Monday's must-reads


Geraldine Sealey
March 22, 2004 7:40PM (UTC)

Bush pushed for Iraq/9-11 link
Richard Clarke, President Bush's former counter-terrorism chief, says Bush ordered him to find a link between Iraq and the Sept. 11 terror attacks, even though the president was told there didn't appear to be a connection. Clarke, whose book is released today, appeared on CBS' 60 Minutes Sunday night, and also said White House officials responded coolly to the al-Qaida threat in the months before 9/11.

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

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Clarke reveals details from inside the White House on Sept. 11, 2001, when everyone was evacuated except for a handful of people, including Clarke, who 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." When the president returned to the White House later that evening, Clarke says, top officials began holding meetings about how to respond and retaliate. Clarke expected the administration to focus its military response on Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda. Instead, the talk quickly turned to Iraq.

"Rumsfeld was saying that we needed to bomb Iraq," Clarke said on 60 Minutes. "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 the pressure to find a link between Saddam Hussein and the 9/11 attacks came directly from the president. "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."

"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.'"

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"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 has worked in anti-terrorism for every president since Reagan. He'll testify before the 9/11 commission this week. The Associated Press is running short excerpts of his book.

White House cut counterterror funds

The Washington Post reports that the Bush White House cut by nearly two-thirds an emergency request for FBI counterterrorism funds in the weeks after the 9/11 terror attacks. An internal administration document was one of several given to the Post by the Center for American Progress, a liberal group run by former Clinton chief of staff John D. Podesta. "The papers show that Ashcroft ranked counterterrorism efforts as a lower priority than his predecessor did, and that he resisted FBI requests for more counterterrorism funding before and immediately after the attacks," the Post writes.

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"The document, dated Oct. 12, 2001, shows that the FBI requested $1.5 billion in additional funds to enhance its counterterrorism efforts with the creation of 2,024 positions. But the White House Office of Management and Budget cut that request to $531 million. Attorney General John D. Ashcroft, working within the White House limits, cut the FBI's request for items such as computer networking and foreign language intercepts by half, cut a cyber-security request by three quarters and eliminated entirely a request for 'collaborative capabilities.'"

[And this is the same crew making claims that John Kerry is "weak" on national security based on misrepresentations of his Senate votes from the 1990s.]

"Despite multiple terror warnings before and after 9/11, [Bush] repeatedly rejected counterterrorism resources that his own security agencies said was desperately needed to protect America," said David Sirota, spokesman for Podesta's group, which plans to post the documents on its Web site today.

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Where is Condi?
In an online column, The Nation's John Nichols wants to know why national security adviser Condoleezza Rice had time on Friday to speak to Rupert Murdoch and colleagues from his various media properties -- this on what might have been a busy day for Ms. Rice, as Osama bin Laden's No. 2 man was supposedly being surrounded in Pakistan. Meanwhile, Rice refuses to speak publicly before the 9/11 commission.

"Rice's willingness to brief Fox executives is especially intriguing in light of the fact that she continues to refuse to brief the bipartisan panel that is investigating the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States is expected to hear this week from Central Intelligence Agency director George Tenet, Secretary of State Colin Powell and his predecessor, Madeleine Albright; Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his predecessor, William Cohen; and President Bill Clinton's national security adviser, Sandy Berger."

The FBI spied on Kerry
The Los Angeles Times has obtained documents from an extensive FBI file kept of John Kerry during his days as a Vietnam war activist. Kerry was closely monitored by FBI agents for more than a year.

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"The FBI documents indicate that wherever Kerry went, agents and informants were following -- including appearances at VVAW-sponsored antiwar events in Washington; Kansas City, Mo.; Oklahoma City; and Urbana, Ill. The FBI recorded the content of his speeches and took photographs of him and fellow activists, and the dispatches were filed to FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover and President Nixon. The files contain no information or suggestion that Kerry broke any laws. And a 1972 memorandum on the FBI's decision to end its surveillance of him said the agency had discovered 'nothing whatsoever to link the subject with any violent activity.'"

Kerry only last week learned the extent of the FBI's scrutiny, he told The Times. Kerry said he was troubled by the scope of the monitoring documented in the papers. "I'm surprised by [the] extent of it," he said in an interview. "I'm offended by the intrusiveness of it. And I'm disturbed that it was all conducted absent of some showing of any legitimate probable cause. It's an offense to the Constitution. It's out of order."

"If elected president, he said, he would appoint an attorney general 'who knows how to enforce laws in a way that balances law enforcement with our tradition of civil liberties. Today's FBI isn't the FBI of J. Edgar Hoover. The FBI of today is on the front lines of the war on terror, and it's critical that they be effective,' he said. 'But the experience of having been spied on for the act of engaging in peaceful patriotic protest makes you respect the civil liberties and the Constitution even more.'"

Who's reckless?
George W. Bush, presiding over the largest job losses since Herbert Hoover and a deficit that threatens future generations, will attack John Kerry's economic policy as "reckless," the Washington Post reports. Bush will paint Kerry as a serial tax-hiker whose economic proposals don't add up. Since Kerry has yet to issue a proposed budget for his tax and spending plans, the Bush team is doing it for him, releasing today an estimate for Kerry's programs at more than $1.7 trillion over 10 years.

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But the Christian Science Monitor writes today that Bush's argument masks the reality that the massive deficit he's racked up "now looks increasingly hard to tame without raising more government revenue. That's another word for tax hike. 'It's inevitable,' says Bruce Bartlett, a senior fellow at the conservative National Center for Policy Analysis in Washington."

"Higher taxes, of course, go against the political soul of Bush and many other Republicans. But their hand may be forced, some experts say, if rising deficits fuel worries about inflation. That could scare the bond market and foreign investors into demanding higher interest rates. (Foreign investors now buy a large percentage of federal debt.) So far, rising deficits haven't pushed long-term interest rates up. But already, there are signs that Congress is taking a harder look at ways to scale back deficits. In the Senate, Democrats joined moderate Republicans last week in creating some hurdles for making Bush's tax cuts permanent, and pared back 2005 spending from Bush requests. The House, now considering Bush's budget, is more closely aligned with the president for making tax cuts permanent."

"The president has 'not done a good job' in restraining spending, says Beryl Sprinkel, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers under former President Reagan. 'I'm disappointed.'"


Geraldine Sealey

Geraldine Sealey is senior news editor at Salon.com.

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