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April 30, 2007

But It Had The Ring Of Truthiness!

Yesterday the editorial staff highlighted Michael Scheuer's excellent takedown of George Tenet's accusations regarding Condi Rice:

Now a "frustrated" Tenet writes that he held an urgent meeting with Rice on July 10, 2001, to try to get "the full attention of the administration" and "finally get us on track."

There's just one problem - Tenet's own testimony to the 9/11 commission:

"I was talking to the national security adviser and the president and the vice president every day," Tenet told the commission during a nationally televised hearing on March 24, 2004. "I certainly didn't get a sense that anybody was not paying attention to what I was doing and what I was briefing and what my concerns were and what we were trying to do."

This is just the latest in a string of similar accusations, all from Clinton era holdovers who (sacre bleu!) suddenly recover deeply repressed memories that conveniently morph into lucrative book deals.

Take Richard Clarke, who accused the White House of negligently failing to carry out terrorism plans passed on from his days with the Clinton administration. If only he hadn't given that interview in 2002:

...the first point, I think the overall point is, there was no plan on Al Qaeda that was passed from the Clinton administration to the Bush administration.

Second point is that the Clinton administration had a strategy in place, effectively dating from 1998. And there were a number of issues on the table since 1998. And they remained on the table when that administration went out of office

the third point is the Bush administration decided then, you know, in late January, to do two things. One, vigorously pursue the existing policy, including all of the lethal covert action findings

IM ANGLE: You're saying that the Bush administration did not stop anything that the Clinton administration was doing while it was making these decisions, and by the end of the summer had increased money for covert action five-fold. Is that correct?

CLARKE: All of that's correct.

CLARKE: No, it came up in April and it was approved in principle and then went through the summer. And you know, the other thing to bear in mind is the shift from the rollback strategy to the elimination strategy. When President Bush told us in March to stop swatting at flies and just solve this problem, then that was the strategic direction that changed the NSPD from one of rollback to one of elimination.

QUESTION: Well can you clarify something? I've been told that he gave that direction at the end of May. Is that not correct?

CLARKE: No, it was March.

Now Mr. Tenet is reporting imaginary conversations with Daniel Perle.

Hey - it had the ring of truthiness! It continues to amaze the editorial staff that critics of the White House continue to play a double game on national security.

It goes something like this: we should believe "expert" truth-to-powerers like Richard Clarke and George Tenet, who literally had years to take action on bin Laden under Bill Clinton and yet did nothing.

These men were kept on under George Bush. According to Richard Clarke's own words, there was no active plan on bin Laden that was passed on to the Bush administration from the Clinton White House.

There was an overall strategy, but large parts of that strategy had been tabled since 1998.

During a Fox News interview, Bill Clinton repeatly claimed he tried to kill Osama bin Laden. But this claim is contradicted, both by the 9/11 Commission report and by official documents. In other words, the former President was lying:

This brings us to another glaring contradiction between recent statements made by former president Clinton, and what was in the 9/11 Commission report. During the now infamous Fox News Sunday interview, Mr. Clinton said repeatedly that he tried to kill bin Laden. However, for some reason, in February 1999, Mr. Clinton added ambiguous language to directives concerning bin Laden that made it more difficult for CIA operatives to actually kill him:

In February 1999, another draft Memorandum of Notification went to President Clinton. It asked him to allow the CIA to give exactly the same guidance to the Northern Alliance as had just been given to the tribals: they could kill Bin Ladin if a successful capture operation was not feasible. On this occasion, however, President Clinton crossed out key language he had approved in December and inserted more ambiguous language. No one we interviewed could shed light on why the President did this. President Clinton told the Commission that he had no recollection of why he rewrote the language.129

Later in 1999, when legal authority was needed for enlisting still other collaborators and for covering a wider set of contingencies, the lawyers returned to the language used in August 1998, which authorized force only in the context of a capture operation. Given the closely held character of the document approved in December 1998, and the subsequent return to the earlier language, it is possible to understand how the former White House officials and the CIA officials might disagree as to whether the CIA was ever authorized by the President to kill Bin Ladin.130 [emphasis added]

Nor was this the only time a chance to kill bin Ladin was passed up:

Around the time this change in presidential directives was inked in February 1999, America had another chance to get bin Laden according to Scheuer. Operatives had spotted the terrorist leader spending some time at camps south of Kandahar. An attack plan was again submitted, and, again scuttled as documented on pages 137 and 138 of the Report:
No strike was launched. By February 12 Bin Ladin had apparently moved on, and the immediate strike plans became moot.158 According to CIA and Defense officials, policymakers were concerned about the danger that a strike would kill an Emirati prince or other senior officials who might be with Bin Ladin or close by. Clarke told us the strike was called off after consultations with Director Tenet because the intelligence was dubious, and it seemed to Clarke as if the CIA was presenting an option to attack America’s best counterterrorism ally in the Gulf. The lead CIA official in the field, Gary Schroen, felt that the intelligence reporting in this case was very reliable; the Bin Ladin unit chief, “Mike,” agreed. Schroen believes today that this was a lost opportunity to kill Bin Ladin before 9/11.159 [emphasis added]

According to Scheuer, something the Commission chose not to include in its report was that the real concern about this mission was that it might jeopardize a large sale of F16s to the United Arab Emirates, the homeland of the “Emirati prince” referred to. It appears this financial transaction was more important to the Clinton administration than preventing further terrorist attacks by America’s public enemy number one.

All of this can very easily be dismissed as Monday morning quarterbacking... except for the criticism hurled at the Bush White House for not doing enough to stop bin Laden in the eight months leading up to 9/11. What makes this all the more egregious is that some of these criticism have been hurled by none other than Hillary Clinton:

This revelation is all the more fascinating in the context of a recent statement made by Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) concerning what the former president would have done if he had received the famed August 2001 Presidential Daily Brief.

“I’m certain that if my husband and his national security team had been shown a classified report entitled `Bin Laden Determined to Attack Inside United States,’ he would have taken it more seriously than history suggests it was taken by our current president and his national security team,” Hillary Clinton said.

What makes this statement by Sen. Clinton so astounding are the following sentences from page 128 of the 9/11 Commission report:

On Friday, December 4, 1998, the CIA included an article in the Presidential Daily Brief describing intelligence, received from a friendly government, about a threatened hijacking in the United States. This article was declassified at our request.

The title of this PDB was “Bin Ladin Preparing to Hijack US Aircraft and Other Attacks.”

So, what we have here is a PDB on December 4, 1998, warning the Clinton administration of an al Qaeda plot to hijack American planes. Sixteen days later, the CIA believed it knew of bin Laden’s whereabouts in Kandahar, and had a plan to take him out. Yet, for at least the second time that year, absolutely no action was taken.

Of course, what’s potentially more despicable concerning this issue is that the last time the powers-that-be chose not to act on a covert mission to capture or kill bin Laden in 1998, the attacks on the U.S. embassies in Africa occurred just a few months later.

Almost unbelievably, just four months after those embassy attacks, with a PDB warning of new ones in their hands, this December 20, 1998, plan to take out bin Laden was scuttled due to the risks to civilians and holy religious structures in the area. Despite protestations to the contrary, it quite seems the Clinton administration was more concerned with the politics of the region than in preventing the loss of life to Americans.

There is plenty of blame to go around for what happened on 9/11, but blame is not just counterproductive, but divisive and a boon to our enemies. It tears at the very fabric of our republic at a time when we desperately need to present a united front. Though the editorial staff has a fundamental disagreement with the Democratic party on the means and tactics needed to secure our freedoms, we have always presumed that good faith and a genuine love for this country lay at the heart of even acts and policies we took issue with.

Thus, we have forborne from criticizing the outgoing administration for not possessing a crystal ball, for not predicting what had never happened before: that a small group of terrorists, armed only with box cutters, would manage to kill almost three thousand of us.

The world changed that day. Our view of ourselves, as somehow magically invulverable to the threats the rest of the world takes for granted, changed.

I can forgive Bill Clinton, Sandy Berger, and Richard Clarke for failing to kill Osama bin Laden, for weighing the risks and benefits differently than I do, or even did. I can forgive them for not singling out one Presidential Daily Briefing entitled "Bin Ladin Preparing to Hijack US Aircraft and Other Attacks", even though on his watch the World Trade Center had already been attacked, and acting.

What I cannot forgive is the lying and historical revisionism of Bill Clinton and his Clinton-era holdovers who contradict their own past statements in a transparent attempt to shift the blame from an administration which had EIGHT YEARS to do something about al Qaeda and numerous opportunities to kill Osama bin Laden to an incoming administration which only had EIGHT MONTHS and, according to the head of the CIA's bin Laden unit, NO OPPORTUNITIES TO KILL OSAMA.

Mr. Clarke, of course, was at the center of Mr. Clinton's advisers, who resolutely refused to order the CIA to kill bin Laden. In spring 1998, I briefed Mr. Clarke and senior CIA, Department of Defense and FBI officers on a plan to kidnap bin Laden. Mr. Clarke's reaction was that "it was just a thinly disguised attempt to assassinate bin Laden." I replied that if he wanted bin Laden dead, we could do the job quickly. Mr. Clarke's response was that the president did not want bin Laden assassinated, and that we had no authority to do so.

Mr. Clarke's book is also a crucial complement to the September 11 panel's failure to condemn Mr. Clinton's failure to capture or kill bin Laden on any of the eight to 10 chances afforded by CIA reporting. Mr. Clarke never mentions that President Bush had no chances to kill bin Laden before September 11 and leaves readers with the false impression that he, Mr. Clinton and Mr. Clinton's national security adviser, Sandy Berger, did their best to end the bin Laden threat. That trio, in my view, abetted al Qaeda, and if the September 11 families were smart they would focus on the dereliction of Dick, Bill and Sandy and not the antics of convicted September 11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui.

It's time to put the past, and all its navel gazing, finger pointing, retrospection, firmly behind us and move on. It's time to stop showcasing the self serving memoirs of shallow men who contradict themselves every time they open their mouths.

And it's time for the press to do their jobs, if they insist on providing free advertising for these hucksters, and provide some balanced perspective. This would include some of that "investigative journalism" they pride themselves on; really difficult, gritty work like wading into matters right on the public record.

Perhaps they can start with Google and the 9/11 Commission report.

Posted by Cassandra at April 30, 2007 07:15 AM

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