Michael Scheuer, whose 2004 book “Imperial Hubris” won hosannas from liberals as an indictment of the Bush administration’s conduct of the war on terror, turned his sights on former President Bill Clinton yesterday.
In an appearance on “Fox News Sunday,” the former CIA counterterrorism official denounced as “lies” Mr. Clinton’s contentious defense last week of his efforts against Osama bin Laden, saying the administration passed up at least 10 chances to capture or kill the al Qaeda leader.
“Mr. Richard Clarke, Mr. Sandy Berger, President Clinton are lying about the opportunities they had to kill Osama bin Laden. That’s the plain truth, the exact truth,” Mr. Scheuer said of the former president and, respectively, his administration’s top anti-terrorism adviser and national security adviser.
Mr. Scheuer also disputed Mr. Clinton’s assertion that he did not have the necessary authorization to kill bin Laden, pointing out the president is the person who issues authorizations, not the person who needs them.
“It’s not a simple, dumb bureaucrat like me; that’s not my decision. It’s his,” Mr. Scheuer said. “For him to get on the television and say to the American people he did all he could is a flat lie, sir. This is not a question of interpretation or judgment. This is a question of fact. And the documents will show the president had the opportunity.”
Mr. Scheuer was part of a “Fox News Sunday” panel that debated the Clinton administration’s efforts in fighting terrorism, one week after Mr. Clinton caused a stir by getting visibly angry at Fox interviewer Chris Wallace’s questions on the topic.
The Scheuer comments were disputed by Daniel Benjamin, a former Clinton National Security Council counterterrorism official, who said intelligence officials never had enough reliable information to capture or kill bin Laden.
“I have the greatest respect for Mike Scheuer, but on this case, I think he’s wrong,” Mr. Benjamin said. “Quite simply, we never had enough information to do this with confidence, knowing that we would get the target. And it doesn’t help your deterrence and it doesn’t help your case if you fire and you don’t hit the right person.”
When pressed by Mr. Wallace, Mr. Scheuer said he remains a critic of the Bush administration’s record on combating terrorism and the decision to invade Iraq.
“I think that this administration has led us into a tremendously difficult long-term problem, which will be very bloody and costly for Americans,” he said.
However, Mr. Scheuer defended the Bush administration against accusations from Clinton supporters that the Bush team could have eliminated bin Laden in the eight months before the September 11 attacks.
“Mr. Clarke, Mr. Berger, Mr. Clinton did have opportunities that were delivered by the men and women of the CIA to kill Osama bin Laden,” Mr. Scheuer said. “In the first eight months of the Bush administration, there were no such opportunities.”
Journalist Lawrence Wright, who also appeared on the “Fox News Sunday” panel, said the real blame for failing to capture bin Laden and eliminate al Qaeda has more to do with the government’s inability to hire a competent national security intelligence team at all levels — agents, analysts and officials.
“They were both poorly served by their intelligence agencies,” Mr. Wright said. “In each of these cases, the intelligence was not great. And the reason the intelligence was not great is they didn’t have people that were capable of getting inside the tent.”