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

Back in the 1990s both the FBI and the Federal Aviation Authority became concerned about the possibility of terrorist attacks on US airlines. The chief concern of the security officials was that someone might buy a ticket, check luggage containing a time-bomb, and then not board the flight (allowing some anxious college student traveling stand-by to heave a sigh of relief and rush to take the seat suddenly made available). To address this problem, a Computer-Assisted-Passenger-Pre-Screening (CAPPS) system was created. The system cross-checked names of passengers against security “watch lists.” If a passenger name appeared on a “watch list,” the passenger’s checked luggage was held off the plane until the passenger had actually boarded the plane and could be screened for explosives. No supplementary examination of the passenger took place.

CAPPS formed the chief line of defense for the airlines on 11 September 2001.

Airlines and government security officials did not anticipate either suicide bombings or hijackers turning the planes themselves into cruise missiles. Was there any basis for anticipating such acts?

A dozen airliners were hijacked in the 1960s; 42 were hijacked in the 1970s; 24 were hijacked in the 1980s; 16 had been hijacked in the 1990s; and 6 were hijacked in 2000 or early 2001. It would have been easy to assume that this problem was well on its way to being controlled. Occasionally–once in 1987, once in 1988, and twice in 1994–there had been failed attempts to seize an airliner to use as a cruise missile against a building. In 1991 Shamil Besaev, a leader of the Chechen opposition to Russia, had hijacked a jet.

In 1983 Hezbollah suicide bombers had attacked the American embassy, and the U.S. Marine and French barracks in Beirut. About fifty other suicide attacks followed.

Between 1987 and 2000 the Tamil Tigers carried out many perhaps as many as 175 suicide bombings.

Between July 1989 and December 2000 Hamas and Palestinian Jihad had carried out 28 suicide attacks directed against Israel. The attacks had killed 170 people. Between January and August 2001, Hamas and Palestinian Jihad had conducted 26 suicide attacks directed against Israel. The attacks had killed 52 people. So, a sudden spike in suicide attacks.

In Summer 2000, Chechen suicide attacks on Russian troops took place in the North Caucasus region. These were ordered by Shamil Basaev.

Most pertinently, Al Qaeda had used suicide bombers to attack the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in August 1998 and the U.S.S. Cole in October 2000.

That amounts to a lot of disparate pieces of the jig-saw puzzle to put together.

Boston: American 11 and United 175. In Portland, Maine, boarding his connecting flight to Logan Airport, Mohamed Atta had been identified by CAPPS as subject to special security precautions: his checked luggage was held aside until it was confirmed that he had boarded the plane. (p. 4.) At Logan, three other members of his team were identified by CAPPS and the same restriction on loading luggage was applied. (p. 5.)

Washington Dulles: American 77. Three members of the hijacking team were selected by CAPPS; two others were picked out by a suspicious counter agent. All five had their checked luggage held off the plane until it was confirmed that they had boarded the plane. (pp. 5-6.)

Newark: United 93. One of the hijacking team members was selected by CAPPS. His checked bag was checked for explosives, then loaded on the plane when none were detected. (p. 7.)

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

The rising concern about terrorist attacks in Spring 2001 intersected a knowledge of Midhar’s travels in southeast Asia on the part of a CIA officer, called “John” by the Commission. On 15 May 2001 and in conjunction with a CIA superior, “John” milled through a lot of cables from early 2000 to discover what had become of Midhar. He figured out that Midhar had been in touch with Khallad, that Khallad was a “major league killer,” and that Midhar had come to the US over a year before.

The CIA superior dropped the issue at this point, but “John” contacted a CIA analyst, called “Dave” by the Commission, for help in analyzing what the cables might mean. “Dave” was involved in the investigation of the bombing of the Cole; one of his associates in this project was an FBI analyst, called “Jane” by the Commission.

“Dave” seems to have shared the concerns of “John” about Khallad with “Jane.” “Jane,” in turn, knew that Khallad had been in touch with Fahd al Quso, who had been interviewed by FBI agents from New York. “Dave” set up a meeting between himself, “Jane,” an FBI analyst detailed to the CIA’s Bin Ladin unit, called “Mary” by the Commission, and the agents. “John” gave “Dave” copies of the photos identified by the joint FBI/CIA source in Yemen as Midhar and Khallad to show to the FBI agents. The meeting, on 11 June 2001, was a disaster in the sense that “Jane” believed that she was not allowed to reveal any information about the reason the photos were taken (subjects linked to Middle Eastern terrorism) and “Dave” was barred from revealing CIA information to outsiders. (pp. 384-387.)

Undeterred when he learned of these failures to communicate, “John” persuaded “Mary” to review all the material herself. However, “John” had no authority to make this a real assignment, so he cozened her into doing it in her “spare time.” “Mary” agreed, but had no “spare time” until 24 July 2001.

In little snatches of time between 24 July and 22 August 2001 “Mary” discovered that the known jihadist Midhar had obtained a visa to come to the United States in January 2000, that he had listed New York as his destination, that the CIA had reported that Hazmi, another known jihadist, was flown to Los Angeles in January 2000, and that Midhar had come to the United States in January 2000, then left in June 2000, then re-entered the country on 4 July 2001. “Mary” and “Jane” conferred. “Mary” then got the CIA’s Bin Ladin unit to request that Midhar and Hazmi be placed on the State Department’s watchlist so that they would be spotted if they passed through Customs (24 August 2001).

“Jane” talked over the issues with “John” in an effort to decide whether the search for Midhari and Hazmi should be treated as an intelligence matter or as a criminal matter. This may have delayed the message being sent until 28 August 2001.

“Jane” asked the New York field office of the FBI to try to find Midhar and Hamzi if they were still in the United States; the agent bucked the request up the line to his supervisor; the supervisor immediately kicked it to an “intelligence” FBI agent (on one side of the “wall”), to the Cole investigators (on the other side of the “wall”), and to an FBI agent who had been hunting KSM (just in case it made a useful connection). (pp. 387-388.) NB: “It appears that no one informed the higher levels of management in either the FBI or CIA about the case.” (p. 389.) See what happened with the hijackings.

The Cole agents tried to follow up with “Jane” through direct communications in order to obtain more information, but she invoked the rules barring contact between “intelligence” and “criminal” investigators. This enraged the Cole investigators, who were obviously trying to by-pass the regulations in what is probably common practice, because it shut them out of the investigation.

The hunt for Midhar then fell to a single, greenhorn counter-intelligence agent in the New York field office. Unsurprisingly, he failed to catch up with them before 11 September 2001. (pp. 390-31.)


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

The FBI had treated the USS Cole bombing in August 2000 as a criminal case and had sent agents to Yemen to conduct the investigation. Here they had the assistance of the CIA. A joint FBI/CIA source described someone named “Khallad,” who had directed the bombing. Four months later (December 2000), another conspirator being interrogated mentioned knowing a man named Khallad, who was a senior agent of OBL. The same FBI agent seems to have been informed of both conversations and made the connection. He got a photo of the man believed to have directed the Cole attack and had the person identified by the captured conspirator as Khallad. This established a connection between the Cole attack and OBL.

Kicking the issue around in December 2000, the CIA’s Bin Ladin unit wondered if “Khallad” was Khalid al Midhar. In January 2001 a surveillance photo of Midhar taken in Kuala Lumpur in January 2000 was shown to the source who had identified “Khallad” as the leader of the Cole attack. The source denied that Midhar was “Khallad”; instead, “Khallad” was the other man in the photo. This meant that Midhar was in touch with an important subordinate of OBL and that Midhar had been in the United States for a year.

However, the FBI agent present for this interview spoke no foreign languages and had to depend on the accompanying CIA agent to conduct the interview.   The FBI agent merely received a report from which the identification of Khallad with Midhar had been omitted. Thus, in January 2000 the CIA had failed to inform the FBI that Midhar, a suspected terrorist, had departed from Bangkok for Los Angeles; in January 2001 the CIA failed to inform the FBI that Midhar had links to Islamic terrorists implicated in major terrorist attacks against the United States. (pp. 382- 384.)

“The Battle of Algiers” (1966).

Saadi Yacef was born in Algiers, the capital city of Algeria, in 1928. He learned the trade of baker, but didn’t learn to read or write. Yacef became involved in nationalist politics from 1945 on. From 1947 to 1949 he was a member of a secret nationalist para-military organization. The French stomped on this organization. Escaping the round-up, Yacef went to France for three years. While working as a baker, he thought a lot about what he had learned about conspiracy. He returned to Algiers in 1952. When the Algerian war for independence broke out in 1954, Yacef joined up. From May 1956 to September 1957 he commanded the Algerian nationalist forces inside the city of Algiers. The French captured him in September 1957, then kept him in prison until the end of the war in 1962. In prison he purportedly wrote a memoir of the Battle of Algiers. That memoir became the basis for the screen-play of the movie “The Battle of Algiers.”

Enter Gillo Pontecorvo, who was born in Pisa, Italy, in 1919. Well-off, Jewish, and trained in science, Pontecorvo fled Mussolini’s Italy for France in 1938. While scratching out a living as a journalist, he met a lot of interesting people in Paris and got started in the movie business. After the Second World War broke out, Pontecorvo returned to Italy to join the Communist Party and the Resistance movement. He led the Communist Party’s resistance organization in Milan from 1943 to 1945, so he knew a good deal about living on the run and blowing up things. After the war, Pontecorvo taught himself to make movies. He remained a Communist until 1956, and never stopped being a “man on the Left.” His movies had a strong anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist strain in them. So he was a natural for the Algerians who were seeking a director to tell the story of their war against the French.

Pontecorvo had his own style. He shot the movie in black-and-white. He shot it on location, with the eager assistance of the post-colonial Algerian government. The combined effect is to make it look like a documentary. He liked using amateurs, whose faces looked right for the scene, rather than professional actors. (His one exception in this movie was Jean Martin, a former member of the French Resistance and a paratrooper in the Indo-China War, who plays the commander of the French paratroopers.) You can see he had watched a lot of Eisenstein.

Colonel Mathieu, the para commander is a composite of several real French officers (Jacques Massu, Marcel Bigeard, Yves Godard). Many of the other leading characters are based on real people: Andre Achiary (the mustached police officer), Ali “la Pointe” Ammar, “le petit Omar,” Hassiba Ben Bouali, Djamila Bouhired (who later married Klaus Barbie’s defense attorney), and Zohra Drif (actually Yacef’s girlfriend at the time). Some of them are still living.

The movie came out in 1966. The French government banned it for five years; Fidel Castro’s Cuba awarded it a big prize. So that’s a wash. The movie deserves to be evaluated in its own right as a work of art. More to our purposes is the reception it has received from professionals in the insurgency line of work. Andreas Baader, one leader of a 1970s German terrorist group, claimed it was his favorite movie. Israeli audiences flocked to see the movie in 1988 when it was shown at the same time as the Palestinian “First Intifada” broke out. In Summer 2003, shortly after completion of the major military operations phase of the Iraq War, the US DoD’s Directorate for Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict sponsored several showings of the movie in the Pentagon. So, a lot of people at the sharp end of the business thought that it had some lessons to teach. What are they?

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

The “planes operation” called for a large group of “muscle hijackers” to seize the cockpits of airliners in flight, then bar to door to any rebellious passengers while the smaller number of pilots flew the planes into buildings.

The “muscle hijackers” all obtained new passports in their home countries, then during September, October, and November 2000, obtained visas to enter the United States. (p. 340.) The muscle hijackers were back in Afghanistan from late 2000/early 2001 until Spring 2001. In Afghanistan they were given advanced training on terrorism, much—but not all–of which dealt with seizing control of an airplane in flight. (pp. 341-342.)

In April, May, and June 2001 the muscle hijackers began being moved toward the United States. (pp. 341-342.) In early July 2001 Midhar, the original hijacker who had bailed out for a time, returned to the United States. (p. 344.) Upon arrival in the United States, most of the muscle hijackers were brought to Florida. They seem to have spent their time going to gyms to work out. Thus, the muscle hijackers were in the United States from April through August 2001 at the longest. Three to five months for something to go wrong for al Qaeda; three to five months for the US government to notice something odd about twenty foreigners.

During Spring and Summer 2001 the pilots made several reconnaissance flights. Some of these were across the United States in the same type of planes they would command during the final attack; others were in small aircraft along the “Hudson Corridor” air route that passes Manhattan. (pp. 352-353.) They also did a lot of practice flying in small planes.

In June 2001 UBL pressed KSM to attack in June or July 2001, possibly to coincide with a visit to Washington by Ariel Sharon, but KSM resisted this pressure. (p. 360.) Instead, in July 2001 the “planes operation” had to be postponed until September 2001 because of another glitch (probably the uncertainty over one of the pilits, Zaid Jarrah). (p. 360.) Jarrah differed from the other hijackers in a number of ways and he also resented the domineering Atta; by July 2001 the conflict between the two men aroused concern that Jarrah might back out of the operation. (pp. 352-353.) In late July 2001 Jarrah returned to Germany with a one-way ticket purchased by his girl-friend in Germany.

In early July 2001 Mohammad Atta and Ramzi Binalshibh met in Spain to confer on last details. Atta was trying to co-ordinate four transcontinental air flights that would be departing almost simultaneously from East Coast cities. Moreover, Atta was aware that national leaders were usually on vacation in August and therefore out of Washington, DC. He wanted to delay the attack until early September. (p. 356.) NB: Atta wanted to kill a lot of members of Congress.

On 10 July 2001 Zacarias Moussaoui arranged to take renewed flight training in Egan, Minnesota, with the course scheduled to run from 13 to 20 August 2001. In late July 2001 Binalshibh wire transferred $15,000 to Moussaoui. (p. 354.) On 10 August 2001 Moussaoui left Oklahoma for Minnesota; on 13 August 2001 he began his simulator training, but aroused the suspicion of his instructors; several days later he was arrested by the INS. (pp. 354-355.)

Then things began to move forward for the operation. In the first half of August 2001 Jarrah returned to the United States to assume his place as one of the pilots. Moussaoui was now irrelevant. Between 29 June and 17 September 2000 Ali Abdul Aziz Ali, another nephew of KSM wire-transferred $114,500 in five tranches. (p. 324.) Between 25 August and 5 September 2001 all the plane tickets were purchased. (p. 357.) The attack would come on 11 September 2001.


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

The 9/11 Commission believes that UBL had arranged for someone in the United States to receive Hazmi and Midhar, the first two al Qaeda agents to arrive in the United States. Who were the contacts?

One likely candidate was Fahad al Thumairy, a Saudi consul in Los Angeles and an imam at the King Fahd mosque there who is believed to have been an extremist. However, there is no concrete proof. (pp. 313-314.)

The most likely candidate was Mohdar Abdullah, a Yemeni whom jailhouse snitches subsequently claimed had boasted about having foreknowledge of the 9/11 attacks. (p. 316.) Abdullah drove the two men from Los Angeles to San Diego, served as a translator, helped them get California driver’s licenses, helped them sign up for languages classes and flying lessons, and introduced them to his circle of friends. (pp. 318-319.) Abdullah seems to have helped Hazmi get a job at a gas station where Abdullah worked. (p. 322.)

A third possibility is Yazeed al Salmi, who only came to the United States in July or August 2000. On 5 September 2000 Hazmi deposited $1,900 of al Salmi’s travelers cheques in his own bank account and withdrew the same amount of cash; al Salmi then lived in the same apartment with Hazmi until about October, when he moved in with Abdullah. (p. 322.)

Hazmi and Midhar arrived in Los Angeles on 15 January 2000; by the end of May 2000 they had abandoned the effort to learn to fly. They could not learn English, so they could not take flying lessons. Indeed, Midhar had become homesick and flew back to Yemen to visit his family in early June 2000. Hamzi hung around the mosque, then got a part-time job in a gas station.

The plot did not seem to be going forward. Nevertheless, KSM and OBL were not easily deterred.

A group of Muslim students living in Hamburg, Germany, had become radicalized by some means that still is not clear. In late 1999, fired by a desire to join in “jihad,” four of the group had left Germany for Afghanistan. Here they were recruited by al Qaeda. The intent was to use them for the “planes operation,” but they were not told exactly what their mission would be at this time. By late January 2000 they were back in Hamburg trying to get visas for the United States; in March 2000 Mohammed Atta, the alpha dog in the group, began contacting US flight schools. (pp. 231-245.) The first three of these pilot-candidates arrived in Newark between 29 May and 27 June 2000. They soon settled in Florida, where they signed up for flying lessons. By December 2000 all three had obtained pilot’s licenses and had begun simulator training for flying very large jets. (p. 328.)

Ramzi Binalshibh, the fourth pilot, could not obtain a visa for the US in May and June 2000, so al Qaeda hunted around for a replacement.

One obvious candidate turned out to be Hani Hanjour, a Saudi with an FAA pilot’s license who was discovered to be training in one of the al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan in Spring 2000. Between June and 8 December 2000 Hanjour was prepped for his mission, then sent to the United States by way of San Diego. (pp. 326-327.)

For a time, they thought that Zacarias Moussaoui also might serve. He was sent to the United States by KSM in October 2000. (pp. 325-326.) From February to late May 2001 Moussaoui took flying lessons in Norman, Oklahoma, then stopped. (p. 355.)

Between January and October 2000, al Qaeda sent seven candidate-pilots for the “planes operation” to the United States. All entered the country without hindrance.

What we learned from the Report of the 9/11 Commission XVII.

At the end of June the CIA ordered its station chiefs to contact their liaison with host-nation services and to get disruption operations going. (pp. 370-371.) During July and August 2001 disruption operations were carried out in about twenty countries.

On 5 July 2001Clarke called in the security representatives from a bunch of domestic agencies for a security briefing from the CIA. The briefing was not particularly helpful. (pp. 371-372.) On 6 July 2001 the CIA informed Clarke that al Qaeda sources said that the next attack would be “spectacular” and unlike either the embassy bombings or the attack on the USS Cole. (p. 372.)

Then nothing happened. In mid-July 2001 CIA received reports that Bin Laden had been forced to postpone execution of, but had not abandoned, his operation. (pp. 372-373.) On 27 July 2001 Clarke told Rice that reports had stopped coming in, but that he believed that the attack would still come in the near future. (p. 373.)

On 1 August 2001 the Deputies Committee decided that it was legal for the CIA to kill Bin Laden or his henchmen. (p. 306.) On 4 August 2001 Bush wrote to Musharraf again to ask for his assistance against al Qaeda. (p. 299.) On 6 August 2001 President Bush received a Presidential Daily Brief (PDB) from the CIA which reviewed al Qaeda’s commitment to launch attacks against America and which stated that the FBI was investigating al Qaeda operations in the United States. (pp. 374-376.) Then everyone went on vacation for August.

On 4 September 2001 the Principals Committee met on al Qaeda for the first time. They approved the draft presidential directive on dealing with al Qaeda. (p. 308.) This directive established a new policy of giving the Taliban yet another “last chance,” then coercing them with covert aid to all sorts of anti-Taliban elements within Afghanistan, then working to overthrow them if they still would not play ball. (p. 299.) At the Principals Committee, “Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill was skittish, cautioning about the implications of trying to kill an individual.” (p. 309.)

On 9 September 2001 two al Qaeda suicide bombers killed Ahmed Shah Massoud, the leader of the Northern Alliance.

On 10 September 2001 the Deputies Committee met to work out the last details of the policy approved by the Principals Committee a week before. (p. 299.) Hadley told Tenet to draft the documents authorizing these actions and also authorizing the use of lethal force against al Qaeda leaders. (p. 310.) The Americans had arrived at the decision for decisive action against al Qaeda: the gloves had come off.

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

The new administration of President George W. Bush recognized that al Qaeda posed a real terrorist threat to the United States. How much of a threat? So far, al Qaeda had truck-bombed two embassies and boat-bombed a warship, all on the margins of the Indian Ocean. So, ambitious, but with a short-reach. Moreover, al Qaeda operated from Afghanistan, a client regime of Pakistan. So, no simple solution.

In February 2001 President Bush warned President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan that al Qaeda posed “a direct threat to the United States and its interests that must be addressed.” (Quoted, p. 298.) On 7 March 2001 the Deputies Committee took up the al Qaeda issue for the first time. The Deputies seem to have concluded that policy on al Qaeda terrorism would have to depend upon the development of a policy toward Pakistan and Afghanistan. They began this process and Rice deferred any reference of the issue to the Principals Committee until they had finished; this deeply frustrated Clarke. (p. 293.)

In March 2001 Rice asked the CIA to come up with new guidance documents for implementation in Afghanistan. (p. 303.) These were ready by the end of the month. On 28 March 2001 Tenet sent Hadley two new draft guidance documents. One authorized the CIA to provide covert aid to opponents of the Taliban. The other authorized the CIA to kill Bin Laden. (pp. 303-304.) In March and April 2001 the CIA began pressing for giving a lot of covert assistance to the opponents of the Taliban. Cofer Black particularly favored aiding the Northern Alliance (a move supported by Clarke). (p. 297.)

From late March through April 2001 the CIA issued warnings of looming terrorist attacks by “Sunni extremists” and/or by Abu Zubaydah. On 30 April 2001 the CIA briefed the Deputies, warning that al Qaeda was the “most dangerous group we face.” (p. 293.) The Deputies discussed reports of planned attacks by Bin Laden as part of this review of policy toward al Qaeda.

Reports predicting terrorist attacks continued to come in during May 2001 and formed part of a backdrop of concern. On 29 May 2001 the weekly meeting between Rice and Tenet was devoted to al Qaeda, with Tenet emphasizing the need to devote expanded resources to counterterrorism. Rice told Clarke to write up a new plan for action against al Qaeda.

The flood of reports about terrorist plans to act in the near future actually increased during June and July 2001. However, they always referred to action overseas, mostly in the Middle East, but also in Europe. (p. 369.) There were a number of key dates or places that might serve as the occasion for terrorist attacks: the Fourth of July, the G-8 summit in Genoa, Italy (which President Bush was to attend). (pp. 370-371.)

Only in June 2001 did American intelligence begin to receive reports hinting at the 9/11 attacks. On 12 June 2001 a CIA report stated that KSM was recruiting people on behalf of OBL to come to the US in order to carry out attacks in partnership with people already in the US. On 22 June 2001 a CIA report warned of a possible suicide attack on an American target in the near future.

On 30 June 2001 the CIA intelligence brief to top officials warned that “Bin Laden [is] Planning High-Profile Attacks.” Ultimately, dealing with Bin Laden would require overthrowing the Taliban. This seemed a very complicated undertaking. During June and July 2001 people in the Administration argued over whether the US should engage in regime change in Afghanistan. (p. 297.)

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

President George W. Bush’s National Security Advisor Condaleeza Rice insisted upon a return to the formal table of organization, in which Clarke’s group reported through the deputies and Clarke ceased to be a de facto “principal.” Clarke saw this as a demotion. (p. 288.)

On 25 January 2001, in response to a request from Rice for suggestions on policy reviews or initiative from her senior staff, Clarke submitted a memo pushing the policy he had advocated in the waning days of the Clinton administration. He also worked to bolster the case for action against al Qaeda in other ways, sending a memo outside the normal chain of communications directly to VP Cheney before a visit to CIA HQ urging the VP to press the CIA about the Cole investigation and sending intelligence about al Qaeda’s role in the Cole attack to Rice as a counter to the CIA’s refusal to claim a definite link between Bin Laden and the bombing. (pp. 290-291.)

On 19 April 2001 Clarke’s Counterterrorism Security Group discussed the reports of predicted attacks by Sunni extremists and by Abu Zubaydah.

On 29 May 2001 Clarke urged Stephen Hadley to press the CIA on what further steps it could take to forestall an attack against American interests. (p. 368.)

About 7 June 2001 Clarke submitted to Rice a memo–essentially his memos of December 2000 and January 2001–outlining a sustained multi-faceted effort. (pp. 295-296.)

On 25 June 2001 Clarke told Rice and Hadley that he had learned of six different intelligence reports that reported al Qaeda people predicting an attack in the near future. (p. 369.)

On 28 June 2001 Clarke warned Rice that the intelligence community had concluded “that a major terrorist attack or series of attacks is likely in July.” (p. 370.)

In late June or early July 2001 Clarke urged Deputy National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley to make anti-al Qaeda policy the whole focus of US-Pakistan relations. This went nowhere. (p. 299.)

By early September 2001 Clarke felt a furious urgency to get the government to act on al Qaeda. “After nine years on the NSC staff and more than three years as the president’s national coordinator, he had often failed to persuade these agencies [CIA, Pentagon] to adopt his views, or to persuade his superiors to set an agenda of the sort he wanted or that the whole government could support.” (p. 308.)

So, was Richard Clarke a prophet without honor in his own land or was he an ambitious bureaucrat who had found his leash being pulled-in by the business-like Bush administration?  Perhaps different people in the national security establishment saw him in different lights.

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.