Sunday, August 21, 2005

Able Danger and Richard Clarke

If you read the papers or watch TV , you’ve probably heard that an Army Intelligence unit called Able Danger (may have) identified four of the 9/11 hijackers as much as a year before they struck – but was unable to pass the information on to the FBI because Pentagon lawyers said it would be a “no-no”….but shouldn’t Richard Clarke have known about it ?

Richard Clarke was President Clinton’s Counter-terrorism Director- but I suspect he was kept “out of the loop” as far as any real or valuable intelligence was concerned. I believe, had he known about Able Danger,it would have been prominently featured in his book “ Against All Enemies”.

General Hugh Shelton , then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff , is quoted by former CENTCOM Commander Tommy Franks as saying : “ Clarke’s been over at the National Security Council so long that he thinks he owns Counter Terrorism- and knows more about the subject than anybody in government. He likes to talk,drops a lot of names,and thinks highly of himself-but in many ways,he’s not very practical. Be careful in dealing with him. “

Tommy Franks had a number of meetings with Clarke, and found “his information was recent, but predictably imprecise.” Franks notes Clarke “ was better at identifying a problem than at finding a workable solution.”

Franks and Clarke had one final conference , in January, 2001, in which Clarke described progress in the Predator Drone plan. Franks concludes:
“ I never received a single operational reccomendation,or a page of actionable intelligence from Richard Clarke.”

nb: Source of preceeding 3 paragraphs was “American Soldier” by Ret. General Tommy Franks.

I think there is a very good reason for that.

I suspect the heads of the FBI and the CIA fawned on him , and whispered sweet nothings in his ear. He was allowed to see the Predator drone, and to call for bombing raids on Taliban training camps in Afghanistan .

The CIA even told the Secret Service there was an al-Qaeda contract on his head,so he could get to carry a Secret Service- issued pistol in a shoulder holster : heady stuff for a careeer civil servant.

Both agencies were more concerned with their budgets than with Counter Terrorism – and everything Clarke proposed cost money they didn’t want to spend.

The CIA had a grand total of THREE people assigned to keeping track of al-Qaeda , didn’t want to assign anyone else, and didn’t want anyone to know they had unilaterally disregarded Presidential directives.

The FBI had an old grudge against Clarke : His counter-terror planning group totally trashed the Bureau’s carelessly drawn up security plan for the Olympics in Atlanta -–in front of the National Security Council.

The FBI did have a working counterterror program, but it was essentially in-looking : designed for the detection of easy-to-track American citizens.

Tracking al-Qaeda would have required the employment of translators-proficient in Arabic, Hindi, Pushto, Urdu , and other “third world languages”-
because the FBI had an enormous backlog of phone intercept tapes it didn’t want to be bothered with – unless special additional funding was granted.

(As an aside, the FBI has received huge additional sums …and the backlog of untranslated tapes continues to increase !)

It was a lot easier , and more cost-effective –(from a bureaucratic standpoint) - to pat Clarke on the back and inundate him with outdated information ; and I suspect that is exactly what they did.

( Tommy Franks noted, when missile strikes against bin Laden were considered, Clarke was unable to provide targeting data that was less than a week old.)

I also suspect, when the Bush administration took office, the Military, the FBI,and the CIA all conveyed their opinion – with grimaces and eye-rolling –that Clarke was a loose cannon,who suffered from an obsession over al-Qaeda ; and I’m sure at least one of these agencies suggested he be “taken in hand” before he did something embarassing.

It was a hell of a way to treat a man who served over 30 years with the government , and who proved his worth a dozen times over during the darkest hours of 9/11 ; but he is hardly the first person to have been gulled
and gutted by unaccountable government agencies – and I doubt he will be the last.

NOTE: Since I posted this, additional information-in the form of an interview Clarke gave The Washington Times in 2002- has reached my attention.

It that time, if I'm not mistaken, Clarke believed he was going to be promoted to Director of Homeland Security,and he was not the least bit critical-in this interview-of the Bush administration.

Let's go to the interview:


Excerpts from the August 2002 press briefing by Richard A. Clarke:

RICHARD CLARKE: There was no plan on al Qaeda that was passed from the Clinton administration to the Bush administration ... In January 2001, the incoming Bush administration was briefed on the existing strategy. [They] decided to ... vigorously pursue the existing policy [and] ... initiate a process to look at those issues which had been on the table for a couple of years.
In their first meeting [the principles] changed the strategy by authorizing the increase in funding [for covert action against al Qaeda] five-fold, changing the policy on Pakistan, changing the policy on Uzbekistan, changing the policy on the Northern Alliance assistance. [They] then changed the strategy from one of rollback with al Qaeda ... to a new strategy that called for the rapid elimination of al Qaeda.
QUESTION: What is your response to the suggestion in the [Aug. 12, 2002] Time [magazine] article that the Bush administration was unwilling to take on board the suggestions made in the Clinton administration because of animus against ... the foreign policy?
CLARKE: I think if there was a general animus that clouded their vision, they might not have kept the same guy dealing with [the] terrorism issue ... There was never a plan [in the Clinton administration].
QUESTION: What was the problem? Why was it so difficult for the Clinton administration to make decisions on those issues?
CLARKE: Because they were tough issues. One of the big problems was that Pakistan at the time was aiding the other side, was aiding the Taliban. In the spring [of 2001], the Bush administration ... began to change Pakistani policy. We began to offer carrots, which made it possible for the Pakistanis ... [to] join us and to break away from the Taliban. So that's really how it started.
QUESTION: Had the Clinton administration ... prepared for a call for the use of ground forces, special operations forces in any way?
CLARKE: There was never a plan in the Clinton administration to use ground forces. The military was asked at a couple of points ... to think about it. And they always came back and said it was not a good idea. There was never a plan to do that.
QUESTION: You're saying ... there was no plan; two, there was no delay; and that actually the first changes since October of '98 were made in the spring months just after the administration came into office?
CLARKE: You got it ...The other thing to bear in mind is the shift from the rollback strategy to the elimination strategy. When President Bush told us in March to stop swatting at flies and just solve this problem, then that was the strategic direction that changed the [policy] from one of rollback to one of elimination.


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