Friday, April 16, 2004

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.