Tuesday, July 4, 2006

With one credible September 11 movie, “United 93,” under our belts, it will be interesting to see whether ABC-TV will complete the September 11 Commission’s whitewashing of the pre-September 11 failure of U.S. intelligence-community leaders in its forthcoming mini-series based on Richard Clarke’s memoir, “Against All Enemies.”

Media teasers about the mini-series have said that Mr. Clarke — the former “terrorism czar” — and a senior FBI officer, the late John O’Neill, will be the heroes of the saga. If true, and if ABC’s fact-checkers are not diligent in verifying Mr. Clarke’s stories and claims, the mini-series will be the September 11 commission’s dream come true: The Bush administration will be blamed for September 11, the feckless moral cowardice of the Clinton administration will be disguised and Mr. Clarke and Mr. O’Neill — in my view, two principal authors of September 11 — will be beatified.

Mr. Clarke’s book, on the basis of my involvement to varying degrees in the issues it covers, is a mixture of fact, fiction and cover-up. Mr. Clarke seems to get most names and dates right, and is correct in damning the early Bush administration for obliviousness to the al Qaeda threat. We must also take him at his word on his touching, if sycophantic, tales of Mr. Clinton instructing a young boy to be good to his mom and Hillary Rodham Clinton’s secluded moment praying on her knees.

On the fantasy level, Mr. Clarke lays it on thick. His claim that the Clinton administration “defeated an al-Qaeda attempt to dominate Bosnia” is nonsense; bin Laden sent few fighters there because he had no contiguous safe haven for them. Mr. Clarke’s claim that “the CIA had taken months to tell the FBI” several hijackers were in America is a lie. FBI officers sat in the unit I first commanded and then served in and they read the same information I did. If the data did not get to FBI headquarters it is because the FBI then lacked, and still lacks, a useable computer system. The FBI did not know the September 11 hijackers were here because Judge Louis Freeh and Robert Mueller have failed to provide their officers computers that allow them to talk securely to their headquarters and other intelligence community elements.

Another spectacular untruth is on page 52: “Later in the 1990s, CIA… [failed] to put U.S. operatives into the country [Afghanistan] to kill bin Laden and the al-Qaeda leadership, relying on Afghans instead.” Mr. Clarke, of course, was at the center of Mr. Clinton’s advisers, who resolutely refused to order the CIA to kill bin Laden. In spring 1998, I briefed Mr. Clarke and senior CIA, Department of Defense and FBI officers on a plan to kidnap bin Laden. Mr. Clarke’s reaction was that “it was just a thinly disguised attempt to assassinate bin Laden.” I replied that if he wanted bin Laden dead, we could do the job quickly. Mr. Clarke’s response was that the president did not want bin Laden assassinated, and that we had no authority to do so.

Mr. Clarke’s book is also a crucial complement to the September 11 panel’s failure to condemn Mr. Clinton’s failure to capture or kill bin Laden on any of the eight to 10 chances afforded by CIA reporting. Mr. Clarke never mentions that President Bush had no chances to kill bin Laden before September 11 and leaves readers with the false impression that he, Mr. Clinton and Mr. Clinton’s national security adviser, Sandy Berger, did their best to end the bin Laden threat. That trio, in my view, abetted al Qaeda, and if the September 11 families were smart they would focus on the dereliction of Dick, Bill and Sandy and not the antics of convicted September 11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui.

About John O’Neill, little needs to be said. In my own experience, Mr. O’Neill was interested only in furthering his career and disguising the rank incompetence of senior FBI leaders. He once told me that he and the FBI would oppose an operation to capture bin Laden and take him to a third country for incarceration. When I asked why, he replied, “Why should the FBI help to capture bin Laden if the bureau won’t get credit among Americans for his arrest and conviction”?

So, I look forward to ABC’s mini-series, as well as to seeing the quality of the network’s fact-checkers. If they do their job well, some of the September 11 Commission’s whitewash may start to be peeled away. If they fail, however, the reality that Bill, Dick and Sandy helped to push Americans out of the windows of the World Trade Center on that September morning will be buried in miles of fantasy-filled celluloid.

Michael F. Scheuer, a 22-year veteran with the CIA, created and served as the chief of the agency’s Osama bin Laden unit at the Counterterrorist Center.

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