'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Wednesday, March 24, 2004

Not So Obscure At The Moment...

Dick Cheney said the following on the Limbaugh show a couple of days ago:

So I guess, the other thing I would say about Dick Clarke is that he was here throughout those eight years, going back to 1993, and the first attack on the World Trade Center; and '98, when the embassies were hit in East Africa; in 2000, when the USS Cole was hit. And the question that ought to be asked is, what were they doing in those days when he was in charge of counterterrorism efforts?

Here's a Washington Post article answering Cheney's question, in which Clarke gets criticized for being too focused on the possibility of catastrophic terrorism: (from "An Obscure Chief in U.S. War on Terror", WP, 4/2/00)

Richard Clarke witnessed the dawn of the millennium in a top-secret government communications vault, monitoring intelligence traffic for any sign of activity by Islamic terrorist groups loyal to Osama bin Laden. It was not until midnight in California--3 a.m. Washington time--that the Clinton administration's counterterrorism chief finally permitted himself a celebratory sip of champagne.
Four weeks before, Clarke had sketched out a plan on the whiteboard in his office at the National Security Council for neutralizing the latest threat from the Afghanistan-based Saudi exile. Approved by President Clinton and his top foreign policy advisers, Clarke's plan became the basis of administration efforts to prevent bin Laden supporters from ringing in the New Year with what officials believed could be dozens, perhaps hundreds, of American deaths in a series of simultaneous attacks from the Middle East to the West Coast.

Central to Clarke's strategy was a major disruption effort, orchestrated by the CIA and implemented by friendly intelligence agencies around the world, aimed at harassing members of bin Laden's al Qaeda organization and forcing them onto the defensive. Other moves included putting the FBI on a heightened state of alert, dispatching counterterrorism teams to Europe and having the State Department issue an informal ultimatum to Afghanistan to keep bin Laden under control.

U.S. officials credit these countermeasures--and what many acknowledge was sheer "good luck"--with a peaceful start to the new year. But the millennium alert--initially triggered by reports of a plan to attack American and Israeli tourists in Jordan--also underlined the influence of one of the least known but most controversial members of Clinton's national security team.

Operating from an Old Executive Office Building suite once inhabited by Col. Oliver North, Clarke has played a key role both in defining the new post-Cold War security threats to the United States and coming up with a response. But he also has come to personify what some critics, particularly abroad, view as an unhealthy American obsession with high-tech threats and a "Fortress America" approach to dealing with them.

As the national coordinator for infrastructure protection and counterterrorism, Clarke has presided over a huge increase in counterterrorism budgets over the past five years to meet a wide array of new--and some would argue, still hypothetical--challenges, such as cyber warfare or chemical or biological attacks in New York or Washington. Last month, the administration submitted an $11.1 billion request to Congress to strengthen "domestic preparedness" against a terrorist attack. In the meantime, by contrast, security assistance to the former Soviet Union to tackle proliferation problems has been stuck in the region of $800 million a year.

"In America, there is a morbid fascination with greater-than-life technological threats, which you don't see in other countries," says Ehud Sprinzak, a terrorism expert at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. "Clarke has an ax to grind. It makes him big. If nobody talked about catastrophic terrorism, what would people like Dick Clarke be doing?"

Such talk irritates national security adviser Samuel R. "Sandy" Berger, Clarke's direct supervisor, who insists that the threat of large-scale terrorist attacks on U.S. soil is "a reality, not a perception." "We would be irresponsible if we did not take this seriously," he says. "I hope that in 10 years' time, they will say we did too much, not too little."

Clarke's warnings about America's vulnerability to new kinds of terrorist attack have found a receptive ear in Clinton. With little fanfare, the president has begun to articulate a new national security doctrine in which terrorists and other "enemies of the nation-state" are coming to occupy the position once filled by a monolithic communist superpower. In January, he departed from the prepared text of his State of the Union address to predict that terrorists and organized criminals "with increasing access to ever more sophisticated chemical and biological weapons" will pose "the major security threat" to the United States in 10 to 20 years.

"We should have a very low barrier in terms of acting when there is a threat of weapons of mass destruction being used against American citizens," says Clarke, brushing aside suggestions that a preoccupation with bin Laden has caused errors in judgment, such as the decision to retaliate for the attack on U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in August 1998 by bombing a pharmaceutical plant in Khartoum, Sudan, suspected of producing chemical agents. "We should not have a barrier of evidence that can be used in a court of law," Clarke says.

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