by Ted Bridist / Associated Press –
WASHINGTON (March 21, 2004) — Richard A. Clarke, the former White House counterterrorism coordinator, accuses the Bush administration of failing to recognize the al-Qaida threat before the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks and then manipulating America into war with Iraq with dangerous consequences. He accuses Bush of doing “a terrible job on the war against terrorism.”
Clarke, who is expected to testify Tuesday before a federal panel reviewing the attacks, writes in a new book going on sale Monday that Bush and his Cabinet were preoccupied during the early months of his presidency with some of the same Cold War issues that had faced his father’s administration. “It was as though they were preserved in amber from when they left office eight years earlier,” Clarke told CBS for an interview Sunday on its 60 Minutes program.
CBS’ corporate parent, Viacom Inc., owns Simon & Schuster, publisher for Clarke’s book, Against All Enemies. Clarke acknowledges that, “there’s a lot of blame to go around, and I probably deserve some blame, too.” He said he wrote to National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice on Jan. 24, 2001, asking “urgently” for “Cabinet-level meeting “to deal with the impending al-Qaida attack.” Months later, in April, Clarke met with deputy cabinet secretaries, and the conversation turned to Iraq.
“I’m sure I’ll be criticized for lots of things, and I’m sure they’ll launch their dogs on me,” Clarke said. “But frankly 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, when maybe we could have done something.”
The Associated Press first reported in June 2002 that Bush’s national security leadership met formally nearly 100 times in the months prior to the Sept. 11 attacks yet terrorism was the topic during only two of those sessions.
The last of those two meetings occurred Sept. 4 as the security council put finishing touches on a proposed national security policy review for the president. That review was finished Sept. 10 and was awaiting Bush’s approval when the first plane struck the World Trade Center.
Almost immediately after the Sept. 11 terror attacks, Clarke said the president asked him directly to find whether Iraq was involved in the suicide hijackings.
“Now he never said, ‘Make it up.’ But the entire conversation left me in absolutely no doubt that George Bush wanted me to come back with a report that said, ‘Iraq did this,'” said Clarke, who told the president that US intelligence agencies had never found a connection between Iraq and al-Qaida.
“He came back at me and said, ‘Iraq! Saddam! Find out if there’s a connection,’ and in a very intimidating way,” Clarke said. CBS said it asked Stephen Hadley, Rice’s deputy on the national security council, about the incident, and Hadley said: “We cannot find evidence that this conversation between Mr. Clarke and the president ever occurred.” CBS responded to Hadley that it found two people it did not identify who recounted the incident independently, and one of them witnessed the conversation”
“I stand on what I said,” Hadley told CBS, “but the point I think we’re missing in this is, of course the president wanted to know if there was any evidence linking Iraq to 9-11.” Clarke also harshly criticizes Bush over his decision to invade Iraq, saying it helped brew a new wave of anti-American sentiment among supporters of Osama bin Laden.
“Bin Laden had been saying for years, ‘America wants to invade an Arab country and occupy it, an oil-rich Arab country.’ This is part of his propaganda,” Clarke said. “So what did we do after 9/11? We invade … and occupy an oil-rich Arab country, which was doing nothing to threaten us.”
Clarke retired early in 2003 after 30 years in government service. He was among the longest-serving White House staffers, transferred in from the State Department in 1992 to deal with threats from terrorism and narcotics. Clarke previously led the government’s secretive Counterterrorism and Security Group, made up of senior officials from the FBI, CIA, Justice Department and armed services, who met several times each week to discuss foreign threats.
Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2004
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