will not serve in the Kerry administration.
MR. RUSSERT: Will you vote for him?
MR. CLARKE: That's my business.
MR. RUSSERT: Will you seek elective office?
MR. CLARKE: Never.
MR. RUSSERT: Fine.
MR. CLARKE: I've done 30 years in the government as a senior executive. I don't want to do it any...
MR. RUSSERT: Would you like to come back in government in another capacity?
MR. CLARKE: Never. Not a day.
MR. RUSSERT: Ever?
MR. CLARKE: Not a day.
MR. RUSSERT: It's over?
MR. CLARKE: Thirty years is enough.
MR. RUSSERT: Richard Clarke, we thank you for joining us and sharing your views. That's all for today. We'll be back next week. If it's Sunday, it's MEET THE PRESS.
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