Friday, April 16, 2004

How do you like Diem apples, Sen. Kennedy?

Christopher Hitchens points out the reasons why Ted Kennedy's Vietnam analogy with Iraq, quite unlike a 1967 Oldsmobile, doesn't hold water.

One critical Hitch distinction between Iraq and Vietnam: "the other Kennedy brothers started assassinating the very puppets they had installed there."


Can Richard Clarke be taken seriously?

By now we know the familiar criticism of Richard Clarke. That he may be an egomaniacal bureaucrat. A wonkish nerd. Blinkered by his single-mind determination to thwart the al Qaida terrorist threat.

But his competency to be "Terrorism Czar" is hardly questioned.

Rep. Chris Shays (R-CT) sheds new light on Richard Clarke the man, the myth and his track record. Shays is Chairman of the National Security Subcommittee of the House Government Reform Committee, which held twenty hearings and two formal briefings prior to September 11, 2001.

Clarke briefed the committee in 2000. After the briefing, Shays wrote to Clarke in July 2000. Shays told Clarke that he "found the information provided [by Clarke] less than useful." Shays recounts having asked Clarke "if there was an integrated threat assessment prepared," and Clarke responding "this would be difficult to accomplish because of all the different threats faced by the United States." He quotes Clarke saying it was "silly" for Shays "to believe that a comprehensive strategy could be developed to combat terrorism."

As Shays points out in a March 2004 letter to the 9-11 Commission, this was after three national commissions -- Bremer, Gilmore and Hart/Rudman -- "had concluded the U.S. needed a comprehensive threat assessment, a national strategy and a plan to reorganize the federal response to the new strategic menace of terrorism."

Shays observed, "no truly national strategy to combat terrorism was ever produced during Mr. Clarke's tenure. Instead, several presidential directives and a Justice Department five-year law enforcement plan were clumsily lashed together and called a strategy."

In January 2001, Shays put incoming Bush National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice on notice about Clarke (scroll to page 3-4). Shays noted, "Coupled with this lack of leadership is the fact that Mr. Clarke's office is part of the National Security Council staff and beyond the purview of regular Congressional oversight."

Executive privilege is why Clarke only briefed the committee. He did not testify on the record under oath. Thus explaining why Shays had to document Clarke's "evasive and derisive" answers in a letter back to him, rather than cite a transcript. It also begs the question whether the privilege itself emboldened Clarke enough to believe that any obtuse or insolent remarks he made to the Committee would not become part of a record.

Elsewhere, Clarke had avoided appearing before Congress altogether by invoking executive privilege, the very same separation of powers concern that delayed Rice's testifying before the 9-11 Commission and stirred so much criticism of her in the media.

Blogger QandO (Questions and Observations) provides an excellent overview of the Shays letters.

Sunday, April 11, 2004

8-6 PDB Memo: Al Qaida not behind 1993 WTC Bombing?

Perhaps the most overlooked revelation contained in the August 6, 2001 PDB memo to President Bush is the implicit assertion by U.S. intelligence that Osama bin Laden was not behind the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.

Not exactly hidden in the memo's first two sentences: "reports indicate bin Laden since 1997 has wanted to conduct terrorist attacks in the U.S. Bin Laden implied in U.S. television interviews in 1997 and 1998 that his followers would follow the example of the World Trade Center bomber Ramzi Yousef and 'bring the fighting to America' [emphasis added]."

The memo's next sentence cites bin Laden telling followers "he wanted to retaliate in Washington," but only "[a]fter U.S. missile strikes on his base in Afghanistan in 1998."

Two sentences later, "[t]he millennium plotting in Canada in 1999 may have been part of bin Laden's first serious attempt to implement a terrorist strike in the U.S."

The WTC bombing took place in 1993. If bin Laden took four years to "follow the example" of the WTC bombers, and had not led them, who was behind the 1993 WTC bombing?

Richard Clarke's 'Nuanced' View of the Iraq Connection.

So, if not al Qaida, do we know who was behind the 1993 WTC bombing?

The uncertainty revealed by the 8-6-01 PDB memo reflects a long standing disagreement among counter-terrorism officials about the WTC bombing, state sponsorship and a possible link to Saddam. The current debate between Richard Clarke and Laurie Mylroie, an early Clinton advisor on Iraq, is revealing.

Mylroie presents a chain of circumstantial yet compelling evidence that links Saddam's regime not only to the 1993 WTC bombing, but to al Qaida and alleged 9-11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.

Clarke, in turn, has dismissed evidence of an official Iraq connection to the February 1993 WTC attack. Since 9-11, too, Clarke has vehemently denied any link between Saddam's regime and international terrorism directed at U.S. interests (well, aside from the April 1993 assassination attempt on former president Bush in Kuwait). All the while Clarke questioned the judgment and motives of those who held opposite views.

But the manner in which Clarke made his differences known, with maximum publicity and media controversy, prompted some (including Hitchens and Murdock) to look back at his words during the intervening period.

Interestingly, when the Clinton administration offered its justification for the August 1998 pre-emptive cruise missile attack on the El-Shifa "aspirin factory" in Sudan, out popped Richard Clarke with some "new information."

In January 1999, the Washington Post reported that, according to Clarke, "intelligence exists linking bin Laden to El-Shifa's current and past operators, the Iraqi nerve gas experts and the National Islamic Front in Sudan."

Clarke said the U.S. government was "sure" [WaPo paid archive] that Iraqi nerve gas experts were the ones who actually produced a powdered chemical at the plant that would have become fully active VX nerve gas when mixed with bleach and water.

The article continued: "Clarke said U.S. intelligence does not know how much of the [WMD] substance was produced at El Shifa or what happened to it" following the cruise missile attack. Meanwhile, Clarke admitted no failure in finding no WMD and expressed no doubt about the target or the tactic of unilateral surprise attack against a neutral county. He said the president "would have been derelict in his duties if he did not blow up the facility."

Are we to consider Clarke's shifting views concerning a link between Iraq, al Qaida and WMDs a harbinger of how a "nuanced" foreign policy is conducted?

Saturday, April 10, 2004

Satire: Clarke criticizes ABC News, lauds CBS News.

In a surprise development, former national security advisor and author Richard Clarke criticized the investigative journalism of ABC News, while lauding the work of CBS News.

Clarke became an on-air terrorism commentator with ABC News soon after he left government over a year ago. And yet, the pasty, balding Clarke remained largely unnoticed, even though "more Americans get their news from ABC News than any other source."

Clarke faulted ABC News for making Richard Clarke "an important issue, but not an urgent issue" during his service with the broadcast network's news department.

As for Clarke, some have questioned his loyalty to ABC News and its viewers. After all, Clarke withheld his most news worthy commentary from ABC News until his exclusive interview with rival network CBS's 60 Minutes, timed to coincide with the release of his new book and testimony before the 9-11 Commission.

Echoing his briefings to Congress while still in government, Clarke said it would have been "silly" for him to have made his startling claims public during an ABC News broadcast prior to the release of his book, despite any urgent threat to the nation, because all the different threats faced by the United States made it difficult to provide an assessment.

Drawing a preferential distinction between the two broadcast networks, Clarke said that CBS News had "no higher priority" than Richard Clarke.

Clarke's controversial claims about the Bush administration, leveraged by CBS's extensive pre-show publicity about them, attracted high audience ratings for 60 Minutes, which in turn catapulted initial sales of Clarke's new book Against All Enemies into best seller territory.

Meanwhile, 60 Minutes did not deign to inform its viewers at the time that CBS is owned by VIACOM, the parent company of Simon and Schuster, Clarke's publisher.

News analysts failed to see any pattern in Clarke's behavior. "Sure, we all eventually learned about the CBS-VIACOM conflict of interest thing from Drudge," said Michael Isikoff of Newsweek. "But maybe we should get serious and check-out whether Clarke's obsessive infatuation with 60 Minutes reporter Lesley Stahl tipped the balance of his loyalties. And who could blame him? Meeeoow."

Rumors swirl that the erstwhile terrorism czar is competing with former Bush Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill for the affections of the hoary Stahl.

O'Neill was the primary source for Ron Suskind's The Price of Loyalty, a book also published by VIACOM's Simon and Schuster. Here too a much publicized 60 Minutes interview of O'Neill by Stahl was used to introduce an "inside-tell all" book that was also critical of the Bush administration. "Lesley just can't keep her hands off a posturing turncoat from any Republican administration," according to one source.