- The Washington Times - Friday, November 2, 2001

It's time for a pause, but not in the bombing. Great Britain's Tony Blair has just urged one and all never to forget "why we are doing this" namely, fighting Islamist terrorism. But is it possible to forget? The prime minister seems to believe that the shock of September 11 is receding for some, settling into the past as a neatly repressible memory. That such callousness might exist is something to ponder as the grim pageant of memorial services continues, day after day, for those who died in the attacks.
This might also be a time to pause and consider why we find ourselves in the historical position of having to be "doing this" in the first place particularly considering that some people, as a recently retired CIA veteran put it to this newspaper's John McCaslin, "don't even have the grace to keep their mouths shut." So spoke Anne Allen, a 37-year veteran of the intelligence agency, on reading what former Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright had to say this week about why the Clinton administration allowed Osama bin Laden and his network to terrorize and kill Americans during the past decade, and live on to terrorize and kill Americans in this one.
While Bill Clinton likes to talk up near-misses on bin Laden with the relish of a fisherman talking about the "one that got away," Mrs. Albright tells a different story. According to the former secretary of state, the poor Clinton administration never received the intelligence information needed to link bin Laden's group to attacks on the two U.S. embassies in Africa or the USS Cole. Not only that, she says, but the administration never had the public support required to take on al Qaeda, either. In other words, her hands her boss's hands were completely tied. Given this handicap, it's a wonder that either of them ever managed to pass the buck at all.
What Mrs. Albright doesn't mention, of course, is Mr. Clinton's disastrous move to bar intelligence contacts with anyone even teetering on the edge of eligibility for the Eagle Scouts. This decision effectively cut the flow of intelligence information off at its, frankly, often-tainted source. And no word from the former secretary of state on the sundry measures short of military action the administration could and should have taken. These include, as the former CIA employee noted, securing our borders, matching intelligence information with visa applications, linking FBI lists with airline manifests and stockpiling assorted vaccines against the bioterrorist threat.
Mrs. Albright seems similarly untroubled by second thoughts about the unconscionable Clinton policy of treating terrorism against Americans, from the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center to the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole, as criminal matters to be investigated by the FBI and dealt with by the courts not terrorist attacks requiring national action. And she shows little awareness of the opportunity her administration missed by not trying ever to muster public support for a campaign against terrorism. Guess everyone was too busy trying to muster public support to stay in office. "We cannot alter the past," Mrs. Albright said, a tad on the defensive side. That, of course, doesn't mean that we shouldn't face up to it in an attempt to understand it.
But try understanding this: The Washington Post reports that the FBI hesitated "for years" to investigate radical Islamic clerics in this country "despite evidence that their mosques had been used to recruit and fund suspected terrorists." The hair-raising case of the thankfully incarcerated Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman a central link in the Islamic terror network is a perfect example. The Post reveals that the investigation of the so-called blind cleric was stalled for five months after the 1993 trade center bombing, and that the bureau never brought him before a grand jury, bugged his offices, subpoenaed his mosque's records or wiretapped its phones. What gives? Turns out the FBI considered possible charges of "religious persecution" to pose a greater threat to the national interest than possible acts of terrorism. "A change in thinking may be taking place today," a senior FBI official rather feebly told The Post.
May be taking place? While preserving the memory of why we fight, it's important to consider why we have to fight. We can't, as Madeleine Albright has said, alter the past. But we can deepen our understanding and learn from it. No doubt our future depends on doing exactly that.


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