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Terrorism - A Tool For Whose Agenda?

October 9, 2004
By John Lovchik

"My message was stark: al Qaeda is at war with us, it is a highly capable organization, probably with sleeper cells in the U.S., and it is clearly planning a major series of attacks against us; we must act decisively and quickly."

This is the way Richard A. Clarke described the briefings he gave Condi Rice, Dick Cheney, and Colin Powell in January 2001.

Richard A. Clarke, chairman of the Counterterrorism Security Group of the National Security Council in the Clinton administration, was kept on in that position when Bush took over on January 20, 2001. Over the years, Clarke had learned a lot about Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda and he knew that they were a serious threat to the security of the U.S. that could not be overlooked in the transition to a new administration. President Clinton also discussed this threat with President Bush during the transition.

On January 31, 2001, the bipartisan U.S. Commission on National Security/21st Century, headed by Gary Hart and Warren Rudman, delivered its report to President Bush. This commission had spent 2˝ years reviewing the entire range of U.S. national security polices and processes in light of external changes that had occurred over the years, including geopolitical, technological, social, and intellectual changes.

Their report noted that technological advances such as the Internet made it possible for small groups or even individuals to inflict massive damage on those they considered to be their enemies. It included the specific warning: "A direct attack against American citizens on American soil is likely over the next quarter century."

Congress was prepared to act immediately on the recommendations of the commission. In March, Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, introduced the National Homeland Security Agency Act., and on April 3 Hart appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Terrorism and Technology where he noted that "the prospect of mass casualty terrorism on American soil is growing sharply."

In May, however, President Bush asked Congress to wait. As Hart put it: "The president said 'Please wait, we're going to turn this over to the vice president.'"

Why would President Bush turn over the task of homeland security and the threat of Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda to the vice president? The answer lies in a National Security Council directive, dated February 2001, instructing NSC staff to co-operate fully with the National Energy Policy Development Group, generally referred to as the Cheney Energy Task Force.

According to Linda McQuaig, a columnist for the Toronto Star, the NSC document "noted that the task force would be considering the 'melding' of two policy areas: 'the review of operational policies towards rogue states' and 'actions regarding the capture of new and existing oil and gas fields.'" The issue of homeland security would be considered in terms of "rogue states" rather than individual terrorist groups, and that would be combined with the consideration of capturing new and existing oil and gas fields.

As a result of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by Judicial Watch, documents used by the Cheney Energy Task Force have been released to the public. Among those documents are the following items, dated March 2001: a map of Iraqi oilfields, pipelines, refineries and terminals and two charts detailing Iraqi oil and gas projects.

Cheney's interest in Iraq and Iraqi oil goes back a long way. Speaking to the London Petroleum Institute in 1999 Cheney had focused on the difficulty of finding the 50 million extra barrels of oil per day that he said the world would need by 2010. Linda McQuaig describes his comments in this way: "'Where is it going to come from?' He asked, and then noted that 'the Middle East with two-thirds of the world's oil and the lowest cost, is still where the prize ultimately lies.'"

Others in the Bush administration also had an interest in regime change in Iraq. Paul Wolfowitz, Deputy Secretary of Defense, was a participant in the Project for the New American Century report titled "REBUILDING AMERICA'S DEFENSES Strategy, Forces and Resources For a New Century" which was prepared in September 2000. That report says "The United States has for decades sought to play a more permanent role in Gulf regional security. While the unresolved conflict with Iraq provides the immediate justification, the need for a substantial American force presence in the Gulf transcends the issue of the regime of Saddam Hussein."

Richard Clarke says that, at his initial briefings with Cheney and Wolfowitz, both were more interested in Iraq than in bin Laden. Paul O'Neill, former Secretary of the Treasury, told Ron Suskind, author of the book The Price of Loyalty, about the first meeting of the National Security Council held on January 30, 2001. Most of that meeting was devoted to the subject of Iraq. O'Neill also said that prior to September 11, 2001, the Pentagon had been working for months on a military plan for the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.

Clarke describes his frustrations during the year 2001 as the threatening intelligence reports became better and more frequent but he was unable to convince the administration to pay attention to the threat. In describing his thoughts on September 11, after the attacks, he says "I had not been allowed to brief the President on terrorism in January or since, not until today, September 11. It had taken since January to get the Cabinet-level meeting that I had requested 'urgently' within days of the inauguration to approve an aggressive plan to go after al Qaeda. The meeting had finally happened exactly one week earlier, on September 4." Clarke mentions that during the meeting on September 4, Rumsfeld again wanted to talk about Iraq rather than the threat of al Qaeda.

The fact that the Bush administration had been formulating plans for the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, starting before they even came into office, should be a cause for concern. The fact that the threat of terrorism was seen as a means to accomplish the overthrow is an even greater cause for concern. But worse by far is the fact that their preoccupation with gaining control over Iraq clearly prevented them from applying the resources needed to prevent Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda from executing their attacks on September 11.

President Bush would like people to believe that they did not have enough information to prevent the attack, but the evidence is overwhelming that he had no interest in dealing with the issue of terrorism except as a means to secure control over the oil fields of Iraq. That lack of interest in the safety of the American people is the single most important reason why bin Laden was successful in causing the deaths of nearly 3,000 people.

But the outrage does not end there. The day after the September 11 attacks, while rescue workers were desperately searching through the rubble of the World Trade Center for any survivors, while grieving families were posting signs and searching hospitals for their loved ones, and while Clarke and a few others were urgently trying to ensure that no further attacks were imminent, Rumsfeld was already pushing to use these attacks as a reason to attack Iraq.

By then it had been confirmed that bin Laden and al Qaeda were responsible for these devastating attacks on U.S. soil and the risk of additional attacks had not been ruled out. But instead of addressing the safety of the American people, Rumsfeld already had his eyes again on the oil fields of Iraq.

By the evening of September 12, Bush had also set aside concerns about the safety of the American people and began looking for a reason to attack Iraq. Clarke describes Bush's instructions to him in this way:

"See if Saddam did this. See if he's linked in any way…" I was once again taken aback, incredulous, and it showed. "But, Mr. President, al Qaeda did this." "I know, I know, but… see if Saddam was involved. Just look. I want to know any shred…" "Absolutely, we will look…again." I was trying to be more respectful, more responsive. "But, you know, we have looked several times for state sponsorship of al Qaeda and not found any real linkages to Iraq. Iran plays a little, as does Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia, Yemen." "Look into Iraq, Saddam," the President said testily and left us.

Secretary of State Powell felt that the immediate focus should be on al-Qaeda. He is quoted as saying, "Public opinion has to be prepared before a move against Iraq is possible." By March 2002 Bush was already busy preparing that public opinion.

During a press conference held March 13, 2002, Bush said "I am deeply concerned about Iraq. And so should the American people be concerned about Iraq. … This is a nation run by a man who is willing to kill his own people by using chemical weapons; a man who won't let inspectors into the country; a man who's obviously got something to hide. And he is a problem, and we're going to deal with him."

About Osama bin Laden, Bush said this: "Terror is bigger than one person. And he's just - he's a person who's now been marginalized. … I don't know where he is. You know, I just don't spend that much time on him. … And the idea of focusing on one person is - really indicates to me people don't understand the scope of the mission."

One year later, a year filled with talk of fear and weapons of mass destruction, Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz finally got their war with Iraq. The United States invaded Iraq on March 19, 2003.

Bush likes to say that everything changed on September 11, 2001, as if we have a whole new way of looking at, and dealing with, the world and our security. Nothing changed that day except that, because of the Bush administration's conscious decision to use terrorism as a tool for their pursuit of oil rather than as a warning, bin Laden and al Qaeda were successful in their attack on the U.S. which killed almost 3,000 people. And because the administration then used that tragedy as a tool to convince the American people that we needed to invade Iraq, over 12,000 Iraqis and 1,000 more Americans have died. Both numbers continue to rise. bin Laden is still free and al Qaeda is rebuilding itself and prepares for its next attack.

Are we better prepared to prevent an attack than we were before September 11, 2001? We now have a Department of Homeland Security, but at the end of September 2004, the department still had not combined 12 federal agencies terrorist watch lists into one database. And the FBI, which took much of the blame for failing to act on information received prior to the attack, still has not translated several hundred thousand hours of wiretap recordings from terrorism and counterterrorism investigations.

The Bush administration has, however, found the time and the funding to construct at least a dozen permanent military bases in Iraq. Because the administration talks constantly about terrorism to justify their actions in Iraq, a significant number of Americans feel confident that Bush is protecting us from terrorists. Nothing could be further from the truth.

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