Is Anybody in Charge?

by , March 23, 2004

In today’s world, where state-worship is the secular faith of our age, and the idea that “the government will take care of it” is the centerpiece and source of all political discourse, the revelations of Richard Clarke, former terrorism czar, are nothing less than terrifying:

Clarke, a foreign policy hawk and career government official who served 5 Presidents – 3 of them Republicans – served as Bush II’s chief counter-terrorism adviser on the national security staff, and, according to Newsweek,

“Was known for pounding the table to urge his counterparts at the CIA, FBI and Pentagon to do more about Al Qaeda. But he did not have much luck, in part because in both the Clinton and early Bush administrations, the top leadership did not back up Clarke and demand results.”

In his new book, Against All Enemies, Clarke recalls a high level meeting held in April, 2001, during which Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz scoffed at the threat posed by Osama bin Laden:

“‘Who cares about a little terrorist in Afghanistan?’ The real threat, Wolfowitz insisted, was state-sponsored terrorism orchestrated by Saddam Hussein.”

The meeting was supposed to have been about implementing Clarke’s persistent efforts to do something about Al Qaeda. He had written to National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, in late January, 2001, urgently requesting some attention be paid to the growing threat of domestic terrorism orchestrated by Al Qaeda. It wasn’t until April, however, that a high-level meeting was convened, at which, according to Clarke, Wolfowitz cited as evidence to the contrary the writings of conspiracy theorist Laurie Mylroie, who has created an entire oeuvre around the idea that Saddam Hussein was responsible not only for the 1993 WTC bombing, but also the Oklahoma City terror incident – and, quite possibly global warming. “We’ve investigated that five ways to Friday, and nobody [in the government] believes that,” replied Clarke. “It was Al Qaeda. It wasn’t Saddam.”

But facts weren’t going to get in the way of the neoconservative drive to invade and conquer Iraq, no matter what the price to truth, common sense, or the national interest. The neocons’ relentless single-tracked agenda didn’t permit any other conclusion but the one pointing to Saddam as the main danger, even as Al Qaeda gathered in the shadows.

Ideological blindness is one thing: deliberate diversion is another. It is the difference between incompetence and treason. But that difference, in the context of the Clarke revelations, seems to disappear in light of the numerous warnings received by U.S. government officials in the months and days prior to 9/11: As the target date of the terrorists drew nearer, the alarm bells – sounded by foreign intelligence agencies, including the British, the French, the Argentineans, and the Israelis, and some of our own people – were getting louder. But was anybody listening? Was anybody in charge?

Well, er, yes, but they were too busy pursuing the florid fantasies of the eccentric Ms. Mylroie to worry about “a little terrorist in Afghanistan.”

Even in the wake of 9/11, this administration’s Iraqi-mania didn’t abate: indeed, according to Clarke, it was emboldened. And let’s be clear, it wasn’t just the President’s neocon advisors whispering in his ear, cutting him off from reality. As Clarke relates, Bush II was supremely uninterested in the truth:

“‘The president dragged me into a room with a couple of other people, shut the door, and said, ‘I want you to find whether Iraq did this.’ Now he never said, ‘Make it up.’ But the entire conversation left me in absolutely no doubt that George Bush wanted me to come back with a report that said Iraq did this.’

“‘I said, ‘Mr. President. We’ve done this before. We have been looking at this. We looked at it with an open mind. There’s no connection.’

“He came back at me and said, ‘Iraq! Saddam! Find out if there’s a connection.’ And in a very intimidating way. I mean that we should come back with that answer.”


Clarke compiled a report, which he characterizes as “a serious look,” concluding that Iraq had nothing whatsoever to do with the events of 9/11. The CIA and the FBI both signed off on it, but when it was sent up to Condie Rice’s office on its way to the President’s desk, Clarke’s report was intercepted “by the National Security Advisor or Deputy” and sent back with the message: “Wrong answer. … Do it again.”

With a deftly fortuitous sense of timing, Clarke’s book is scheduled for release today [Monday], and is scheduled to testify before the 9/11 Commission on Tuesday. A Sunday night interview with Sixty Minutes fires the first shot in a pyrotechnic display of fireworks, an unprecedented assault directed on an incumbent White House by a disillusioned top official.

Three years after the worst terrorist attacks in U.S. history, the seminal event of our era is still wreathed in mystery and mystification. While this administration uses 9/11 as a rationale for perpetual war, we are not supposed to examine the facts surrounding it too closely: having tried and failed to block the extension of the 9/11 Commission’s deadline to submit a report, the White House has been parsimonious in doling out documents essential to the mission of the 9/11 investigating commission, which is charged with finding the proximate causes of the gigantic “intelligence failure” that made 9/11 possible. In spite of every attempt to narrow the Commission’s mandate, however, Clarke’s testimony is bound to elucidate the exact outlines of how and where that failure occurred.

What is interesting to note is that Clarke pinpoints the nixing of his post-9/11 report to the office of the National Security Advisor, run by Ms. Rice’s chief deputy, Stephen J. Hadley – who, coincidentally, also played a similar role as bureaucratic bottleneck when it came to the Niger uranium allegations that somehow snuck into the President’s 2003 State of the Union.

The Hadley connection doesn’t end there, however. A Washington grand jury has recently subpoenaed all records of a heretofore little known entity, the White House Iraq Group, which met weekly in the Situation Room to coordinate the propaganda offensive in the run-up to war, with Hadley and other White House officials and advisors in regular attendance. He’s also a source of the bogus “Mohammed Atta in Prague” story of a meeting between an Iraqi agent and one of the 9/11 plotters, a tall tale which he pushed, along with I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, long after it had been discredited. There is hardly a lie told by this administration that doesn’t have Mr. Hadley’s name signed to it. It was therefore not at all surprising when the administration point man hauled out on Sixty Minutes to provide a counterpoint to Clarke was none other than … Hadley.

The Republican attack machine is trying to paint Clarke as some kind of partisan Democrat – an unlikely characterization of a 30-year career in government at the highest levels, starting out in the Reagan administration. What we are witnessing here is yet the latest episode in an extraordinary series of whistle-blowing accounts by government insiders: Ambassador Joe Wilson, Lt. Col. Karen Kwiatkowski, and now Clarke, all patriotic Americans pointing to a dangerous vulnerability.

The neocon hijacking of American foreign policy was the cause of a significant area of blindness in this administration. The blinkered perspective of neocon apparatchiks, who routinely touted the crackpot theories of Laurie Mylroie as if they were sacred dogma, enabled Al Qaeda to hit at our soft underside, sight unseen until after the fact. This fatal loss of vision was due to the distorting effects of neocon ideology, specifically its Iraqi-centric view of the terrorist threat.

Aside from the folk tale of "The Emperor’s New Clothes," the only precedent is Soviet Russia in the 1930s, when dictator Joe Stalin endorsed the theories of Trofim Denisovich Lysenko – who rejected Mendelian principles of heredity, and believed that acquired characteristics could be inherited. Since this meant that human beings could be molded by an act of will, and advanced the Soviet goal of creating a “New Soviet Man,” Lysenkoism was deemed politically correct by Stalin, and therefore had to be scientifically valid. Lysenkoism halted the development of the science of genetics in the Soviet Union until the late 1950s, when Lysenko was criticized and forced to resign his positions. But the damage had already been done: the progress of Soviet biological science was severely retarded.

A similar retardation process took place in the U.S. when it came to the science – or, rather, the art – of intelligence in the crucial prelude to the 9/11 terror attacks. The neo-Lysenkoism of Wolfowitz and Rumsfeld, which posited, a priori, the primacy of a threat emanating from Iraq, could not permit the inclusion of contradictory data. Go back to the drawing board, Clarke, Kwiatkowski, and others were told, and come up with the “right” answers.

In the Soviet Union, such “scientific methods” led to the famines that decimated the country: wheat bred by Lysenko’s methods somehow failed to deliver a cornucopia. In the U.S., circa September 2001, however, the neo-Lysenkoism of the top leadership had more spectacular consequences.

CIA director George Tenet’s extraordinary rebuke to Vice President Dick Cheney on promulgating phony “intelligence” about Iraqi WMD and links to Al Qaeda, coupled with Clarke’s assault on the White House’s credibility, amounts to an intramural fight that is threatening to bring down the Bush White House – and expose the inner workings of a government that, far from taking care of us, appears to be at least as dangerous to us as Al Qaeda. The public-spirited and patriotic motives of these whistle-blowing ex-officials now coming forward was best expressed in a letter to the Washington Post by Karen Kwiatkowski, whose exposé of the Office of Special Plans “cooking” of bogus “intelligence” to push us into war led to her smearing by neocon mouthpiece George Will:

“I understand that my speaking out about what I saw in the Pentagon during the run-up to the Iraq war is disconcerting to people who support the Bush administration’s foreign policy. I expected to be questioned on the merit and detail of my observations and memories. Surprisingly, not one defender or advocate of our actions in Iraq and associated propaganda has done that. Instead, people so in love with war without having spent a single minute in a military uniform attack me for standing up to be counted. Vituperative? Try cowardly.”

Smear and purge: that is the methodology of today’s Lysenkoists in pushing their agenda. How like their Soviet predecessors. They cannot produce concrete results: they cannot successfully defend the country against terrorists with their mistaken and profoundly wrongheaded notions. But they sure can put up a fight against their accusers in the court of public opinion.

Oh, don’t worry: the government will take care of it. If that is the faith that keeps us from believing in the inevitability of another 9/11, then God help us all.

NOTES IN THE MARGIN

My review of John Le Carré’s Absolute Friends, in the latest issue of The American Conservative, is out on newsstands today. They don’t always put my pieces online, so if you’d like to read it you should go out and get yourself a copy.

A recent piece by Jacob Heilbrunn in the Los Angeles Times avers that Republicans of the “realist” school are getting antsy about the neoconservatives’ version of “liberation” theology:

“The most profound foreign affairs ideological divide in the 2004 election might not be so much between liberals and conservatives as it will be among conservatives themselves.”

Heilbrunn correctly points out that Patrick J. Buchanan and writers for The American Conservative were the first on the Right to raise the banner of Robert A. Taft and a foreign policy that puts America – and not “global democracy” – first. TAC rightly deserves a lot of the credit for this heartening development, and I am proud to note that they have now made me a contributing editor of the magazine. Thank the gods for Taki Theodoracopoulos, and long live TAC!

Read more by Justin Raimondo