Ex-Bush Aide Sets Off Debate as 9/11 Hearing Opens



                                 "Against All Enemies: Inside America's War on Terror
Published: March 23, 2004

As the White House opened an aggressive personal attack against its former counterterrorism chief, Richard A. Clarke, a furious debate broke out on Monday about the credibility of his assertion that President Bush pushed him the day after the Sept. 11 attacks to see if there was a link with Saddam Hussein.

The White House dismissed the accusations, described in a new book by Mr. Clarke, by casting him as a disgruntled, politically motivated job seeker and a "best buddy" of a top adviser to Senator John Kerry. But Mr. Clarke defended his account, and several allies rallied to his defense.

One ally, Mr. Clarke's former deputy, Roger Cressey, backed the thrust of one of the most incendiary accusations in the book, about a conversation that Mr. Clarke said he had with Mr. Bush in the White House Situation Room on the night of Sept. 12, 2001. Mr. Clarke said Mr. Bush pressed him three times to find evidence that Iraq was behind the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The accusation is explosive because no such link has ever been proved.

"I want you, as soon as you can, to go back over everything, everything," Mr. Clarke writes that Mr. Bush told him. "See if Saddam did this. See if he's linked in any way."

When Mr. Clarke protested that the culprit was Al Qaeda, not Iraq, Mr. Bush testily ordered him, he writes, to "look into Iraq, Saddam," and then left the room.

Scott McClellan, the White House press secretary, responded at a White House briefing on Monday that Mr. Bush did not remember having the conversation, and that there were no records that placed the president in the Situation Room at the time.

Mr. Clarke countered in a telephone interview on Monday that he had four witnesses, including Mr. Cressey, who is a partner with Mr. Clarke in a consulting company that advises on cybersecurity issues. In an interview, Mr. Cressey said the national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, also witnessed the exchange. Administration officials said Ms. Rice had no recollection of it.

Mr. Cressey cast Mr. Bush's instructions to Mr. Clarke less as an order to come up with a link between Mr. Hussein and Sept. 11, and more as a request to "take a look at all options, including Iraq." He backed off Mr. Clarke's suggestion that the president's tone was intimidating. "I'm not going to get into that," Mr. Cressey said. "That is Dick's characterization."

Mr. Clarke's book, "Against All Enemies: Inside America's War on Terror," also asserts that the administration did not heed warnings about the Sept. 11 attacks, and then neglected the threat of Al Qaeda as it turned its attention to Saddam Hussein.

Another ally of Mr. Clarke, Thomas R. Maertens, confirmed the outlines of Mr. Clarke's critique of the White House. Mr. Maertens, who served as National Security Council director for nuclear nonproliferation on both the Clinton and Bush White House staffs, said that Mr. Clarke had repeatedly tried to warn senior officials in the Bush administration about the growing threat of Al Qaeda.

"He was the guy pushing hardest, saying again and again that something big was going to happen, including possibly here in the U.S.," Mr. Maertens said Monday from his home in Minnesota. But Mr. Maertens said that the Bush White House was reluctant to believe a holdover from the previous administration.

"They really believed their campaign rhetoric about the Clinton administration," Mr. Maertens said. "So anything they did was bad, and the Bushies were not going to repeat it. And it's disgusting to see the administration now putting a full-court smear on Clarke ? for being right."

Mr. Clarke also charges in his book that Mr. Bush waged "an unnecessary and costly war in Iraq" that strengthened Islamic terrorist movements around the world, and has left the nation more vulnerable to future attacks.

His book is the first by a former administration member to challenge the president directly on what Mr. Bush considers his greatest electoral strength, national security. It is arriving in book stores not only during a presidential campaign, but in the same week that Mr. Clarke and Clinton and Bush administration officials are to publicly testify before the independent commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks.

Mr. Clarke said last week that he was prepared to testify that Clinton administration officials repeatedly warned members of the incoming Bush administration in late 2000 about the threat posed by Al Qaeda.

In the hearings, which begin on Wednesday, the panel will call as witnesses four high-ranking officials from the Bush and Clinton administrations: Secretary of State Colin L. Powell; his predecessor, Madeleine K. Albright; Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld; and his predecessor, William S. Cohen.

The angry White House response to Mr. Clarke, which was authorized by Mr. Bush, reflects the administration's fears over the book's potential political damage. In a daylong assault on Monday, administration officials portrayed Mr. Clarke, a secretive, combative terrorism expert who spent more than three decades working in the Reagan, Clinton and both Bush administrations, as a bitter former employee who had been denied the No. 2 position in the Department of Homeland Security and who was now trying to help the Kerry campaign.

Vice President Dick Cheney, in an interview on Rush Limbaugh's radio program, noted that Mr. Clarke was in charge of counterterrorism at the time of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and the 2000 attack on the American destroyer Cole, and "I didn't notice that they had any great success dealing with the terrorist threat."

Mr. McClellan told reporters: "He conveniently writes a book and releases it in the heat of a presidential campaign. We know that his best buddy is Senator Kerry's principal foreign policy adviser." Mr. McClellan was referring to Rand Beers, Mr. Kerry's chief foreign policy adviser.

Clearly, Mr. McClellan said, "this is more about politics and a book promotion than it is about policy."

Mr. Clarke fired back that the White House attacks were an effort to divert attention from the substantive information in his book, including his impression that Ms. Rice, as the new national security adviser in early 2001, had not heard of Al Qaeda. (Administration officials disputed the claim about Ms. Rice.)

"This is the way the Bush administration deals with people, with ad hominem attacks, and trying to suppress the truth," Mr. Clarke said by telephone from New York. He added that he had been friends for 25 years with Mr. Beers, "and I'm not going to run away from him just because he's John Kerry's national security adviser."

Administration officials said Mr. Clarke, who was on Ms. Rice's staff, was kept on after the Clinton administration because she wanted to maintain continuity in counterterrorism policy.

Mr. Clarke, they said, proved to be almost obsessive ? a description he applies to himself in the book ? about attacking Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden and impatient that many of his ideas, like forging a closer alliance with the Northern Alliance, the Taliban resistance in Afghanistan, were not adopted.

But administration officials said that throughout his tenure in the Bush administration, Mr. Clarke appeared to be generally supportive of the president's policies, and never brought to Ms. Rice a broad critique of either the administration's approach to terrorism or its plan for invading Iraq.

Sean McCormack, Ms. Rice's spokesman, said that Mr. Clarke ate lunch with Ms. Rice in her West Wing office after he had left the administration, a month or two before the attack on Iraq, and gave none of the warnings he gave in the book.

In addition to Mr. Cressey, at least two other former officials with knowledge of what occurred in the Situation Room that day also backed up the thrust of Mr. Clarke's account, though one of the two challenged Mr. Clarke's assertion that Mr. Bush's demeanor and that of other senior White House officials was intimidating.

Elisabeth Bumiller reported from Washington for this article and Judith Miller from New York. Richard W. Stevenson contributed reporting from Washington.


Excerpts from "Against All Enemies: Inside America's War on Terror" by Richard A. Clarke


Published: March 23, 2004

Following are excerpts from "Against All Enemies: Inside America's War on Terror" by Richard A. Clarke:

On Preparing for Other Attacks

  I expected to go back to a round of meetings examining what the next attacks could be, what our vulnerabilities were, what we could do about them in the short term. Instead, I walked into a series of discussions about Iraq. At first I was incredulous that we were talking about something other than getting Al Qaeda. Then I realized with almost a sharp physical pain that Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz were going to try to take advantage of this national tragedy to promote their agenda about Iraq. Since the beginning of the administration, indeed well before, they had been pressing for a war with Iraq. My friends in the Pentagon had been telling me that the word was we would be invading Iraq sometime in 2002.

  On the morning of the 12th D.O.D.'s focus was already beginning to shift from Al Qaeda. C.I.A. was explicit now that Al Qaeda was guilty of the attacks, but Paul Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld's deputy, was not persuaded. It was too sophisticated and complicated an operation, he said, for a terrorist group to have pulled off by itself, without a state sponsor ? Iraq must have been helping them.

On Links to Saddam Hussein

  Later, on the evening of the 12th, I left the video conferencing center and there, wandering alone around the situation room, was the president. He looked like he wanted something to do. He grabbed a few of us and closed the door to the conference room. "Look," he told us, "I know you have a lot to do and all . . . but I want you, as soon as you can, to go back over everything, everything. See if Saddam did this. See if he's linked in any way."

  I was once again taken aback, incredulous, and it showed. "But, Mr. President, Al Qaeda did this."

  "I know, I know, but ? see if Saddam was involved. Just look. I want to know any shred??"

  "Absolutely, we will look ? again.` I was trying to be more respectful, more responsive. `But you know, we have looked several times for state sponsorship of Al Qaeda and not found any real linkages to Iraq. Iran plays a little, as does Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia, Yemen.`

  "Look into Iraq, Saddam," the president said testily and left us.

On Condoleezza Rice

  As I briefed Rice on Al Qaeda, her facial expression gave me the impression that she had never heard of the term before, so I added, "Most people think of it as Osama bin Laden's group, but it's much more than that. It's a network of affiliated terrorist organizations with cells in over 50 countries, including the U.S."

  Rice looked skeptical. She focused on the fact that my office staff was large by N.S.C. standards (12 people) and did operational things, including domestic security issues. She said, "The N.S.C. looks just as it did when I worked here a few years ago, except for your operation. It's all new. It does domestic things, and it is not just doing policy. . . . I'm not sure we want to keep all of this in the N.S.C."