"Richard A. Clarke said in a television interview airing Sunday that Bush 'ignored terrorism for months' before the 2001 attacks, then looked to attack Iraq rather than Afghanistan, the nation harboring the terrorist group al-Qaeda, which launched the attacks."
That's from Bloomberg.
It is fair to say that anyone who has seriously reported on this issue, or has read a lot of the good reporting on it, already knows this: namely, that the incoming Bush administration downgraded the attention given to terrorism and al Qaida specifically in the last years of the Clinton administration, and this after being warned by out-going members of the Clinton team that combatting al Qaida should be at the top of their agenda.
In short, they pushed al Qaida and a lot of resources aimed at fighting al Qaida to the backburner until the whole thing blew up in their faces on 9/11.
Their focus, as we've noted before, was on the centrality of states rather than shadowy transnational terrorist groups -- thus their preoccuption with issues like national missile defense.
In any case, as I say, we've basically known this.
But it's another thing to have the person who was there at the center of the action as NSC counter-terrorism czar -- both under Clinton and Bush -- saying on camera that the president ignored terrorism and al Qaida right up until the day of the attacks. Clarke was there. In fact, to the extent that Bush and Rice and Cheney and the rest of the team were ignoring the issue, it would have been Clarke's urgent warnings they were ignoring -- since he was the head of counter-terrorism on the NSC staff.
White House Spokesman Sean McCormick told the New York Times: "The president and his team received briefings on the threat from al-Qaida prior to taking office, and fighting terrorism became a top priority when this administration came into office. We actively pursued the Clinton administration's policies on al-Qaida until we could get into place a more comprehensive policy."
But Clark says that's baloney. And he was the one who headed up Clinton's counter-terrorism policies and Bush's. So who are you going to believe?
Now do you understand why they're stonewalling the 9/11 commission?
And while we're discussing the commission, why do they even really need to stonewall it?
Consider this passage from a piece in today's Times ...
They said the warnings were delivered in urgent post-election intelligence briefings in December 2000 and January 2001 for Condoleezza Rice, who became Mr. Bush's national security adviser; Stephen Hadley, now Ms. Rice's deputy; and Philip D. Zelikow, a member of the Bush transition team, among others.
One official scheduled to testify, Richard A. Clarke, who was President Bill Clinton's counterterrorism coordinator, said in an interview that the warning about the Qaeda threat could not have been made more bluntly to the incoming Bush officials in intelligence briefings that he led.
At the time of the briefings, there was extensive evidence tying Al Qaeda to the bombing in Yemen two months earlier of an American warship, the Cole, in which 17 sailors were killed.
"It was very explicit," Mr. Clarke said of the warning given to the Bush administration officials. "Rice was briefed, and Hadley was briefed, and Zelikow sat in." Mr. Clarke served as Mr. Bush's counterterrorism chief in the early months of the administration, but after Sept. 11 was given a more limited portfolio as the president's cyberterrorism adviser.
Now we know about Rice and Hadley, her deputy. But how about Zelikow? He's a former NSC official from the first Bush administration and a close associate of Rice's. The two of them even wrote a book together.
He was in the key meetings where the warnings -- seemingly ignored -- about al Qaida came up. He seems like someone you'd want to talk to to find out what they were warned about and why they didn't take the warnings more seriously.
Well, you don't have to look far to find him. He runs the 9/11 Commission. Zelikow is the Executive Director of the Commission, which means he has operational control of the investigation under the overall management of the two co-chairs Tom Kean and Lee Hamilton.
Now, Zelikow is no hack. He's an accomplished Republican foreign policy hand. But Condi Rice and what happened in the hand-off between the administrations is central to the whole 9/11 investigation enterprise.
Does it make sense to have the guy who's running the investigation be one of her close professional colleagues?
The 9/11 families didn't think so either.