Scheuer: Why I Resigned From the CIA
Imperial Hubris author Michael Scheuer has a column in today’s LAT explaining, “Why I Resigned From the CIA.” It has several interesting observations:
I do not profess a broad expertise in international affairs, but between January 1996 and June 1999 I was in charge of running operations against Al Qaeda from Washington. When it comes to this small slice of the large U.S. national security pie, I speak with firsthand experience (and for several score of CIA officers) when I state categorically that during this time senior White House officials repeatedly refused to act on sound intelligence that provided multiple chances to eliminate Osama bin Laden Ã¢€” either by capture or by U.S. military attack.
The 9/11 commission report documents most of the occasions on which senior U.S. bureaucrats and policymakers had the chance to attack Bin Laden in 1998-1999. It is mystifying that the American public has not been outraged over these missed opportunities.
Note the dates here. His tenure was entirely during the Clinton Administration, during which Richard Clarke was the White House terrorism advisor. While the Left consistently focused on Scheuer’s critique of the Bush Administration’s response to 9/11, especially the Iraq War, it is worth noting that Scheuer was equally frustrated with Bush’s predecessor.
Referring to Clarke and others, Scheuer fumes:
Each of these officials have publicly argued that the intelligence was not “good enough” to act, but they almost always neglect to say that they were repeatedly advised that the intelligence was not going to get better and that Bin Laden was going to kill thousands of Americans if he was not stopped.
Perhaps a starting point is for Americans to ask why no member of Congress’ Graham-Goss investigation or the Kean-Hamilton commissioners ever directly asked Clarke, former national security advisor Samuel R. “Sandy” Berger, CIA Director George J. Tenet, former FBI Director Louis J. Freeh, former Secretary of State [sic] William S. Cohen* or any of the rest of the witnesses why they never erred on the side of protecting Americans; why international opinion was ultimately more important than the Americans who leaped from the World Trade Center; and why the intelligence was “good enough” to save the life of an Arab prince dining with bin Laden, but not “good enough” to cause the government to act on behalf of Americans.
I would note, however, that Scheuer undermined his own efforts somewhat by the tone of Imperial Hubris** and some of his comments to the press during its publicity tour. By focusing so much on the Iraq War and the Bush Administration–all the better to generate a huge buzz from an anti-Bush, anti-war press corps–he took attention away from what he now rightly notes is the more important issue.
Further, it’s rather ironic that Clarke and Scheuer are such intense rivals. They both suffer from the “if only they had listened to me” plight of the aggrieved functionary. Even if one presumes that Clarke and Scheuer are absolutely correct in their presentation of past events, it is understandable that those above them in the chain of command took al Qaeda less seriously than they did. It is a virtual tautology that the specialist thinks those above him fail to appreciate the importance of his work.
*Cohen was, of course SecDef, not SecState, a position held by Warren Christopher and Madeleine Albright during the period in question.
**See my review of Imperial Hubris in Strategic Insights for more discussion of this point.