BOOK REVIEW - Against All Enemies
By Richard A. Clarke
Free Press, 304 pages, $27
Reviewed for wsj.com by Richard Miniter, April 1, 2004
Against “Selected” Enemies? A year ago, I thought Richard A. Clarke, President Clinton's counter terror czar, was a hero. He and his small band of officials fought a long battle to focus the bureaucracy on stopping Osama bin Laden long before 9/11. For my own book, I interviewed Mr. Clarke extensively and found him to be blunt and forthright. He remembered whole conversations from inside the Situation Room.
So I looked forward to reading “Against All Enemies”. Yes, I expected him to put the wood to President Bush for not doing enough about terrorism — a continuation of his Clinton-era complaints — and I expected that he might be right. I assumed, of course, that he would not spare the Clinton team either, or the CIA and FBI. I expected, in short, something blunt and forthright — and, that rarest thing, nonpartisan in a principled way I was wrong on all counts.
Forthright? One momentous Bush-era episode on which Mr. Clarke can shed some light is his decision to approve the flights of the bin Laden clan out of the U.S. in the days after 9/11, when all other flights were grounded. About this he doesn't say a word. The whole premise of “Against All Enemies” is its value as an insider account. But Mr. Clarke was not a Bush insider. When he lost his right to brief the Cabinet, he also lost his ringside seat on presidential decision-making.
Mr. Clarke's ire is largely directed at the Iraq war, but its preparation was left to others on the National Security Council. He left the White House almost a month before the war began. As for its justification, he acts as if there is none. He dismisses, as “raw,” reports that show meetings between al Qaeda and the Mukhabarat, Iraq's intelligence service, going back to 1993. The documented meeting between the head of the Mukhabarat and bin Laden in Khartoum, Sudan, in 1996 — a meeting that challenged all the CIA's assumptions about “secular” Iraq's distance from Islamist terrorism — should have set off alarm bells. It didn't.
There is other evidence of a connection between Iraq and al Qaeda that Mr. Clarke should have felt obliged to address. Just days before Mr. Clarke resigned, Secretary of State Colin Powell told the United Nations that bin Laden had met at least eight times with officers of Iraq's Special Security Organization. In 1998, an aide to Saddam's son Uday defected and repeatedly told reporters that Iraq funded al Qaeda. South of Baghdad, satellite photos pinpointed a Boeing 707 parked at a camp where terrorists learned to take over planes. When U.S. forces captured the camp, its commander confirmed that al Qaeda had trained there as early as 1997. Mr. Clarke does not take up any of this.
Curiously, about the Clinton years, where Mr. Clarke's testimony would be authoritative, he is circumspect. When I interviewed him a year ago, he thundered at the political appointees who blocked his plan to destroy bin Laden's camps in Afghanistan in the wake of the October 2000 attack on the USS Cole. Yet in his book he glosses over them. He has little of his former vitriol for Clinton-era bureaucrats who tried to stop the deployment of the Predator spy plane over Afghanistan. (It spotted bib Laden there three times).
He fails to mention that President Clinton's three “findings” on bin Laden, which would have allowed the U.S. to take action against him, were haggled over and lawyered to death. And he plays down the fact that the Treasury Department, worried about the effects on financial markets, obstructed efforts to cut off al Qaeda funding. He never notes that between 1993 and 1998 the FBI, under Mr. Clinton, paid an informant who turned out to be a double agent working on behalf of al Qaeda. In 1998, the Clinton administration alerted Pakistan to our imminent missile strikes in Afghanistan, despite the links between Pakistan's intelligence service and al Qaeda. Mr. Clarke excuses this decision — bin Laden managed to flee just before the strikes — as a diplomatic necessity.
While angry over Mr. Bush's intelligence failures, Mr. Clarke actually defends one of the Clinton administration's biggest ones — the bombing of a Sudanese “aspirin factory” in 1998. Even at the time, there were good reasons for doubting that it made nerve agents. He fails to mention that in 1997 the CIA had to reject more than 100 reports from Sudan when agency sources failed lie-detector tests and that the CIA continued to pay Sudanese dissidents $100 a report, in a country where the annual per-capita income is about $400. The soil sample he cites, supposedly showing a nerve-gas ingredient, is now agreed to contain a common herbicide.
Last year Mr. Clarke made much of such failures. But this year he treats Mr. Clinton with deference. Indeed, the only man whom he really wants to take to the woodshed is President Bush. Mr. Clarke believes the Iraq war to be a foolish distraction from the fight against terrorism, driving a wedge between the U.S. and its Arab allies. In fairness, he might have noted that, since the war started, our allies (e.g., Saudi Arabia and Sudan) have given us more intelligence leads, not fewer. Considering its anti-Bush bias, maybe Mr. Clarke's book should have been called “Against One Enemy.”
Or, better, “Against All Evidence.” Mr. Clarke misstates a range of checkable facts. The 1993 U.S. death toll in Somalia was 18, not 17. He writes that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed became al Qaeda's “chief operational leader” in 1995; in fact, he took over in November 2001. He writes (correctly) that Abdul Yasim, one of the 1993 World Trade Center bombers, fled to Iraq but adds the whopper that “he was incarcerated by Saddam Hussein's regime.” An ABC News crew found Mr. Yasim working a government job in Iraq in 1997, and documents captured in 2003 revealed that the bomber had been on Saddam's payroll for years.
Mr. Clarke gets the timing wrong of the plot to assassinate bin Laden in Sudan; it was 1994, not 1995, and was the work of Saudi intelligence, not Egypt. He dismisses Laurie Mylorie's argument that Iraq was behind the 1993 World Trade Center blast as if there is nothing to it. Doesn't it matter that the bombers made hundreds of phone calls to Iraq in the weeks leading up to the event? That Ramzi Yousef, the lead bomber, entered the U.S. as a supposed refugee from Iraq? That he was known as “Rasheed the Iraqi”?
In recent days we have been subjected to a great deal of Mr. Clarke, not least to replays of his fulsome apology for not doing enough to prevent 9/11. But he has nothing to apologize for: He was a relentless foe of al Qaeda for years. He should really apologize for the flaws in his book.
Mr. Miniter is the author of “Losing bin Laden: How Bill Clinton's Failures Unleashed Global Terror. (Regnery).