Clarke’s Book Bolstered?

WaPo fronts a rather breathless story entitled, “Framework of Clarke’s Book Is Bolstered.” The problem is, the substance of the story doesn’t match the title. The piece “bolsters” the part of Clarke’s story that is not in serious dispute: that, prior to 9/11, the Bush team didn’t make counterterrorism its top priority. Indeed, the president flat-out stated that in his interview with Bob Woodward soon after the attacks.

What is in dispute–and has been highlighted by the 60 Minutes feature and other attempts to flak the book–are Clarke’s assertions that the Bush team took counterterrorism less seriously than did their predecessors and that Condi Rice and company were so clueless on the issue that they’d literally never even heard of al Qaeda. Nothing here “bolsters” those assertions, the latter of which is demonstrably false.

The continued pounding away at what is essentially a non-story on the part of the Post is troubling. Nothing here merits front page treatment, let alone this headline.

Update: Interestingly, the NYT story on the same report is much more balanced: Uneven Response Seen on Terror in Summer of 2001 [RSS]

On July 5, 2001, as threats of an impending terrorist attack against the United States were pouring into Washington, Condoleezza Rice, the national security adviser, and Andrew H. Card Jr., the president’s chief of staff, directed the administration’s counterterrorism office to assemble top officials from many of the country’s domestic agencies for a meeting in the White House Situation Room.

Even though the warnings focused mostly on threats overseas, Ms. Rice and Mr. Card wanted the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Federal Aviation Administration, the Customs Service, the Immigration and Naturalization Service and other agencies put on alert inside the United States. Ms. Rice and Mr. Card did not attend the meeting, run by Richard A. Clarke, the White House counterterrorism coordinator. When the meeting broke up, several new security advisories were issued, including an F.A.A. bulletin warning of an increased risk of air hijackings intended to free terrorists imprisoned in the United States.


The review suggests that the government never collected in one place all the information that was flowing into Washington about Al Qaeda and its interest in using commercial aircraft to carry out attacks, and about extremist groups’ interest in pilot training. A Congressional inquiry into intelligence activities before Sept. 11 found 12 reports over a seven-year period suggesting that terrorists might use airplanes as weapons.

There were also no specific new military plans for attacking Qaeda forces or the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. The Pentagon’s priorities that summer were developing a national missile defense plan and conducting a broad strategy and budget review. Military planners had previously offered a comprehensive plan to incorporate military, economic, diplomatic and political activities to pressure the Taliban to expel Al Qaeda’s leader, Osama bin Laden. But the plan was never acted on by either the Clinton or Bush administrations.

Money for fighting terrorism had to be justified against an array of other priorities, from tax cuts and education to missile defense. The White House Office of Management and Budget said in a report in August 2001 that counterterrorism programs were having difficulty competing.

This account–including the headline–seems much more in line with the facts as we now understand them.

FILED UNDER: Afghanistan War, Terrorism, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Leslie says:

    Glad I’m not the only one who was shocked to discover that the NYT piece was much more balanced. Was it based on the prelim reports of the 9/11 Commission? What caught my attention was the revelation that, while Rice and others were focusing on developing the overall strategy, Clarke had been instructed to take care of any immediate threats. Guess who failed to do his job?

  2. alex says:

    You repugs are so fucked.

    It’s nice to see you panicking. You’ll be history in a decade. And W is the beginning of your end. He’s the epitome of republicanism: retarded, misbegotten or inherited wealth, and a religious fundamentalist.

    You guys are over.

  3. Another Thought says:

    Sandy Berger wrote an article which appeared in FOREIGN AFFAIRS Nov/Dec 200 Issue; Volume 79 Number 6.
    It is an 18 page article, and it thoroughly reviews so-called Clinton Administration
    successes (like North Korea!) and outlines what Clinton’s National Security Advisor – on behalf of the Clinton Administration – saw as the emerging chief global security issues.

    The title of the article was, appropriately, “A Foreign Policy for the Global Age”.

    In this article, Berger mentions terrorism ONCE, in passing – in a single paragraph, three pages from the end. Islamo-terrorism gets equal billing with all others on every continent, and he did not specifically mention either al Qaeda or UBL.

    This PROVES that global terror was far from the Clinton Administration’s “HIGHEST PRIORITY” as Clarke claimed UNDER OATH.

  4. Another Thought says:

    In Clinton’s last State of the Union in 2000 he sounded a very cheery note: “Never before has our nation enjoyed, at once, so much prosperity and social progress with so little internal crisis and so few external threats.”

    That does not sound to me like a man who believes there existed any great threat to the US at that time. Notice the phrase…”so few external threats”—during this time, Al Qaeda was plotting and preparing for the 9-11 attack and the attack on the USS Cole, and of course we had suffered previous attacks at their hand, such as the 1998 embassy bombings.

  5. Another Thought on Another Thought says:

    Errr…. Your boy W is NOT running against Clinton.

    But keep at it. It’s cute. And maybe you can uncover another episode of Clinton getting a blowjob. And dream of yourself ever getting one.

  6. capt joe says:

    to Alex and AT on AT,

    oooh aaaah! oooh aaaah! Why are you guys so obessed with Clinton’s sex life. I thought it was just republicans in the late 90s. Now it looks like DU-ers and deaniacs are also.

  7. alex says:

    to capt joe:

    wouldn’t you love to make sense once in your life?

    well, you weren’t even close on your last comment.

  8. James Joyner says:


  9. James Joyner says: