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Where Was the U.S. Focused?
April 8, 2004
By Tab Julius

There has been much discussion on whether or not the White House was focused fair and square on terrorism prior to 9/11. Contradictory statements have been made by the administration, from Bush stating he had no sense of urgency, to Condoleezza Rice stating that no one could have predicted that terrorists would fly planes into buildings, to Condoleezza Rice later stating that "we were at battle stations" because threat levels were "spiking" in the summer months.

The administration has claimed that they were definitely on top of the matter, while at the same time they had demoted the counter-terrorism position from a cabinet level position to having to report to the National Security Advisor. Richard Clarke, who has been very critical of the lack of interest of this administration regarding potential terrorist attacks, was said to have been "out of the loop" by Vice President Cheney.

I was curious to see what I could find, surfing around, that could support (or discredit) Clarke's claims, or support (or discredit) the administation's claims.

One of Clarke's claims is that the Clinton administration made counterterrorism a high priority, whereas the Bush administration minimized it, being more concerned about Iraq.

Supporting Clarke's position is Presidential Decision Directive #62, released by the White House on May 22, 1998, on combatting terrorism. The fact sheet states that President Clinton has made the fight against terrorism a top priority, and the directive works to realign agencies in this direction, and establishes an Office of the National Coordinator for Security, Infrastructure Protection, and Counter-Terrorism.

This excerpt from Joseph S. Nye, Jr., Dean, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, as it appeared in U.S. Security Policy: Challenges for the 21st Century supports Clarke's claim that the Clinton administration made it a top priority.

Finally, there is a new dimension of security problem that cannot be solved by classical military means. That is the threat of terrorists using weapons of mass destruction. For 40 years, Americans lived under the fear of Soviet nuclear attack. The end of the Cold War reduced the prospect of a nuclear holocaust, but ironically, prospects of a nuclear explosion inside the United States have probably increased. And the threat is not exclusively nuclear. Terrorist access to biological and chemical weapons such as anthrax, ricin, or sarin is easier than access to nuclear materials.

Recent years have seen the rise of a new type of terrorist less interested in promoting a political cause and more focused on the eradication of what they define as evil. Their motives are often a distorted form of religion, and they consider weapons of mass destruction to be a suitable means to their ends. Such devices are becoming more available. The rise of mafias in former Soviet states has brought an increase in the smuggling of nuclear materials (mercifully in small amounts thus far). Chemical and biological agents can be produced by graduate students or lab technicians. General recipes are available on the Internet. In 1995, a Japanese sect used sarin in the Tokyo subway, killing 12 people. They also experimented with biological agents. Recently President Clinton signed presidential directives designating terrorism and threats to critical infrastructures (including information systems) as top priorities for American security policy. "

A 1999 State Department report on terrorism lists 28 terrorist organizations. The one addition over the previous year was the Al-Qaida, led by Usama bin Ladin. Al Qaida (Al Qaeda) was certainly known and a growing concern.

Did the Bush administration make it an equal priority? The diminishment of Clarke's position to a sub-cabinet position would argue that they did not. Did the Bush administration know that terrorism was a growing problem? There certainly were warnings.

When the Bush administration came into office, what was their focus? Was it counter-terrorism?

In U.S. Foreign Policy Agenda, Electronic Journal of the Department of State - Volume 6, Number 1, March 2001, U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY: THE BUSH TEAM, lists a review of the Bush team and their position on security and defense. In Donald Rumsfeld's opening statement at his confirmation hearing, he makes reference to dangers ranging from suitcase bombs and cyber-terrorism, but also has the interestingly-phrased statement "to raw and random violence of an outlaw regime" - the "outlaw regime" in question presumably being Iraq. No further mention of terrorism is particularly made, and his five Primary Defense Objectives are as follows:

First... The proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery are increasingly a fact of life that first must be acknowledged and then managed... a decisive change in policy should be aimed at devaluing investment in weapons of mass destruction and their delivery systems by potential adversaries. Second, the readiness and sustainability of deployed forces must be assured. Third, U.S. command-control-communication, intelligence, and space capabilities must be modernized to support 21st century needs. Fourth, the U.S. defense establishment must be transformed to address 21st century circumstances. Fifth, reform of DOD structures, processes, and organization.

He later spoke about missile defense at a Munich Conference on Feb 3rd, and a Fox News interview on Feb 11, but not about terrorist groups.

Condoleezza Rice made statements on key security issues in the first few months as well. On Feb 22nd, 2001 she said "Missile defense is something the President is absolutely committed to," at a White House briefing, with other areas of concern such as Russian proliferation, European Defense Force, Iraq, China involvment in Iraq, and North Korea per from the U.S. Dept of Information.

Her key priorities were listed as:

  • to ensure that America's military can deter war, project power, and fight in defense of its interests if deterrence fails;

  • to promote economic growth and political openness by extending free trade and a stable international monetary system...

  • to renew strong and intimate relationships with allies who share American values...

  • to focus U.S. energies on comprehensive relationships with the big powers...

  • to deal decisively with the threat of rogue regimes and hostile powers...

It is clear that Condoleezza Rice also had Iraq as a key focus. In Foreign Affairs magazine of Jan/Feb 2000 (vol 79, number 1) in her article entitled "Campaign 2000 - Promoting the National Interest" she writes: "As history marches toward markets and democracy, some states have been left by the side of the road. Iraq is the prototype. Saddam Hussein's regime is isolated, his conventional military power has been severely weakened, his people live in poverty and terror, and he has no useful place in international politics. He is therefore determined to develop WMD. Nothing will change until Saddam is gone, so the United States must mobilize whatever resources it can, including support from his opposition, to remove him. "

A Rand Corporation (non-profit think tank) report meant to brief the incoming president Bush discusses the new threat of Asymmetric Warfare, in "A Bipartisan Report to the President Elect on Foreign Policy and National Security."

They write:

Asymmetric Warfare. During your administration, key challenges to the security of the United States, its allies, and its friends can come from so-called asymmetrical warfare, conducted by a variety of countries and non-state actors, in part as a response to U.S. military dominance. Three areas are most important: terrorism, cyber threats to critical infrastructure, and WMD and the means of delivering them. We believe that successful responses to these problems will require U.S. leadership in promoting greater cooperation among the major industrial countries. We also recommend that you mandate cooperation among domestic law enforcement, intelligence, economic, and diplomatic assets to combat both terrorism and WMD and missile proliferation. Internationally, we suggest that the U.S. work to strengthen the Biological Weapons Convention, press Russia to stop providing assistance to Iran for its nuclear program, and discourage Chinese and Russian assistance in the spread of missile technology.

For item #10 on the recommended Issues for Immediate Decision they have:

10. You will mandate, immediately upon assuming office, a root-and-branch review of U.S. foreign and national security policy, the first such in-depth review since the end of the Cold War, and long overdue. This will include all the classic concerns of the United States, but also newer concerns, including WMD, terrorism, and globalization, as well as issues such as democracy, poverty, and human rights.

These paragraphs recommend putting terrorism on an equal par with WMD and missile defense (as the Clinton administration had it). As evidenced by the eliminination of counter-terrorism from a cabinet-level position, the administration chose to focus on WMD and missile defense. Indeed, it is interesting note that on the morning of September 11th, there were only 12 Guard/Reserve planes on active duty to guard the nation's borders, none of which were in the air - an odd approach (or very bad strategy) for a country "at battle stations," if indeed we were at battle stations. There's little evidence to suggest that we were.

There's much more to substantiate Clarke's claims that the terrorism was a high priority for the Clinton administration and not so for the Bush administration (despite having been advised by the Rand Corporation to make it so), and also to substantiate that Rumsfeld and Rice were more focused on Iraq, as evidenced by Rumsfeld's comment about "an outlaw regime" and Rice's statement that "Nothing will change until Saddam is gone, so the United States must mobilize whatever resources it can, including support from his opposition, to remove him. "

I was unable to find similar statements about Osama bin Laden.

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