- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 7, 2004

The September 11 commission will look at the discrepancy between the testimony of Richard A. Clarke that the Clinton administration considered the threat of al Qaeda “urgent” and its final national-security report to Congress, which gave the terror organization scant mention.

Al Felzenberg, spokesman for the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks on the United States, said commission members are familiar with an article in yesterday’s editions of The Washington Times, which showed that President Clinton’s final public document on national security never referred to al Qaeda by name and mentioned Osama bin Laden just four times.

“We’re still taking evidence. We know that certain people say many things,” Mr. Felzenberg said. “It’s not at the point yet where we can resolve apparent contradictions … but we read all these reports with great interest.

“The commission has Clinton and Bush administration documents and will try to make a definitive conclusion when the time comes for that,” he said.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said the administration had seen The Times report and hoped that the September 11 panel would look at the entire decade in context.

“I saw the story today,” he said on Air Force One yesterday. “Obviously a lot of these are issues that the 9-11 commission is looking at now as they work to complete their report. And they’re looking not only at the eight months when this administration was in office prior to September 11, but the eight years prior to that as well, when these threats were building and emerging.”

The Clinton administration’s final document was 45,000 words long and titled “A National Security Strategy for a Global Age,” but it hardly mentioned bin Laden and his terrorist network.

Mr. Clinton wrote in the preface, “We are blessed to be citizens of a country enjoying record prosperity with no deep divisions at home, no overriding external threats abroad, and history’s most powerful military ready to defend our interests around the world.”

Mr. Clarke has testified to the commission — and has written in his best-selling book — that as the top terrorism analyst for Mr. Bush and Mr. Clinton, he repeatedly warned that al Qaeda posed a significant and dangerous threat to the United States and urged strong military action.

The Clinton document consistently characterized terrorist attacks against Americans and U.S. interests as “crimes” and outlined how it was using diplomatic and economic pressure to bring the “perpetrators to justice.”

The use of military force “should be selective and limited, reflecting the importance of the interests at stake,” the document said.

Although the Clinton administration pledged in the report to retaliate militarily for the al Qaeda attack on the USS Cole in October 2000, no operation was carried out.

The only two military operations in which the Clinton administration committed a significant troop presence on the ground were in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo, which were undertaken to “support our humanitarian and other interests,” the document says.

A senior Bush administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said yesterday that the report “invalidates the line of argument,” pushed by Mr. Clarke, that the Clinton administration took the threat more seriously than Mr. Bush.

“We were seeking to implement a more aggressive strategy,” the official said. “Our policy was to roll back the threat as opposed to just pick at al Qaeda.”

Former Rep. Lee Hamilton, an Indiana Democrat and a member of the September 11 commission, said he “probably saw that document” and others like it before he resigned from Congress in 1999, “but I don’t have any recollection of it, to be blunt.”

Mr. Hamilton, who specialized in military and security issues during his congressional tenure, downplayed the report’s significance.

“That’s one of hundreds of documents that a president issues, [but] I don’t draw any conclusions from that or compare” the Bush and Clinton administrations, he said.

Commission members Richard Ben-Veniste and Jamie Gorelick, whose questioning of Mr. Clarke was seen by the Bush camp as sympathetic to his version of events, did not return calls for comment yesterday.

Charlie Black, an informal adviser to the Bush-Cheney re-election campaign, said Mr. Clinton’s final congressional terror report shows that his national-security team “really had weak responses and no sustained effort” against al Qaeda and global terrorism.

“The facts are pretty strong through the Clinton years that they were baffled by the terrorist attacks in the first World Trade Center bombing [in 1993], to the embassy bombings in Africa and to the Cole,” Mr. Black said.

National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice will testify publicly before the September 11 commission tomorrow, and she is expected to give the Bush administration’s final rebuttal to Mr. Clarke’s accusations.

Mr. Clarke wrote in his book “Against All Enemies” that when he told her about the threat of al Qaeda, Miss Rice’s “facial expression gave me the impression that she’d never heard the term before.” Miss Rice also has been criticized for the speech she had planned to give on September 11, 2001, which focused on missile defense as a key national-security priority.

Miss Rice is expected to address those accusations as she lays out what antiterror policy the Bush administration was preparing before, and after, the September 11 attacks.

“We’ll let Dr. Rice’s testimony speak for itself,” said the Bush administration official.

Mr. Black said he expects Miss Rice to “put to rest Mr. Clarke’s charges.”

“His credibility is pretty much shot,” Mr. Black said. “I’m sure Dr. Rice will finish off what is left of it when she testifies.”

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