Saturday :: Mar 20, 2004

Clinton Administration Finally Gets To Set The Record Straight This Week At 9/11 Commission


by Steve

When the Bush Administration finally capitulated and allowed an independent 9/11 Commission to go forward, those of us studying the developments prior to 9/11 and the Iraq war ramp-up afterward felt that there would be a period of ultimate vulnerability for the Bushies. This vulnerability would center on what the Bushies were told by the outgoing Clinton Administration, what they did with that information, and what they did to turn that information into a justification for the removal of Saddam. Although the Commission has been stymied and stonewalled by the Administration, and although the executive director of the commission staff was handpicked by the Bushies to run such interference while having dirty hands himself, it appears that we are about to see the firestorm over these areas of vulnerability.

Why? Because next week, Clinton Administration officials will be providing testimony under oath to the 9/11 Commission over what they told the Bushies about Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda. And even though it is a sure thing that the GOP whitewashers on the commission will try and blame the Clinton Administration for not getting Osama before 2001, the testimony next week will provide the commission with the first direct accounts of what was told to the Bushies and the initial reactions of the Bushies to that information. And given that Bush, Cheney, and Rice have refused to provide such testimony themselves, there will be no direct rebuttal of what is said next week.

Senior Clinton administration officials called to testify next week before the independent commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks say they are prepared to detail how they repeatedly warned their Bush administration counterparts in late 2000 that Al Qaeda posed the worst security threat facing the nation — and how the new administration was slow to act.

They said the warnings were delivered in urgent post-election intelligence briefings in December 2000 and January 2001 for Condoleezza Rice, who became Mr. Bush's national security adviser; Stephen Hadley, now Ms. Rice's deputy; and Philip D. Zelikow, a member of the Bush transition team, among others.

Mr. Zelikow, the director of the Miller Center of Public Affairs at the University of Virginia and a co-author of a 1995 book with Ms. Rice, has been the target of repeated criticism from some relatives of Sept. 11 victims. They have said his membership on the Bush transition team and his ties to Ms. Rice pose a serious conflict of interest for the commission, which is investigating intelligence and law-enforcement actions before the attacks.

Mr. Clarke said if Mr. Zelikow left any of the White House intelligence briefings in December 2000 and January 2001 without understanding the imminent threat posed by Al Qaeda, "he was deaf."

It should be noted that Zelikow is the Bush Administration plant on the Commission, as he is serving as the panel’s Executive Director.

One official scheduled to testify, Richard A. Clarke, who was President Bill Clinton's counterterrorism coordinator, said in an interview that the warning about the Qaeda threat could not have been made more bluntly to the incoming Bush officials in intelligence briefings that he led.

It should also be noted that Clarke has a book coming out next week (which you can buy from Amazon through the link on the left), and will be appearing on “60 Minutes” tomorrow night. He makes the claim that Rummy wanted to go after Iraq the day after 9/11, even though there was no evidence that Iraq was involved and clear evidence that the appropriate targets were in Afghanistan.

"It was very explicit," Mr. Clarke said of the warning given to the Bush administration officials. "Rice was briefed, and Hadley was briefed, and Zelikow sat in." Mr. Clarke served as Mr. Bush's counterterrorism chief in the early months of the administration, but after Sept. 11 was given a more limited portfolio as the president's cyberterrorism adviser.

What is at issue, Clinton administration officials say, is whether their Bush administration counterparts acted on the warnings, and how quickly. The Clinton administration witnesses say they will offer details of the policy recommendations they made to the incoming Bush aides, but they would not discuss those details before the hearing.

"Until 9/11, counterterrorism was a very secondary issue at the Bush White House," said a senior Clinton official, speaking on condition of anonymity. "Remember those first months? The White House was focused on tax cuts, not terrorism. We saw the budgets for counterterrorism programs being cut."

In the past, Mr. Berger has said that he and his staff organized the intelligence briefings in December 2000 at which Ms. Rice, Mr. Hadley and Mr. Zelikow were warned in detail about the Qaeda threat and that on his departure, he advised Ms. Rice that he believed the Bush administration would be forced to spend more time on dealing with Al Qaeda than on any other subject.

In his testimony, Mr. Clarke is also expected to discuss what he believed to be the Bush administration's determination to punish Saddam Hussein for the Sept. 11 attacks even though there was no evidence to tie the Iraqi president to Al Qaeda.

"I think they wanted to believe there was a connection, but the C.I.A. was sitting there, the F.B.I. was sitting there, saying, `We've looked at this issue for years — for years, we've looked, and there's just no connection,' " Mr. Clarke said. He recalled telling Defense Secretary Rumsfeld that "there are a lot of good targets in a lot of places, but Iraq had nothing to do" with the Sept. 11 attacks.

The remarkable thing about the Bushies’ defense here is that they are claiming they took the recommendations from the outgoing administration and reworked them into a comprehensive antiterrorism strategy, and that is why it took them eight months to get a proposal to Bush on September 10. Yet after being out of office for eight years and criticizing the Democrats for not doing enough against Hussein and in retaliation against Al Qaeda for the embassy and Cole attacks, this bunch came into office with detailed PNAC plans for the Middle East but nothing to deal with Al Qaeda?

Not credible. And neither are Bob Kerrey’s complaints against the Clintonites either, when he complains that more should have been done after those earlier attacks. Kerrey, who has had a grudge against Clinton since 1992, seemingly wants to fault Clinton for not getting a GOP congress for going along with military action against Al Qaeda in a “Wag the Dog” environment, yet he seems to ignore that the Bushies themselves did nothing with the warnings they got from the Clintonites for eight months. Kerrey has no credibility here either.

Anyway, watch “60 Minutes” tomorrow night, knowing that there is no way even Rove can discredit anything that Clarke says. Better yet, buy the book and watch the fireworks this week.

Steve :: 1:23 PM :: Comments (2) :: Digg It!