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 — 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 aggrevied 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.

FILED UNDER: Intelligence, 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.

Comments

  1. ken says:

    uh James, the more important issue is not that Scheuer feels Clinton did not do enough about Osama. Clinton after all focused intently on terrorism and did all that was feasable in his attacks on Osama. His compaint that Clinton did not kill an innocent Saudi prince in order to kill Osama as well is just plain stupid. The more important issue is that while Clinton did what he could, Bush did nothing at all about the threat he was repeatedly warned about.

  2. b-psycho says:

    Was that Saudi prince there when we caught Bin Laden on the camera of an unmanned drone in Afghanistan long before 9/11?

    If so, f*ck him I’d say. People who value their safety should not hang around those who deserve to be blown to bits, eh?

  3. McGehee says:

    Clinton after all focused intently on terrorism…

    Riiiiiiiiiiiight.

    Bush did nothing at all about the threat he was repeatedly warned about.

    Did “nothing at all” during the less-than-eight-months he was President before 9/11. [gasp!] I guess it’s all Bush’s fault somebody didn’t try to blow up the World Trade Center during his first year in office.

    Oh — wait a minute.

  4. ken says:

    [[Bush]] ‘Did “nothing at all” during the less-than-eight-months he was President before 9/11. [gasp!]’

    Yes, Bush did nothing. Oh I suppose you could say he fumbled the ball he was handed. But then that would be giving him enough credit to realize he was even being handed a ball.

    Bush rejected any advice to act, or even to consider the threat, of terrorism because, and only because, Clinton felt it was so important. Bush intentionally took the opposite position Clinton did on everything of substance like fighting terrorism, fiscal responsibiltiy, paying down the debt, mideast peace, environmental protection, etc.

  5. vdibart says:

    “Did “nothing at all” during the less-than-eight-months he was President before 9/11. [gasp!]”

    I suppose this is supposed to mean that Bush didn’t have time to do anything about terrorism because he was only in place for 8 months before September 11th? Assuming that’s the argument, it’s got a major flaw. If you criticize Clinton for doing nothing when something should have been done, what exactly was Bush waiting for? If he always had such moral clarity about how to take the fight to the enemies and that priority number one was protecting the homeland, why was it that 8 months into his term he hadn’t done anything? 8 months is almost 1/4 of his term length. So was he serious about terrorism or…maybe like the rest of us he underestimated the threat?

    Look, just admit it, he didn’t take it seriously. Most reasonable people Clinton didn’t do as much as he could have done (although to say he did nothing is unfair), but to say that Bush was always so intent on eradicating terrorism is laughable. How many times before 9/11 did Bush mention terrorism at all?

  6. Jeremiad Screamer says:

    How many vacations did he take in those eight months… :-0

  7. Cassandra says:

    Lovely argument… Clinton had 8 years to do something about the problem, yet did nothing.

    Bush had 8 months. What, pray tell, was he supposed to accomplish in 8 months, while simulaneously trying to set up shop and get his appointments approved by Congress after a contentious election where he was robbed of the normal lead time incoming Presidents have to get situated?

    Can you imagine the furor, even had he decided to take OBL out? Give me a break.

    Even assuming the 9/11 plot could have been predicted and the attack averted (a huge assumption that I’m not aware anyone has credibly defended), a new administration in the first few months of its first is in a poor position to eradicate a threat that was ignored for 8 years prior.

    And who ‘repeatedly warned” Bush? Where is the evidence? Not in Richard Clarke’s statements to the 9.11 commission, which contradict themselves in innumerable places:

    The September 11 commission will look at the discrepancy between the testimony of Richard A. Clarke that the Clinton administration considered the threat of al Qaeda “urgent” and its final national-security report to Congress, which gave the terror organization scant mention.
    Al Felzenberg, spokesman for the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks on the United States, said commission members are familiar with an article in yesterday’s editions of The Washington Times, which showed that President Clinton’s final public document on national security never referred to al Qaeda by name and mentioned Osama bin Laden just four times.

    Furthermore:

    Clarke testified to the 911 commission that the Federal Aviation Administration and the FBI passed alerts on to 18,000 state and local law enforcement agencies and to all airports and airlines. But the information was so general that nothing more effective could be done.

    My husband was in anti-terrorism on 9.11 – you obviously have no idea how many upspecified threats come in EVERY SINGLE DAY. The chance that any one threat will pan out is almost nil – absent a crystal ball, there is still no way to know which ones might. And unless you know the target, there is no way to protect everything – any terrorism expert will tell you that. Maybe we should just shut the country down anyway – life is so dangerous.

    We don’t get to make up facts to suit our view of events. Evidence?

  8. Cassandra says:

    …in the first few months of its first term

  9. vdibart says:

    Interesting scatter-shot method there Cassandra. Throw it all up there, see what sticks.

    Your argument is that Bush was too busy to put together his cabinet (not true) to protect the homeland? That doesn’t sound like a defensible position. But if he had wanted to do something he couldn’t because there was no way to tell what was a false lead? But the problem is that I’m not saying he could have/should have averted September 11th. I’m saying that he didn’t take terrorism seriously. Period, end of story.

    Where was his promise to rid Iraq of WMD *before* 9/11? Or even his recognition that they had WMD? But somehow, in the chaos that is the first 8 months of a term, when you claim he couldn’t accomplish anything, he was able to pass No Child Left Behind. Do you honestly feel safe living in a country where the president is granted 8+ months to get his act together?

    And is your argument also that Clinton didn’t explicitly tell the Bush administration about bin Laden (also not true), therefore Bush can be excused for not doing anything it? That doesn’t sound like a defensible position either. Do you feel safe living in a country where the knowledge possessed by the entire intelligence community resets when the presidency changes hands?

    So to rephrase the question: Did Bush take terrorism seriously during the first 8 months he was in the Oval Office and just not get around to forming a policy on it or did he not take it seriously?

    All this focus on what Clinton *didn’t* do. Where was the Congressional outrage that the threat wasn’t being addressed? Where were the protest marches and the scathing Washington Post editorials? Did the Congress and the intelligence communities, as well as the American people, know about the threat and ignored it or did they underestimate the threat?

    Sure, pin it on Clinton if you like, but my argument is that if you’re going to criticize Clinton for not doing anything, Bush deserves the same treatment. Afterall, he’s the one who claims to be morally superior, who disagrees with *everything* the Clintons stand for. He’s the one who acts resolutely even when the people, the Congress, and the rest of the World disagree – he’s proud of that. He thinks that makes him uniquely qualified to lead this country. So once again, what was he waiting for?

  10. vdibart says:

    Oh, and while we’re talking about blame, one more thing….

    Who armed and trained bin Laden in the first place? And who let him metasticize his fight against the Soviets into a jihad against the U.S.

    Hint, think of presidents between Carter and Clinton.

  11. Cassandra says:

    First of all, the things I threw out are not mutually exclusive. You’re just upset that there happen to be so many good arguments on my side 🙂

    What is the evidence that he failed to take it seriously? …as opposed to Clinton’s taking it seriously?

    Doing nothing? Clinton also did nothing.

    And is your argument also that Clinton didn’t explicitly tell the Bush administration about bin Laden (also not true), therefore Bush can be excused for not doing anything it?

    Again, evidence that Clinton told Bush about bin Laden? What was that? “Hey, this guy’s a real threat – of course I DID NOTHING ABOUT HIM, BUT NOW THAT YOU’RE TAKING OVER, I REALLY THINK YOU SHOULD?”

    According to Clarke’s own testimony (have you bothered to read it, or are you just making this up as you go?), Bush had formed a policy and was moving forward – there just wasn’t enough time. Try reading his testimony.

    …my argument is that if you’re going to criticize Clinton for not doing anything, Bush deserves the same treatment.

    That’s just plain silly. Clinton during his second term had everything in place and yet could not (according to Clarke) be bothered to attend CIA briefings (again, on Clarke’s advice!, according to HIS OWN WORDS).

    Then we have Bush, just coming into office… and the standard set ahead of time is… do nothing.

    By your argument, they are EQUALLY CULPABLE. That’s nonsense.

    Anyone who takes over a new job knows that in the first few months you don’t turn everything upside down – you get your bearings and see what was working in the old policy and then make changes. It takes that long just to figure out what is what.

    But you want to hold a guy who is brand new at his job and doesn’t even have his team in place equally responsible to a man who had 8 years to assess the sitrep and already had all his players in place.

    Right. That makes sense.

  12. vdibart says:

    Oops, I repeal my comment about No Child Left Behind. That was in 2002, not 2000. My bad.

  13. Cassandra says:

    Who armed and trained bin Laden in the first place? And who let him metasticize his fight against the Soviets into a jihad against the U.S.
    Hint, think of presidents between Carter and Clinton.

    Dang, vdibart… now that you put it that way, you’re absolutely right.

    They should have known…

  14. Cassandra says:

    And FWIW, vdibart, I’m not sure anyone took “terrorism” seriously enough, pre-911.

    But Clinton bears a lot of the blame for that, too.

    After all the man took ABSOLUTELY NO INTEREST in the first WTC attack. He wanted no part of any suggestion that terrorists were to blame.

    And we all know (or at least some of us do) where the planner of that attack fled to and made his permanent home.

  15. Cassandra says:

    Talk about warnings.

    1993. On Clinton’s watch. The same building is attacked and he does nothing.

    [whistling]

  16. vdibart says:

    I couldn’t disagree more. Are you really arguing that Bush is excused because Clinton didn’t tell him about it? Is that the way critical information is passed from president to president? I hope not. That would be a horribly disastrous policy to rely on. No, many of the intelligence heads that you assume were telling Clinton to attack (the ones you implicitly criticize him for not listening to) were still in place when Bush took office. Or are you saying that the intelligence heads weren’t telling Clinton to act. If that’s the case, can you really hold Clinton accountable either?

    Later in your post you’re relying on Clarke’s testimony to prove that “Bush had formed a policy and was moving forward – there just wasn’t enough time”. But in the post above that you say “Richard Clarke’s statements to the 9.11 commission, which contradict themselves in innumerable places”. Which is it? Is he dependable or not?

    In any case, do you know why Clinton couldn’t attent CIA briefings? Because he was dealing with an impeachment hearing forced by Republicans in Congress.

    Look, I’m not saying Clinton was perfect. I’m saying that we *all* underestimated the thread before 9/11, including Bush, Clinton, Congress, the New York Times, myself…. I don’t think it’s fair to pin it on Clinton any more than it’s fair to pin it on Bush. Neither does it help anyone to say Clinton could have prevented it, when the 9/11 Commission finds points that both the Clinton and Bush administrations could have caught it.

  17. vdibart says:

    They should have known…

    You’re right Cassandra. Bill Clinton should have personally suited up and killed bin Laden with his bare hands. That appears to be the only way he would be able to escape blame for the 9/11 attacks. I mean, he’s a Democrat, therefore anti-American, right?

  18. vdibart says:

    “The same building is attacked and he does nothing.”

    Again, where was the public outrage? Where was the Congressional outrage? Was Clinton personally supressing it?

    You said it best. No one took it seriously enough.

  19. Jim says:

    Hello,

    Quite the arguement. I had the chance to speak with Scheuer during last weeks AQ 2.0 symposium at the Russo offic building. He comes across quite differntly then Clarke who appeared to be whoring for the media. Scheuer main concerns seemed constructive rather then destructive and carried himself with quite a bit of modesty. The one thing he appeared to desire was a sincere debate in the United States about foreign policy.

    For the person who said that we were the ones that rained and funded Bin Laden: SHOW ME YOUR SOURCE. From my understanding we never trained or funded the Arab fighters in Afghanistan.

  20. Two Cents says:

    As far as I’m concerned, Scheuer totally forfeited any credibility he might have had when he used 2004 to attack George Bush, who WAS and IS doing something about terrorism, through leaks to the press and by writing an anti-Bush-administration book on the taxpayers’ dime. He’s a Democratic functionaru who presided over the worst intel failure since Pearl Harbor, and who, if he had any personal integrity, would offer a profound apology and fade into retirement doing good works to expiate his and the CIA’s abject lack of initiative and responsibility to the American people. Goodbye and good riddance to him and his ilk.

  21. Attila Girl says:

    Bartender, I’ll have what Ken and Vdibart are drinking.

  22. Cassandra says:

    re: You’re right Cassandra. Bill Clinton should have personally suited up and killed bin Laden with his bare hands. That appears to be the only way he would be able to escape blame for the 9/11 attacks. I mean, he’s a Democrat, therefore anti-American, right?

    Well gee whiz vdibart… if you’re going to make my arguments for me, I might as well pack up my Tinker Toys and go home 🙂

    Personally I would have preferred a WWF-style smackdown. I think Bill could’ve taken bin Laden in 2 rounds.

  23. Cassandra says:

    …but I’m undecided on who the hot chick should have been. I really like Condoleeza Rice, but I’m not seeing her in the leather bikini.