Are Both The Agency and Powell Backing Clarke And Fingering The PNAC Cabal For 9/11 And Iraq Intel Problems?
The Washington Post’s team of Dana Milbank and Walter Pincus ran a Page One this morning that pretty much undercuts every White House orchestrated smear attempt against Richard Clarke. Keep in mind as you read this that Pincus is the CIA’s best friend at the Post, and is the channel the Agency uses whenever they want to get something out into the media through unofficial means.
The story’s main theme is that despite attempts by the White House and its GOP smear agents like Bill Frist and Denny Hastert to undercut Clarke’s credibility by alleging that his testimony and his book paint a different picture than his classified testimony to the joint congressional 9/11 inquiry in 2002, the outlines of his arguments are bolstered by others involved in the process. Furthermore, the Post says that they have reviewed declassified portions of his 2002 testimony and they find no such contradictions.
But the broad outline of Clarke's criticism has been corroborated by a number of other former officials, congressional and commission investigators, and by Bush's admission in the 2003 Bob Woodward book "Bush at War" that he "didn't feel that sense of urgency" about Osama bin Laden before the attacks occurred.
In addition, a review of dozens of declassified citations from Clarke's 2002 testimony provides no evidence of contradiction, and White House officials familiar with the testimony agree that any differences are matters of emphasis, not fact. Indeed, the declassified 838-page report of the 2002 congressional inquiry includes many passages that appear to bolster the arguments Clarke has made.
For example, Rice and others in the administration have said that they implemented much more aggressive policies than those of Clarke and President Bill Clinton. Rice said the Bush team developed "a comprehensive strategy that would not just roll back al Qaeda -- which had been the policy of the Clinton administration -- but we needed a strategy to eliminate al Qaeda."
But in 2002, Rice's deputy, Stephen J. Hadley, wrote to the joint committee that the new policy was exactly what Rice described as the old one. "The goal was to move beyond the policy of containment, criminal prosecution, and limited retaliation for specific attacks, toward attempting to 'roll back' al Qaeda."
The joint committee's declassified report, released last July, contains dozens of quotations and references to Clarke's testimony, and none appears to contradict the former White House counterterrorism chief's testimony last month. In its July 2003 report, the congressional panel cited Clark's "uncertain mandate to coordinate Bush administration policy on terrorism and specifically on bin Laden." It also said that because Bush officials did not begin their major counterterrorism policy review until April 2001, "significant slippage in counterterrorism policy may have taken place in late 2000 and early 2001."
Eleanor Hill, staff director of the House-Senate intelligence committee inquiry, said last week that she heard some of Clarke's March 24 presentation before the 9/11 commission and remembered his six-hour, closed-door appearance.
"I was there," she said of Clarke's 2002 testimony, "and without a transcript I can't have a final conclusion, but nothing jumped out at me, no contradiction" between what he said last month and his testimony almost two years ago. She also noted that Rice refused to be interviewed by the joint intelligence panel, citing executive privilege.
The White House is using discrepancies between what Clarke has said in his book about the use of the Predator drone for offensive capabilities against Bin Laden during 2001, and what he said in a memo on September 4, 2001 about the drone’s readiness. Yet one of those attacking Clarke’s credibility is none other than Jim Wilkinson, who himself has already been implicated in the Valerie Plame outing, and who was a key part of the strategic misinformation campaign used by the White House to sell the war, as Colonel Sam Gardiner reported last year. So take anything Wilkinson says about someone else’s credibility with a grain of salt.
It is a typical Rove strategy to discredit a critic’s attack by pointing out to the media several minor discrepancies without refuting the actual significant charges, in the hope that the media will go away once the discrediting begins. But I think there is something else going on here, something that I misinterpreted yesterday when I bashed Powell for attacking the intelligence community for faulty “evidence” he used on mobile labs in his February 2003 UN presentation.
Yesterday I said that Powell, in his comments returning from the NATO meeting, seemed too easy to tag the Agency for his own fault in using “Curveball” sources from Ahmad Chalabi as the basis for WMD charges against Hussein. Yet it is widely known that the Agency and Tenet were against using any of the intelligence coming from Rummy’s Office of Special Plans, which got its leads from Dick Cheney’s office as well as Chalabi’s network of shady and now-proven unreliable sources. And in an interestingly-timed Jonathan Landay story in Knight-Ridder yesterday, this came out:
Senior U.S. officials said it was not the CIA but the Defense Intelligence Agency, the top U.S. military intelligence organization, which was responsible for analyzing and corroborating the defectors' information.
What if Powell on Friday was really signaling his distancing from Rummy, Cheney, and Rice over the matter of bogus data from his UN speech? Powell has a long-running dispute with Rummy, and Rummy for his part is still smarting from Rice’s grandstanding about taking control of the botched pre-invasion planning and post-invasion occupation. And Rummy and Cheney, along with Rice, have never thought that Powell was significantly on board with the PNAC agenda. With the intelligence inquiry up and running, is Powell separating himself from the Agency (for which he has a good relationship with Tenet), or is he really separating himself from the cabal as a whole?
And what about Clarke? The Post story, keeping in mind Pincus’s contacts with the Agency, leaves hints that Clarke has not held Tenet responsible for the intel community’s lack of attention to Al Qaeda and terrorism.
Clarke told the 2002 hearing exactly what he said on March 24 about the hesitancy of the CIA's Directorate of Operations to launch covert actions against terrorist groups. He said this about individuals who directed CIA covert operations in the 1970s and 1980s: "One after another of them was either fired or indicted or condemned by a Senate committee."
The result, he said, was "they institutionalized a sense [that] covert action is risky and is likely to blow up in your face." Clarke added: "I think it is changed because of 9/11. I think it is changed because [CIA Director] George Tenet has been pushing them to change it."
In his 2002 testimony, Clarke criticized both administrations for not setting clear priorities for the intelligence community. The White House, Clarke told the joint panel, "never really gave good systematic, timely guidance to the intelligence community about what priorities were at the national level."
The high wire act that Condi will conduct in her testimony this week will possibly be the make or break maneuver of this administration on the issue of 9/11 and terrorism. While Bush-friendly reporters like Lis Bumiller of the Times this morning tells us that Bush’s idealism has overridden Rice’s academic realism to the point that Rice and Bush are one on these subjects, it is no longer possible for there to be any separation between these two. If Rice screwed up, then Bush is directly responsible and vice-versa. And if Bush needs to have Cheney by his side during their interviews with the 9/11 commission, then by inference from this Charlie McCarthy act and the Bumiller piece Cheney, Bush, and Rice are tied together as well on this issue and Iraq.
The timing of this story from Pincus along with the Landay piece yesterday indicate to me that the Agency is ready to finger Rummy’s OSP and the White House for the use of bogus intelligence, while the Agency and possibly Powell himself (given his lack of negative comments about Clarke) are also planting the word out there that Clarke has credibility and has been consistent. Are the rats ready to scurry?