Skip to comments.The Fruits of Negligence - The Clinton Administration's Security Legacy
Posted on 10/02/2001 3:27:18 PM PDT by Mahone
The Fruits of Negligence
The Clinton Administration's Security Legacy
by Andrew Sullivan
In the initial shock of the September 11 Massacre, one small notion lodged itself into the mass psyche. It's perhaps best summed up by the phrase, "Who could have seen that coming?" Because of the sheer audacity of the attack, its novel use of kamikaze-style airplanes, its uniquely horrendous death-toll, most of us tended to exculpate the leaders of the United States for any responsibility for the lax security and failure of intelligence and foreign policy it represented. We put the blame - rightly - on the terrorists who bear sole responsibility for the massacre.
But more than two weeks later, as the sheer extent of America's unpreparedness and vulnerability comes into better focus, one other conclusion is inescapable. The September 11 massacre resulted from a fantastic failure on the part of the United States government to protect its citizens from an act of war. This failure is now staring us in the face, and if we are to be successful in rectifying the errors, it's essential we acknowledge as plainly as possible what went wrong.
Two questions come to mind: How was it that the Osama bin Laden network, known for more than a decade, was still at large and dangerous enough this autumn to inflict such a deadly blow? Who was responsible in the American government for such a failure of intelligence, foreign policy and national security? These questions have not been asked directly for good reasons. There is a need to avoid recriminations at a time of national crisis. No good is accomplished by playing a blame game now. But at the same time, the American lack of preparedness on September 11 is already slowing our capacity to bring Osama bin Laden to justice and constricting some of the military and diplomatic options in front of us. And with a president only a few months yet in office, criticism need not extend to the young administration that largely inherited this tattered security apparatus and is now trying to repair the damage. Whatever failures of intelligence, security or diplomacy exist, they have roots far deeper than the first nine months of this year. When national disasters of unpreparedness have occurred in other countries - say, the invasion of the Falkland Islands - ministers responsible have resigned. Taking responsibility for mistakes in the past is part of the effort not to repeat them. So why have heads not rolled?
The most plausible answer is that no-one has been fired and no fingers pointed because this attack was so novel and impossible to predict that nothing in our security apparatus could have prevented it. The only problem with this argument is that it is patently untrue. Throughout the Clinton years, this kind of attack was not only predictable but predicted. Not only had Osama bin Laden already attacked the United States, its embassies and warships, he had done so repeatedly and been more than completely frank about his war with the United States. He had even attempted to destroy the World Trade Center in 1993! Same guy, same building. To say that this attack came out of the blue is simply belied by any rudimentary examination of the facts. And to say that we couldn't have anticipated this type of attack is simply to say that our intelligence wasn't good enough to have found it out.
How prominent were the warnings of the danger of Islamic terrorism in the 1990s? Here's one: "The crater beneath the World Trade Center and the uncovering of a plot to set off more gigantic bombs and to assassinate leading political figures have shown Americans how brutal these [Islamic] extremists can be." This was written by Salman Rushdie in the New York Times in 1993. Did the Clinton administration overhaul its intelligence and defense priorities in response to the 1993 warning? The answer is clearly no. No effort was made to coordinate the various mess of agencies designed to counter terrorism - the FBI, the CIA, the Pentagon, the State Department, the airlines, local law enforcement, the Coast Guard. No effort was made to recruit more spies who could speak Arabic or go effectively undercover to preempt such terrorist attacks. Under the Clinton administration, a law was passed actually making it more difficult for the U.S. to use spies who had sleazy or criminal pasts - exactly the kind needed to infiltrate bin Laden's tight terrorist cells. The debacle of the Somalia expedition in 1992 and 1993 - which led to Delta Force units being humiliated - dramatically chilled the military's willingness to use such units in action again. This occurred despite the fact that aggressive use of those units - as we are seeing today - was critical to any successful effort to regain the initiative against terrorism.
In a remarkably revealing and over-looked article in last week's New Yorker, Joe Klein argues that "there seems to be near-unanimous agreement among experts: in the ten years since the collapse of the Soviet Union, almost every aspect of American national-security policy-from military operations to intelligence gathering, from border control to political leadership-has been marked by ... institutional lassitude and bureaucratic arrogance." The decision to get down and dirty with the terrorists, to take their threat seriously and counter them aggressively was simply never taken. Many bear the blame for this: the clueless, stately secretary of state Warren Christopher; the tortured intellectual at the National Security Council, Anthony Lake; General Colin Powell, whose decision to use Delta Force units in Somalia so badly backfired; but above all president Bill Clinton, whose inattention to foreign affairs, especially when it meant military and security matters, now seems part of the reason why America was so vulnerable to slaughter earlier this month.
Klein cites this devastating quote from a senior Clinton official: "Clinton spent less concentrated attention on national defense than any other President in recent memory. He could learn an issue very quickly, but he wasn't very interested in getting his hands dirty with detail work. His style was procrastination, seeing where everyone was, before taking action. This was truer in his first term than it was in the second, but even when he began to pay attention he was severely constrained by public opinion and his own unwillingness to take risks." It is hard to come up with a more damning description of negligence than that.
Clinton even got a second chance. In 1998, after bin Laden struck again at U.S. embassies in Africa, the president was put on notice that the threat was deadly serious. He responded with a couple of fitful missile strikes against Afghanistan and Sudan, some of which missed their targets and none of which killed or seriously impacted Osama bin Laden. Clinton's own former Defense Secretary, John Deutch, wrote in the New York Times that August: "We must insist on superior intelligence that will warn of potential terrorist actions. We must insist on tough and prompt responses to such acts and on developing an effective capability to manage the consequences of these acts when they occur. These are major challenges and, in general, public and private experts have concluded that our country is not fully prepared to act effectively on these matters." Clinton largely ignored the warning. The Post's Jim Hoagland warned in the same month: "There are troubling signs that this president could once again stage a pinprick raid, announce the problem solved and turn back to his own domestic and personal preoccupations. A single night of missile strikes against remote desert sites will not leave America's self-declared enemies off balance for long." Give that man a medal for foresight.
Again in the Washington Post that August, the following prescient words were written by L. Paul Bremer III, former anti-terrorism chief in the Reagan administration: "The ideology of such groups [as bin Laden's] makes them impervious to political or diplomatic pressures. They hate America, its values and its culture and proudly declare themselves to be at war with us. We cannot seek a "political solution" with them." Bremer then set out a list of what the U.S. should do: "Defend ourselves. Beef up security around potential targets here and abroad, especially "softer" targets such as American businesses overseas. Attack the enemy. Keep the pressure on terrorist groups. Show that we can be as systematic and relentless as they are. Crush bin Ladin's operations by pressure and disruption. The U.S. government should order further military strikes against the remaining terrorist training camps in Afghanistan and Sudan. The U.S. government further should announce a large reward for bin Laden's capture -- dead or alive. This might work and at the least would exacerbate the paranoia common to all terrorists." Sound familiar? It's exactly what we're doing now, three years too late, with no element of surprise, and with far from adequate human intelligence.
This brings Bremer to the most critical point in his recommendations: "Improve our intelligence operations. Effective counterterrorism depends on good intelligence... We must preempt and disrupt attacks before they happen. This requires improved coordination of intelligence collection against terrorist groups. While it is difficult, we should expand the use of deep cover agents on the ground to infiltrate terrorist organizations." None of this happened. Agencies bickered, the president was too concerned with sexual harassment lawsuits, the C.I.A.'s feckless record went uncorrected.
Perhaps the most farsighted critic was a man called Reuel Marc Gerecht, a former case officer in the CIA's clandestine service and the author, under the pseudonym Edward Shirley, of "Know thine Enemy: A Spy's Journey into Revolutionary Iran." In the Atlantic Monthly this past summer, he emphasized the extreme need for trained spies to go underground in the Muslim world of Afghanistan and Pakistan if the West were ever to get adequate intelligence on bin Laden's operation. But as late as 1999, not a single such "non-official-cover" spy had been trained or used for such a purpose. A former senior Near East Division operative told Gerecht, "The CIA probably doesn't have a single truly qualified Arabic-speaking officer of Middle Eastern background who can play a believable Muslim fundamentalist who would volunteer to spend years of his life with shitty food and no women in the mountains of Afghanistan. For Christ's sake, most case officers live in the suburbs of Virginia. We don't do that kind of thing." A younger case officer summed up the policy to Gerecht thus: "Operations that include diarrhea as a way of life don't happen."
Gerecht also reported the following devastating fact: "Robert Baer, one of the most talented Middle East case officers of the past twenty years (and the only operative in the 1980s to collect consistently first-rate intelligence on the Lebanese Hizbollah and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad), suggested to headquarters in the early 1990s that the CIA might want to collect intelligence on Afghanistan from the neighboring Central Asian republics of the former Soviet Union. Headquarters' reply: Too dangerous, and why bother? The Cold War there was over with the Soviet withdrawal in 1989. Afghanistan was too far away, internecine warfare was seen as endemic, and radical Islam was an abstract idea. Afghanistan has since become the brain center and training ground for Islamic terrorism against the United States, yet the CIA's clandestine service still usually keeps officers on the Afghan account no more than two or three years." If you want to know why it seems unlikely that the United States knows enough about bin Laden's whereabouts to mount an immediate attack today, then re-read those sentences. This is an intelligence failure of colossal proportions. What happened to the man who presided over that massive failure? George Tenet, director of the CIA since 1997, is still in his job.
Not everyone in Washington was asleep at the switch. In response to the African embassy bombings, a National Commission on Terrorism was set up to propose changes. It was headed by a top-notch group of former officials and got plenty of press attention. The panel argued that the United States was extremely vulnerable to a massive attack by a group like al Quaeda and recommended better espionage, more Arabic-speaking spies, better intelligence sharing between the FBI and the CIA, wider wiretapping, and much of what is now on the table. The report was even prescient enough to have a picture of the World Trade Center on its cover, as Franklin Foer reports in the current New Republic.
The report died the death of a thousand quibbles. Civil liberties advocates complained about a threat to individual freedom. The Arab American Institute's James Zogby said the proposals were like "the darkest days of the McCarthy era." A writer in the liberal online magazine Salon described the warnings of a domestic attack as "a con job with roughly the veracity of the latest Robert Ludlum novel." As Foer details, the CIA opposed lowering its squeaky clean standards for spies, and the FBI was desperate, under Clinton, to avoid any Reagan-like dirty tricks in its operation. When the report came to the Congress, it was attacked by Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy who distrusted the CIA and wanted to avoid what he called "risks to important civil liberties we hold dear." The proposal picked up momentum after the attack on the U.S.S. Cole in October 2000, but was so watered down by the end of the legislative process that it was virtually useless. Its supporters let it die. The Clinton administration did next to nothing to rescue it. The president was busy preparing pardons for multi-millionaire criminals on the lam.
Former Clinton National Security Adviser, Sandy Berger, defended Clinton's record to Joe Klein in the New Yorker. He argued that after the embassy bombings there was a concerted effort to find and kill bin Laden and that the cruise missile in Afghanistan missed its target by an hour, after which bin Laden disappeared from view. Anonymous Clinton officials also blame former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin for resisting measures to cut off bin Laden's financing and to use cyber warfare to crack down generally on the terrorists' money network. Others blame the FBI: "[The FBI's] standard line was that Osama bin Laden wasn't a serious domestic-security threat," one source told Klein. "They said that bin Laden had about two hundred guys on the ground and they had drawn a bead on them." But whatever the nuances of blame here, it's clear that no-one from the top intervened, imposed order and reorganization, and took the terrorist threat seriously enough to defeat it, or even put it on the defensive.
Earlier this year, yet another report, chaired by respected former Senators Hart and Rudman, came to yet another definitive conclusion that the United States was vulnerable. They made exactly the same recommendations that are now finally being implemented; the report was well advertized and disseminated in the press - and still nothing was done.
Hindsight is easy of course. In the halcyon and feckless climate of the 1990s, it would have required real political leadership to dragoon various, stubborn government agencies into a difficult reorganization to counter terrorism. It would have been extremely hard to persuade a sceptical public and a prickly civil liberties lobby that vast new government powers were necessary to prevent catastrophe. This much is true. But it's also true that there were several clear, loud, unmistakable attacks on the U.S. by the very forces that have now launched a war. It is also true that many, many people recognized this and were brave enough to warn about it. In August 1998, Milton Bearden, the former C.I.A. chief in Pakistan and the Sudan, wrote in the New York Times: "The case against Osama bin Laden, who occupies a stronghold in Afghanistan, is clear-cut. Through his self-proclaimed sponsorship of terrorism against the United States, he has, in effect, declared war on us." In July of 1999, William Cohen, Clinton's own Defense Secretary, wrote in the Washington Post, that, "In the past year, dozens of threats to use chemical or biological weapons in the United States have turned out to be hoaxes. Someday, one will be real." Whatever excuses the Clinton administration may have for its failure, they cannot trot out of the excuse of not having been warned. We were all warned. We just preferred to look the other way.
If we look today as Michael Foot did after the outbreak of the Second World War, it is clear that there are many in the United States government who, while not being "guilty men," in sympathizing with and appeasing the enemy threatening their country, were nevertheless at the very least "negligent men." They deserve some sympathy. They were imperfect human beings in a world where September 11 was still an abstraction. But we pay our politicians to see through abstractions and assess the possibility of an actual threat. That's what they are there for. And on that critical task, they failed. If the security manager of a nuclear power plant presides over a massive external attack on it, then it's only right that he should be held responsible in part for what happened. Over 6000 people are now living with the deadly consequences of the negligence of the government of the United States. There is no greater duty for such a government than the maintenance of national security, and the physical protection of its own citizens from harm. When a senior Clinton official can say of his own president that he "spent less concentrated attention on national defense than any other President in recent memory," and when this presidency is followed by the most grievous breach of domestic security in American history, it is not unreasonable to demand some accounting.
Clinton is not alone. The list of people who resisted or thwarted the measures needed to have avoided this catastrophe are many. They reach back to president George H.W. Bush, who balked at removing Saddam Hussein from power at the end of the Gulf War, thus leaving the single most dangerous abettor of international terrorism at large on the world stage. They include Bush and Clinton officials who failed to see the danger in the vacuum left in Afghanistan after the successful insurgency against the Soviets. They include Colin Powell, who crafted the Gulf campaign, and who followed it with the Somalia debacle that helped neuter the military's anti-terrorism campaign thereafter. They include senators and congressmen and lobbyists and civil liberties advocates and journalists - all of whom failed to see the danger staring us in the face. Very few of us are free from blame, but the most blame must surely be attributed to the top.
We thought for a long time that the Clinton years would be seen in retrospect as a mixed blessing. He was sleazy and unprincipled, we surmised, but he was also competent, he led an economic recovery, and he conducted a foreign policy of multilateral distinction. But the further we get away from the Clinton years, the more damning they seem. The narcissistic, feckless, escapist culture of an America absent without leave in the world was fomented from the top. The boom at the end of the decade turned out to include a dangerous bubble which the administration did little to prevent. The "peace-making" in the Middle East and Ireland merely intensified the conflicts. The sex and money scandals were not just debilitating in themselves. They meant that even the minimal attention that the Clinton presidency paid to strategic military and intelligence work was skimped on. We were warned. But we were coasting. We were deluding ourselves. And the main person primarily tasked with correcting that delusion, with ensuring our national security - the president himself - was part of the problem. Through the dust clouds of September 11 and during the difficult task ahead, one person hovers over the wreckage - and that's Bill Clinton. His legacy gets darker and darker with each passing day. Additional research by Reihan Salam.
If this had happened after a Republican Presidency can you just imagine what we'd be hearing on the now strangely quiet nightly news?
To the socialist, the socialist is NEVER at fault; and instead, the fault is ALWAYS external.
The "liberal" mind at work:
"'President' Clinton was pre-occupied by the personal attacks having nothing to do with his responsibilities, but which, out of his care for the American people, he took upon himself to address, thus being robbed of what otherwise would have been his attention to the nation's business."
"Clearly" the vast right-wing Taliban-Republican conspirators are to blame.
Yeah, he was busy with something else.
Clinton - who wanted to nationalize everything and everybody - knew what the Taliban and all the other terrorist organizations were up to. But he could not turn America into Amerika during his administration, because people expected such things of him [Health Care, etc.] and would have opposed him. So he planted seeds and waited.
Clinton and his Dept. of State nurtured the terrorists states - Afghanistan, Yemen, Palestine, Libya - keeping them alive until Bush (or Gore) was president. These seeds that clinton watered during his administration finally bore fruit on September 11th, 2001.
The American people trust Bush, and "know" that he is not like clinton and would never turn America into a police state. But that is exactly what he is in the process of doing. Only Nixon could go to China. Only Bush could turn America into Amerika.
The Taliban won, and clinton won.
That's why 100% of the media now refer to the events of September 11th, 2001 as a "tragedy".
Nobody is responsible for a tragedy - like earthquakes and tornadoes, they just happen.
Maybe it's the influence of the latino way of thinking. In English, one says "I broke the coffee cup" - in Spanish one says "the coffee cup broke itself to me". [se me rompió]
Yeah, I keep hearing that while my rights are disappearing faster than I can say Sieg Heil!
Would you like to talk about what has happened to my right to fly for instance?
What happened to your right to fly? Or what other particular right have you lost?
You have wings?
WHY ARE THERE STILL RYDER RENTAL TRUCKS ON THE ROAD?
Heres a link to a strange little piece, which appeared in yesterdays Washington Post. It was written by someone named Joseph Kinney who claims to be a security consultant.. in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Kinney is calling for a clamp down on general aviation. So, does he really know what hes talking about? It really doesnt seem so. In his piece he writes General aviation, which serves business and recreational fliers, encompasses 7,120 jets and about 25,000 multi-engine aircraft flown by about 200,000 pilots who have instrument ratings. How could any person who claims to know something of which he write get the facts so wrong?
Actually, General aviation encompasses about 206,503 airplanes of which 6,400 are jets. Of the piston power general aviation airplanes 145,250 are single engine. Only 18,750 (not 25,000) are multi-engine. So far Kinney isnt doing too well, is he?
Taking it further, these general aviation airplanes are actually flown by 635,000 pilots, not just the 309,000 (not 200,000 as Kinney says) with instrument ratings.
OK why am I making such a big deal here? Because this clown is writing in an influential newspaper about clamping down on general aviation when it is absolutely clear that he hasnt bothered to research his subject! All of the numbers are readily available on the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association website [ www.aopa.org ] for anyone to peruse.
As you read on in Kinneys article you see more and more errors. His bit on flight plans, for instance.
Now --- heres a task for you. Try to find one instance where any general aviation aircraft has been used as a weapon in the hands of terrorists anywhere in the world. Can you? I cant. Now see if you can think of an instance where a car or a truck has been used as a weapon in the hands of terrorists? The list is endless, isnt it? How about that Ryder truck parked in front of that federal office building in Oklahoma City? Did we take Ryder rental trucks off the road? Is it any harder to rent a Ryder truck now than it was before Oklahoma City? No, on both questions. Its one helluva lot easier to load explosives into a car or truck and drive them into a city than it is to load a light aircraft and fly it into a building and do any real damage.
Yeah this is a narrow interest. General aviation is my hobby and passion. You? You probably dont really give that big a damn, and thats understandable.
Right now I have an airplane (a Super Decathlon) sitting at an airport near Atlanta that I cant fly. The FAA wont let me. Security concerns, you know. I can only fly my other airplane (Mooney Ovation2) if I file an IFR flight plan. Yeah, big deal. Who cares? It doesnt affect you, does it? Well if that was the approach we all took to freedom (hey, thats his freedom, not mine. Doesnt affect me.) then freedom would be in grave shape indeed.
If so-called security consultants like Joseph Kinney are going to write their little screeds they need to do some research and get some real facts.
--------------------------------------- He does have some valid points. If they outlawed all boats because they were worried about poisoning water supplies a lot more people would understand hus point and want to fight it.
I did not vote this brilliant man into office. Weak people like this get into positions of power thanks to all those great citizens who can't take the time to vote. Have a nice life Bill. The U.S.A. will never forget your irresponsible legacy you have left. And to all those who are intelligent enough choose the right man but can't be bothered to take the time to vote, you have helped to contribute the smoking ashes of the world trade center and more firearm bans.
Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.