For eight long years everything necessary to prevent September 11 had been proposed in private and in public. But the Clinton Administration slept. . .
(The following article by David Horowitz first appeared in our March 24, 2004, issue. We are reprinting it to mark the three-year anniversary of 9/11. It has been updated to incorporate recent findings about the “Able Danger” unit. -- The Editors)
“While the nation was having a good laugh at the expense of Florida’s hanging chads and butterfly ballots, Mohammed Atta and Marwan al Shehhi were there, in Florida, learning to drive commercial jetliners [and ram them into the World Trade Center towers]. It will take a novelist to paint that broad canvas properly. It will take some deep political thinking to understand how the lackadaisical attitude toward government and the world helped leave the country so unready for the horror that Atta and Shehhi were preparing.”—Michael Oreskes, New York Times, October 21, 2001.
THE SEPTEMBER 11 ATTACKS on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center marked the end of one American era and the beginning of another. As did Pearl Harbor, the September tragedy awakened Americans from insular slumbers and made them aware of a world they could not afford to ignore. Like Franklin Roosevelt, George W. Bush condemned the attacks as acts of war, and mobilized a nation to action. It was a sharp departure from the policy of his predecessor, Bill Clinton, who in characteristic self-absorption had downgraded a series of similar assaults—including one on the World Trade Center itself—officially regarding them as criminal matters that involved individuals alone.
But the differences between the September 11 attacks and Pearl Harbor were also striking. The latter was a military base situated on an island 3,000 miles distant from the American mainland. New York is America’s greatest population center, the portal through which immigrant generations of all colors and ethnicities have come in search of a better life. The World Trade Center is the Wall Street hub of the economy they enter; its victims were targeted for participating in the most productive, tolerant and generous society human beings have created. In responding to the attacks, the president himself took note of this: “America was targeted for attack,” he told Congress on September 20, “because we’re the brightest beacon for freedom and opportunity in the world. And no one will keep that light from shining.”
In contrast to Pearl Harbor, the assault on the World Trade Center was hardly a “sneak attack” that American intelligence agencies had little idea was coming. Its Twin Towers had already been bombed eight years earlier, and by the same enemy. The terrorists themselves were already familiar to government operatives, their aggressions frequent enough that several commissions had been appointed to investigate. Each had reached the same conclusion. It was not a matter of whether the United States was going to be the target of a major terrorist assault; it was a matter of when.
In fact, the al-Qaeda terrorists responsible for the September 11 attacks had first engaged U.S. troops as early as 1993 when the Clinton administration deployed U.S. military forces to Somalia. Their purpose was humanitarian: to feed the starving citizens of this Muslim land. But, America’s goodwill ambassadors were ambushed by al-Qaeda forces. In a 15-hour battle in Mogadishu, 18 Americans were killed and 80 wounded. One dead U.S. soldier was dragged through the streets in an act calculated to humiliate his comrades and his country. The Americans’ offense was not that they had brought food to the hungry. Their crime was who they were—”unbelievers,” emissaries of “the Great Satan,” in the political religion of the enemy they now faced.
The defeat in Mogadishu was a blow not only to American charity, but to American power and American prestige. Nonetheless, under the leadership of America’s then commander-in-chief, Bill Clinton, there was no military response to the humiliation. The greatest superpower the world had ever seen did nothing. It accepted defeat.
On February 26, 1993, eight months prior to the Mogadishu attack, al-Qaeda terrorists had struck the World Trade Center for the first time. Their truck bomb made a crater six stories deep, killed six people, and injured more than a thousand. The planners’ intention had been to cause one tower to topple the other and kill tens of thousands of innocent people. It was not only the first major terrorist act ever to take place on U.S. soil, but—in the judgment of a definitive account of the event—”the most ambitious terrorist attack ever attempted, anywhere, ever.”
Six Palestinian and Egyptian conspirators responsible for the attack were tried in civil courts and got life sentences like common criminals, but its mastermind escaped. He was identified as Ramzi Ahmed Yousef, an Iraqi intelligence agent. This was a clear indication to authorities that the atrocity was no mere criminal event, and that it involved more than individual terrorists; it involved hostile terrorist states.
Yet, once again, the Clinton administration’s response was to absorb the injury and accept defeat. The president did not even visit the bomb crater or tend to the victims. Instead, America’s commander-in-chief warned against “overreaction.” In doing so, he telegraphed a clear message to his nation’s enemies: We are unsure of purpose and unsteady of hand; we are self-indulgent and soft; we will not take risks to defend ourselves; we are vulnerable.
The al-Qaeda terrorists were listening. In a 1998 interview, Osama bin Laden told ABC News reporter John Miller:
We have seen in the last decade the decline of the American government and the weakness of the American soldier, who is ready to wage Cold Wars and unprepared to fight long wars. This was proven in Beirut, when the Marines fled after two explosions. It also proves they can run in less than 24 hours, and this was also repeated in Somalia. We are ready for all occasions. We rely on Allah.
Among the terrorist entities that supported the al-Qaeda terrorists were Yasser Arafat’s Palestine Authority and the Palestine Liberation Organization. The PLO had created the first terrorist training camps, invented suicide bombings and been the chief propaganda machine behind the idea that terrorist armies were really missionaries for “social justice.” Yet, among foreign leaders Arafat was Clinton’s most frequent White House guest. Far from treating Arafat as an enemy of civilized order and an international pariah, the Clinton Administration was busily cultivating him as a “partner for peace.” For many Washington liberals, terrorism was not the instrument of political fanatics and evil men, but was the product of social conditions—poverty, racism and oppression—for which the Western democracies, including Israel were always ultimately to blame.
The idea that terrorism has “root causes” in social conditions whose primary author is the United States is, in fact, an organizing theme of the contemporary political left. “Where is the acknowledgment that this was not a ‘cowardly’ attack on ‘civilization’ or ‘liberty’ or ‘humanity’ or ‘the free world’”—declared the writer Susan Sontag, speaking for this faction—“but an attack on the world’s self-proclaimed superpower, undertaken as a consequence of specific American alliances and actions? How many citizens are aware of the ongoing American bombing of Iraq?” (Was Susan Sontag unaware that Iraq was behind the first World Trade Center attack? That Iraq had attempted to swallow Kuwait and was a regional aggressor and sponsor of terror? That Iraq had expelled UN arms inspectors—in violation of the terms of its peace—who were there to prevent it from developing chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons? Was she unaware that Iraq was a sponsor of international terror and posed an ongoing threat to others, including the country in which she lived?)
During the Clinton years the idea that America was somehow responsible for global distress had become an all too familiar refrain among left-wing elites. It had particular resonance in the institutions that shaped American culture and policy: universities, the mainstream media and the Oval Office. In March 1998, two months after Monica Lewinsky became a White House thorn and a household name, Clinton embarked on a presidential hand-wringing expedition to Africa. With a large delegation of African-American leaders in tow, the president made a pilgrimage to Uganda to apologize for the crime of American slavery. The apology was offered despite the fact that no slaves had ever been imported to America from Uganda, nor any East African state; that slavery in Africa preceded any American involvement by a thousand years; that America and Britain were the two powers responsible for ending the slave trade; and that America had abolished slavery a hundred years before—at great human cost—while slavery persisted in Africa without African protest to the present day.
Four months after Clinton left Uganda, al-Qaeda terrorists blew up the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.
Clinton’s continuing ambivalence about America’s role in the world was highlighted in the wake of September 11, when he suggested that America actually bore some responsibility for the attacks on itself. In November 2001, even as the new Bush administration was launching America’s military response, the former president made a speech at Georgetown University in which he admonished citizens who were descended “from various European lineages” that they were “not blameless,” and that America’s past involvement in slavery should humble them as they confronted their attackers. Characteristically the President took no responsibility for his own failure to protect Americans from the attacks.
The idea that there are “root causes” behind campaigns to murder innocent men, women, and children, and terrorize civilian populations was examined shortly after the World Trade Center events by a writer in the New York Times. Columnist Edward Rothstein observed that while there were many mea culpas on the Left after September 11, no one had invoked “root causes” to defend Timothy McVeigh after he blew up the Oklahoma City Federal Building in 1995, killing 187 people. “No one suggested that this act had its ‘root causes’ in an injustice that needed to be rectified to prevent further terrorism.” The silence was maintained, even though McVeigh and his collaborators “asserted that their ideas of rights and liberty were being violated and that the only recourse was terror.”
The reason no one invoked “root causes” to explain the Oklahoma City bombing was because Timothy McVeigh was not a leftist. Nor did he claim to be acting in behalf of “social justice”—the historical code for totalitarian causes. In an address to Congress that defined America’s response to September 11, President Bush sagaciously observed:
We have seen their kind before. They are the heirs of all the murderous ideologies of the 20th century. By sacrificing human life to serve their radical visions, by abandoning every value except the will to power, they follow in the path of fascism, Nazism and totalitarianism.
Like Islamic radicalism, the totalitarian doctrines of communism and fascism are fundamentalist creeds. “The fundamentalist does not believe [his] ideas have any limits or boundaries…[Therefore] the goals of fundamentalist terror are not to eliminate injustice but to eliminate opposition.” That is why the humanitarian nature of America’s mission to Mogadishu made no difference to America’s al-Qaeda foe. The terrorists’ goal was not to alleviate hunger. It was to eliminate America. It was to defeat “The Great Satan.”
Totalitarians and fundamentalists share a conviction that is religious and political at the same time. Their mission is social redemption through the power of the state. Using political and military power they intend to create a “new world” in their own image. Rothstein observed this revolutionary transformation encompasses all individuals and requires the control of all aspects of human life:
Like fundamentalist terror, totalitarian terror leaves no aspect of life exempt from the battle being waged. The state is felt to be the apotheosis of political and natural law, and it strives to extend that law over all humanity…. No injustices, separately or together, necessarily lead to totalitarianism and no mitigation of injustice, however defined, will eliminate its unwavering beliefs, absolutist control and unbounded ambitions.
In 1998 Osama bin Laden explained his war aims to ABC News: “Allah ordered us in this religion to purify Muslim land of all non-believers.” As The New Republic’s Peter Beinart commented, bin Laden is not a crusader for social justice but “an ethnic cleanser on a scale far greater than the Hutus and the Serbs, a scale that has only one true Twentieth Century parallel.”
In the 1990s, America mobilized its military power to go to the rescue of Muslims in the Balkans who were being ethnically cleansed by Serbian communists. This counted for nothing in al-Qaeda’s calculations, any more than did America’s support for Muslim peasants in Afghanistan fighting for their freedom against Red Army invaders in the 1980s. The war against radical Islam is not about what America has done, but about what America is. As bin Laden told the world on October 7, the day America began its military response, the war is between those of the faith and those outside the faith, between those who submit to the believers’ law and those infidels who do not.
While The Clinton Administration Slept
After the first World Trade Center attack, President Clinton vowed there would be vengeance. But like so many of his presidential pronouncements, the strong words were not accompanied by deeds. Nor were they followed by measures necessary to defend the country against the next series of attacks.
After their Mogadishu victory and the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, unsuccessful attempts were made by al-Qaeda groups to blow up the Lincoln and Holland Tunnels and other populated targets, including a massive terrorist incident timed to coincide with the millennium celebrations of January 2000. Another scheme to hijack commercial airliners and use them as “bombs” according to plans close to those eventually used on September 11, was thwarted in the Philippines in 1995. The architect of this effort was the Iraqi intelligence agent Ramzi Yousef.
The following year, the terrorist attack on the Khobar Towers, a U.S. military barracks in Saudia Arabia, killed 19 American soldiers. The White House response was limp, and the case (in the words of FBI director Louis B. Freeh) “remains unresolved.” Two years later al-Qaeda agents blew up the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, killing 245 people and injuring 5,000. (One CIA official told a reporter, “Two at once is not twice as hard. It is a hundred times as hard.”) On October 12, 2000, the warship USS Cole was bombed while re-fueling in Yemen, yet another Islamic country aligned with the terrorist enemy. Seventeen U.S. sailors were killed and 39 injured.
These were all acts of war, yet the president and his cabinet refused to recognize them as such.
Why the Clinton Administration Slept
Clinton’s second term national security advisor, Sandy Berger, described the official White House position towards these attacks as “a little bit like a Whack-A-Mole game at the circus. They bop up and you whack ‘em down, and if they bop up again, you bop ‘em back down again.” Like the administration he represented, the national security advisor lacked a requisite appreciation of the problem. Iraq’s dictator was unimpressed by sporadic U.S. strikes against his regime. He remained defiant, expelling UN weapons inspectors, firing at U.S. warplanes, and continuing to build his arsenal of mass destruction. But “the administration held no clear and consistent view of the Iraqi threat and how it intended to address it,” observed Washington Post correspondent Jim Hoagland. The disarray that characterized the Clinton security policy flowed from the “administration’s growing inability to tell the world—and itself—the truth.” It was the signature problem of the Clinton years.
Underlying the Clinton security failure was the fact that the administration was made up of people who for 25 years had discounted or minimized the totalitarian threat, opposed America’s armed presence abroad, and consistently resisted the deployment of America’s military forces to halt Communist expansion. National Security Advisor Sandy Berger was himself a veteran of the Sixties “antiwar” movement, which abetted the Communist victories in Vietnam and Cambodia, and created the “Vietnam War syndrome” that made it so difficult afterwards for American presidents to deploy the nation’s military forces.
Berger had also been a member of “Peace Now,” the leftist movement seeking to pressure the Israeli government to make concessions to Yasser Arafat’s PLO terrorists. Clinton’s first National Security Advisor, Anthony Lake was a protégé of Berger, who had introduced him to Clinton. All three had met as activists in the 1972 McGovern presidential campaign, whose primary issue was opposition to the Vietnam War based on the view that the “arrogance of American power” was responsible for the conflict, rather than Communist aggression.
Anthony Lake’s own attitude towards the totalitarian threat in Southeast Asia was displayed in his March 1975 Washington Post article, “At Stake in Cambodia: Extending Aid Will Only Prolong the Killing.” The prediction contained in Lake’s title proved exactly wrong. It was not a small mistake for someone who in 1992 would be placed in charge of America’s national security apparatus. Lake’s article was designed to rally Democrat opposition to a presidential request for emergency aid to the Cambodian regime. The aid was required to contain the threat posed by Communist leader Pol Pot and his insurgent Khmer Rouge forces.
At the time, Republicans warned that if the aid was cut, the regime would fall and a “bloodbath” would ensue. This fear was solidly based on reports that had begun accumulating three years earlier concerning “the extraordinary brutality with which the Khmer Rouge were governing the civilian population in areas they controlled.” But Anthony Lake and the Democrat-controlled Congress dismissed these warnings as so much “anti-Communist hysteria,” and voted to deny the aid.
In his Post article, Lake advised fellow Democrats to view the Khmer Rouge not as a totalitarian force—which it was—but as a coalition embracing “many Khmer nationalists, Communist and non-Communist,” who only desired independence. It would be a mistake, he wrote, to alienate Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge lest we “push them further into the arms of their Communist supporters.” Lake’s myopic left-wing views prevailed among the Democrats, and the following year the new president, Jimmy Carter, rewarded Lake with an appointment as Policy Planning Director of the State Department.
In Cambodia, the termination of U.S. aid led immediately to the collapse of the government allowing the Khmer Rouge to seize power within months of the congressional vote. The victorious revolutionaries proceeded to implement their plans for a new Communist utopia by systematically eliminating their opposition. In the next three years they killed nearly 2 million Cambodians, a campaign universally recognized as one of the worst genocides ever recorded.
The Warnings Ignored
For nearly a decade before the World Trade Center disaster, the Clinton administration was aware that Americans were increasingly vulnerable to attacks which might involve biological or chemical weapons, or even nuclear devices bought or stolen from the former Soviet Union. This was the insistent message of Republican speeches on the floors of Congress and was reflected in the warnings of several government commissions, and Clinton’s own Secretary of Defense, William Cohen.
In July 1999, for example, Cohen wrote an op-ed piece in the Washington Post, predicting a terrorist attack on the American mainland. “In the past year, dozens of threats to use chemical or biological weapons in the United States have turned out to be hoaxes. Someday, one will be real.” But the warnings did not produce the requisite action by the commander-in-chief. Meanwhile, the nation’s media looked the other way. For example, as the president of the Council on Foreign Relations told the New Yorker’s Joe Klein, he “watched carefully to see if anyone followed up on [Cohen’s speech]. But none of the television networks and none of the elite press even mentioned it. I was astonished.”
The following year, “the National Commission on Terrorism—chaired by former Reagan counter-terrorism head Paul Bremer—issued a report with the eerily foreboding image of the Twin Towers on its cover. A bi-partisan effort led by Jon Kyl and Dianne Feinstein—was made to attach the recommendations of the panel to an intelligence authorization bill.” But Senator Patrick Leahy, who had distinguished himself in the 1980s by opposing the government’s efforts to halt the Communist offensive in Central America, “said he feared a threat to ‘civil liberties’ in a campaign against terrorism and torpedoed the effort. After the bombing of the U.S.S. Cole, Kyl and Feinstein tried yet again. This time, Leahy was content with emaciating the proposals instead of defeating them outright. The weakened proposals died as the House realized ‘it wasn’t worth taking up.’”
After the abortive plot to blow up commercial airliners in the Philippines, Vice President Al Gore was tasked with improving airline security. A commission was formed, but under his leadership it also “focused on civil liberties” and “profiling,” liberal obsessions that diluted any effort to strengthen security measures in the face of a threat in which all of the proven terrorists were Muslims from the Middle East and Asia. The commission concluded that, “no profile [of passengers] should contain or be based on…race, religion, or national origin.” According to journalist Kevin Cherry, the FAA also decided in 1999 to seal its passenger screening system from law-enforcement databases, thus preventing the FBI from notifying airlines that suspected terrorists were on board.”
In 1993, the FBI identified three charities connected to the Palestinian terrorist organization Hamas that were being used to finance terrorist activities, sending as much as $20 million a year to America’s enemies. According to presidential adviser Dick Morris, “At a White House strategy meeting on April 27, 1995—two weeks after the Oklahoma City bombing—the president was urged to create a ‘President’s List’ of extremist/terrorist groups, their members and donors ‘to warn the public against well-intentioned donations which might foster terrorism.’ On April 1, 1996, he was again advised to ‘prohibit fund-raising by terrorists and identify terrorist organizations.’” Hamas was specifically mentioned.
Inexplicably, Clinton ignored these recommendations. Why? FBI agents have stated that they were prevented from opening either criminal or national-security cases because of a fear that it would be seen as “profiling” Islamic charities. While Clinton was “politically correct,” Hamas flourished.
In failing to heed the signs that America was at war with a deadly adversary, overcome the ideological obstacles created by the liberal biases of his administration, and arouse an uninformed public to concern, it was the commander-in-chief who bore primary responsibility. As one former administration official told reporter Joe Klein, “Clinton spent less concentrated attention on national defense than any other president in recent memory.” Clinton’s political advisor Dick Morris flatly charged, “Clinton’s failure to mobilize America to confront foreign terror after the 1993 attack [on the World Trade Center] led directly to the 9/11 disaster.” According to Morris, “Clinton was removed, uninvolved, and distant where the war on terror was concerned.”
By Clinton’s own account, Monica Lewinsky was able to visit him privately more than a dozen times in the Oval Office. But according to a USA Today investigative report, the head of the CIA could not get a single private meeting with the president, despite the World Trade Center bombing of February 26, 1993, or the killing of 18 American soldiers in Mogadishu on October 3 of the same year. “James Woolsey, Clinton’s first CIA director, says he never met privately with Clinton after their initial interview. When a small plane crashed on the White House grounds in 1994, the joke inside the White House was, ‘that must be Woolsey, still trying to get an appointment.’”
In 1996, an American Muslim businessman and Clinton supporter named Mansoor Ijaz opened up an unofficial channel between the government of the Sudan and the Clinton administration. At the same time, “the State Department was describing bin Laden as ‘the greatest single financier of terrorist projects in the world’ and was accusing the Sudan of harboring terrorists.” According to Mansoor, who met with Clinton and Sandy Berger:
President Omar Hassan Ahmed Bashir, who wanted terrorism sanctions against Sudan lifted, offered the arrest and extradition of bin Laden and detailed intelligence data about the global networks constructed by Egypt’s Islamic Jihad, Iran’s Hezbollah and the Palestinian Hamas. Among the members of these networks were the two hijackers who piloted commercial airliners into the World Trade Center. The silence of the Clinton administration in responding to these offers was deafening.
President Bashir sent key intelligence officials to Washington in February 1996. Again, according to Mansoor, “the Sudanese offered to arrest bin Laden and extradite him to Saudi Arabia or, barring that, to ‘baby-sit’ him—monitoring all his activities and associates.” But the Saudis didn’t want him. Instead, in May 1996 “the Sudanese capitulated to U.S. pressure and asked bin Laden to leave, despite their feeling that he could be monitored better in Sudan than elsewhere. Bin Laden left for Afghanistan, taking with him Ayman Awahiri, considered by the U.S. to be the chief planner of the September 11 attacks….”
One month later, the U.S. military housing complex in Saudi Arabia was blown apart by a 5,000 lb. truck bomb. Clinton’s failure to grasp the opportunity, concludes Mansoor, “represents one of the most serious foreign policy failures in American history.”
According to a London Sunday Times account, based on a Clinton administration source, responsibility for this decision “went to the very top of the White House.” Shortly after the September 11 disaster, “Clinton told a dinner companion that the decision to let bin Laden go was probably ‘the biggest mistake of my presidency.’” But according to the Times report, which was based on interviews with intelligence officials, this was only one of three occasions on which the Clinton administration had the opportunity to seize bin Laden and failed to do so.
When the president’s affair with Monica Lewinsky became public in January 1998, and his adamant denials made it a consuming public preoccupation, Clinton’s normal inattention to national security matters became subsumed into general executive paralysis. In Dick Morris’s judgment, the United States was effectively “without a president between January 1998 until April 1999,” when the impeachment proceedings concluded with the failure of the Senate to convict. It was in August 1998 that the al-Qaeda truck bombs blew up the embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.
Ignoring “Able Danger”
Not only did Osama bin Laden remain free to kill Americans overseas, his minions were able to plot the worst act of terrorism in American history from within our own borders. More than 100 Arabic operatives participated in the attack on the Twin Towers. They did so over a period of several years, often eliciting the notice of military intelligence officers. However, Clinton-era policies ensured those officers could not ask for the FBI to follow-up on the 9/11 hijackers then preparing to strike at the heart of the infidel.
Not everyone responded to Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman’s 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center with blithe indifference. Five years later, Army Intelligence and the Special Operations Command launched an investigation into potential Islamist terrorists living in the United States. This operation was named “Able Danger.” Using “data mining” techniques to track Muslims associated with radical mosques, agents identified 9/11 mastermind Mohammed Atta and three of his fellow hijackers as members of a New York City-based al-Qaeda cell (codenamed “Brooklyn”). Three witnesses—Lt. Col. Anthony Schaffer, Captain Scott Philpott, and Defense contractor J.D. Smith—have come forward to verify that “Able Danger” identified Mohammed Atta as a potential al-Qaeda threat by name as early as 1999. However, when officers asked permission to inform the FBI of their findings and request they closely supervise “Brooklyn,” military lawyers prevented from them sharing this information on three separate occasions.
The trouble, the attorneys told the intelligence agents, stemmed from federal guidelines prohibiting various agencies from sharing intelligence or coordinating investigations across bureaucratic lines. The Legal Left had claimed this practice violated civil liberties and, with an advocate in the White House, existing barriers were raised ever higher.
This barrier, which kept federal officials from monitoring a tragedy in progress, came to be known as “The Wall.” Although restrictions had existed since the Carter administration, in the summer of 1995 Bill Clinton’s deputy attorney general, Jamie Gorelick, drafted a memo raising the wall well beyond existing guidelines. U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White, who was based in New York City, protested the infringement on terrorist investigations, writing:
It is hard to be totally comfortable with instructions to the FBI prohibiting contact with the United States Attorney's Offices when such prohibitions are not legally required…These instructions leave entirely to OIPR [the Office of Intelligence and Policy Review] and the [Justice Department’s] Criminal Division when, if ever, to contact affected U.S. attorneys on investigations including terrorism and espionage…The most effective way to combat terrorism is with as few labels and walls as possible so that wherever permissible, the right and left hands are communicating.
When Gorelick ignored her suggestions, White warned the new federal guidelines “will cost lives.” She proved no mean prophet.
The Clinton administration placed the aforementioned OIPR, for the first time in its history, under a political appointee: Richard Scruggs. The “wall memo” and the politicization of intelligence were only the first step. The Clinton Justice Department brought all intelligence under increasingly centralized control in order to discourage investigations. At this time, agents were looking into allegations that Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign had accepted substantial amounts of illegal campaign contributions originating in the People’s Republic of China. To insulate himself against overzealous federal investigators, he effectively saw to it all inquiries had to receive approval from high-level political appointees under his management. Not only did Bill Clinton’s policies keep Army Intelligence from informing the FBI about the brewing al-Qaeda threat in New York City—which was then finalizing plans for the terrorists’ most successful assault against the “Great Satan” and give al-Qaeda an invaluable recruiting tool—it seems to have done so in order to protect Bill Clinton from his own unseemly deeds.
The Failure to Take Security Seriously
Yet this was only half the story. During its eight years, the Clinton administration was able to focus enough attention on defense matters to hamstring the intelligence services in the name of civil liberties, shrink the U.S. military in the name of economy, and prevent the Pentagon from adopting (and funding) a “two-war” strategy, because “the Cold War was over” and in the White House’s judgment there was no requisite military threat in the post-Communist world that might make it necessary for the United States to fight a two-front war. Inattention to defense also did not prevent the Clinton administration from pursuing massive social experiments in the military in the name of gender and diversity reform, which included requiring “consciousness raising” classes for military personnel, rigging physical standards women were unable to meet, and in general undermining the meritocratic benchmarks that are a crucial component of military morale.
While budget cuts forced some military families to go on food stamps, the Pentagon spent enormous sums to re-equip ships and barracks to accommodate co-ed living. All these efforts further reduced the Pentagon’s ability to put a fighting force in the field—a glaring national vulnerability dramatized by the war in Kosovo. This diminished the crucial elements of fear and respect for American power in the eyes of adversaries waiting in the wings.
During the Clinton years, the Democratic Party’s insistence that American power was somehow the disturber—rather than the enforcer—of international tranquility, prompted the White House to turn to multilateral agencies for leadership, particularly the discredited United Nations. While useful in limited peacekeeping operations, the UN was in large part a collection of theocratic tyrannies and brutal dictatorships that regularly indicted and condemned the world’s most tolerant democracies—specifically the United States, England, and Israel—while supporting the very states providing safe harbors for America’s al-Qaeda enemies. Just prior to the World Trade Center attacks, the UN’s “Conference on Racism” engaged in a ritual of America bashing over “reparations” for slavery and support for Israel. The agendas had been set by an Islamic coalition led by Iran.
During the 1990s, Bill Clinton’s most frequent foreign guest was Yasser Arafat, whose allegiance to Iraq and betrayal of America during the Gulf War could not have been more brazen. Following the defeat of Iraq, a “peace process” was launched in the Arab-Israeli conflict that predictably failed through Arafat’s failure to renounce the terrorist option. But why renounce terror if there is no price exacted for practicing it?
Clinton and the Military
It is true that the Clinton White House was able, during its eight-year tenure, to shed some of the Democrats’ normal aversion to the use of American military might. (As recently as 1990, only 6 Democratic Senators voted to authorize Operation Desert Storm against Iraq.) But the Clinton deployments of American forces were often non-military in nature: a “democracy building” effort in Haiti that failed; flood relief and “peace keeping” operations that were more appropriately the province of international institutions. Even the conflict Clinton belatedly engaged in the Balkans was officially characterized as a new kind of “humanitarian war,” as though the old kinds of war for national interest and self-defense were somehow tainted. While the Serbian dictator Milosevic was toppled, “ethnic cleansing”—the casus belli of the Western intervention—continues, except that the Christian Serbs in Kosovo have now become victims of the previously persecuted Albanian Muslims.
Among Clinton’s deployments were also half-hearted strikes using cruise missiles against essentially defenseless countries like Sudan, or the sporadic bombing of Iraq when Saddam violated the terms of the Gulf peace. Clinton’s strikes failed in their primary objective: to maintain the UN inspections. On the other hand, a negative result of this “Whack-A-Mole” strategy was the continual antagonizing of Muslim populations throughout the world.
The most notorious of these episodes was undoubtedly Clinton’s ill-conceived and ineffectual response to the attacks on the African embassies. At the time, Clinton was preoccupied with preparing his defense before a grand jury convened because of his public lies about the Lewinsky affair. Three days after Lewinsky’s grand jury appearance, without consulting the Joint Chiefs of Staff or his national security advisors, Clinton launched cruise missiles into two Islamic countries, which he identified as being allied to the terrorists and their leader Osama bin Laden. One of these missiles hit and destroyed a pharmaceutical factory in the Sudan, killing one individual. Since the factory was the sole plant producing medicines for an impoverished African nation, there were almost certainly a number of collateral deaths.
The incident, which inflamed anti-American passions all over the Islamic world, was—in conception and execution—a perfect reflection of the distorted priorities and reckless attitudes of the Clinton White House. It also reflected the irresponsibility of congressional Democrats who subordinated the safety concerns of their constituents to provide unified support for the presidential misbehavior at home and abroad.
The Partisan Nature of the Security Problem
The terrorist plotters and hijackers were able to enter the United States with or without passports, seemingly at will. They received training in flying commercial airliners at American facilities despite clear indications that some of them might be part of a terrorist campaign. At the same time, Democrats pressed for greater relaxation of immigration policies and resisted scrutiny of foreign nationals on the grounds that to do so constituted “racial profiling.” To coordinate their terrorist efforts, the al-Qaeda operatives had to communicate with each other electronically on channels that America’s high-tech intelligence agencies normally intercept. One reason they were not detected specifically plotting terrorism was that the first line of defense against such attacks was effectively crippled by powerful figures in the Democratic Party, who considered the CIA the problem and not America’s enemies.
Security controls that would have prevented adversarial agents from acquiring encryption devices that thwarted American intelligence efforts were casually lifted on orders from the highest levels of government. Alleged abuses by American intelligence operatives became a higher priority than the abuses of the hostile forces they were attempting to contain. Reporter Joe Klein’s inquiries led him to conclude, “there seems to be near unanimous agreement among experts: in the ten years since the collapse of the Soviet Union [and the eight years of the Clinton presidency, and the seven since the first al-Qaeda attack on the World Trade Center] almost every aspect of American national-security—from military operations to intelligence gathering, from border control to political leadership—has been marked by…institutional lassitude and bureaucratic arrogance.”
The Democrats’ Anti-Intelligence Bill
The Democrats’ cavalier attitude towards American security in the years preceding September 11 was dramatized in a bill to cut the intelligence budget, sight unseen, which was introduced every year of the Clinton administration by Independent Bernie Saunders. The fact that Sanders was an extreme leftist proved no problem for the Democrats—still enjoying their long-standing congressional majority—when they appointed him to a seat on the House Intelligence Committee. Indeed why should it be a problem? Shortly before the World Trade Center attack, Senate Democrats made another leftist—California Senator Barbara Boxer, an opponent of the war against Saddam Hussein and a long-time critic of the American military—the chair of the Senate Sub-committee on Terrorism.
The Sanders initiative was launched in 1993, after the first al-Qaeda attack on the World Trade Center. In that year, the Democrat-controlled House Intelligence Committee had voted to reduce President Clinton’s own authorization request for the intelligence agencies by 6.75 percent. But this was insufficient for Sanders. So he introduced an amendment that required a minimum reduction in financial authorization for each individual intelligence agency of at least 10 percent.
Sanders refused to even examine the intelligence budget he proposed to cut: “My job is not to go through the intelligence budget. I have not even looked at it.” According to Sanders the reasons for reducing the intelligence budget were that “the Soviet Union no longer exists,” and that “massive unemployment, that low wages, that homelessness, that hungry children, that the collapse of our educational system is perhaps an equally strong danger to this nation, or may be a stronger danger for our national security.”
Irresponsible? Incomprehensible? Not to nearly half the Democrats in the House who voted in favor of the Sanders amendment. In all, 97 Democrats voted for the Sanders cuts, including House Armed Services Committee chair Ron Dellums and the House Democratic leadership. As the terrorist attacks on America intensified year by year during the 1990s, Sanders steadfastly reintroduced his amendment. Every year thereafter, right until the World Trade Center attack, nearly 100 Democrats voted with him to cut the intelligence budget.
According to a study made by political consultant Terry Cooper:
Dick Gephardt, D-MO, the House Democratic leader, voted to cut on five of the seven amendments on which he was recorded. He appears to have “taken a walk” on two other votes. David Bonior, D-MI, the number-two Democratic leader who as Whip enforces the party position, voted for every single one of the ten cutting amendments. Chief Deputy Whips John Lewis, D-GA, and Rosa DeLauro, D-CT, voted to cut intelligence funding every time they voted. Nancy Pelosi, D-CA, just elected to replace Bonior as Whip when Bonior leaves early in 2002, voted to cut intelligence funding three times, even though she was a member of the Intelligence Committee and should have known better. Two funding cut amendments got the votes of every single member of the elected House Democratic leadership. In all, members of the House Democratic leadership supported the Saunders funding cut amendments 56.9 percent of the time.
Many of the Democrats whose committee positions give them immense say over our national security likewise voted for most or all of the funding cut amendments. Ron Dellums, D-CA, the top Democrat on the Armed Services Committee from 1993 through 1997, cast all eight of his votes on funding cut amendments in favor of less intelligence funding. Three persons who chaired or were ranking Democrats on Armed Services subcommittees for part of the 1993-99 period—Pat Schroeder, D-CO; Neil Abercrombie, D-HI; and Marty Meehan,D-MA—also voted for every fund-cutting amendment that was offered during their tenures. Dave Obey, D-WI, the senior Democrat on the Appropriations Committee that holds the House’s keys to the federal checkbook, voted seven out of eight times to reduce intelligence funding.
In 1994, Republican Porter Goss, a former CIA official and member of the House Intelligence Committee who later became CIA Director, warned that because of inflation, the cuts now proposed by Sanders-Owens amounted to 16 percent of the 1992 budget and were 20 percent below the 1990 budget. Yet this did not dissuade Dellums, Bonior, and roughly 100 Democrats from continuing to lay the budgetary axe to America’s first line of anti-terrorist defense. Ranking Committee Republican Larry Combest warned that the cuts endangered “critically important and fragile capabilities, such as in the area of human intelligence.” In 1998, Osama bin Laden and four radical Islamic groups connected to al-Qaeda issued a fatwa condemning every American man, woman, and child, civilian and military included. Sanders responded by enlisting Oregon Democrat Peter DeFazio to author an amendment cutting the intelligence authorization again.
This is a chapter from David Horowitz's book How To Beat the Democrats and Other Subversive Ideas, Spence 2001. The new section on "Able Danger" was written by Ben Johnson.
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