Was the U.S. Focused?
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
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
Security Policy: Challenges for the 21st Century supports
Clarke's claim that the Clinton administration made it a top
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
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
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
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
- to promote economic growth and political openness by
extending free trade and a stable international monetary
- 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."
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
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
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