Excerpts from Mr. Clarke’s testimony on Wednesday:
RICHARD CLARKE: My view was that this administration, while it listened to me, either didn’t believe me that there was an urgent problem or was unprepared to act as though there were an urgent problem.
SLADE GORTON: In August of 1998, did you recommend a longer-lasting military response, or just precisely the one that, in fact, took place?
MR. CLARKE: I recommended a series of rolling attacks against the infrastructure in Afghanistan. Every time they would rebuild it, I would propose that we blow it up again.
MR. GORTON: And the goal of that plan was to roll back al Qaeda over a period of three to five years, reducing it eventually to a rump group, like other terrorist organizations around the world?
MR. CLARKE: Our goal was to do that to eliminate it as a threat to the United States … The CIA said if they got all the resources they needed, that might be possible over the course of three years at the earliest.
MR. CLARKE Had we a more robust intelligence capability in the late 1980s and early 1990s, we might have recognized the existence of al Qaeda relatively soon after it came into existence. And if we had a proactive intelligence covert action program … then we might have been able to nip it in the bud.
JAMES R. THOMPSON: Mr. Clarke, as we sit here this afternoon, we have your book and we have your press briefing of August 2002. Which is true?
MR. CLARKE:Time magazine … implied that the Bush administration hadn’t worked on that plan … I was asked by several people in senior levels of the Bush White House to do a press backgrounder to try to explain that set of facts in a way that minimized criticism of the administration.
MR. THOMPSON: Well, let’s take a look, then, at your press briefing, because I don’t want to engage in semantic games … Are you saying to me that you were asked to make an untrue case to the press and the public and that you went ahead and did it?
MR. CLARKE: No, sir.
MR. THOMPSON: Mr. Clarke, in this background briefing … for the press in August of 2002, you intended to mislead the press, did you not?
MR. CLARKE: No … No one in the Bush White House asked me to say things that were untruthful, and I would not have said them.
MR. THOMPSON: But what it suggests to me is that there is one standard — one standard of candor and morality for White House special assistants and another standard of candor and morality for the rest of America. I don’t get that.
MR. CLARKE: I don’t think it’s a question of morality at all. I think it’s a question of politics.