Return to Transcripts main page
CNN BREAKING NEWS
Richard Clarke Testifies Before 9/11 Commission
Aired March 24, 2004 - 13:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Well, as we mentioned, some of the most anticipated testimony during the two-day 9/11 hearings is about to begin. Live picture now, as former Counterterrorism Chief Richard Clarke is to face the panel.
CNN national security correspondent David Ensor joins us now live from Washington with a preview. Dave, maybe while we wait for him to take the mic, we can talk about what has happened so far this morning, and then delve into what we hear from Richard Clarke and of course Richard Armitage also.
DAVID ENSOR, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Yes, let me just tell you, Kyra, that in his prepared testimony, Richard Clarke says that the Bush administration saw terrorism policy as important but not urgent prior to 9/11.
So he'll be echoing some themes we've been hearing from him the last few days, that he doesn't think the Bush administration did nearly enough in his first months in office against al Qaeda. He's very critical also of the Clinton administration.
Now this morning we heard from George Tenet who had yesterday been sort of in the hot seat in the sense that many senior officials have said we would have acted, but we didn't have actionable intelligence. And we heard from George Tenet saying that they did the best they could, that they have to admit they didn't catch the right secret, they didn't recruit the right agent, that there were a lot of systemic problems, communication problems with the FBI and so forth that contributed to that.
But he was basically admitting that although they worked hard and are doing the best they can, they simply could not stop 9/11. And the trick of course is to stop the next one. There was much discussion about how to go about that.
Sandy Berger also defending the Clinton administration, following -- following Tenet saying he -- that contrary to what some officials have told the commission, he does believe the Clinton administration gave the CIA authority to go after Osama bin Laden if it deemed that appropriate -- Kyra.
PHILLIPS: All right, let's listen in, as Richard Clarke gets sworn in.
(JOINED IN PROGRESS)
THOMAS H. KEAN, COMMISSION CHAIRMAN: Thank you very much, sir.
Now, Mr. Clarke, your written remarks will be entered into the record in full. We'd ask you, sort of, to summarize your statement and please proceed.
RICHARD CLARKE, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COUNTERTERRORISM ADVISER: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Because I have submitted a written statement today, and I've previously testified before this commission for 15 hours, and before the Senate-House Joint Inquiry Committee for six hours, I have only a very brief opening statement.
I welcome these hearings because of the opportunity that they provide to the American people to better understand why the tragedy of 9/11 happened and what we must do to prevent a reoccurance.
I also welcome the hearings because it is finally a forum where I can apologize to the loved ones of the victims of 9/11.
To them who are here in the room, to those who are watching on television, your government failed you, those entrusted with protecting you failed you and I failed you. We tried hard, but that doesn't matter because we failed.
And for that failure, I would ask -- once all the facts are out -- for your understanding and for your forgiveness.
With that, Mr. Chairman, I'll be glad to take your questions.
KEAN: The questioning will be led by Senator Gorton.
Are you leading off, or Commissioner Roemer?
SLADE GORTON, 9/11 COMMISSION MEMBER: Tim is.
KEAN: Commissioner Roemer?
TIMOTHY ROEMER, 9/11 COMMISSION MEMBER: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Welcome, Mr. Clarke. I want to thank you, as I start my questions, for your 30 years of public service to the American people. I want to thank you for your sworn testimony before the 9/11 commission: over 15 hours.
And I really want to say, Mr. Clarke, that there are a lot of distractions out there today. The books, a lot of news media, a lot of accusations flying back and forth.
I want you to concentrate, to the degree you can, on the memos, on the e-mail, on the strategy papers and on the time that we're tasked to looking at on this 9/11 commission, between 1998 and September the 11th.
You coordinated counterterrorism policy in both the Clinton and the Bush administrations. I want to know, first of all: Was fighting al Qaeda a top priority for the Clinton administration from 1998 to the year 2001? How high a priority was it in that Clinton administration during that time period?
CLARKE: My impression was that fighting terrorism, in general, and fighting al Qaeda, in particular, were an extraordinarily high priority in the Clinton administration -- certainly no higher priority. There were priorities probably of equal importance such as the Middle East peace process, but I certainly don't know of one that was any higher in the priority of that administration.
ROEMER: With respect to the Bush administration, from the time they took office until September 11th, 2001, you had much to deal with: Russia, China, G-8, Middle East. How high a priority was fighting al Qaeda in the Bush administration?
CLARKE: I believe the Bush administration in the first eight months considered terrorism an important issue, but not an urgent issue.
Well, president Bush himself says as much in his interview with Bob Woodward in the book "Bush at War." He said, "I didn't feel a sense of urgency."
George Tenet and I tried very hard to create a sense of urgency by seeing to it that intelligence reports on the al Qaeda threat were frequently given to the president and other high-level officials. And there was a process under way to address al Qaeda. But although I continued to say it was an urgent problem, I don't think it was ever treated that way.
ROEMER: You have said in many ways -- you've issued some blistering attacks on the Bush administration. But you've not held those criticisms from the Clinton administration, either. We heard from Mr. Berger earlier that you were critical of the Clinton administration on two areas: not providing aid to the Northern Alliance, and not going after the human conveyor belts of jihadists coming out of the sanctuaries in Afghanistan.
Are there more in the Clinton administration years -- the USS Cole, the response there?
CLARKE: Well, I think first of all, Mr. Berger is right to say that almost everything I ever asked for in the way of support from him or from president Clinton, I got. We did enormously increase the counterterrorism budget of the federal government, initiated many programs, including one that is now called Homeland Security.
Mr. Berger is also right to note that I wanted a covert action program to aid Afghan factions to fight the Taliban, and that was not accomplished. He's also right to note that on several occasions, including after the attack on the Cole, I suggested that we bomb all of the Taliban and al Qaeda infrastructure, whether or not it would succeed in killing bin Laden. I thought that was the wrong way of looking at the problem. I think the answer is essentially Mr. Berger got it right.
ROEMER: OK. With my 15 minutes, let's move into the Bush administration.
On January 25th, we've seen a memo that you've written to Dr. Rice urgently asking for a principals' review of al Qaeda. You include helping the Northern Alliance, covert aid, significant new '02 budget authority to help fight al Qaeda and a response to the USS Cole. You attach to this document both the Delenda Plan of 1998 and a strategy paper from December 2000.
Do you get a response to this urgent request for a principals meeting on these? And how does this affect your time frame for dealing with these important issues?
CLARKE: I did get a response, and the response was that in the Bush administration I should, and my committee, counterterrorism security group, should report to the deputies committee, which is a sub-Cabinet level committee, and not to the principals and that, therefore, it was inappropriate for me to be asking for a principals' meeting. Instead, there would be a deputies meeting.
ROEMER: So does this slow the process down to go to the deputies rather than to the principals or a small group as you had previously done?
CLARKE: It slowed it down enormously, by months. First of all, the deputies committee didn't meet urgently in January or February.
Then when the deputies committee did meet, it took the issue of al Qaeda as part of a cluster of policy issues, including nuclear proliferation in South Asia, democratization in Pakistan, how to treat the various problems, including narcotics and other problems in Afghanistan, and launched on a series of deputies meetings extending over several months to address al Qaeda in the context of all of those inter-related issues.
That process probably ended, I think in July of 2001. So we were ready for a principals meeting in July. But the principals calendar was full and then they went on vacation, many of them in August, so we couldn't meet in August, and therefore the principals met in September.
ROEMER: So as the Bush administration is carefully considering from bottom up a full review of fighting terrorism, what happens to these individual items like a response to the USS Cole, flying the Predator? Why aren't these decided in a shorter time frame as they're also going through a larger policy review of how this policy affects Pakistan and other countries -- important considerations, but why can't you do both?
CLARKE: The deputies committee, its chairman, Mr. Hadley, and others thought that all these issues were sufficiently inter-related, that they should be taken up as a set of issues, and pieces of them should not be broken off.
ROEMER: Did you agree with that?
CLARKE: No, I didn't agree with much of that. ROEMER: Were you frustrated by this process?
CLARKE: I was sufficiently frustrated that I asked to be reassigned.
ROEMER: When was this?
CLARKE: Probably May or June. Certainly no later than June.
And there was agreement in that time frame, in the May or June time frame, that my request would be honored and I would be reassigned on the 1st of October to a new position to deal with cybersecurity, a position that I requested be created.
ROEMER: So you're saying that the frustration got to a high enough level that it wasn't your portfolio, it wasn't doing a lot of things at the same time, it was that you weren't getting fast enough action on what you were requesting?
CLARKE: That's right.
My view was that this administration, while it listened to me, didn't either believe me that there was an urgent problem or was unprepared to act as though there were an urgent problem.
And I thought, if the administration doesn't believe its national coordinator for counterterrorism when he says there's an urgent problem and if it's unprepared to act as though there's an urgent problem, then probably I should get another job.
I thought cybersecurity was and I still think cyber security is an extraordinary important issue for which this country is very underprepared. And I thought perhaps I could make a contribution if I worked full time on that issue.
ROEMER: You then wrote a memo on September 4th to Dr. Rice expressing some of these frustrations several months later, if you say the time frame is May or June when you decided to resign. A memo comes out that we have seen on September the 4th. You are blunt in blasting DOD for not willingly using the force and the power. You blast the CIA for blocking Predator. You urge policy-makers to imagine a day after hundreds of Americans lay dead at home or abroad after a terrorist attack and ask themselves what else they could have done. You write this on September the 4th, seven days before September 11th.
CLARKE: That's right.
ROEMER: What else could have been done, Mr. Clarke?
CLARKE: Well, all of the things that we recommended in the plan or strategy -- there's a lot of debate about whether it's a plan or a strategy or a series of options.
But all of the things we recommended back in January were those things on the table in September. They were done. They were done after September 11th. They were all done. I didn't really understand why they couldn't have been done in February.
ROEMER: Well, let's say, Mr. Clarke -- I think this is a fair question -- let's say that you asked to brief the president of the United States on counterterrorism.
ROEMER: Did you ask that?
CLARKE: I asked for a series of briefings on the issues in my portfolio, including counterterrorism and cybersecurity.
ROEMER: Did you get that request?
CLARKE: I did. I was given an opportunity to brief on cybersecurity in June. I was told I could brief the president on terrorism after this policy development process was complete and we had the principals meeting and the draft national security policy decision that had been approved by the deputies committee.
ROEMER: Let's say, Mr. Clarke, as gifted as you might be in eloquence, and silver-tongued as anyone could be, and let's say -- let's imagine -- that instead of saying no, you asked for this briefing to the president -- you said you didn't get it after 8 months of talking -- let's say you get this briefing in February, after your memo to Dr. Rice on September the 25th, and you meet with the president of the United States in February and you brief him on terrorism, tell me how you convinced the president to move forward on this and get this principals meeting that doesn't take place until September the 4th moved up so that you can do something about this problem?
CLARKE: Well, I think the best thing to have done, if there had been a meeting with the president in February, was to show him the accumulated intelligence that al Qaeda was strong and was planning attacks against the United States, against friendly governments. It was possible to make a very persuasive case that this was a major threat and this was an urgent problem.
ROEMER: And you think this would have sped up the deputies' process and the principals' process?
ROEMER: Do you think the president would have reached down then and said something to the national security team to...
CLARKE: I don't know...
ROEMER: ... to expedite this? What...
CLARKE: Don't know.
ROEMER: ... You worked for President Clinton. You saw what meetings with presidents could do there. Is this a magical solution? Or is it something that president might say right back to you, "Listen, Dick, I've got many other things I've got to do here, in the Middle East peace process Bosnia, Kosovo, the Korean peninsula"? How likely is it that we are able to see some kind of result from a meeting like that?
CLARKE: I think in depends, in part, on the president.
President Bush was regularly told by the director of Central Intelligence that there was an urgent threat. On one occasion -- he was told this dozens of times in the morning briefings that George Tenet gave him. On one of those occasions, he asked for a strategy to deal with the threat.
Condi Rice came back from that meeting, called me, and relayed what the president had requested. And I said, "Well, you know, we've had this strategy ready since before you were inaugurated. I showed it you. You have the paperwork. We can have a meeting on the strategy any time you want."
She said she would look into it. Her looking into it and the president asking for it did not change the pace at which it was considered. And as far as I know, the president never asked again; at least I was never informed that he asked again. I do know he was thereafter continually informed about the threat by George Tenet.
ROEMER: Let me ask you, with my yellow light on, a question about the summer 2000 alert. You were saying, the CIA was saying, everybody was saying something spectacular is about to happen. Spiking in intelligence, something terrible is about to happen. You've told us in some of our interviews you only wish you would have known at that time in that summer what the FBI knew with regard to Moussaoui, the Phoenix memo, and terrorists in the United States.
What could you have done with some of that information, with the spiked alerts, with the spectacular attack on the horizon in the summer of 2001?
CLARKE: Congressman, it is very easy in retrospect to say that I would have done this or I would have done that. And we'll never know. I would like to think that had I been informed by the FBI that two senior al Qaeda operatives who had been in a planning meeting earlier in Kuala Lumpur were now in the United States and we knew that and we knew their names. And I think we even had their pictures.
I would like to think that I would have released, or would have had the FBI release, a press release with their names, with their descriptions, held a press conference, tried to get their names and pictures on the front page of every paper, "America's Most Wanted," the evening news, and caused a successful nationwide manhunt for those two of the 19 hijackers, but I don't know because you're asking me a hypothetical and I have the benefit now of 20/20 hindsight.
ROEMER: Thank you, Mr. Clark.
Mr. Chairman, thank you for patience and the time.
KEAN: Thank you, sir. Senator Gorton?
GORTON: Mr. Clarke, you got the position as the head of this counterterrorism and security group, CSG, when and about May of 1998. Is that correct?
CLARKE: No, Senator. Actually, I got it in the first Bush administration in the fall of 1992.
GORTON: But it got the level of being up there at the White House and being a very important position in 1998?
CLARKE: What happened in 1998 -- let me go back. The counterterrorism security group, the CSG, goes back to the Reagan administration. It's been around for that long. I started chairing it during the last few months of the Bush administration in 1992; continued to chair it throughout the Clinton administration and into the second Bush administration.
In 1998, President Clinton signed a presidential directive that created a new title for the chairman of that group. The chairman had always been a special assistant to the president; that was the title. Under the new directive in 1998 the title became national coordinator for counterterrorism.
But I think there's something I need to say about that title. The actual title was national coordinator for security, infrastructure protection and counterterrorism. And the press, thinking that that title was too long and not sexy enough, immediately turned it into terrorism czar.
If you look at the presidential decision directive in 1998 that created this position, it is replete with what the national coordinator cannot do and what resources the national coordinator would not have. It was not a counterterrorism czar, especially when compared to people like the drug czar. It gave me...
GORTON: It was a staff position, not an action position in other words.
CLARKE: It gave me all of the responsibility and none of the authority.
GORTON: And later in 1998, of course, we had the explosions, the attack on the two embassies.
GORTON: And shortly after that the administration took its one military response to terrorism in the attacks on Afghanistan and the Sudan. Were those actions taken on your recommendation? Were you a part of the decision-making process in calling for that reaction?
CLARKE: Senator, I was. But if I may be a little picky, this was not the administration's first or only use of military action in response to terrorism. The administration began in the first five months -- the Clinton administration -- the first five months of the administration, six months to use military force in response to terrorism.
GORTON: The first to al Qaeda.
CLARKE: The first time that we had an al Qaeda attack on the United States facilities -- it was the first time that al Qaeda had attacked us and we had been told it was al Qaeda.
In retrospect, many years after these attacks occurred, FBI and CIA began to say that things like the World Trade Center attack in 1993 might have been done by an early stage al Qaeda.
GORTON: In August of 1998, did you recommend a longer-lasting military response or just precisely the one that, in fact, took place?
CLARKE: I recommended a series of rolling attacks against the infrastructure in Afghanistan. Every time they would rebuild it, I proposed that we blow it up again much like, in fact, we were doing in Iraq, where we had a rolling series of attacks on their air defense system.
GORTON: And shortly after that, you came up with the so-called Delenda Plan, as I understand it. And is our staff report accurate in saying that it had four principle approaches -- diplomacy, covert action, various financial members and military action? Is that a reasonable summary?
CLARKE: Yes, sir.
GORTON: Also, is our staff accurate in saying that the strategy was never formally adopted, but that you were authorized in effect to go ahead with the first three, but not with the fourth?
CLARKE: Yes, sir.
GORTON: And at various times thereafter you did recommend specific military responses under specific circumstances, did you not?
CLARKE: Yes, sir.
GORTON: Each of which was rejected for one reason or another?
CLARKE: That's correct.
GORTON: Then in the early winter of 1999, when the CIA came up with a plan to attack a hunting camp in Afghanistan, which it felt that Osama bin Laden was present or was not present, that recommendation, or that plan, was ultimately aborted. Did you recommend against that plan?
CLARKE: Yes, Senator.
What I did was to call the director of Central Intelligence and say that I had finally been presented with satellite photography of the facility. And it was very clear to me that this looked like something other than a terrorist camp. It looked like a luxury hunting trip. And I asked him to look into it, personally. When he did, he called back and he said that he was no longer recommending the attack.
GORTON: OK. So you never recommended either for or against an attack on that camp?
CLARKE: Well, I think -- I don't want to split hairs. By calling the director of Central Intelligence and suggesting to him that this did not look to me like a terrorist facility and urging him to look into it, he certainly had the impression that I wasn't in favor of it. Absolutely.
GORTON: Well, did it make any difference as to what kind of camp it was, if it was likely that Osama bin laden was there?
CLARKE: Well, it did in two respects. The administration had adopted a policy with regard -- let me back up.
After the bombings in 1998, we kept submarines off the coast of Pakistan, loaded with cruise missiles, for the purpose of launching a follow-on attack when we could locate bin Laden. The intelligence that we got about where bin Laden was, was very poor. The DCI, Mr. Tenet, characterized that intelligence himself on repeated occasions as very poor.
On one occasion, we thought we knew where he was, and there were two problems. One, the intelligence was poor, according to George Tenet. And two, the collateral damage would have been great, according to the Pentagon.
When I looked at this facility, it looked to me like the intelligence was, again, poor, because it didn't look like a terrorist camp. And the probability of collateral damage would have been high, I thought, since I believed, based on the satellite photography, that people other than terrorists were there.
The decision ultimately was George Tenet's, and George Tenet recommended no action be taken. I don't know, in retrospect -- your staff might. But I don't know, in retrospect, whether it proved to be true that bin Laden was in the vicinity or not.
GORTON: In any event, every recommendation for military action or covert action, from late 1998 until the year 2000, ran up against the objection of actionable -- that it was not based on actionable intelligence, that wonderful phrase we've heard in the last two days. Is that not correct, because of the uncertainty as to whether bin Laden was present, uncertainty about collateral damage, et cetera?
CLARKE: That's true in describing actions aimed at Osama bin Laden himself. There were other covert action activities taken which we obviously can't go into here. But, there was a pre-existing finding on terrorism under which CIA was operating.
And the CIA was able to do some things outside of Afghanistan against the al Qaeda network using that authority.
GORTON: And at the very end of the Clinton administration after the attack on the Cole, there was triggered, either by the Cole or by everything else, a new set of initiatives resulting in what is called a Blue Sky memo, is that correct?
CLARKE: That's right.
GORTON: And were you a part of that? Did you draft it? Was it your plan?
CLARKE: The Blue Sky memo I believe you're referring to was part of an overall update of the Delenda Plan. And it was a part generated by the Central Intelligence Agency. We, my staff, generated the rest of the update.
GORTON: And the goal of that plan was to roll back al Qaeda over a period of three to five years, reducing it eventually to a rump group like other terrorist organizations around the world.
CLARKE: Our goal was to do that to eliminate it as a threat to the United States, recognizing that one might not ever be able to totally eliminate everybody in the world who thought they were a member of al Qaeda. But if we could get it to be as ineffective as the Abu Nidal organization was toward the end of its existence; it didn't pose a threat to the United States. That's what we wanted. The CIA said that if they got all the resources they needed, that might be possible over the course of three years at the earliest.
GORTON: And then Delenda and that Blue Sky proposal, I take it, were pretty much the basis of what you recommended to Condoleezza Rice in January of 2001: covert assistance to the Northern Alliance, you know, more money for CIA activities, something called choosing a standard of evidence for attributing responsibility for the Cole, new Predator reconnaissance missions and more work on funding?
CLARKE: That's right, Senator. The update to the Delenda Plan that we did in October, November, December of 2000 was handed to the new national security adviser in January of 2001. It formed the basis of the draft national security presidential directive that was then discussed in September of 2001. It formed the basis of the draft national security presidential directive that was then discussed in September of 2001 and signed by President Bush as NSPD-9, I believe, later in September.
GORTON: What do you mean by a standard of evidence? I'm troubled by this fuzzy phrase, "actionable intelligence." And let's take the Cole from that. As we've heard from Director Tenet in November and then more precisely in December of 2000, they pretty much concluded that the Cole took place through al Qaeda people, but they couldn't prove that it had been directed Osama Bin Laden.
Was the amount of intelligence available in November, December of 2000 and 2001, in your view, actionable intelligence that could have been the appropriate basis for a specific response to the Cole? CLARKE: The phrase that you read, "the standard for actionable," was a way of my addressing this problem. And I wanted to get us away from having to prove either in a court of law legal standard or even in some fancy intelligence community standard that went through a prolonged process that took months.
I thought we could disassociate the attack on the Cole from any attacks that we did on the Taliban and al Qaeda. If people wanted to further study who was guilty of attacking the Cole -- and the FBI had deployed hundreds of people to do that, and CIA was saying that there were some people involved who might have been al Qaeda -- I thought fine. If you want to have that kind standard and you want to have that kind of process, fine. Then let's separate that and let's bomb Afghanistan anyway and not tie the two together.
But it seemed to my staff, looking at the same intelligence that the CIA was looking at, it seemed to us within two days of the attack on the Cole that we could put together an intelligence case that this was an al Qaeda attack by the local al Qaeda cell in Yemen. And that is, of course, the conclusion that the CIA came to in January or February of the next year based on pretty much nothing but the evidence that we had available to us within two days.
GORTON: Now, since my yellow light is on, at this point my final question will be this: Assuming that the recommendations that you made on January 25th of 2001, based on Delenda, based on Blue Sky, including aid to the Northern Alliance, which had been an agenda item at this point for two and a half years without any action, assuming that there had been more Predator reconnaissance missions, assuming that that had all been adopted say on January 26th, year 2001, is there the remotest chance that it would have prevented 9/11?
GORTON: It just would have allowed our response, after 9/11, to be perhaps a little bit faster?
CLARKE: Well, the response would have begun before 9/11.
GORTON: Yes, but there was no recommendation, on your part or anyone else's part, that we declare war and attempt to invade Afghanistan prior to 9/11?
CLARKE: That's right.
GORTON: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
KEAN: Thank you, Senator. I just have one question. Taking it back further, you've been there more than anybody, really, in this particular slot in looking at terrorism and looking at it well. Is it resources, is it change of policy, what is it over the years, taking all your years there through 2 administrations or 3 administrations even -- what could we have done?
I'm trying to find not only what we could have done, but what should we be doing perhaps in the future? Because we were beaten. I mean, we were really beaten by these guys, and 3,000 people died. And is there anything you can think of in that long period, had we done differently as a country, as a policy, what have you, that could have made a difference?
CLARKE: Well I think, Governor, there's a lot that, in retrospect, with 20/20 hindsight...
KEAN: Yes, I'm asking 20/20 hindsight, because we have that opportunity now.
CLARKE: I think al Qaeda probably came into existence in 1988 or in 1989, and no one in the White House was ever informed by the intelligence community that there was an al Qaeda until probably 1995.
The existence of an organization like that was something that members of the National Security Council staff suspected in 1993. National Security Adviser Anthony Lake urged CIA to create a special program to investigate whether there was some organization centered around bin Laden.
It was not done because CIA decided there was probably an organization, it was done because the national security adviser thought there was probably an organization.
Had we a more robust intelligence capability in the last 1980s and early 1990s, we might have recognized the existence of al Qaeda relatively soon after it came into existence. And if we recognized its existence and if we knew its philosophy and if we had a proactive intelligence covert action program -- so that's both more on the collection side and more on the covert action side -- then we might have been able to nip it in the bud.
But as George Tenet I think explained this morning, our HUMINT program, our spy capability, had been eviscerated in the 1980s and early 1990s. And there was no such capability either to even know that al Qaeda existed, let alone to destroy it.
And there is something else that I think we need to understand about the CIA's covert action capabilities.
For many years, they were roundly criticized by the Congress and the media for various covert actions that they carried out at the request of people like me and the White House -- not me, but people like me. And many CIA senior managers were dragged up into this room and others and berated for failed covert action activities, and they became great political footballs.
Now, if you're in the CIA and you're growing up as a CIA manager over this period of time and that's what you see going on and you see one boss after another, one deputy director of operations after another being fired or threatened with indictment, I think the thing you learn from that is that covert action is a very dangerous thing that can damage the CIA, as much as it can damage the enemy.
Robert Gates, when he was deputy director of CIA, and when he was director of CIA, and when he was deputy national security adviser, Robert Gates repeatedly taught the lesson that covert action isn't worth doing. It's too risky. That's the lesson that the current generation of directorate of operations managers learned as they were growing up in the agency.
Now, George Tenet says they're not risk-averse, and I'm sure he knows better than I do.
But from the outside, working with the D.O. over the course of the last 20 years, it certainly looks to me as though they were risk- averse, but they had every reason to be risk-averse, because the Congress, the media, had taught them that the use of covert action would likely blow up in their face.
KEAN: Thank you very much, sir.
RICHARD BEN-VENISTE, COMMISSION MEMBER: Good afternoon, Mr. Clarke. I want to focus on the role of the national security adviser and your relationship with the national security adviser in the Clinton administration as compared with the Bush administration. Can you point to any similarities or differences?
CLARKE: Well, I think the similarity is that under all four national security advisers for whom I worked, I was told by each of the four, beginning with Brent Scowcroft, that if I ever had any -- I hate to use the word, Senator, "actionable intelligence," the phrase -- if I ever had reason to believe that there was something urgent that they could act on that I could interrupt anything that they were doing, that I have an open door any time I needed it day or night if there was something about to happen.
I think the difference between the two national security advisers in the Clinton administration and the national security adviser in the Bush administration is that on policy development, I dealt directly with the national security advisers in the Clinton administration. But policy development on counterterrorism I was told would be best done with the deputy national security adviser. So I spent less time talking about the problems of terrorism with the national security adviser in this administration.
BEN-VENISTE: Let me move to substance in terms of the level of threat during the summer of 2001 and your involvement in coordination of both foreign and domestic intelligence. That was definitely a part of your function, was it not?
CLARKE: Yes, sir.
BEN-VENISTE: And before I get to that and before I forget doing so, I want to express my appreciation for the fact that you have come before this commission and state in front of the world your apology for what went wrong. To my knowledge, you are the first to do that.
BEN-VENISTE: This does not detract from the fact that there were so many people who we have met over this past year who were engaged in trying to keep our country safe and to have worked tirelessly to achieve that goal.
In the millennium threat we knew, and we covered this with Sandy Berger to some considerable extent, that sleeper cells in North America had been activated, and we had rolled them up and prevented, among other things, an attack on the Los Angeles International Airport.
With respect to the level of threat and the intelligence information that you were receiving, is it fair to say that in the summer of 2001, the threat level either approached or exceeded anything that you had previously been receiving?
CLARKE: I think it exceeded anything that George Tenet or I had ever seen.
BEN-VENISTE: And I think the phrase which has received some currency in our hearings of someone's hair being on fire originated with you, saying that basically you knew that something drastic was about to happen and that the indicators were all consistent in that regard.
CLARKE: That's right.
BEN-VENISTE: Did you make a determination that the threat was going to come from abroad, as an exclusive proposition? Or did you understand that given the fact that we had been attacked before and that the plans had been interrupted to attack us before that the potential existed for al Qaeda to strike at us on our homeland?
CLARKE: The CIA said in their assessments that the attack would most likely occur overseas, most probably in Saudi Arabia, possibly in Israel. I thought, however, that it might well take place in the United States based on what we had learned in December '99, when we rolled up operations in Washington state, in Brooklyn, in Boston.
The fact that we didn't have intelligence that we could point to that said it would take place in the United States wasn't significant in my view, because, frankly, sir -- I know how this is going to sound but I have to say it -- I didn't think the FBI would know whether or not there was anything going on in the United States by al Qaeda.
BEN-VENISTE: Well, the FBI was a principal agency upon which you had to rely, is that not the case?
CLARKE: It is.
BEN-VENISTE: Now, with respect to what you were told -- you were the principal coordinator for counterterrorism for the chief executive flowing up and down through you, correct?
CLARKE: Yes, sir.
BEN-VENISTE: Did you know that the two individuals who had been identified as al Qaeda had entered the United States and were presently thought to be in the country?
CLARKE: I was not informed of that, nor were senior levels of the FBI.
BEN-VENISTE: Had you known that these individuals were in the country, what steps, with the benefit of hindsight, but informed hindsight, would you have taken, given the level of threat?
CLARKE: To put the answer in context, I had been saying to the FBI and to the other federal law enforcement agencies and to the CIA that because of this intelligence that something was about to happen that they should lower their threshold of reporting, that they should tell us anything that looked the slightest bit unusual.
In retrospect, having said that over and over again to them, for them to have had this information somewhere in the FBI and not told to me, I still find absolutely incomprehensible.
BEN-VENISTE: And I will have to end it here although I'd like to go further. Was the information with respect to Moussaoui and his erratic behavior in flight school ever communicated to you?
CLARKE: Not to me.
BEN-VENISTE: Given the fact that there was a body of information with respect to the use of planes as weapons within the intelligence community's knowledge, had you received information about Moussaoui training to fly a commercial airplane? Would that have had some impact on the kind of efforts which might be made to protect commercial aviation?
CLARKE: I don't know. The information to which you refer, information in the intelligence community's knowledge about al Qaeda having thought of using aircraft as weapons, that information was old relatively speaking -- five years, six years old -- hadn't reoccurred to my knowledge during those five or six years -- and has to be placed -- to give the intelligence community a break -- it has to be placed in the context of the other intelligence reports.
The volume of intelligence reports on this kind of thing, on al Qaeda threats and other terrorist threats, was in the tens of thousands, probably hundreds of thousands over the course of the five or six years.
Now, in retrospect, to go back and find a report six years earlier that said perhaps they were going to use aircraft as weapons, it's easy to do now. But I think the intelligence community analysts can be forgiven for not thinking about it given the fact that they hadn't seen a lot in the five or six years intervening about it and that there were so many reports about so many other things.
BEN-VENISTE: And yet -- with your indulgence, Mr. Chairman...
KEAN: Short indulgence.
BEN-VENISTE: And yet, an FAA advisory went out. The FAA advised on the potential for domestic hijackings.
CLARKE: I asked them to.
BEN-VENISTE: And had you known on top of that that there was a jihadist who was identified, apprehended in the United States before 9/11 who was in flight school acting erratically...
CLARKE: I would like to think, sir, that even without the benefit of 20-20 hindsight, I could have connected those dots.
BEN-VENISTE: Thank you.
KEAN: Commissioner Kerrey?
BOB KERREY, 9/11 COMMISSIONER: Mr. Clark, first of all, let me thank you for doing what I think all of us who had any responsibilities during the late 1990s, early 2000, have responsibility to do, which is to apologize to the families for letting them down. I think it was a courageous gesture. And I think it would be a lot easier for us to, in a nonjudgmental fashion, figure out what went wrong and what to do in the future if we'd all sort of start off our inquiries with that declaration. I appreciate very much the sincerity of that.
Let me also say that I feel badly, because I presume that you are, at the moment, receiving terrible phone messages and e-mail messages. And I hope you don't take it personal because you're just caught in one of these moments. I can barely see you because of all the cameras I'm having to look through. No, it's OK, I'm just kidding.
I'm just trying to illustrate the attention that's being paid to you, and...
CLARKE: Senator, I think I knew what the price would be.
KERREY: Well, you're a smarter man than most of us, then, because I think you can kind of know it theoretically. But until you get in it, it can be quite surprising.
And let me also thank you for over a quarter century of public service. I mean, you really in many ways are an example of a single individual coming into government and demonstrating that you can make a difference over a long period of time. And you have.
And I think as badly as you feel toward the families that are sitting behind you, there are many families that are today, unknowingly, the recipient of your service. Because, we did, thanks to you and thanks to many others who were working with you, prevent an awful lot of bad things from happening as well.
So let me start off with that and start off by saying that I think one of the things we got to try to do is get to a point where we can have honest disagreements and let those disagreements permit us to discover where, in fact, we've got common ground. I find, in fact, arguments almost being necessary. And you are, again, a very good demonstration of that. You almost always, with your declaratories, provoke a good argument. And it's those arguments that allow us to discover where our common ground is.
Let me say that in one area I disagree with you is on the Delenda. You said in response to Senator Gorton earlier that it would not have prevented 9/11, it was not a declaration of war, you weren't advocating declaring war.
I believe Delenda would have necessitated a declaration of war, and it was probably one of the reasons it was rejected as well as other options that I think would have substantially reduced the risk of 9/11 had we followed your advice.
One of the reasons it was probably not taken up by the National Security Council and the president was that it would have required that draconian of a step -- and you've heard me say it before, but I think it's one of the mistakes that we made.
Let me ask you, just specific to the use of airplanes as a weapon, because it seems so obvious, and again it seemed so obvious after the fact. It was such a simple and easy strategy that was put in place.
But, in your case, in '96 with the Olympics, you raised a concern about a small Cessna being used to attack the Olympics in Atlanta. And I think it was '98 -- in December '98 -- you were head of the CSG, chairing the CSG, when there was a big concern on the East Coast about the possibility of someone connected to Osama bin Laden hijacking a commercial aircraft out of New York City.
That warning went out. During the millennium scare, as well, you sent a memo to Berger discussing the possible domestic threats. And the quote is that, "Is there a threat to civilian aircraft?" In March 2001 another CSG item on the agenda mentions, "the possibility of alleged bin Laden interest in targeting U.S. passenger planes at the Chicago Airport," end quote.
And it seems to me that we had a broad, general understanding that it was possible that hijacking might be on the list of things that were going to be used. And I remember Administrator Garvey, when she became before this commission a month or so ago, all their attention was overseas, she said. I mean, if you listen and look at the documents on the day of 9/11, it just inescapably leads to the conclusion that we were surprised by a hijacking.
And I wonder if you've got a perspective on how it's possible that we were surprised by hijacking, let alone a multiple hijacking simultaneously occurring at the same moment?
CLARKE: Well, sir, I would distinguish between hijackings in general and hijackings that then turn the aircraft into suicide weapons. There have been hijackings by terrorists going back for 20- 25 years, and the United States had some programs in place to deal with that.
In 1996, after the TWA 800, crash the president appointed a commission on aircraft safety and security that looked at whether we needed to augment our protection against hijacking.
And it made several recommendations. Most of those recommendations were carried out, not all of them.
One of the things it rejected was federalizing the aircraft searching process that is now done by the Transportation Security Agency, because it would have cost so much money and it would have required such a big federal bureaucracy.
At the time where there had been no recent hijacking, I assume that commissioners on that commission thought they were making the right recommendation. Many of their recommendations for increased security, however, were carried out.
But as to your question about using aircraft as weapons, I was afraid beginning in 1996, not that a Cessna would fly into the Olympics, but that any size aircraft would be put into the Olympics.
And during my inspection of the Atlanta Olympic security arrangements a month or two before the games, I was shocked that the FBI hadn't put into effect any aircraft -- air defense security arrangements. So I threw together an air defense for the Atlanta games somewhat quickly, but I got an air defense system in place.
We then tried to institutionalize that for Washington to protect the Capitol and the White House. And that system would have been run by the Secret Service. It would have involved missiles, anti-aircraft guns, radar, helicopters.
Secret Service developed all the plans for that. Secret Service was a big advocate for it, but they were unable to get the Treasury Department, in which they were then located, to approve it. And I was unable to get the Office of Management and Budget to fund it.
KERREY: Just a two-sentence response. I mean, the papers were full of stories about men and women using suicide as a device in carrying out terrorist objectives. The second intifada was in full force beginning in late 2000 through 2001.
So perhaps on the second question, if I get the chance, we can continue this discussion.
CLARKE: I'd enjoy that.
The bottom line here is, I thought I -- I agree with you. And I thought I had made a persuasive case that we needed an air defense system as well as an airport system, not just to stop hijackers at baggage inspection, but to deal with them if they got through that and were able to hijack an aircraft.
I thought we needed an air defense system. And we got a little of that air defense system implemented, but only a little.
KERREY: Put me on the list if we have a chance to do a second round.
KEAN: Will do.
JAMES THOMPSON, COMMISSION MEMBER: Mr. Clarke, as we sit here this afternoon, we have your book and we have your press briefing of August 2002. Which is true?
CLARKE: Well, I think the question is a little misleading.
The press briefing you're referring to comes in the following context: Time magazine had published a cover story article highlighting what your staff briefing talks about. They had learned that, as your staff briefing notes, that there was a strategy or a plan and a series of additional options that were presented to the national security adviser and the new Bush team when they came into office.
Time magazine ran a somewhat sensational story that implied that the Bush administration hadn't worked on that plan. And this, of course, coming after 9/11 caused the Bush White House a great deal of concern.
So I was asked by several people in senior levels of the Bush White House to do a press backgrounder to try to explain that set of facts in a way that minimized criticism of the administration. And so I did.
Now, we can get into semantic games of whether it was a strategy, or whether it was a plan, or whether it was a series of options to be decided upon. I think the facts are as they were outlined in your staff briefing.
THOMPSON: Well, let's take a look, then, at your press briefing, because I don't want to engage in semantic games. You said, the Bush administration decided, then, you know, mid-January -- that's mid- January, 2001 -- to do 2 things: one, vigorously pursue the existing the policy -- that would be the Clinton policy -- including all of the lethal covert action findings which we've now made public to some extent. Is that so? Did they decide in January of 2001 to vigorously pursue the existing Clinton policy?
CLARKE: They decided that the existing covert action findings would remain in effect.
THOMPSON: OK. The second thing the administration decided to do is to initiate a process to look at those issues which had been on the table for a couple of years and get them decided. Now, that seems to indicate to me that proposals had been sitting on the table in the Clinton administration for a couple of years, but that the Bush administration was going to get them done. Is that a correct assumption?
CLARKE: Well, that was my hope at the time. It turned out not to be the case.
THOMPSON: Well, then why in August of 2002, over a year later, did you say that it was the case?
CLARKE: I was asked to make that case to the press. I was a special assistant to the president, and I made the case I was asked to make.
THOMPSON: Are you saying to be you were asked to make an untrue case to the press and the public, and that you went ahead and did it?
CLARKE: No, sir. Not untrue. Not an untrue case. I was asked to highlight the positive aspects of what the administration had done and to minimize the negative aspects of what the administration had done. And as a special assistant to the president, one is frequently asked to do that kind of thing. I've done it for several presidents.
THOMPSON: Well, OK, over the course of the summer, they developed implementation details. The principals met at the end of the summer, approved them in their first meeting, changed the strategy by authorizing the increase in funding five-fold. Did they authorize the increase in funding five-fold?
CLARKE: Authorized but not appropriated.
THOMPSON: Well, but the Congress appropriates, don't they, Mr. Clarke?
CLARKE: Well, within the executive branch, there are two steps as well. In the executive branch, there's the policy process which you can compare to authorization, which is to say we would like to spend this amount of money for this program. And then there is the second step, the budgetary step, which is to find the offsets. And that had not been done. In fact, it wasn't done until after September 11th.
THOMPSON: Changing the policy on Pakistan, was the policy on Pakistan changed?
CLARKE: Yes, sir it was.
THOMPSON: Changing the policy on Uzbekistan, was it changed?
CLARKE: Yes, sir.
THOMPSON: Changing the policy on the Northern Alliance assistance, was that changed?
CLARKE: Well, let me back up. I said yes to the last two answers. It was changed only after September 11th. It had gone through an approvals process. It was going through an approvals process with the deputies committee. And they had approved it -- The deputies had approved those policy changes. It had then gone to a principals committee for approval, and that occurred on September 4th. Those three things which you mentioned were approved by the principals. They were not approved by the president, and therefore the final approval hadn't occurred until after September 11th.
THOMPSON: But they were approved by people in the administration below the level of the president, moving toward the president. Is that correct?
CLARKE: Yes, so over the course of many, many months, they went through several committee meetings at the sub-Cabinet level. And then there was a hiatus. And then they went to finally on September 4th, a week before the attacks, they went to the principals for their approval. Of course, the final approval by the president didn't take place until after the attacks.
THOMPSON: Well is that eight-month period unusual?
CLARKE: It is unusual when you are being told every day that there is an urgent threat.
THOMPSON: Well, but the policy involved changing, for example, the policy on Pakistan, right? So you would have to involve those people in the administration who had charge of the Pakistani policy, would you not?
CLARKE: The secretary of state has, as a member of the principals committee, that kind of authority over all foreign policy issues.
THOMPSON: Changing the policy on the Northern Alliance assistance, that would have been DOD?
CLARKE: No. Governor, that would have been the CIA.
But again, all of the right people to make those kinds of changes were represented by the five or six people on the principals committee.
THOMPSON: But they were also represented on the smaller group, were they not, the deputies committee?
CLARKE: But they didn't have the authority to approve it. They only had the authority to recommend it further up the process.
THOMPSON: Well, is policy usually made at the level of the principals committee before it comes up?
CLARKE: Policy usually originates in working groups. Recommendations and differences then are floated up from working groups to the deputies committee. If there are differences there, policy recommendations and differences are then floated up to the principals. And occasionally, when there is not a consensus at the principals level, policy recommendations and options, or differences, go to the president. And the president makes these kinds of decisions.
By law, in fact, many of the kinds of decisions you're talking about can only be made by the president.
THOMPSON: And you said that the strategy changed from one of rollback with al Qaeda over the course of five years, which it had been, which I presume is the Clinton policy, to a new strategy that called for the rapid elimination of al Qaeda, that is in fact the time line. Is that correct?
CLARKE: It is, but it requires a bit of elaboration. As your staff brief said, the goal of the Delenda Plan was to roll back al Qaeda over the course of three to five years so that it was just a nub of an organization like Abu Nidal that didn't threaten the United States.
I tried to insert the phrase early in the Bush administration in the draft NSPD that our goal should be to eliminate al Qaeda. And I was told by various members of the deputies committee that that was overly ambitious and that we should take the word "eliminate" out and say "significantly erode."
And then, following 9/11, we were able to go back to my language of eliminate, rather than significantly erode. And so, the version of the national security presidential decision directive that President Bush finally got to see after 9/11, had my original language of "eliminate," not the interim language of "erode."
THOMPSON: And you were asked when was...
KEAN: Governor, one more question.
THOMPSON: When was that presented to the president? And you answered: the president was briefed throughout this process.
CLARKE: Yes. The president apparently asked, on one occasion that I'm aware of, for a strategy. And when he asked that, he apparently didn't know there was a strategy in the works. I, therefore, was told about this by the national security adviser.
I came back to her and said, well, there is a strategy; after all, it's basically what I showed you in January. It stuck in the deputies committee. She said she would tell the president that, and she said she would try to break it out of the deputies committee.
THOMPSON: So you believed that your conference with the press in August of 2002 is consistent with what you've said in your book and what you've said in press interviews the last five days about your book?
CLARKE: I do. I think the think that's obviously bothering you is the tenor and the tone. And I've tried to explain to you, sir, that when you're on the staff of the president of the United States, you try to make his policies look as good as possible.
THOMPSON: Well, with all respect, Mr. Clarke, I think a lot of things beyond the tenor and the tone bother me about this.
KEAN: Thank you, Governor. Commissioner Gorelick.
JAMIE GORELICK, COMMISSION MEMBER: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. And thank you, Mr. Clarke, for your testimony today. You have talked about a plan that you presented to Dr. Rice immediately upon her becoming national security adviser, and that in response to questions from Commissioner Gorton, you said elements of that plan, which were developed by you and your staff at the end of 2000 -- many elements -- became part of what was then called NSPD-9, or what ultimately became NSPD-9.
When Dr. Rice writes in the Washington Post, "No al Qaeda plan was turned over to the new administration," is that true?
CLARKE: No. I think what is true is what your staff found by going through the documents and what your staff briefing says, which is that early in the administration, within days of the Bush administration coming into office, that we gave them two documents. In fact, I briefed Dr. Rice on this even before they came into office.
One was the original Delenda Plan from 1998, and the other document was the update that we did following the Cole attack, which had as part of it a number of decisions that had to be taken so that she characterizes as a series of options rather than a plan. I'd like to think of it as a plan with a series of options, but I think we're getting into semantic differences.
GORELICK: Thank you.
I'd like to turn NSPD-9, the document that was wending its way through the process up until September 4th. The document is classified so I can only speak of it in generalities.
But as I understand it, it had three stages which were to take place over, according to Steve Hadley, the deputy national security adviser, over a period of three years.
The first stage was, we would warn the Taliban. The second stage was we would pressure the Taliban. And the third stage was that we would look for ways to oust the Taliban based upon individuals on the ground other than ourselves, at the same time making military contingency plans.
Is that correct?
CLARKE: Well, that's right. The military contingency plans had always been around, but there was nothing in the original draft, NSPD, that was approved by the principals to suggest U.S. forces would be sent into Afghanistan on the ground.
GORELICK: In addition to that, Director Tenet was asked to draft new additional covert action authorities. Is that right?
CLARKE: That's right, in part because Mr. Hadley found the existing six memorandums of covert action authority to be talmudic -- it's actually I think Mr. Hadley who gets credit for that word.
But it wasn't really meant to expand them significantly other than providing direct aid to Afghan factions.
GORELICK: Now you have just described, then, the skeleton, if you will, of what was approved by the administration as of September 4th. And we know that no further action was taken before September 11th. And so I would read to you -- and these are questions I would have put to Dr. Rice had she been here, and I will put to her, the White House designee, Secretary Armitage. She says our strategy, which was expected to take years, marshalled all elements of national power to take down the network, not just respond to individual attacks with law enforcement measures. Our plan called for military options to attack al Qaeda and Taliban leadership, ground forces and other targets, taking the fight to the enemy where he lived.
Is that an accurate statement, in your view?
CLARKE: No, it's not.
GORELICK: In addition to the items that were left hanging during this period of time that we've talked about, in your view -- the predator, the issue of aid to the Northern Alliance, the response to the Cole -- the other item that we have heard about that was deferred until the policy emerged was action on the set of covert authorities or the draft of covert authorities that Director Tenet supplied to the NSC in I believe it was March of '01. Is that true?
GORELICK: And no action was taken on those until after 9/11. Is that correct?
CLARKE: That's correct.
GORELICK: After the millennium, you were asked by Sandy Berger, and he testified about it this morning, to do an after-action report. And he described how there were 29 recommendations and a huge supplemental, et cetera. The report doesn't address some of the systemic issues.
And you, above maybe anybody else, saw the systemic problems. I mean you have described, yourself, the problems with the FBI, the wall between the FBI and the CIA. We've heard about the disconnect between the State Department watch list and the FAA no-fly list. We've heard about really the inadequacy of our visa program and our consular effort.
So my question for you is this: You had a great shot after the millennium to take a whack at these problems which you no doubt must have seen or maybe -- I'll give you the benefit of the doubt -- perhaps there are some you hadn't seen. Why wasn't the after-action report, post-millennium, as modest as it was. Why didn't it address these fissures and these gaps in the system?
CLARKE: Well, it made 28 or 29 recommendations. Had all of those recommendations been easy to do, they would have been implemented, before or after the after-action report.
Many of the 28 or 29 recommendations were implemented, but some of them weren't, because we went pretty far in the art of the practical, the art of the possible, with those recommendations. That's probably why some of them never got done. And some of them still haven't been done. I've learned over time that if you go for the perfect solution, the best solution, you don't get very far in actually achieving things. You can write nice reports if you're the Brookings commission or something, but if you want to get something done in the real world, you do what is doable and you try to do a little bit more. But you don't shoot for the moon.
And I think some of systemic things that are obvious to you and -- I know they are -- were more practical after 9/11 than they were after the millennium. Remember, in the millennium, we succeeded in stopping the attacks. That was good news.
But it was not good news for those of us who also wanted to put pressure on the Congress and pressure on OMB and other places because we were not able to point to -- and I hate to say this -- body bags. You know, unfortunately, this country takes body bags and requires body bags sometimes to make really tough decisions about money and about governmental arrangements.
And one of the things I would hope that comes out of your commission report is a recommendation for a change in the attitude of government about threats, that we be able to act on threats that we foresee, even if acting requires boldness and requires money and requires changing the way we do business, that we act on threats in the future before they happen.
The problem is that when you make that recommendation before they happen, when you recommend an air defense system for Washington before there has been a 9/11, people tend to think you're nuts. And I got a lot of that. You know, when the Clinton administration ended, 35 Americans had died at hands of al Qaeda over the course of eight years. And a lot of people said, behind my back and some of them to my face, why are you so obsessed with this organization? It's only killed eight Americans over the course -- 35 Americans over the course of eight years. Why are you making such a big deal over this organization?
That's the kind of mind set that made it difficult for us, even though the president, the national security adviser, and others, the DCI, knew there was a problem and were supporting me. But the institutional bureaucracy and the FBI and DOD and then CIA and OMB and on the Hill -- because I spent a lot of time up here trying to get money and trying to change authorities -- couldn't see the threat because it hadn't happened.
GORELICK: Well, that's a very sobering statement, particularly from someone whose reputation is as aggressive as your reputation is. And it makes me think that individuals who are less of a pile driver -- to use Sandy Berger's words -- must feel even less able to push for change.
KEAN: Secretary Lehman?
JOHN F. LEHMAN, COMMISSION MEMBER: Thank you.
Dick, since you and I first served 28 years ago in the MBFR delegation, I have genuinely been a fan of yours. I've watched you labor without fear of favor in a succession of jobs where you really made a difference. And so when you agreed to spend as much time as you did with us in, as you say, 15 hours, I was very hopeful.
And I attended one of those all-day sessions and read the other two transcripts, and I thought they were terrific. I thought here we have a guy who can be the Rosetta Stone for helping this commission do its job, to help to have the American people grasp what the dysfunctional problems in this government are.
And I thought you let the chips fall where they may. You made a few value judgments which could be debated. But by and large, you were critical of the things, institutions, and people that could have done better and some that did very badly.
And certainly the greater weight of this criticism fell during the Clinton years simply because there were eight of them and only 7 1/2 months of the Bush years. I don't think you, in the transcripts that we have of your classified interviews, pulled punches in either direction. And, frankly, a lot of my questioning this past two days has been drawn from some of the things that you articulated so well during the Clinton years, particularly, because they stretched from the first, as you pointed out, attempt by Saddam to assassinate President Bush 41 right up through the end of the administration.
But now we have the book. And I've published books. And I must say I am green with envy at the promotion department of your publisher.
I never got Jim Thompson to stand before 50 photographers reading your book. And I certainly never got "60 Minutes" to coordinate the showing of its interview with you with 15 network news broadcasts, the selling of the movie rights, and your appearance here today. So I would say, "Bravo."
Until I started reading those press reports, and I said this can't be the same Dick Clarke that testified before us, because all of the promotional material and all of the spin in the networks was that this is a rounding, devastating attack -- this book -- on President Bush.
That's not what I heard in the interviews. And I hope you're going to tell me, as you apologized to the families for all of us who were involved in national security, that this tremendous difference -- and not just in nuance, but in the stories you choose to tell -- is really the result of your editors and your promoters, rather than your studied judgment, because it is so different from the whole thrust of your testimony to us.
And similarly, when you add to it the inconsistency between what your promoters are putting out and what you yourself said as late as August '05, you've got a real credibility problem.
And because of my real genuine long-term admiration for you, I hope you'll resolve that credibility problem, because I'd hate to see you become totally shoved to one side during a presidential campaign as an active partisan selling a book.
CLARKE: Thank you, John.
Let me talk about partisanship here, since you raise it. I've been accused of being a member of John Kerry's campaign team several times this week, including by the White House. So let's just lay that one to bed. I'm not working for the Kerry campaign. Last time I had to declare my party loyalty, it was to vote in the Virginia primary for president of the United States in the year 2000. And I asked for a Republican ballot.
I worked for Ronald Reagan with you. I worked for the first President Bush. And he nominated me to the Senate as an assistant secretary of state, and I worked in his White House, and I've worked for this President Bush. And I'm not working for Senator Kerry.
Now, the fact of the matter is, I do co-teach a class with someone who works for Senator Kerry. That person is named Randy Beers. Randy Beers and I have worked together in the federal government and the White House and the State Department for 25 years.
Randy Beers worked in the White House for Ronald Reagan. Randy Beers worked in the White House for the first President Bush, and Randy Beers worked in the White House for the second President Bush.
And just because he is now working for Senator Kerry, I am not going to disassociate myself from one of my best friends and someone who I greatly respect and worked with for 25 years.
And, yes, I will admit, I co-teach a class at the Harvard University and Georgetown University with Mr. Beers. That, I don't think, makes me a member of the Kerry campaign.
The White House has said that my book is an audition for a high- level position in the Kerry campaign. So let me say here as I am under oath, that I will not accept any position in the Kerry administration, should there be one -- on the record, under oath.
Now, as to your accusation that there is a difference between what I said to this commission in 15 hours of testimony and what I am saying in my book and what media outlets are asking me to comment on, I think there's a very good reason for that.
In the 15 hours of testimony, no one asked me what I thought about the president's invasion of Iraq. And the reason I am strident in my criticism of the president of the United States is because by invading Iraq -- something I was not asked about by the commission, it's something I chose write about a lot in the book -- by invading Iraq the president of the United States has greatly undermined the war on terrorism.
KEAN: Commissioner Fielding?
FRED FIELDING, COMMISSION MEMBER: Mr. Clarke, thank you for being here.
I shared John's feelings when I read your interviews with the staff as well, because it gave a perspective of something that bridged different administrations and really had a chance to see it. And of course, you were looking at it from different level than some of the other people we had interviewed.
And likewise, I was a little taken back when I saw the hoopla and the promotion for the book and when I saw this transcript that just came forward today.
But what's bothering me now is that not only did you interview with us, but you also spent more than six hours with the congressional joint inquiry. And I've read your information, and, I mean, that's a very serious body and very serious inquiry -- not that we're not. But I can't believe over six hours you never expressed any concern to them that the Bush administration didn't act with sufficient urgency to address these horrible potential problems if you felt that way.
Did you ever list for the joint inquiry any of the measures that you thought should have been taken that weren't?
CLARKE: I think all the measures that I thought should have been taken were in the plan that I presented in January of 2001 and were in the NSPD that the principals approved in September, September 4th, 2001. There were no additional measures that I had in mind other than those that I presented. And as I did explain, both to the commission and to the joint inquiry, those proposals, which ultimately were adopted by the principals committee, took a very, very, very long time to make it through the policy development process.
FIELDING: Well, I understand that, but I think the charges that you've made are much more -- I think they're much deeper than that.
Let me ask you a question, because it's been bothering me as well. You've been involved intimately in PDD-39 and in PDD-62. The latter certainly very much implicates your own position. How long did it take for those to be developed and signed?
CLARKE: I'm not sure I could recollect that answer. Perhaps the staff could find that.
To your general answer about how long does it take PDDs to be signed, I've seen them signed in a day and I've seen them take three years.
FIELDING: Well, of course. I mean, we've all seen that. But these were -- obviously 62 was a very important one, but obviously the one that we're talking about that was developed was an extremely important one, and it was one that you put a lot into yourself. And it was in the beginning of a new administration. Anyway...
CLARKE: Sir, if I may?
CLARKE: There's also the issue that was raised earlier by another member of the commission was to whether all of the pending decisions needed to be rolled up into a national security presidential directive or whether, based on the urgency of the intelligence, some of them couldn't -- like arming the Predator to attack and kill bin Laden -- why did that have to wait until the entire policy was developed?
Weren't there pieces like that that could have been broken off and decided right away? Now I certainly urged that. I urged that beginning in February when I realized that this policy process was going to take forever.
FIELDING: I understand. And I understand your testimony that you did that. What I don't understand is, if you had these deep feelings and deep concerns about the lack of ability and urgency within the Bush administration, that you didn't advise the joint inquiry. And I mean, did you feel it unnecessary to tell them that the Bush administration was too preoccupied with the Cold War issues or Iraq at that point?
CLARKE: I wasn't asked, sir. I think I provided the joint inquiry, as a member of the administration at the time, please recall, I provided the joint inquiry all the facts it needed to make the conclusions which I've made about how long it took and what the development of the policy process was like and the refusal of the administration to spin out for earlier decision things like the armed Predator.
FIELDING: Well, it obviously will be up to the members of the joint inquiry to make that decision and judgment.
But, you must agree that it's not like -- going before a joint inquiry is not like going before a press background briefing. As you said, I think your description was I tried to highlight the positive and play down the negative. But the joint inquiry wasn't asking you to do that, they were asking you to come forward, weren't they?
CLARKE: I answered very fully all of the questions the joint inquiry had asked. They said that themselves in their comments to me, and in their report. I testified for six hours. And I testified as a member of the Bush administration.
And I think, sir, with all of your experience in this city, you understand as well as I do the freedom one has to speak critical of an administration when one is a member of that administration.
FIELDING: I do understand that. But I also understand the integrity with which you have to take your job. But thank you, sir.
CLARKE: Thank you.
KEAN: We're starting on the second round now questioning. Congressman Roemer?
ROEMER: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Having served on the joint inquiry, the only person of this 9/11 panel to have served on the inquiry, I can say in open session to some of Mr. Fielding's inquiries that as the joint inquiry asked for information on the National Security Council and we requested that the National Security Adviser Dr. Rice come before the joint inquiry and answer those questions.
She refused. And she didn't come. She didn't come before the 9/11 commission.
And when we asked for some questions to be answered, Mr. Hadley answered those questions in a written form.
So I think part of the answer might be that we didn't have access to the January 25th memo. We didn't have access to the September 4th memo. We didn't have access to many of the documents and the e-mails. We're not only talking about Mr. Clarke being before the 9/11 commission for more than 15 hours, but I think in talking to the staff, we have hundreds of documents and e-mails that we didn't previously have, which hopefully informs us to ask Mr. Clarke and ask Dr. Rice the tough questions.
And I have some more tough questions for you, Mr. Clarke.
On the FBI, you've said that the FBI did not do a very good job. I think I'm paraphrasing you in much easier language than you have used. But that during the millennium, which may be the exception to the rule, they performed extremely well in sharing information. How do we get the FBI to do this on a regular basis? We still have problems here today. Or is that not an option for us?
We don't have time, Mr. Clarke. I mean, I appreciate everybody going after everybody in Washington, D.C. We don't have time to make these kinds of arguments and attacks if we're going to get this situation right in the future in this country and prevent or hopefully prevent the next one.
Well, we do know something for certain, and that is that groups like al Qaeda want to get dirty bombs, they want to get chemical and biological weapons, and they want to come after America.
So how do we get this situation solved, Mr. Clarke? What do we do with the FBI? What's your recommendation?
CLARKE: In the perfect world, I believe we could create a domestic intelligence service that would have sufficient oversight that it would not infringe on our civil liberties. In a perfect world, I would create that domestic intelligence service separately from the FBI. In the world in which we live, I think that would be a difficult step to go directly to. And so what I proposed, instead, is that we create a domestic intelligence service within the FBI and, as fast as we could, develop it into an autonomous agency.
I am very fearful that such an agency would have potential to infringe on our civil liberties. And therefore, I think we would have to take extraordinary steps to have active oversight of such an agency. And we would have to explain to the American people in a very compelling way why they needed a domestic intelligence service, because I think most Americans would be fearful of a secret police in the United States.
But frankly, the FBI culture, the FBI organization, the FBI personnel are not the best we could do in this country for a domestic intelligence service.
ROEMER: We will certainly be looking to people in future hearings for their recommendations in a host of different areas. So I hope that you might think through this area a little bit more and be available to us.
Mr. Clarke, let me ask you some difficult questions for you to get at the complexity of our relationship with the Saudis.
One the one hand, I think there's a great deal of unanimity that the Saudis were not doing everything they could before 9/11 to help us in a host of different areas; 15 of the 19 hijackers came from there. We had trouble tracking some of the financing for terrorist operations. But we still have too many of the madrassas and the teachings of hatred of Christians and Jews and others coming out of some of these madrassas.
We need to broaden and deepen this relationship. I will ask you a part A and a part B.
Part A is where do we go in this difficult relationship? And part B is to further look at the difficulty here. You made a decision after 9/11 to, I think -- and I'd like to ask you more about this -- to allow a plane of Saudis to fly out of the country. And when most other planes were grounded, this plane flew from the United States back to Saudi Arabia. I'd like to know why you made that decision, who was on this plane, and if the FBI ever had the opportunity to interview those people.
CLARKE: You're absolutely right that the Saudi Arabian government did not cooperate with us significantly in the fight against terrorism prior to 9/11. Indeed, it didn't really cooperate until after bombs blew up in Riyadh.
Now, as to this controversy about the Saudi evacuation aircraft, let me tell you everything I know, which is that in the days following 9/11 -- whether it was on 9/12 or 9/15, I can't tell you -- we were in a constant crisis management meeting that had started the morning of 9/11 and ran for days on end. We were making lots of decisions, but we were coordinating them with all the agencies through the video teleconference procedure.
Someone -- and I wish I could tell you, but I don't know who -- someone brought to that group a proposal that we authorize a request from the Saudi embassy. The Saudi embassy had apparently said that they feared for the lives of Saudi citizens because they thought there would be retribution against Saudis in the United States as it became obvious to Americans that this attack was essentially done by Saudis, and that there were even Saudi citizens in the United States who were part of the bin Laden family, which is a very large family, very large family.
The Saudi embassy therefore asked for these people to be evacuated; the same sort of thing that we do all the time in similar crises, evacuating Americans.
The request came to me and I refused to approve it. I suggested that it be routed to the FBI and that the FBI look at the names of the individuals who were going to be on the passenger manifest and that they approve it -- or not.
I spoke with at that time the number two person in the FBI, Dale Watson, and asked him to deal with this issue.
The FBI then approved -- after some period of time, and I can't tell you how long -- approved the flight.
Now, what degree of review the FBI did of those names, I cannot tell you. How many people there are on the plane, I cannot tell you.
But I have asked since: Were there any individuals on that flight that in retrospect the FBI wishes they could have interviewed in this country. And the answer I've been given is no, that there was no one who left on that flight who the FBI now wants to interview.
ROEMER: Despite the fact that we don't know if Dale Watson interviewed them in the first place.
CLARKE: I don't think they were ever interviewed in this country.
ROEMER: So they were not interviewed here. We have all their names. We don't know if there has been any follow up to interview those people that were here and flown out of the country.
CLARKE: The last time I asked that question, I was informed that the FBI still had no desire to interview any of these people.
ROEMER: Would you have a desire to interview some of these people that...
CLARKE: I don't know who they are.
ROEMER: We don't know who they are...
CLARKE: I don't know who they are. The FBI knew who they were because they... ROEMER: Given your confidence in your statements on the FBI, what's your level of comfort with this?
CLARKE: Well, I will tell you in particular about the ones that get the most attention here in the press, and they are members of the bin Laden family.
I was aware, for some time, that there were members of the bin Laden family living in the United States.
And, let's see, in open session I can say that I was very well aware of the members of the bin Laden family and what they were doing in the United States. And the FBI was extraordinarily well aware of what they were doing in the United States. And I was informed by the FBI that none of the members of the bin Laden family, this large clan, were doing anything in this country that was illegal or that raised their suspicions.
And I believe the FBI had very good information and good sources of information on what the members of the bin Laden family were doing.
ROEMER: I've been very impressed with your memory, sitting through all these interviews the 9/11 commission has conducted with you. I press you, again, to try to recall how this request originated. Who might have passed this on to you at the White House situation room? Or who might have originated that request for the United States government to fly out -- how many people in this plane?
CLARKE: I don't know.
ROEMER: We don't know how many people were on a plane that flew out of this country. Who gave the final approval, then, to say yes, you're clear to go, it's all right with the United States government to go to Saudi Arabia?
CLARKE: I believe, after the FBI came back and said it was all right with them, we ran it through the decision process for all of these decisions we were making in those hours, which was the Interagency Crisis Management Group on the video conference.
I was making or coordinating a lot of decisions on 9/11 and the days immediately after. And I would love to be able to tell you who did it, who brought this proposal to me, but I don't know. Since you pressed me, the two possibilities that are most likely are either the Department of State, or the White House Chief of Staff's Office. But I don't know.
ROEMER: Thank you. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
KEAN: Senator Gorton?
GORTON: One more question on that subject. When the approvals were finally made and when the flight left, was the flight embargo still in effect? Or was that over; were we flying once again?
CLARKE: No, sir. No, Senator. The reason that a decision was needed was because the flight embargo, the grounding, was still in effect.
GORTON: OK. We talked a little bit in my earlier round of questioning about this frustrating phrase "actionable intelligence." And one of your recommendations to the new administration, according to our staff report, was to choose a standard of evidence for attributing responsibility for the Cole and deciding on a response.
Did that express a frustration that you had had, now, for the previous several years, that the phrase "actionable intelligence" often seemed to be an excuse for people not doing anything, that perhaps they had other reasons for not wanting to do? Did you want a broader definition, either of how much intelligence was needed, or how broad action should be?
GORTON: Yes to both?
GORTON: Could you tell me what your previous frustrations had been, and what kind of test you would have imposed?
CLARKE: Well, I think if you go back to 1993, when the attempted assassination on the first President Bush occurred in Kuwait, the process we put in place then was to ask the FBI, working with the Secret Service, to develop a set of evidence and CIA to develop separately an intelligence case. And that took from February of '93 through the end of May.
And it was done in a way that was reminiscent of a criminal process, at least the FBI case was.
The CIA case was an intelligence case and had different sources of information, different standards for what was admissible and a more lenient standard for making a determination.
Well, I think beginning then, I was frustrated by that kind of evidentiary process.
Now, I heard Sandy Berger this morning point out that immediately following the Pan Am 103 terrorist attack, the assumption in the intelligence and law enforcement communities was that it was a Syrian attack. And I recall that. He's quite right. And it turned out not to be a Syrian attack.
He pointed out that in the days and weeks after the TWA 800 crash, we assumed it was a terrorist attack. There were eyewitnesses of what appeared to be a missile attack. But after exhaustive investigations that went on for years, in the case of the NTSB and the FBI, a determination was made that it was not a terrorist attack. And I believe that that is the accurate determination.
Mr. Berger made other examples -- Oklahoma City and whatnot. I think we have to distinguish between rushing to judgment after a terrorist event, which as Mr. Berger said, is a mistake because sometimes the evidence changes, sometimes the evidence develops.
We saw this in Spain just two weeks ago where for the first day after the attacks in Madrid, the evidence really looked like it was the Basque separatist group. And I know there are political charges against the Spanish government for having distorted intelligence, but there was a lot of intelligence the first day that suggested that it was the Basque terrorist group.
So we do need to be careful not to rush to judgment after a terrorist attack. On the other hand, what I was suggesting in that paper that you referred to is that we not necessarily have to wait for a terrorist attack in order to attack a terrorist group.
But when you sometimes do that, you get into trouble. President Clinton got into a lot of trouble, a lot of criticism for blowing up a chemical plant in Sudan. To this day there are a lot of people who believe that it was not related to a terrorist group, not related to chemical weapons. They're wrong, by the way.
But the president had decided in PDD-39 that there should be a low threshold of evidence when it comes to the possibility of terrorists getting their access, getting their hands on chemical weapons. And he acted on that basis. And when he acted on that basis, he and his advisers were all heavily criticized.
So what I was suggesting there and what I am suggesting here now is that while Sandy Berger is right and we should not rush to judgment after a terrorist attack as to who did it until there is ample intelligence evidence, not criminal evidence, on the other hand, we should feel free to attack terrorist groups without waiting for them to attack us if we make a policy and an intelligence judgment that they pose a threat.
GORTON: One follow-up question on that. Between January and September of 2001, was there any actionable intelligence under either the narrow or broader definition that caused you to recommend an immediate military response to some provocation?
CLARKE: I suggested, beginning in January of 2001, that the Cole case was still out there and that by now, in January of 2001, CIA had finally gotten around to saying it was an al Qaeda attack, and that therefore there was an open issue which should be decided about whether or not the Bush administration should retaliate for the Cole attack.
Unfortunately, there was no interest, no acceptance of that proposition? And I was told on a couple of occasions, "Well, you know, that happened on the Clinton administration's watch."
I didn't think it made any difference. I thought the Bush administration, now that it had the CIA saying it was al Qaeda, should have responded.
GORTON: But there was no other January to September incident that caused you to recommend a military response, I gather? CLARKE: In the general definition, I think there was. What we had discussed in the general definition was not waiting for the terrorist attack, but feeling free to use military activity -- or covert action activity, doesn't have to be military -- covert action activity as a way of taking the offensive against terrorist organizations that look like they threaten the United States.
And what our plan or strategy or list of options, included was covert action activity to be taken, to go on the offensive against al Qaeda in Afghanistan.
GORTON: Through surrogates or through direct intervention?
CLARKE: That was a combination of both. But the determination of how that would be structured would be left to the CIA.
GORTON: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
KEAN: Senator Kerrey?
KERREY: Well, Mr. Clarke, let me say at the beginning that everything that you've said today and done has not damaged my view of your integrity. It's very much intact as far as I'm concerned. And I hope that your pledge earlier not to be a part of the Kerry administration did not preclude you from coming to New York sometime and teaching at the new schools.
And let me also say this document of Fox News earlier, this transcript that they had, this is a background briefing. And all of us that have provided background briefings for the press before should beware. I mean, Fox should say "occasionally fair and balanced" after putting something like this out.
Because they violated a serious trust.
All of us that come into this kind of an environment and provide background briefings for the press I think will always have this as a reminder that sometimes it isn't going to happen, that it's background.
Sometimes, if it suits their interest, they're going to go back, pull the tape, convert it into transcript and send it out in the public arena and try to embarrass us or discredit us.
So I object to what they've done, and I think it's an unfortunate thing they did.
Let me say as well that you and I have some disagreements and I'm going to get into them. First of all, I do not want to go back to the bad old days when covert operations could be done in an environment where the people thought they could do something in violation of U.S. law or that they'd come to Congress and lie about it, thinking that that was okay. I mean, that's what we're directing our attention to.
Perhaps there were some personnel mistakes that were made in the response to the problems in Guatemala in particular.
But I don't want to go back to the bad old days where guys could go out there and operate and not have to worry about U.S. law, not have to worry about whether or not they came and lied to Congress.
CLARKE: Nor do I, Senator.
KERREY: And secondly, I don't see it as you do, that the war in Iraq has increased the threat of terrorism. I honestly don't.
Unless you say that the threat of terrorism in Iraq is unquestionably gone up as a consequence of al Qaeda feeling even more opposition to freedom in Iraq than they do in freedom in the United States.
They feel much more threatened by having an Arab democracy than they do by having a democracy in the United States.
And so I don't see it that way. And although I don't go as far as the administration has done with drawing the connection to al Qaeda, I do think that the presence of Abdul Rahman Yasin in Iraq certainly causes some suspicions to be raised. I presume you know who Abdul Rahman Yasin is, and I wonder if you can comment on that.
I mean, what conclusions do you draw by the fact that we have an individual who we believe was part of the conspiracy to attack the World Trade Center I in February of 1993 associated with Ramzi Yousef, who was connected at least indirectly to the second attack. I wonder what conclusions you draw from the fact that Yasin has been given, at the very least, a place that it could hang out, and he is on the lam again. We're still hunting him and trying to find out where he is in Iraq today.
CLARKE: Let me go back into the history of 1993, which is when we first heard about this man.
In 1993, when the truck bomb exploded at the World Trade Center, we didn't know there was an al Qaeda. No one had ever said that. In the initial reports, and I mean initial by the sense of about a year or two, the initial reports from the FBI's investigation of that attack, suggested that the attackers were somehow a gang of people from five or six different countries who had found each other and come together almost like a pick-up basketball team, that there was no organization behind it.
Eventually, in retrospect, the FBI and CIA were able to discover that there was an organization behind it and that organization is what we now call al Qaeda. Most of the people directly involved in that conspiracy were identified and tracked down by the FBI and CIA, were arrested or snatched and brought back to the United States. Mr. Yasin was the one who wasn't. And the reason he wasn't was he was an Iraqi. He was the only Iraqi in the group. There were Egyptians and there were other nationalities. He was an Iraqi and therefore when the explosion took place and he fled the United States, he went back to Iraq.
And we were, obviously, for obvious reasons, unable to either snatch him or get him to be extradited to the United States.
But the investigation, both the CIA investigation and the FBI investigation, made it very clear in '95 and '96 as they got more information, that the Iraqi government was in no way involved in the attack.
And the fact that one of the 12 people involved in the attack was Iraqi hardly seems to me as evidence that the Iraqi government was involved in the attack. The attack was al Qaeda; not Iraq. The Iraqi government because, obviously, of the hostility between us and them, didn't cooperate in turning him over and gave him sanctuary, as it did give sanctuary to other terrorists.
But the allegation that has been made that the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center was done by the Iraqi government I think is absolutely without foundation.
KERREY: Can you see where a reasonable person might say that if Yasin is given a safe haven inside of Iraq, prior to 9/11, that the Iraqis are at least unwilling to do what is necessary to bring someone that we believe is responsible for killing Americans in 1993 to justice?
CLARKE: Absolutely. The Iraqis were providing safe haven to a variety of Palestinian terrorists, as well. Absolutely -- as were the Iranians, as were the Syrians.
KERREY: Thank you.
KEAN: Commissioner Ben-Veniste?
BEN-VENISTE: I just wanted to say that having sat in on two days of debriefings with you, Mr. Clarke, and having seen excerpts from your book, other than questions you weren't asked, I have not perceived any substantive differences between what you have said to us and what has been quoted from your published work. Having said that, I'll cede my time to Congressman Roemer, if he'll give me his time with Condoleezza Rice.
CLARKE: That may not be a good deal.
KEAN: Is that all? Congressman Thompson? THOMPSON: Mr. Clarke, in this background briefing, as Senator Kerrey has now described it, for the press in August of 2002, you intended to mislead the press, did you not?
CLARKE: No. I think there is a very fine line that anyone who's been in the White House, in any administration, can tell you about. And that is when you are special assistant to the president and you're asked to explain something that is potentially embarrassing to the administration, because the administration didn't do enough or didn't do it in a timely manner and is taking political heat for it, as was the case there, you have a choice. Actually, I think you have three choices. You can resign rather than do it. I chose not to do that. Second choice is...
THOMPSON: Why was that, Mr. Clarke? You finally resigned because you were frustrated.
CLARKE: I was, at that time, at the request of the president, preparing a national strategy to defend America's cyberspace, something which I thought then and think now is vitally important. I thought that completing that strategy was a lot more important than whether or not I had to provide emphasis in one place or other while discussing the facts on this particular news story.
The second choice one has, Governor, is whether or not to say things that are untruthful. And no one in the Bush White House asked me to say things that were untruthful, and I would not have said them.
In any event, the third choice that one has is to put the best face you can for the administration on the facts as they were, and that is what I did.
I think that is what most people in the White House in any administration do when they're asked to explain something that is embarrassing to the administration.
THOMPSON: But you will admit that what you said in August of 2002 is inconsistent with what you say in your book?
CLARKE: No, I don't think it's inconsistent at all. I think, as I said in your last round of questioning, Governor, that it's really a matter here of emphasis and tone. I mean, what you're suggesting, perhaps, is that as special assistant to the president of the United States when asked to give a press backgrounder I should spend my time in that press backgrounder criticizing him. I think that's somewhat of an unrealistic thing to expect.
THOMPSON: Well, what it suggests to me is that there is one standard of candor and morality for White House special assistants and another standard of candor and morality for the rest of America.
CLARKE: I don't get that. I don't think it's a question of morality at all. I think it's a question of politics.
CLARKE: Well, I...
THOMPSON: I'm not a Washington insider. I've never been a special assistant in the White House. I'm from the Midwest. So I think I'll leave it there.
KEAN: Congressman Roemer?
ROEMER: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I appreciate your patience.
This has been I'm sure a long day for you, Mr. Clarke. I want to explore a little bit more, since we've heard from Mr. Tenet on this issue today, the Predator issue.
As you know, the Predator first came out of use in Kosovo, and it was used in various activities, with a laser on it, to track Serb tanks, to help us go after those tanks. It was flown in 2000 in the Clinton administration as a recon vehicle, unmanned recon vehicle.
In 2001, we had a debate, a complex debate, that I can understand both sides of. Took several months to try to resolve it. There are two issues here: on the recon Predator and on the armed Predator.
Mr. Tenet said that they were not blocking the armed Predator. You have said that they were blocking the armed Predator.
How do we reconcile these two? And please take us through a little bit of this. I want to ask you if it would have made much of a difference getting the unarmed up, and if the armed could have been put up earlier than October of 2001.
CLARKE: Let me begin in the first few months of the year 2000. President Clinton was enormously frustrated because he had authorized, in effect, the assassination of bin Laden and his lieutenants by CIA. He had also authorized, in principle, the use of military forces, cruise missiles, to attack and kill bin Laden and his lieutenants. And none of this had happened because the CIA had been unable to use its human intelligence resources in Afghanistan to provide -- I'm sorry, Senator -- actionable intelligence.
On the occasions when we had things that looked like actionable intelligence, the three or four occasions, the director of CIA himself said the intelligence wasn't good enough. So the president was very mad and he asked Sandy Berger and me to come up with a better way.
I asked the director of the joint staff, Admiral Fry, and the associate DCI, Charlie Allen, to form a task force to come up with a better way. They proposed flying the Predator in Afghanistan.
CIA's directorate of operations, the director of the directorate of operations, opposed the use of Predator in 2000 for reconnaissance purposes. He said that if there were additional resources available to pay for the Predator operation, he would prefer to use them on human intelligence.
ROEMER: And how much are we talking about, Mr. Clarke?
CLARKE: Pennies, relatively.
ROEMER: Hundreds of thousands of dollars?
CLARKE: Some of it cost hundreds of thousands. The whole program was in the low millions, I think.
In any event, this slowed things down, obviously.
Mr. Berger took up my cause with the director of Central Intelligence and got their agreement that they would fly the reconnaissance version. It was flown in September and October of 2000, 11 flights. And the directorate of operations put a lot of restrictions on those flights, in part because they were afraid that the aircraft would be shot down and they would have to pay for it. I tried to point out that even if the aircraft were shot down, the pilot would return safety to home. But that didn't seem to persuade them.
In any event, during those flights, at CIA's insistence, they were designed as a proof of concept operation, meaning that we could not have cruise missiles, other military activity, other covert action capabilities cued to this so that when the Predator did see bin Laden, as it did I think on three occasions, but clearly on one in that time frame, there were no military assets available, there were no covert action assets available, at the insistence of the CIA, because they wanted this only as a proof of concept operation.
Fast forward to 2001: The flights had been suspended because of the winter during which they couldn't fly.
We then became aware that there was a long-term program in the Air Force to arm the Predator. Johnny Jumper, the head of the Air Force, thought that it might be possible to crash -- probably the wrong word -- to accelerate this program and arm the Predator right away.
General Jumper directed that happening. It happened in a matter of months, not a matter of years. And it appeared to work in tests in the western United States.
When on September 4th we held the principals meeting that's been discussed, the issue on the table was: Would CIA fly the armed Predator?
And CIA took the view, in the principals meeting, that it was not their job to fly armed UAVs. They did not want to fly the armed Predator under their authority.
I was informed by people who were in the CIA that during the discussions inside CIA, people in the Directorate of Operations had raised objections. Saying, for example that if CIA flies the armed Predator, and it kills bin Laden, then CIA agents all around the world will be at risk of retaliation attacks by al Qaeda.
I didn't think that was a very persuasive reason because I thought CIA agents were already at risk of attack by al Qaeda.
In any event, as the September 4th principals meeting ended, CIA had not agreed to fly the mission. September 11th happened. CIA then agreed to fly the armed Predator mission. It went into operation very quickly in Afghanistan. It found...
ROEMER: Within a month?
CLARKE: ... the military commander -- I think within the month. It found the military commander of al Qaeda. And because it was armed, then, it could not only find things it could kill them. And it launched a missile, a Hellfire missile, at the military commander of al Qaeda and killed him and his associates. If that answers the question.
ROEMER: That answers the question. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
KEAN: OK. Mr. Clarke, thank you very much. Thank you not only for your testimony today, but thank you for your extraordinary time you spent already with the commission and your willingness to help us with our report.
JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: We've been listening to Richard Clarke, who was formerly head of counterterrorism not only in the administration of George W. Bush, but also in the administration of Bill Clinton, and of the first President Bush. Richard Clarke having made a lot of news over the last week with a book out, "Against All Enemies," a book that paints the current Bush administration in an unflattering light.
Mr. Clarke saying that President Bush did not take the threat of terrorism, the threat of al Qaeda seriously enough early in 2001. And he was just asked about this in any number of ways by the members of this commission, the Republican members of the commission. In particular, former Illinois Governor Jim Thompson and former Navy Secretary John Lehman pressing him, calling out contradictions and so forth. On the other hand, Democratic members of the panel probing him in other ways.
It has been an extraordinary hour-and-a-half or so of testimony by someone who has caused a sensation over the last week with his harsh charges that he has put out there about President Bush and about President Bush and their "lack of preparation," in his words, for -- in terms of not being able to prevent 9/11 from happening.
You're watching Richard Clarke leave the room. He's been testifying, as we said, before the members of the 9/11 Commission. These are eight or so members who were chosen, both Democrats and Republicans, to look into why 9/11 happened, what should have been on the boards that might have prevented it, and looking at ways to prevent it from happening in the future.
The next person to come before the commission will be the number two man at the Department of State, Richard Armitage. We'll be continuing with his testimony just as soon as it gets under way. As we wait, we're going to take a short break. TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com