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White House Tailspin

The White House is mobilizing all its strength to attack former counterterrorism czar Richard Clarke, whose new book offers a damning critique of the Bush Administration's failures.
 
 
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One day after counterterrorism expert Richard Clarke's well-documented criticism of the Bush Administration's lackadaisical attitude towards terrorism, the White House is deploying top officials in a vicious barrage of personal attacks on a man with 30 years of public service under four presidents. The attacks reveal the vicious tactics this Administration uses to intimidate and threaten truth-tellers, but is so filled with inconsistencies, contradictions and lies that it actually bolsters Clarke's credibility.

As Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE) said, "This is a serious book written by a serious professional who's made serious charges, and the White House must respond to these charges" -- something that, despite the personal attacks, the White House has not yet done. See American Progress's full rundown of the Administration's distortions yesterday, and internal Justice Department/FBI documents substantiating Clarke's claims.

National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice claimed that Clarke "chose not to" voice his concerns about the Administration's counterterrorism policy, or lack thereof. But the White House itself acknowledges Clarke sent a memo to Rice on January 24, 2001 marked "urgent" asking for a Cabinet-level meeting to deal with an impending al Qaeda attack, and that top officials rejected Clarke's request, saying they "did not need to have a formal meeting to discuss the threat." Of course, Rice is the same person who denied ever being warned about putting the false uranium claim into the 2003 State of the Union Speech. When her dishonesty was exposed, she claimed, " I either didn't see the memo [or] I don't remember seeing the memo" from the CIA.

Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley -- the same man who ignored CIA orders to remove false uranium claims from the President's pre-war State of the Union -- defended the Administration by saying, "All the chatter [before 9/11] was of an attack, a potential Al Qaeda attack overseas." But according to page 204 of the bipartisan 9/11 congressional report, "In May 2001, the intelligence community obtained a report that Bin Laden supporters were planning to infiltrate the United States" to "carry out a terrorist operation using high explosives." The report "was included in an intelligence report for senior government officials in August [2001]." In the same month, the Pentagon found out that bin Laden associates "had departed various locations for Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States."

On Fox's Hannity and Colmes, Bush National Security spokesman Jim Wilkinson called Clarke's accusations a "work of fiction," and said the Bush Administration was focused on terror before 9/11. As proof, he claimed "it was this president who expedited the deployment of the armed Predator" (the unmanned plane). But according to Newsweek, it was the Bush Administration which "elected not to relaunch the Predator" and threatened to veto the defense bill if it "diverted $800 million from missile defense into counterterrorism" programs like the Predator. As a result, AP reports, "though Predator drones spotted Osama bin Laden as many as three times in late 2000, the Bush administration did not fly the unmanned planes over Afghanistan during its first eight months." While "the military successfully tested an armed Predator throughout the first half of 2001," the Bush Administration failed to resolve a bureaucratic "debate over whether the CIA or Pentagon should operate" the system, and it did not get off the ground before 9/11.

One of the most odious charges from the White House yesterday was that Clarke was personally responsible for all previous al Qaeda attacks against America. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice -- who oversaw the worst national security failure in American history and yet refuses to testify publicly about it -- said, "what's very interesting is that, of course, Dick Clarke was the counterterrorism czar in 1998 when the embassies were bombed. He was the counterterrorism czar in 2000 when the Cole was bombed. He was the counterterrorism czar for a period of the '90s when al Qaeda was strengthening and when the plots that ended up in September 11 were being hatched." Vice President Cheney echoed the very same criticism on Rush Limbaugh's radio show. Rice and Cheney conveniently ignored the President's own "buck stops here" declaration and desire for a "culture of personal responsibility": Both refused to mention that they were Clarke's bosses in the lead up to 9/11, and that they ignored Clarke's repeated efforts to get the Administration to take terrorism more seriously. They also failed to elucidate why, if Clarke's record was so terrible, they called him an "outstanding public servant" and decided to keep him on board at the White House.

Top Bush officials claimed Clarke's criticism was not credible because, as Vice President Cheney said, Clarke " was out of the loop" after the White House counterterrorism office was downgraded from the top position it occupied under previous administrations. But this attack implicitly acknowledges that counterterrorism was downgraded as a priority at the White House, and thus disproves the Administration's claims that it was taking terrorism seriously before 9/11. And such downgrading is consistent with other internal administration documents. As columnist Paul Krugman notes, before 9/11 not only did the Administration "completely drop terrorism as a priority -- it wasn't even mentioned in his list of seven 'strategic goals' -- just one day before 9/11 it proposed a reduction in counterterrorism funds."

Vice President Cheney claimed "a process was in motion throughout the spring" to develop a "more effective" terrorism policy -- an allusion to the counterterrorism task force he was asked to head in May. But, while Cheney convened his energy task force at least 10 times (and had six other meetings with Enron executives), he never once convened the counterterrorism task force. Similarly, White House Communications Director Dan Bartlett claimed, "President Bush understood the threat of terrorism when he took office." But when pressed to prove this claim in the face of Cheney's task force negligence and internal documents proving otherwise, Bartlett could only muster, "George Tenet personally briefed [the President about terrorism] every single morning."