[FoRK] Did Bush Press For Iraq-9/11 Link? - CBS News

Elias Sinderson elias at cse.ucsc.edu
Sun Mar 21 02:18:26 PST 2004

Interesting that this story is being carried on a major news network 
like CBS...  Pretty damning stuff in here if it's true.


Did Bush Press For Iraq-9/11 Link?
March 20, 2004
Posted to 

In the aftermath of Sept. 11, President Bush ordered his then top 
anti-terrorism adviser to look for a link between Iraq and the attacks, 
despite being told there didn't seem to be one.

The charge comes from the advisor, Richard Clarke, in an interview 
airing Sunday at 7 p.m. ET/PT on */60 Minutes/*.

The administration maintains that it cannot find any evidence that the 
conversation about an Iraq-9/11 tie-in ever took place.

Clarke also tells *CBS News Correspondent Lesley Stahl* that White House 
officials were tepid in their response when he urged them months before 
Sept. 11 to meet to discuss what he saw as a severe threat from al Qaeda.

"Frankly," he said, "I find it outrageous that the President is running 
for re-election on the grounds that he's done such great things about 
terrorism. He ignored it. He ignored terrorism for months, when maybe we 
could have done something to stop 9/11. Maybe. We'll never know."

Clarke went on to say, "I think he's done a terrible job on the war 
against terrorism."

The No. 2 man on the president's National Security Council, Stephen 
Hadley, vehemently disagrees. He says Mr. Bush has taken the fight to 
the terrorists, and is making the U.S. homeland safer.

Clarke says that as early as the day after the attacks, Secretary of 
Defense Donald Rumsfeld was pushing for retaliatory strikes on Iraq, 
even though al Qaeda was based in Afghanistan.

Clarke suggests the idea took him so aback, he initally thought Rumsfeld 
was joking.

Clarke is due to testify next week before the special panel 
probing whether the attacks were preventable.

His allegations are also made in a book being published Monday, "Against 
All Enemies."

Clarke helped shape U.S. policy on terrorism under President Reagan and 
the first President Bush. He was held over by President Clinton to be 
his terrorrism czar, then held over again by the current President Bush.

In the */60 Minutes/* interview and the book, Clarke tells what happened 
behind the scenes at the White House before, during and after Sept. 11.

When the terrorists stuck, it was thought the White House would be the 
next target, so it was evacuated. Clarke was one of only a handful of 
people who stayed behind. He ran the government's response to the 
attacks from the Situation Room in the West Wing.

"I kept thinking of the words from 'Apocalypse Now,' the whispered words 
of Marlon Brando, when he thought about Vietnam. 'The horror. The 
horror.' Because we knew what was going on in New York. We knew about 
the bodies flying out of the windows. People falling through the air. We 
knew that Osama bin Laden had succeeded in bringing horror to the 
streets of America," he tells *Stahl*.

After the president returned to the White House on Sept. 11, he and his 
top advisers, including Clarke, began holding meetings about how to 
respond and retaliate. As Clarke writes in his book, he expected the 
administration to focus its military response on Osama bin Laden and al 
Qaeda. He says he was surprised that the talk quickly turned to Iraq.

"Rumsfeld was saying that we needed to bomb Iraq," Clarke said to 
*Stahl*. "And we all said ... no, no. Al-Qaeda is in Afghanistan. We 
need to bomb Afghanistan. And Rumsfeld said there aren't any good 
targets in Afghanistan. And there are lots of good targets in Iraq. I 
said, 'Well, there are lots of good targets in lots of places, but Iraq 
had nothing to do with it.

"Initially, I thought when he said "There aren't enough targets in-- in 
Afghanistan" I thought he was joking.

"I think they wanted to believe that there was a connection but the CIA 
was sitting there, the FBI was sitting there, I was sitting there saying 
we've looked at this issue for years. For years we've looked and there's 
just no connection."

Clarke says he and CIA Director George Tenet told that to Rumsfeld, 
Secretary of State Colin Powell, and Attorney General John Ashcroft.

Clarke then tells *Stahl* of being pressured by Mr. Bush.

"The president dragged me into a room with a couple of other people, 
shut the door, and said, 'I want you to find whether Iraq did this.' Now 
he never said, 'Make it up.' But the entire conversation left me in 
absolutely no doubt that George Bush wanted me to come back with a 
report that said Iraq did this.

"I said, 'Mr. President. We've done this before. We have been looking at 
this. We looked at it with an open mind. There's no connection.'

"He came back at me and said, "Iraq! Saddam! Find out if there's a 
connection.' And in a very intimidating way. I mean that we should come 
back with that answer. We wrote a report."

Clarke continued, "It was a serious look. We got together all the FBI 
experts, all the CIA experts. We wrote the report. We sent the report 
out to CIA and found FBI and said, 'Will you sign this report?' They all 
cleared the report. And we sent it up to the president and it got 
bounced by the National Security Advisor or Deputy. It got bounced and 
sent back saying, 'Wrong answer. ... Do it again.'

"I have no idea, to this day, if the President saw it, because after we 
did it again, it came to the same conclusion. And frankly, I don't think 
the people around the president show him memos like that. I don't think 
he sees memos that he doesn't-- wouldn't like the answer."

Clarke was the president's chief adviser on terrorism, yet it wasn't 
until Sept. 11 that he ever got to brief Mr. Bush on the subject. Clarke 
says, prior to Sept. 11, the administration didn't take the threat 

"We had a terrorist organization that was going after us! Al Qaeda. That 
should have been the first item on the agenda. And it was pushed back 
and back and back for months.

"There's a lot of blame to go around, and I probably deserve some blame 
too. But on January 24th, 2001, I wrote a memo to Condoleezza Rice 
asking for, urgently -- underlined urgently -- a Cabinet-level meeting 
to deal with the impending al Qaeda attack. And that urgent memo-- 
wasn't acted on.

"I blame the entire Bush leadership for continuing to work on Cold War 
issues when they back in power in 2001. It was as though they were 
preserved in amber from when they left office eight years earlier. They 
came back; they wanted to work on the same issues right away: Iraq, Star 
Wars. Not new issues, the new threats that had developed over the 
preceding eight years."

Clarke finally got his meeting about al Qaeda in April, three months 
after his urgent request. But it wasn't with the president or cabinet. 
It was with the second-in-command in each relevant department.

For the Pentagon, it was Paul Wolfowitz.

Clarke relates, "I began saying, 'We have to deal with bin Laden; we 
have to deal with al Qaeda.' Paul Wolfowitz, the Deputy Secretary of 
Defense, said, 'No, no, no. We don't have to deal with al Qaeda. Why are 
we talking about that little guy? We have to talk about Iraqi terrorism 
against the United States.'

"And I said, 'Paul, there hasn't been any Iraqi terrorism against the 
United States in eight years!' And I turned to the deputy director of 
the CIA and said, 'Isn't that right?' And he said, 'Yeah, that's right. 
There is no Iraqi terrorism against the United States."

Clarke went on to add, "There's absolutely no evidence that Iraq was 
supporting al Qaeda, ever."

When *Stahl* pointed out that some administration officials say it's 
still an open issue, Clarke responded, "Well, they'll say that until 
hell freezes over."

By June 2001, there still hadn't been a Cabinet-level meeting on 
terrorism, even though U.S. intelligence was picking up an unprecedented 
level of ominous chatter.

The CIA director warned the White House, Clarke points out. "George 
Tenet was saying to the White House, saying to the president - 'cause he 
briefed him every morning - a major al Qaeda attack is going to happen 
against the United States somewhere in the world in the weeks and months 
ahead. He said that in June, July, August.

Clarke says the last time the CIA had picked up a similar level of 
chatter was in December, 1999, when Clarke was the terrorism czar in the 
Clinton White House.

Clarke says Mr. Clinton ordered his Cabinet to go to battle stations-- 
meaning, they went on high alert, holding meetings nearly every day.

That, Clarke says, helped thwart a major attack on Los Angeles 
International Airport, when an al Qaeda operative was stopped at the 
border with Canada, driving a car full of explosives.

Clarke harshly criticizes President Bush for not going to battle 
stations when the CIA warned him of a comparable threat in the months 
before Sept. 11.

"He never thought it was important enough for him to hold a meeting on 
the subject, or for him to order his National Security Adviser to hold a 
Cabinet-level meeting on the subject."

Finally, says Clarke, "The cabinet meeting I asked for right after the 
inauguration took place-- one week prior to 9/11."

In that meeting, Clarke proposed a plan to bomb al Qaeda's sanctuary in 
Afghanistan, and to kill bin Laden.

Hadley staunchly defended the president to *Stahl*.

"The president heard those warnings. The president met daily with ... 
George Tenet and his staff. They kept him fully informed and at one 
point the president became somewhat impatient with us and said, 'I'm 
tired of swatting flies. Where's my new strategy to eliminate al Qaeda?'"

Hadley says that, contrary to Clarke's assertion, Mr. Bush didn't ignore 
the ominous intelligence chatter in the summer of 2001.

"All the chatter was of an attack, a potential al Qaeda attack overseas. 
But interestingly enough, the president got concerned about whether 
there was the possibility of an attack on the homeland. He asked the 
intelligence community: 'Look hard. See if we're missing something about 
a threat to the homeland.'

"And at that point various alerts went out from the Federal Aviation 
Administration to the FBI saying the intelligence suggests a threat 
overseas. We don't want to be caught unprepared. We don't want to rule 
out the possibility of a threat to the homeland. And therefore 
preparatory steps need to be made. So the president put us on battle 

Hadley asserts Clarke is "just wrong" in saying the administration 
didn't go to battle stations.

As for the alleged pressure from Mr. Bush to find an Iraq-9/11 link, 
Hadley says, "We cannot find evidence that this conversation between Mr. 
Clarke and the president ever occurred."

When told by *Stahl* that */60 Minutes/* has two sources who tell us 
independently of Clarke that the encounter happened, including "an 
actual witness," Hadley responded, "Look, I stand on what I said."

Hadley maintained, "Iraq, as the president has said, is at the center of 
the war on terror. We have narrowed the ground available to al Qaeda and 
to the terrorists. Their sanctuary in Afghanistan is gone; their 
sanctuary in Iraq is gone. Saudi Arabia and Pakistan are now allies on 
the war on terror. So Iraq has contributed in that way in narrowing the 
sanctuaries available to terrorists."

When Clarke worked for Mr. Clinton, he was known as the terrorism czar. 
When Mr. Bush came into office, though remaining at the White House, 
Clarke was stripped of his Cabinet-level rank.

*Stahl* said to Clarke, "They demoted you. Aren't you open to charges 
that this is all sour grapes, because they demoted you and reduced your 
leverage, your power in the White House?"

Clarke's answer: "Frankly, if I had been so upset that the National 
Coordinator for Counter-terrorism had been downgraded from a Cabinet 
level position to a staff level position, if that had bothered me 
enough, I would have quit. I didn't quit."

Until two years later, after 30 years in government service.

A senior White House official told */60 Minutes/* he thinks the Clarke 
book is an audition for a job in the Kerry campaign.

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