A former Department of Homeland Security official who also worked for George W. Bush in Texas says his old friend exaggerated the threat from Saddam Hussein and only made America less safe by attacking Iraq.
Before serving as Bush’s first Homeland Security inspector general, Clark Kent Ervin worked for the former governor in Texas as assistant secretary of state and deputy attorney general. He also was an aide in Bush Sr.’s White House last decade.
Ervin says it was the “thrill of a lifetime” to return to Washington to work for “a man I counted as a friend.” He was a Bush loyalist, to be sure.
But then his old pal invaded Iraq in the middle of a war on Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda, and Ervin feared the worst. He saw special forces, intelligence assets, and other resources diverted to an unnecessary war, buying time for bin Laden to regroup on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. At the same time, he worried the unjustified Iraq war would inspire more anti-American jihadists and enlarge the recruiting pool for bin Laden.
His fears were recently confirmed by the U.S. intelligence community in a partially declassified report on Iraq, which concludes the U.S. occupation there is the “cause célèbre” among jihadists around the world.
“The war in Iraq has actually increased the pool of violently anti-American Islamic fundamentalists from whom al-Qaeda and like-minded groups can recruit jihadists to strike our homeland,” laments Ervin, author of Open Target: Where America Is Vulnerable to Attack.
He says bin Laden might be in custody today if Bush had stayed focused on al-Qaeda and not sent troops to a false front in Iraq, where al-Qaeda wannabes are now getting on-the-job training in how to kill Americans.
“Had we stayed on the hunt in Afghanistan and not diverted time, attention, and resources to an exaggerated threat in Iraq, Osama bin Laden might be dead or in custody today,” Ervin says. “And Iraq might not have become a terrorist training camp and recruiting ground.”
He asserts that al-Qaeda is, and always has been, the real threat to America; Saddam and his Ba’athist bullies had been declawed in the first Iraq war.
“Al-Qaeda is at war with us,” he says, “and so we had better be at war with them.” Instead, America is bogged down in “an increasingly Vietnam-like quagmire in Iraq,” fighting a widespread insurgency. A recent State Department poll shows a solid majority of Iraqis want U.S. troops to leave. Meanwhile, he says, U.S. coalition forces face a “resurgent Taliban in Afghanistan.” Indeed, the NATO commander in Afghanistan yesterday complained the U.S. took its eye off Afghanistan to go into Iraq, and coalition forces are now paying the price as a wave of Afghan suicide attacks claim more and more victims.
Ervin also charges the Bush administration has ignored the home front. He says America is not safer just because there hasn’t been another major terror attack here since 9/11.
“The Department of Homeland Security has had relatively little to do with that,” he maintains.
Ervin says the administration has given the American people a false sense of security, and has even played politics with national security to gain partisan advantage.
He blames former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge for lingering holes in aviation and port security. Ervin calls Ridge “a politician from Central Casting,” who buried problems Ervin and others brought to his attention, and spent most of his time selling an image of security to the American public. It was eyewash, he says.
“Ridge chose to ignore our warnings and our recommendations,” Ervin says. “He was details-averse, hands-off, and credulous.”
Except when it came to campaigning for the president, that is.
Another Homeland Security official says Ridge used him and others as campaign props during the 2004 campaign.
In the summer of 2004, in the heat of the presidential race, Ridge’s office in Washington ordered Eric Werderitch and two other U. S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) supervisors in Chicago to attend what they thought was a meeting with Ridge and the president. They were ordered to wear their uniforms. It turned it to be a campaign pep rally and photo-op for President Bush staged by the Republican National Committee to show law enforcement support for the president.
“When I arrived, there were about 1,000 people there, mostly civilians, [as well as] several local firemen and police officers along with three CBP, Department of Homeland Security officers,” Werderitch recalls. Jan Adams, assistant director for the Chicago field office of CBP, was also in attendance.
“There were various representatives of the RNC who proudly wore their RNC elephant [pins],” he adds. “I was escorted to my seat by a member of the RNC.”
He says Ridge spoke for about a minute before surrendering the microphone to Bush, who spoke about how DHS had just given several million dollars to local governments.
“People stood and applauded,” Werderitch says. “The president motioned for them to sit. They did, obediently. All the while, shutters snapped, flashes flashed as reporters interviewed anyone in a uniform. At one point, a cameraman shot me and my partners.”
The photo-op went on for another 30 minutes.
“This was not a meeting, it was a campaign stop,” Werderitch fumes. “I was in uniform at a campaign stop on official time. I was on my regularly assigned shift attending an RNC-sponsored function,” instead of at O’Hare International Airport helping to stop foreign terrorists from entering country.
“If this function were a legitimate official meeting, as D.C. claimed in a serious of e-mails, then it would have been sponsored by DHS or FEMA or CBP,” he says. “But it wasn’t. It was a goddamned political rally, and I was suckered into attending by some schmuck in D.C.”
Werderitch suspects the rally was a violation of the Hatch Act prohibiting misuse of government resources for political party activities. Calls to DHS for comment were not immediately returned.
“DHS management assigned three supervisors to attend a political rally to show support for the sitting president to the general public,” he says. “That’s a violation of the Hatch Act.”
(Inter Press Service)