The first thing to get out of the way is the qualifier: Bill Clinton, and the Clinton Administration, did attempt to thwart terrorism. They attempted to kill and/or capture Osama bin Laden numerous times, and they attempted to develop relationships with those countries that would make it possible for them to bring bin Laden to justice and/or minimize the threat of terrorism to the United States. Contrary to what most partisan types try to tell you the Clinton Administration did try. They had numerous chances, many of them listed in the 2003 book “Losing bin Laden” by Richard Miniter, and they attempted to work with some of them, but something always happened to prevent success. They did try though. They just didn’t try hard enough.
Another important note is that we’ll never completely know how hard the Clinton Administration tried, how successful they were, or how miserably they failed. Well, one could say, the attack on 9/11 did happen, so all of their efforts were obviously a miserable failure. The point is, we’ll never know how completely we can champion the Clinton Administration efforts, regardless of the outcome, and we’ll never know how completely we can excoriate the failings of the administration based on the outcome. The word completely is italicized above, because we do know some of the actions. The 9/11 Commission, and other subsequent reports, have told us some things about how the Clinton Administration acted prior to 2001. We just don’t know the complete truth, and this is due to the diligent (and illegal) efforts of Bill Clinton’s National Security Advisor Sandy Berger.
With the 9/11 Commission looming, former President Bill Clinton designated his then former National Security Advisor Sandy Berger as the official investigator of their role in the attacks that occurred on 9/11/2001. Clinton basically put Berger in charge of forming an investigation of 9/11/2001 from the Clinton perspective. As part of this investigation, the former National Security Advisor was granted access to the National Archives. As a part of his investigation Berger made four different visits in which it is reported that he “illegally took confidential documents from the Archives on more than one occasion. He folded documents in his clothes, snuck them out of the National Archives building, and stashed them under a construction trailer nearby until he could return, retrieve them, and later cut them up. After he was caught, he lied to the investigators and tried to shift blame to National Archive employees.”
Some of the documents that Sandy Berger stole and destroyed were copies of the Millennium Alert After Action Report (or MAAAR). The 9/11 Commission requested a copy of this report, and they were granted a copy. There were a total of five copies of the MAAAR report. The 9/11 Commission obtained one of them, for their report, and Sandy Berger is reported to have destroyed three of them. The question is what did those three copies have in them? Why did he destroy them? I think the first thing we can safely assume is that those copies that were destroyed did not cast Berger, Clinton, or the administration in a favorable light. And, unless you’re one of those who thinks that Sandy Berger–as Clinton said of Berger’s act of thievery–was just “sloppy”. Unless you’re such a Clinton supporter that you blindly believe in everything he says, you probably think that a criminal indictment should’ve occurred here.
Clinton said Berger was sloppy, and his act of folding documents in his clothes, sneaking them out of the National Archives, and stashing them under a construction trailer nearby until he could return, retrieve them, and later cut them up was the act of a real slob. In other words, Sandy Berger was so sloppy that he never washed behind the ears, he didn’t exhibit quality control of his nosehairs, and he walked out of a National Archives building with Top Secret documents in his socks and pants. That crazy former National Security Advisor. Didn’t his mama teach him proper grooming habits?
The question about these three copies that Berger stole from the National Archives is did they have notes from Berger, Clinton, or some other high placed official in the Administration? We’ll never know. Did they contain information we, as a nation, could learn from in future endeavors? We’ll never know. Berger destroyed them. Why would Berger risk his livelihood, his reputation, and possibly his freedom (it is illegal to remove documents from the National Archives) to see to it that these documents were destroyed and never saw the light of day? To quote Politico: “To paraphrase the questions asked of Richard Nixon by members of his own Party, what did he take and why did he take it?
“What was on the copies he destroyed?” the Politco.com article continues, “(Were there) observations that would be embarrassing to (the administration), evidence they missed an important threat or considered or recommended actions – or decisions not to act – they wouldn’t want to defend in public? Evidence, perhaps, that would have supported the Bush Administration? We don’t know, and no one who does is saying, but the evidence must have been terribly damning for Berger to take the risks he did.”
We flash forward to an interview with Bill Clinton conducted by Chris Wallace of Fox News on 9/26/06. Clinton loyalists, and other Democrats that follow Clinton’s line of thinking think that Wallace was out to get him when Wallace asked him, “Why didn’t you do more to put Bin Laden and al Qaeda out of business when you were President?” As I say, you can go ahead and question the motives, but even Clinton admitted it was a legitimate question. Some would say that one of the main jobs of a journalist is to ask such questions to provide their subjects an avenue to answer questions plaguing the American public. With that in mind, a better question might be why didn’t a journalist ask Clinton this question before? The answer to that question came shortly after when Clinton exploded. Clinton was obviously angry that anyone should draw links between his administration and 9/11. He and his camp had successfully dumped most of the blame on the George W. Bush Administration for their inability to do anything prior to 9/11. The point, on this charge, is that the Bush Administration had eight months, and the Clinton Administration had eight years.
One of the spins the Clinton loyalists in the media put on this story was that in an odd way, they almost wish Bill could’ve been dealt a 9/11 type attack for the sole reason of giving him a Churchill style legacy. Well they had that wish granted when the first World Trade Center attack occurred on 2/26/1993. Clinton took office on 1/20/1993. Now, Clinton loyalists in the media could say that 37 days is even less time than Bush had, and they could hardly mount much of a defense in 37 days. They could also say that the first World Trade Center attack was hardly what 9/11 was. Six adults and one unborn child died and one thousand people were injured, whereas the 9/11 aftermath resulted in nearly 3,000 deaths and over 6,000 injured. It doesn’t compare, but if Clinton wanted a Churchill style legacy, he could’ve used his new bully pulpit and pushed this act against an American landmark under a worldwide microscope. He was in his first 100 days, after all, which is a time when a new president can usually get the American public behind anything, especially an attack from a foreign source.
Clinton also had the Aden, Yemen bombing on 12/29/92. This occurred in the interim between Clinton’s victory over George H.W. Bush and his taking office, so Clinton couldn’t have acted, but if he wanted to use it as a backdrop for action he could’ve. If he wanted to say that the 1993 World Trade Center bombing was not an isolated incident, he could’ve used this bombing as a “troubling pattern” of the sort that requires action. No one, from either side of the aisle, would’ve dared argue with him on this one. If Bill Clinton truly wanted a Churchill style legacy the opportunity was there for him.
Another spin Clinton loyalists push out to the American public on Clinton’s behalf is that no one knew about bin Laden prior to 9/11. These talking heads usually then turn to one another and ask, “did you?” and the other analyst says no, and the point is made. Well, the CIA is reported to have heard of him. They, in fact, began tracking him in 1992. The state department heard of him. They went so far as to call him, in 1995, “one of the most dangerous terrorists in the world”. Reader’s Digest heard of him. They put him on the cover of one of their issues in 1998 and titled it: “This man wants you dead.” ABC news heard of him, as did CNN, so if ‘no one’ heard of him Katie Couric should’ve asked ‘someone’ what news outlets they read and watch.
Clinton then had the attacks in Somalia (popularized in the movie Black Hawk Down) in which we now know al Qaeda was instrumental. There were the attacks on the U.S. embassies in Africa, the bombing of the U.S.S. Cole and finally the Project Bojinka files. Again, it’s not Clinton’s fault that these attacks occurred, and he did take some action, but human intelligence on al Qaeda was virtually non-existent to this point. A 1996 CIA memo titled “Top Secret Umbra” was written and uncovered by Washington Times reporter Bill Gertz, in which it was learned that “(America) has no unilateral sources close to bin Laden, nor any reliable way of intercepting his communications. We must rely on foreign intelligence services to confirm his movements and activities.” Again, this was 1996, five years before the greatest attack on American soil, and it only bolsters the controversial acts of creating a Homeland Security department, wiretapping, etc., that Bush required if he was going to have a chance in attempting to thwart terrorism and future attacks on U.S. soil. The hindsight 20/20 question is should Clinton have created a Homeland Security Department that involved wiretapping, and if he had would his administration been able to thwart a 9/11 style attack?
Instead of moving towards the Bush era moves against future terror attacks, the Clinton administration moved in the opposite direction. They moved to the safer, more politically viable legal system to handle terrorist attacks. In other words, the administration decided lawyers were a more palatable course of action than the military. They chose to see bin Laden’s terrorist acts as criminal offenses. This course of action provided the usual legal entanglements any lawyer goes through in attempting to achieve an indictment. This also allowed the Clinton Administration to blame other investigative bodies for their inability to properly pursue and punish terrorists. As Sandy Berger said: “The FBI did not believe that we had enough evidence to indict bin Laden at that time, and they therefore opposed bringing him to the U.S.” Even if the FBI hadn’t said such a thing, the Clinton administration could’ve still deftly avoided allowing any blame to be put on them by pointing to anyone and everyone involved in the process of trying to indict Bin Laden. If, on the other hand, you treat bin Laden’s actions as acts of war, and you attempt to capture him, and you are unsuccessful in doing so…Well, it doesn’t look great on your political dossier. Ask Bush.
Contrary to many stories given by Clinton Administration officials and the Clinton loyalists, the book “Losing bin Laden” provides numerous examples where the Clinton Administration, the military, and law enforcement officials could’ve detained, killed, or captured bin Laden. Sudan tried numerous methods, through numerous channels, to give the U.S. information, intelligence, and even bin Laden himself, but bureaucratic red tape, untimely scandals, and unfortunate incidents prevented that from happening.
bin Laden declared war on the U.S. five different times. Now I understand that the U.S. cannot take every crackpot seriously, but after numerous bombings, terrorist acts, and four public declarations of war, the fifth declaration in May 1998 should’ve brought escalated reactions. This viewpoint is admittedly made through 20/20 hindsight.
The Clinton Administration cannot be held solely responsible for the inadequate actions and reactions of America in the wake of 9/11/2001, just as George W. Bush’s Administration, his Dad’s administration, and Reagan’s Administration cannot be held completely responsible. Some would say that the gestation cycle of terrorism began in the Carter Administration, in the wake of his administration’s ineptitude, pacifism, and ill-conceived foreign policies in the Iran Hostage incident, but even Carter cannot be solely blamed for the incident. No president can be entirely blamed. It was a conglomeration of a number of acts that occurred over the space of twenty-five years that led to the incident. It cannot be denied, however, that the most crucial acts of that conglomeration that led to the 9/11/2001 incident occurred in the eight years that led up to it. The problem is, thanks to the National Security Advisor raiding the National Archives, to steal politically expedient documents, there are crucial sections of our nation’s history, and our nation’s security, that we’ll never know. We’ll never know, for example, those sections of our history that we may well be doomed to repeat.