Love Him or Hate Him, He’s Got It Largely Right,
Clarke strikes out at the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Central Intelligence Agency, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, throughout the book.
Clarke confirms both all the reports of CIA failing to tell FBI, FBI leaders ignoring their own field reports and consequently failing to tell the White House clearing house on terrorism, of any and all the indicators and warnings received from June 2001 to September 10 2001. Clarke confirms that as of January 2001, despite a decade or more of Al Qaeda activism, “most senior officials in the administration did not know the term.”
The historical review, going back to the Iranian revolution of 1979 (which overturned a CIA coup much earlier) and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan (which mobilized global jihad), is quite helpful. The failure of the White House to kill the Republican Guard in the first Gulf War, and the post-Gulf War decision to put thousands and thousands of US contractors into Saudi Arabia, thus further inflaming Saudi dissidents, and the related misadventures in Lebanon as well as over-tolerance for Israeli aggression on the Palestinians, are all put into useful context. The book begins with a solid meticulous review unlike any other I have found.
CIA and FBI both take substantive and deserved beatings. The CIA Directorate of Operations–with the full backing of the DCI– cannot be considered to be anything other than “chickenshit” in the manner in which it blocked just about every proposed initiative including the arming of the Predators and the insertion of language-qualified personnel into Afghanistan.
Clarke lists four strategic mistakes: 1) CIA becoming overly dependent on the Pakistani intelligence service; 2) CIA importation to the Afghanistan jihad of Arab extremists it did not understand; 3) USG’s quick pull-out from Afghanistan without flooding them with water, food, medicine, and security first; and 4) US ignorance of and failure to help Pakistan stabilize itself and survive the deadly mix of millions of Afghan refugees and thousands of radicalized Arab Muslims.
The Saudi government’s sponsorship of Bin Laden as a religious revolutionary with a global mission beginning in 1989 cannot be denied. The book documents what we knew and when we knew it, and how we chose to ignore it.
1993-1994 were clearly turning point years–both the 1993 World Trade Center car bombing, and the discovery of a network of suicidal terrorists based in the US and tied to the blind Muslim preacher in Brooklyn, should have but did not lead to a nation-wide cleansing and appropriate border controls and foreign intelligence measures. Al Qaeda was formed in 1990. It would be five years before CIA and the FBI would realize this.
On page 84, Clarke makes my day by providing the ultimate OSINT (Open Source Intelligence) story. After ordering a strike on Iraqi intelligence headquarters, Clinton refused to go on TV until it was confirmed. The $35 billion a year intelligence community could not confirm it–no spies or agents on the ground, satellites out of position, etcetera. Bill Clinton, without telling anyone, called CNN, CNN called its Jordan bureau, whose cameraman had a cousin who lived near the intelligence headquarters, who confirmed the strike.” Got to love it–all money, no eyes. When will Congress get it!?
Clarke confirms the many ugly stories about CIA’s operational incompetence in Somalia (professionals will recall we sent old dogs without language skills, two of whom went nuts, literally, afterwards). The following quote should be hung in CIA’s entryway until we get a serious clandestine service: “They had nobody in the country when the Marines landed. Then they sent in a few guys who had never been there before. They swapped people out every few weeks and they stayed holed up in the U.S. compound on the beach, in comfy trailer homes that they had flown in by the Air Force.” Sure, there have been some improvements, but as CIA operations super-star Reuel Gerecht says, until diarrhea is accepted as part of the job description, the DO will never be real.
Clarke sums up the Clinton era by saying that policy was good, and intelligence bad. The bureaucracy was not willing to take terrorism seriously nor to work as a team. He sums up the Bush the Second era by saying that both were bad. Clarke slams George Tenet repeatedly, identifying 1994 as the year in which he blew the chance to nail Bin Laden and the Saudis early on.
Clarke fails Congress for failing America in 1995, when its oversight should have identified the failures of the past two years, and moved to correct them.
The Atlanta Olympics stand out as a major success story, and I emphasize this to note that there were successes, and there were extraordinary new means developed of planning, of inter-agency coordination, of rapid response. The Secret Service emerges from Clarke’s book with its reputation much enhanced.
Saudi mendacity and Canadian complacency (the latter fixed since 9-11, the former not) get special mention. Prince Bandar is labeled a liar on more than one occasion.
There are many other important points raised by this book, including specific recommendations for addressing our global vulnerability to terrorism, and they will not be listed here. Buy the book.
One final comment: this is a very intelligent man who has actually read books and done some cross-cultural historical thinking. He laments the fact that politicians with power tend to view visionaries with knowledge as nuts (page 131). This is a brilliant book that should be read in detail, not–as Rich Armitage confessed to the 9-11 Commission on C-SPAN–the way Washington reads: checking the index for one’s name. Washington has become stupid. Richard Clarke is not.