As Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump hammers away at former President George W. Bush for not stopping the September 11 attacks, another factor could be added to the debate: Mr. Bush inherited from Bill Clinton an intelligence community in terrible shape.
This fact comes not from a Republican partisan but from George Tenet, President Clinton’s CIA director, a post that at the time made him the country’s top intelligence officer.
Mr. Tenet wrote in his memoirs, “At the Center of the Storm,” that Mr. Clinton left Mr. Bush with a CIA that was in “Chapter 11.” The eavesdropping National Security Agency was “crumbling” and “going deaf,” he said.
It is one explanation for why the intelligence community failed to discover and stop the September 11 plot.
Mr. Clinton is an integral part of Hillary Clinton’s Democratic presidential campaign. The record shows that, as commander in chief, he shrunk the CIA at the very time al Qaeda was expanding.
On his watch, the Osama bin Laden terror group declared war on the U.S. and carried out the first World Trade Center attack, as well as the bombings of a destroyer and two American embassies in Africa.
In addition to Mr. Tenet’s book, other intelligence sources have told The Washington Times that the CIA in the 1990s dramatic cut the number of case officers — the people who recruit spies — from 1,600 to 1,200. The CIA closed operating bases, even the one in Hamburg, Germany, where September 11 Islamists plotted the attack. The NSA, the nation’s listening post, was not keeping up with the Internet revolution and was stymied at times by cell phone technology.
Mr. Bush reversed that trend by pouring billions of dollars into the CIA to hire new officers and into the NSA to set up new technology development units.
Mr. Tenet wrote that he personally asked President Clinton for billions more, but received no increase.
“You can’t toss spies at al Qaeda when you don’t have them, especially when you lack the recruiting and training infrastructure to get them and grow them,” he wrote.
“The fact is that by the mid-to-late 1990s American intelligence was in Chapter 11, and neither Congress nor the executive branch did much about it.”
Of the NSA under Mr. Clinton, Mr. Tenet said, “You don’t simply tell NSA to give you more signals intelligence when their capabilities are crumbling and they are ‘going deaf,’ unable to monitor critical voice communications.”
Mr. Tenet was not the only ex-CIA director to bemoaned the Clinton 1990s. Robert Gates did too.
“By the mid-1990s, recruitment of new case officers at CIA had hit a historic low and the agency’s funding was a prime target for budget-cutters,” Mr. Gates said in 2007. “Indeed, within three years of my retirement in 1993 CIA’s clandestine service had been cut by 30 percent — just when Osama bin Laden was gearing up his war on the United States.”
Who is to blame for September 11 has come up in the Republican race. Jeb Bush defends his brother by saying he kept the country safe by instituting a new security apparatus. Mr. Trumpet responds by blaming George W. Bush for failing to stop the attack.
Mr. Trump called for impeaching Mr. Bush over the 2003 Iraq invasion, which the president ordered because the intelligence community said Saddam Hussein still possessed weapons of mass destruction. None was found during the occupation and search.
“Obviously, the war in Iraq was a big, fat mistake, all right?” Trump said Saturday at a debate in South Carolina. “They lied. They said there were weapons of mass destruction. There were none, and they knew there were none.”
With that line, Mr. Trump is picking up the slogans of the left wing which said, “Bush lied, troops died.”
The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and a special blue-ribbon panel looked into the claim, and both unanimously concluded the WMD finding was solely the product of the intelligence community, free of White House interference. Neither Mr. Bush nor the CIA lied, the panels said.