What we learned from the Report of the 911 Commission XIV.

“Soon after the Cole attack and for the remainder of the Clinton administration, analysts stopped distributing written reports about who was responsible.” (p. 279.) In the 25 November 2000 memo from Clarke and Berger to President Clinton, the National Security Advisor described the presumption of Bin Laden’s role as an “unproven assumption.” (p. 281.) On 21 December 2000 a CIA briefing said that there was strong circumstantial evidence of al Qaeda involvement in the attack, but nothing concrete. (p. 281.) Clinton and Berger have said subsequently that the president could not take the country to war or deliver an ultimatum to the Taliban or risk killing a bunch of civilians on the basis of such foggy judgments. George Tenet has said that he didn’t realize that the White House was waiting on a definite judgment from the CIA. Clarke suspects that the White House “didn’t really want to know” who was responsible because they wanted to concentrate on a last minute push for peace in the Middle East. (p. 282.) NB: The sort of thing that would get Clinton a Nobel Peace Prize and rehabilitate his “legacy” after the Lewinsky scandal. Tenet obviously playing along.

 

The Election of November 2000 didn’t do political comity or policy implementation any good. Of course, I haven’t seen that anyone asked Al Gore what he thought of Richard Clark or his stance on terrorism. I suppose it could have been him reading to a class of schoolchildren.

Between the election of 7 November 2000 and the Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling much of the attention of the nation focused on the political and legal struggles attending the disputed presidential election. Moreover, the long struggle cut by half the normal transition period between administrations. (p. 285.)

 

The Bush Administration brought little change to the personnel involved in counterterrorism policy: Tenet remained DCI, Cofer Black remained head of the Counterterrorism Center, Louis Freeh remained Director of the FBI until June 2001, Dale Watson remained FBI Assistant Director for Counterterrorism, Hugh Shelton remained Chairman of the JCS, and Clarke remained National Counterterrorism Coordinator. (p. 289.)

However, gaps existed. Brian Sheridan, the Clinton administration’s assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low-intensity conflict, departed on 20 January 2001 and was not replaced before 11 September 2001. (p. 300.) John Ashcroft, the new Attorney General, knew little, if anything, about terrorism and was more committed to the traditional law enforcement targets of drugs and organized crime. (pp. 302-303.)

In foreign policy the new Republican administration wanted to concentrate on “China, missile defense, the collapse of the Middle East peace process, and the Persian Gulf.” (p. 288.) In defense policy, the leaders wanted to concentrate on a new military strategy and force structure for the 21st century. (p. 300.)

On 29 December 2000 the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center put out a forward-looking memorandum on dealing with Afghanistan-based terrorism. Clarke adopted some of the CIA’s idea in his own memo early in the new year. The plan recommended a long-term effort (3-5 years) for dealing with al Qaeda; proposed to support both the Northern Alliance and the Uzbeks as a way of eroding Taliban support for al Qaeda; recommended more Predator flights once the weather improved in March 2001; and contemplated military action. (pp. 284-285.)  None of this aimed at scorching snakes right this instant.

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