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March 24, 2004

What did you do before the war on terrorism, Mr Bush?

One of the greatest body blows to the Bush administration from the 9/11 hearings and Dick Clark's revelations has been the comparison between the Clinton and Bush approaches to handling terrorism before the two towers fell.

George Tenet gave gripping testimony in the hearings today -- so gripping that it completely diverted my attention from the dentist who was drilling holes in two of my teeth at the time. He described, in 10 very clear points, how the Clinton administration had dealt blows to al-Qaida in the years leading up to 9/11. I wish I could find the transcript, but alas, I could not. But Dick Clark gives an abbreviated summary on the same topic in this Salon interview (with free access to non-subscribers graciously provided):

The Clinton administration stopped Iraqi terrorism against the United States, through military intervention. It stopped Iranian terrorism against the United States, through covert action. It stopped the al-Qaida attempt to have a dominant influence in Bosnia. It stopped the terrorist attacks at the millennium. It stopped many other terrorist attacks, including on the U.S. embassy in Albania. And it began a lethal covert action program against al-Qaida; it also launched military strikes against al-Qaida.

One of those military strikes was a direct missile attack launched against OBL based on credible intelligence (it missed him by several hours, but killed 20-30 lieutenants). But because this occurred during the Lewinsky scandal and its aftermath, it was widely derided as a "wag-the-dog" incident. Some apologies are due, I think.

On the other hand, Clark describes the Bush administration's attitude in the first 9 months of office like this:

[The Bush Administration] had a preconceived set of national security priorities: Star Wars, Iraq, Russia. And they were not going to change those preconceived notions based on people from the Clinton administration telling them that was the wrong set of priorities ... Prior to 9/11, the Bush administration didn't have an approach to terrorism. They'd never gotten around to creating an administration policy. It was in the process of doing so, but it hadn't achieved that. And it was clear that the national security advisor didn't like this kind of issue; she didn't have meetings on this issue. The president didn't have meetings on the issue of terrorism.

This claim hits fundamentally at Bush's main reason for re-election. And so, of course, the attack dogs are in force. But since they can't attack the substantive claims, they're focussing on the details (many of which are rebutted here), and on the credibility of Clark himself. But as a 30-year veteran, and a Republican, this is one credible guy.

This is the issue that could -- if sustained until November -- cripple Bush. is even seeking donations to fund a TV commercial on the issue. (I've included their solicitation email, which includes some forceful arguments, below.) Let's hope this isn't all forgotten in two weeks.

Email from

Dear MoveOn member,

As you may have heard, Richard Clarke, a former counter-terrorism advisor to Bush, and a registered Republican who has worked in every administration since Reagan, has exposed Bush's mishandling of 9/11 and the war on Iraq.(1) In his book "Against All Enemies," Clarke does an amazing job of presenting the facts and connecting the dots. Instead of refuting Clarke's claims, the Bush Administration has launched a campaign of character assassination, hoping that the story will just go away.(2)

We're committed to stopping that from happening by making sure that the American public hears Clarke's extraordinary comments. If we can raise $300,000 in the next few days, we can run a hard-hitting ad nationally that highlights his message. You can see a rough story board of the ad and donate to get it on the air at:

When the World Trade Center was hit on the morning of 9/11, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice dubbed Richard Clarke, the administration's top counter-terrorism official, "crisis manager."(3) As the White House, which was thought to be the next target, was evacuated, Clarke heroically stayed on, coordinating the government's response from the Situation Room in the West Wing.(4)

Clarke is viewed by colleagues as a hawk, a "true believer" who doesn't play partisan politics.(5) So the shocking facts he revealed about the Bush administration's approach to terrorism before 9/11 and its response after must be taken seriously. On Sunday, Clarke told reporters that the President and Defense Secretary downgraded counter-terrorism and ignored repeated warnings about an al Qaeda attack prior to 9/11. And, perhaps even more explosive, Clarke revealed that President Bush and senior administration officials wanted to bomb Iraq after 9/11 even though they knew that it had no connection to al Qaeda, and that al Qaeda was responsible for the attacks.(6)

Already, the White House spin machine is in overdrive. Since they can't rebut Clarke's facts -- which independent witnesses have confirmed(7) -- they're trying to paint him as an angry partisan, even though he's a Republican. But Clarke's words remain a searing indictment of the Bush Administration's campaign against terrorism. Together, if we act today, we can beat back the spin by widely airing a TV ad which gets these uniquely credible comments directly to TV viewers.

You can view a story board of the ad and help us get it on the air now at:

In his own words, here are some of Clarke's revelations:

* Clarke repeatedly warned the Bush Administration about attacks from al Qaeda, starting in the first days of Bush's term. "But on January 24th, 2001, I wrote a memo to Condoleezza Rice asking for, urgently -- underlined urgently -- a Cabinet-level meeting to deal with the impending al Qaeda attack. And that urgent memo-- wasn't acted on."(8) According to another Bush administration security official, Clarke "was the guy pushing hardest, saying again and again that something big was going to happen, including possibly here in the U.S." The official added that Clarke was likely sidelined because he had served in the previous (Clinton) administration.(9)

* In face-to-face meetings, CIA Director George Tenet warned President Bush repeatedly in the months before 9/11 that an attack was coming. According to Clarke, Tenet told the President that "A major al-Qaeda attack is going to happen against the United States somewhere in the world in the weeks and months ahead."(10)

* On September 12, 2001, Donald Rumsfeld pushed to bomb Iraq even though they knew that al Qaeda was in Afghanistan. "Rumsfeld was saying that we needed to bomb Iraq," Clarke said. "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.'"(11)

* Also on September 12, 2001, President Bush personally pushed Clarke to find evidence that Iraq was behind the attacks. From the New York Times: "'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."(12)

* The Bush Administration knew from the beginning that there was no connection between Iraq and 9/11, but created the misperception in order to push their policy goals. "[Rumsfeld, Cheney and Bush] did know better. They did know better. They did know better. We told them, the CIA told them, the FBI told them. They did know better. And the tragedy here is that Americans went to their death in Iraq thinking that they were avenging September 11th, when Iraq had nothing to do with September 11th. I think for a commander-in-chief and a vice president to allow that to happen is unconscionable."(13)

* The war on Iraq has increased the danger of terrorism. In his book, he writes that shifting from al Qaeda to Iraq "launched an unnecessary and costly war in Iraq that strengthened the fundamentalist, radical Islamic terrorist movement worldwide."(14)

It's been well reported that President Bush intends to run on his record as a wartime President. Clarke's revelations show how deeply flawed that record is. But if we don't act fast, the public may not have a chance to evaluate the facts for themselves -- the story could go away quickly. With an ad, we can take Clarke's comments directly to the public. Can you help? Check out the script and donate whatever you can to get this story out there at:

(By the way, if we're unable to use your contribution for the ad you specify, either because of oversubscription or for another unforeseen reason, it is our policy to use your contribution for other advertising, public relations, and advocacy activities.)

Richard Clarke had an intimate view -- perhaps the best view -- of how the Bush Administration responded to terrorism. So we should all listen carefully when he says: "Frankly, 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 the way he has responded to al-Qaeda, both before 9/11 by doing nothing, and by what he's done after 9/11 has made us less safe, absolutely. I think he's done a terrible job on the war against terrorism."(15)

Together, we can make sure every American knows what President Bush's true record on terrorism really is.

--Adam, Carrie, Eli, James, Joan, Laura, and Wes
The MoveOn PAC Team
March 24th, 2004

P.S. Salon has recently published a new interview with Clarke. You can read it at:

P.P.S. As the Administration strikes back, our friends at the Center for American Progress have put together an excellent rebuttal to their claims. Here's an example:

CLAIM #1: "Richard Clarke had plenty of opportunities to tell us in the administration that he thought the war on terrorism was moving in the wrong direction and he chose not to." -- National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, 3/22/04

FACT: Clarke sent a memo to Rice principals on 1/24/01 marked "urgent" asking for a Cabinet-level meeting to deal with an impending Al Qaeda attack. The White House acknowledges this, but says "principals did not need to have a formal meeting to discuss the threat." No meeting occurred until one week before 9/11. -- White House Press Release, 3/21/04

For the whole document, go to:


1. "Dissent from within on Iraq war," Philadelphia Inquirer, 3/24/04

2. "Bush Aides Blast Ex-Terror Chief," CBS News, 3/22/04

3. "The book on Richard Clarke," Washington Post, 3/23/04

4. "Clarke's Take On Terror," CBS, 3/21/04

5. See 3, above.

6. "60 Minutes" interview; see 4, above.

7. "Ex-Bush Aide Sets Off Debate as 9/11 Hearing Opens," New York Times, 3/23/04

8. "60 Minutes" interview; see 4, above.

9. See 7, above.

10. "60 Minutes" interview; see 4, above.

11. "Sept. 11: Before And After," CBS News, 3/20/04

12. "Excerpts from 'Against All Enemies: Inside America's War on Terror' by Richard A. Clarke," posted on, 3/23/04

13. "60 Minutes" interview; see 4, above.

14. "Memoir Criticizes Bush 9/11 Response," Washington Post, 3/22/04

15. "60 Minutes" interview; see 4, above.

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