- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 8, 2001

Good news, sort of, for Bill Clinton and Madeleine Albright. Having persisted in telling tales at cross-purposes to explain why the Clinton administration did nothing about Osama bin Laden and the al Qaeda network for all those Clinton years, these two erstwhile office-holders may now read from the same page literally and discover in the January issue of Vanity Fair what went wrong on their watch.

In "The Osama Files" by David Rose, the former president and former secretary of state get a second chance to see the letters and secret memoranda that they, along with their top aides, once ignored or failed to act upon. The rest of us, meanwhile, get a look at an eye-popping paper trail that documents futile efforts by Sudan to alert the United States to the workings, the identities and the movements of the al Qaeda network, including, of course, bin Laden.

Mr. Clinton and Mrs. Albright may not only reconsider the entreaties of Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir to then-President Clinton (the Sudanese leader asked to open his country to the CIA and the FBI so the United States could investigate for itself whether Sudan trained or sheltered terrorists), but also the many invitations Sudan made to share terrorism information with U.S. intelligence agencies. In political retirement, they may reflect on whether it was such a brilliant idea, for example, for the State Department to have nixed FBI interest in meeting with Sudanese intelligence. As former Bush White House official and lobbyist Janet McElligott said when urging the government to examine Sudan's dossiers, "You do realize bin Laden lived there [Sudan] and they have files on his main people?"

Vanity Fair reports that Sudan's efforts to open its books on bin Laden began in February 1996, well in advance of the terrorist attacks that would make the Saudi-born terrorist infamous. That means that for more than four years the Clinton administration refused to consider intelligence that might have prevented the bombing of the Khobar Towers (June 1996), the destruction of the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania (August 1998), the attack on the USS Cole (October 2000) and, of course, September 11. Why was such potentially vital information not only ignored but never even evaluated?

"The simple answer is that the Clinton administration had accused Sudan of sponsoring terrorism, and refused to believe that anything it did to prove its bona fides could be genuine," the magazine reports. No doubt. But there is probably more to this scandalous failure than the "politicization" of intelligence.

Just ask a simple question. What mattered more to Clintonites in June 1996: the news on June 25 that a truck bomb had exploded at Khobar Towers in Dharan, Saudi Arabia, or the Supreme Court decision on June 24 to hear Jones vs. Clinton after the 1996 re-election campaign? Or compare another strange confluence of events. What more likely preoccupied Mr. Clinton and his advisers in August 1998: the embassy bombings in Africa on Aug. 7, or Mr. Clinton's upcoming appearance before a grand jury in connection with the Lewinsky matter on Aug. 17?

Given the permanent reconfiguration of the Clinton White House into a scandal-busting spin machine, the answers to such questions are obvious and distasteful. They may make it easier to explain, for example, why Sudan's offer to extradite two suspected bombers and al Qaeda members, made in the days between the embassy bombings and Mr. Clinton's grand jury appearance, was met with silence except, of course, for the sound of American bombs falling on a Khartoum medicine factory. They don't, however, make it any more conscionable.

The fact is, the scandal-riddled Clinton administration simply and disastrously failed to function and that, surely, is the biggest scandal of them all.

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