- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 21, 2003

During the runup to President Bush’s current tour of Asia, Bill Clinton tried to steal some of his successor’s thunder. At a conference last week, the former president defended his record on terrorism by claiming that he warned Mr. Bush about the danger of Osama bin Laden during the transition between administrations. “In his campaign, Bush had said he thought the biggest security issue was Iraq and a national missile defense,” Mr. Clinton began, “I told him [in the exit interview] that, in my opinion, the biggest security problem was Osama bin Laden.” Newly revealed facts cast doubt on how seriously Mr. Clinton himself took the al Qaeda threat.

Mr. Clinton’s former security advisers are on the defensive against charges that the administration’s inaction allowed bin Laden to grow into a global force. Much of the current controversy has been generated by Richard Miniter’s New York Times bestseller, “Losing bin Laden: How Bill Clinton’s Failures Unleashed Global Terror.” In the book, Mr. Miniter detailed the many instances that Mr. Clinton had to get bin Laden but didn’t. Particularly damaging are charges that the administration rejected Sudanese offers to detain the terrorist and hand him over to the United States, and later to provide intelligence dossiers on hundreds of al Qaeda operatives — most of whom are still free and active. Former Clinton administration officials do not all have their stories straight. Some say there were no offers from Sudan; others say the offers weren’t serious.

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The one man who can clear this up is Mansoor Ijaz, a millionaire Manhattan businessman who acted as a go-between for the Clinton White House with various Muslim officials, including the Sudanese. In practice, Mr. Ijaz is a citizen diplomat, using his own resources and connections to try to help the United States approach Muslim leaders, and vice versa. During the Clinton years, he was the administration’s main connection to the American Muslim community. He is not a partisan Republican crank with an ax to grind. He contributed or raised $900,000 for Democratic campaigns and was a recognized “Friend of Bill,” an insider. Hillary Clinton’s birthday celebration was held at Mr. Ijaz’s Manhattan apartment in 1999.

In e-mails and other correspondence provided exclusively by Mr. Ijaz to The Washington Times, Democratic heavyweights such as former Sen. Chuck Robb, Sen. Tim Johnson and Sen. Chuck Schumer recommend him for a position on the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board. In a handwritten note, Sandy Berger, Mr. Clinton’s own national security adviser, writes that he “will make sure he is considered” for a PFIAB spot. There are personal handwritten notes to Mr. Ijaz from President Clinton, Mrs. Clinton and former Vice President Al Gore that are signed simply Bill, Hillary or Al. In one note, Mrs. Clinton thanks him for a birthday present he gave her. These personal connections and the wealth of personal correspondence are important, because they prove the credentials of Mr. Ijaz.

So what did he tell them? In detailed confidential memos to Mr. Berger (provided to The Times by Mr. Ijaz), Mr. Ijaz sets out the Sudanese offers. In a Sept. 27, 1996, brief, he details the contents of the intelligence files, which he had told Mr. Berger about in a previous August memo. In letters to President Clinton from officials from Islamic governments delivered by Mr. Ijaz, repeated appeals were made for efforts to work on better relations between Washington and Muslim nations. In one letter to Mr. Clinton from Hassan Turabi, chairman of the National Assembly of Sudan, the Sudanese official wrote:

“We are prepared to work with you to usher in a new era of improving the understanding and attitudes of all elements in the Islamic world, whether here in the Sudan or in other Islamic regions of mutual interest and concern.” The most significant cause for concern with the Muslim world was then what it still is today: bin Laden. And the Sudanese were in a position to hand him over. The Clinton administration might not have taken the Sudanese seriously, but the Sudanese voluntarily placed all their cards on the table. Mr. Ijaz’s correspondence proves the administration knew what was available. The Clinton administration simply chose to snub the offer to work together with the government that harbored the al Qaeda mastermind.

In an interview yesterday with the Washington Times, Mr. Ijaz summarized his view of the Clinton administration’s culpability regarding September 11. “I said then as I say now: Bill Clinton’s inability to understand what was fueling the rise of bin Laden as a phenomenon — not as an individual — was the greatest U.S. foreign policy failure of the last half-century. It has affected hundreds of millions worldwide. Even if we get him now, who will be the next bin Laden? There are many willing candidates standing in line. Islamic radicalism exists today because Clinton didn’t dismantle al Qaeda when he had the chance.”

With all this information in mind, there is one important question regarding Bill Clinton’s claim that he warned Mr. Bush about the al Qaeda threat. If Mr. Clinton did believe bin Laden posed the most serious danger to America’s security, why didn’t he take the opportunities he had to stop him?

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