Various media outlets are reporting that yesterday Condoleezza Rice accused Bill Clinton of making “flatly false” claims that the Bush administration “did not try” to kill Osama bin Laden and stop terrorism during the eight months they controlled the White House before the Sept. 11 attacks.
“What we did in the eight months was at least as aggressive as what the Clinton administration did in the preceding years,” Rice says.
Really? Well, according to a report from the Washington Post dated January 20, 2002, the Bush plan in the eight months leading up to 9/11 was “mostly ambition.”
The article details how the Bush administration held back for three months on a plan approved by the CIA to kill bin Laden with a new Predator drone that could kill with deadly accuracy flying two miles high and four miles away.
The article details how the Bush administration, far from being as aggressive as the Clinton administration, actually scaled back operations to kill bin Laden and cripple Al Qaeda:
- The administration did not resume its predecessor’s covert deployment of cruise missile submarines and gunships, on six-hour alert near Afghanistan’s borders. The standby force gave Clinton the option, never used, of an immediate strike against targets in al Qaeda’s top leadership. The Bush administration put no such capability in place before Sept. 11.
- At least twice, Bush conveyed the message to the Taliban that the United States would hold the regime responsible for an al Qaeda attack. But after concluding that bin Laden’s group had carried out the October 2000 attack on the USS Cole – a conclusion stated without hedge in a Feb. 9 briefing for Vice President Cheney – the new administration did not choose to order armed forces into action.
- In the spring, CIA officers traveled into northern Afghanistan to assess rebel forces commanded by Ahmed Shah Massoud. They found him worse than he had appeared the autumn before. The agency gave Massoud cash and supplies in small amounts in exchange for intelligence on al Qaeda but did not have the authority to build back his fighting strength against the Taliban.
- In his first budget, Bush spent $13.6 billion on counterterrorist programs across 40 departments and agencies. There were also somewhat higher gaps this year, however, between what military commanders said they needed to combat terrorists and what they got. When the Senate Armed Services Committee tried to fill those gaps with $600 million diverted from ballistic missile defense, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said he would recommend a veto. That threat came Sept. 9.
- On May 8, Bush announced a new Office of National Preparedness for terrorism at the Federal Emergency Management Agency. At the same time, he proposed to cut FEMA’s budget by $200 million. Bush said that day that Cheney would direct a government-wide review on managing the consequences of a domestic attack, and “I will periodically chair a meeting of the National Security Council to review these efforts.” Neither Cheney’s review nor Bush’s took place.
- Bush did not speak again publicly of the dangers of terrorism before Sept. 11, except to promote a missile shield that had been his top military priority from the start. At least three times he mentioned “terrorist threats that face us” to explain the need to discard the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.
- The Treasury Department created a new deputy assistant secretary’s post last summer to coordinate anti-terrorist efforts among its five enforcement arms, and it took the first steps toward hosting a Foreign Terrorist Assets Tracking Center. It also spent months fending off the new laws and old global institutions that are central to the war against al Qaeda’s financing. Unresolved interagency disputes left the administration without a position on legislative initiatives to combat money laundering. And until the summer, Treasury Secretary Paul H. O’Neill suspended U.S. participation in allied efforts to penetrate offshore banking havens, whose secrecy protects the cash flows of drug traffickers, tax evaders and terrorists.
The Post article explains that the new national security team were waiting results of a broad policy review toward the al Qaeda network and Afghanistan’s Taliban regime, still underway in a working group two and three levels below the president. Bush and his top aides had higher priorities – above all, ballistic missile defense.
Continuing from Condi Rice’s statements this week, she claims, “we were not left a comprehensive strategy to fight al Qaeda.” Again I ask, really?
Turn the clock back to Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2001, when two former senators, the bipartisan co-chairs of a Defense Department-chartered commission on national security, spoke with something between frustration and regret about how White House officials failed to embrace any of the recommendations to prevent acts of domestic terrorism delivered earlier that year.
From Salon.com, the bipartisan 14-member panel was put together in 1998 by then-President Bill Clinton and then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., to make sweeping strategic recommendations on how the United States could ensure its security in the 21st century.
In its Jan. 31, 2001 report, seven Democrats and seven Republicans unanimously approved 50 recommendations. Many of them addressed the point that, in the words of the commission’s executive summary, “the combination of unconventional weapons proliferation with the persistence of international terrorism will end the relative invulnerability of the U.S. homeland to catastrophic attack.”
But Bush administration officials told former Sens. Gary Hart, D-Colo., and Warren Rudman, R-N.H., that they preferred instead to put aside the recommendations issued in the January report by the U.S. Commission on National Security/21st Century. Instead, the White House announced in May that it would have Vice President Dick Cheney study the potential problem of domestic terrorism — which the bipartisan group had already spent two and a half years studying — while assigning responsibility for dealing with the issue to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, headed by former Bush campaign manager Joe Allbaugh.
The Hart-Rudman Commission had specifically recommended that the issue of terrorism was such a threat it needed far more than FEMA’s attention.
And where is that plan? Who has seen it? Why, it’s right here.