March 20, 2004

"Until 9/11, counterterrorism was a very secondary issue at the Bush White House," said a senior Clinton official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

"Out, out damn spot!"

Phillip Shenon, New York Times: Senior Clinton
administration officials called to testify next week
before the independent commission investigating the
Sept. 11 attacks say they are prepared to detail how
they repeatedly warned their Bush administration
counterparts in late 2000 that Al Qaeda posed the
worst security threat facing the nation and how the
new administration was slow to act. "Until 9/11, counterterrorism was a very secondary issue at the Bush White House," said a senior Clinton official, speaking on condition of anonymity. "Remember those
first months? The White House was focused on tax cuts,
not terrorism. We saw the budgets for counterterrorism
programs being cut."

Repudiate the 9/11 Cover-Up and the Iraq War Lies,
Show Up for Democracy in 2004: Defeat Bush (again!)


http://www.nytimes.com/2004/03/20/politics/20PANE.html?ei=1&en=1ec310ccde3a774f&ex=1080795019&pagewanted=print&position=


--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

March 20, 2004
Clinton Aides Plan to Tell Panel of Warning Bush Team
on Qaeda
By PHILIP SHENON

WASHINGTON, March 19 Senior Clinton administration
officials called to testify next week before the
independent commission investigating the Sept. 11
attacks say they are prepared to detail how they
repeatedly warned their Bush administration
counterparts in late 2000 that Al Qaeda posed the
worst security threat facing the nation and how the
new administration was slow to act.

They said the warnings were delivered in urgent
post-election intelligence briefings in December 2000
and January 2001 for Condoleezza Rice, who became Mr.
Bush's national security adviser; Stephen Hadley, now
Ms. Rice's deputy; and Philip D. Zelikow, a member of
the Bush transition team, among others.

One official scheduled to testify, Richard A. Clarke,
who was President Bill Clinton's counterterrorism
coordinator, said in an interview that the warning
about the Qaeda threat could not have been made more
bluntly to the incoming Bush officials in intelligence
briefings that he led.

At the time of the briefings, there was extensive
evidence tying Al Qaeda to the bombing in Yemen two
months earlier of an American warship, the Cole, in
which 17 sailors were killed.

"It was very explicit," Mr. Clarke said of the warning
given to the Bush administration officials. "Rice was
briefed, and Hadley was briefed, and Zelikow sat in."
Mr. Clarke served as Mr. Bush's counterterrorism chief
in the early months of the administration, but after
Sept. 11 was given a more limited portfolio as the
president's cyberterrorism adviser.

The sworn testimony from the high-ranking Clinton
administration officials including Secretary of
State Madeleine K. Albright, Defense Secretary William
S. Cohen and Samuel R. Berger, Mr. Clinton's national
security adviser is scheduled for Tuesday and
Wednesday.

They are expected to testify along with Secretary of
State Colin L. Powell and Defense Secretary Donald H.
Rumsfeld, who will answer for the Bush administration,
as well as George J. Tenet, director of central
intelligence in both administrations.

While Clinton officials have offered similar accounts
in the past, a new public review of how they warned
Mr. Bush's aides about the need to deal quickly with
the Qaeda threat could prove awkward to the White
House, especially in the midst of a presidential
campaign. But given the witnesses' prominence in the
Clinton administration, supporters of Mr. Bush may see
political motives in the testimony of some of them.

The testimony could also prove uncomfortable for the
commission, since Mr. Zelikow is now the executive
director of the bipartisan panel. And the Clinton
administration officials can expect to come under
tough questioning about their own performance in
office and why they did not do more to respond to the
terrorist threat in the late 1990's.

The White House does not dispute that intelligence
briefings about the Qaeda threat occurred during the
transition, and the commission has received extensive
notes and other documentation from the White House and
Clinton administration officials about what was
discussed.

What is at issue, Clinton administration officials
say, is whether their Bush administration counterparts
acted on the warnings, and how quickly. The Clinton
administration witnesses say they will offer details
of the policy recommendations they made to the
incoming Bush aides, but they would not discuss those
details before the hearing.

"Until 9/11, counterterrorism was a very secondary
issue at the Bush White House," said a senior Clinton
official, speaking on condition of anonymity.
"Remember those first months? The White House was
focused on tax cuts, not terrorism. We saw the budgets
for counterterrorism programs being cut."

The White House rejects any suggestion that it failed
to act on the threats of Qaeda terrorism before the
Sept. 11 attacks.

"The president and his team received briefings on the
threat from Al Qaeda prior to taking office, and
fighting terrorism became a top priority when this
administration came into office," Sean McCormack, a
White House spokesman, said. "We actively pursued the
Clinton administration's policies on Al Qaeda until we
could get into place a more comprehensive policy."

Mr. Zelikow, the director of the Miller Center of
Public Affairs at the University of Virginia and a
co-author of a 1995 book with Ms. Rice, has been the
target of repeated criticism from some relatives of
Sept. 11 victims. They have said his membership on the
Bush transition team and his ties to Ms. Rice pose a
serious conflict of interest for the commission, which
is investigating intelligence and law-enforcement
actions before the attacks.

Mr. Clarke said if Mr. Zelikow left any of the White
House intelligence briefings in December 2000 and
January 2001 without understanding the imminent threat
posed by Al Qaeda, "he was deaf."

Mr. Zelikow said in an interview that he has recused
himself from any part of the investigation that
involves the transition, to avoid the appearance of a
conflict of interest. He said his participation in the
Qaeda intelligence briefings was already well known.
"The fact of what occurred in these briefings is not
really disputed," he said.

Ms. Rice has refused a request to testify at the
hearings next week, saying it would violate White
House precedent for an incumbent national security
adviser to appear in public at a hearing of what the
White House considers a legislative body. She has
given a private interview to several members of the
commission.

The commission, known formally as the National
Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United
States, was created by Congress in 2002 over the
initial objections of the Bush administration.

Ms. Albright and Mr. Cohen declined to be interviewed
about their testimony. Mr. Berger refused to discuss
details of his testimony, saying only, "I intend to
talk about what we did in the Clinton administration,
as well as my recommendations for the future."

In the past, Mr. Berger has said that he and his staff
organized the intelligence briefings in December 2000
at which Ms. Rice, Mr. Hadley and Mr. Zelikow were
warned in detail about the Qaeda threat and that on
his departure, he advised Ms. Rice that he believed
the Bush administration would be forced to spend more
time on dealing with Al Qaeda than on any other
subject.

In his testimony, Mr. Clarke is also expected to
discuss what he believed to be the Bush
administration's determination to punish Saddam
Hussein for the Sept. 11 attacks even though there was
no evidence to tie the Iraqi president to Al Qaeda.

The issue is addressed in a new book by Mr. Clarke,
and in an interview to promote the book on "60
Minutes" on CBS-TV scheduled for Sunday, Mr. Clarke
said that the White House considered bombing Iraq in
the hours after the Sept. 11 attacks, even when it
became clear that Al Qaeda was responsible.

"I think they wanted to believe there was a
connection, but the C.I.A. was sitting there, the
F.B.I. was sitting there, saying, `We've looked at
this issue for years for years, we've looked, and
there's just no connection,' " Mr. Clarke said. He
recalled telling Defense Secretary Rumsfeld that
"there are a lot of good targets in a lot of places,
but Iraq had nothing to do" with the Sept. 11 attacks.

The White House has insisted that it acted
aggressively throughout 2001 on the warnings to deal
with the threat from Qaeda terrorists, and that there
was an exhaustive staff review throughout the spring
and summer, with a proposal ready for President Bush
in early September to step up the government's efforts
to destroy the terrorist network.

The Clinton administration witnesses may face
difficult questions at the hearings about why they did
not do more to deal with Qaeda immediately after the
Cole attack and the discovery the previous winter that
Qaeda terrorists had come close to coordinated attacks
timed to the Dec. 31, 1999, festivities for the new
millennium.

"There was no contemplation of any military action
after the millennium plots, and there should have
been," said Bob Kerrey, a Democratic member of the
commission and a former senator from Nebraska.

"The Cole is even worse, because that was an attack on
a military target," he said. "It was military against
military. It was an Islamic army against our Navy.
Just because you don't have a nation-state as your
adversary doesn't mean you should not consider a
declaration of war."

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Posted by richard at March 20, 2004 09:29 AM