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The Bad Old Days By: Frank J Gaffney Jr.
FrontPageMagazine.com | Thursday, July 22, 2004


Democratic partisans, notably Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, are howling about the timing of the revelation that Clinton National Security Advisor Samuel “Sandy” Berger is under criminal investigation.  They contend the sensational allegation that he was observed by National Archives personnel stuffing highly classified documents into his clothing, and then "accidentally disposing” of some of them, is coming out now for a cynical political reason: In order to divert attention from the criticisms of the Bush Administration expected in the 9/11 Commission report due to be released today.   

In fact, far from distracting the public from the factors that contributed to the deadly attacks that cost nearly 3,000 American lives that day in September 2001, the disclosure of Sandy Burger’s misconduct would be the perfect introduction to a theme that surely will be a central theme of its report:  The considerable contribution made to the worst attacks on this country in its history by the lax attitude towards national security secrets that pervaded the executive branch during the eight years that preceded the Bush presidency.  Surely, that is, if the presence as one of the Commissioners of a top Clinton policy-maker, former Deputy Attorney General Jamie Gorelick, has not precluded an objective and unstinting analysis of the facts.

Consider a few examples of this insidious and predictably dangerous attitude:

 

o          Sandy Berger was not the first senior Clinton official to have been investigated for serious breaches in the classified information.  Former Director of Central Intelligence John Deutch was forced to resign and ultimately received a presidential pardon after he was found to have exposed very sensitive information to compromise by putting it on a home computer used for accessing notoriously insecure pornographic web sites.  Interestingly, Berger and Deutch formed a consulting firm in 2001 called "Stonebridge International."  Former Assistant Secretary Tobi Gati, who headed the Clinton State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR), was also investigated for a number of security violations.

 

o          During John Deutch’s tenure at the CIA, the hiring for its Directorate of Operations – the clandestine operational side of the house – was cut dramatically and morale in the organization plummeted, resulting in a significant number of resignations among “human intelligence” professionals.

 

o          Staff reports prepared for the 9/11 Commission have established serious failures with respect to the timely sharing of relevant information between U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies.  We now know that this impediment to “connecting the dots” was due, in part, to the insistence of the then-Number 2 person in the Justice Department, none other than Ms. Gorelick, that “the wall” between such agencies be maintained in an even more exacting way than was otherwise required. 

           

The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence established that a contributor to the problems with America’s understanding of the true state of Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction programs was a similar the failure of various intelligence agencies to share such information as they had.

 

These institutional problems are all the more remarkable given the insistence that senior members of the Clinton Administration’s national security team – notably, National Security Advisor Sandy Berger and his predecessor, Anthony Lake, and UN Ambassador-turned Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and her INR chief, Secretary Gati – that highly classified American intelligence be routinely shared with foreign governments and multilateral institutions.   This practice continued even in the face of evidence that such sharing was compromising U.S. intelligence sources and methods.

 

o          The Clinton team’s lax attitude towards sensitive information was also evident in its determination to engage in the wholesale declassification of previous administrations’ documents, with scant concern for – or even careful review of – the continued sensitivity of the information they contained.  Nuclear weapons-relevant documents that could still be dangerous in the wrong hands were among those declassified wholesale.

 

o          On the Clinton team’s watch and with its acquiescence, the job of recruiting human agents in critical target areas and organizations became infinitely more difficult.  At the instigation of a close Clinton associate, then-Senator Bob Torricelli, the CIA was barred from using spies who had unsavory records.  Since just about anybody who had access to the likes of Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein and Kim Jong-Il and their secrets would have such a record, the negative impacts of other Clinton policies and practices on human intelligence were greatly exacerbated.

 

o          Even physical security was a nightmare during the Clinton years.  In 1999, a Russian spy planted eavesdropping devices in the Albright State Department.  We still don’t know who gained access to and stole top secret documents from her office in Foggy Bottom.  Nor is the identity yet known of the person who made off in January 2000 with a laptop computer kept in a conference room used by INR – a computer whose hard-drive contained a wealth of top secret intelligence.

 

o          As with fish, the rot started at the top.  President Clinton virtually refused to see his CIA Director and almost never read the Presidential Daily Briefing prepared to ensure he was aware of emerging threats and other priority intelligence developments.

 

o          For his part, Vice President Gore famously abused intelligence professionals and capabilities.  He scrawled “bull....” on a classified assessment that reported his favorite Russian interlocutor, Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, was corrupt – a response that had a chilling effect on analysts’ readiness to convey information that would be seen as “politically incorrect” or otherwise  inconvenient.  Some analysts who failed to self-censor were subjected to retaliation.Isn’t it curious that Mr. Gore has been so ready to take his successor and others in the Bush Administration to task for manipulating or pressuring the Intelligence Community to lie about Iraq?

 

Vice President Gore also insisted that intelligence assets be diverted to serve his pet environmental interests.  Spy satellites and anti-submarine sensors were used to monitor sea-life.  Millions of dollars were spent by the CIA on a "DCI environmental center."  Intelligence assessments were tasked concerning volcanic eruptions and global warming.  The Veep’s environmental preoccupation even resulted in an annual "Earth Day" edition of the PDB being produced for his attention.

 

o          Those who claim the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iraq was the product of political pressure – despite the Senate Intelligence Committee’s unanimous finding to the contrary – have chosen to forget a truly egregious example of Clinton politicization of intelligence.  An NIE was generated and delivered to the Senate in September 1996, just in time to influence a vote on missile defense adamantly opposed by administration ideologues.  It arrived at the astounding conclusion that there would be no threat of ballistic missile attack against the United States for at least fifteen years. 

 

To arrive at this preposterous finding, of course, the CIA had to come up with three remarkable assumptions: For the purpose of the analysis, 1) Russian and Chinese missiles didn’t count; 2) no one with long-range ballistic missile technology would help others who didn’t have it yet to get such equipment and know-how; and 3) Alaska and Hawaii wouldn’t be considered part of the United States, since they were likely very shortly to be within striking distance of North Korean medium-range missiles. 

 

o          The CIA diverted millions of dollars to a "Balkans Taskforce" which in the 1990s consumed much of agency’s analytic talent and a considerable amount of money.  Meanwhile, during this period, the DCI Counterterrorism Center was sorely neglected.  Assignment to it was viewed by intelligence professionals as a bad career move.

 

In short, Sandy Berger’s alleged theft of classified documents from the National Archives is no more a diversion from the 9/11 Commission’s subject than it is an anomaly.  Rather, it bespeaks an indifference to, if not actual hostility towards, the fundamentals of sensitive national security policy-related information and tradecraft that should feature prominently in the Commission post-mortem on the September 11th attacks.  Assuming, that is, such a focus was not too embarrassing for Jamie Gorelick – or too inconvenient for the Clinton-Kerry team that hopes the American people will not be reminded of the “bad old days,” and invite a reprise by returning that team to high office.

 

Frank J. Gaffney, Jr. is President of the Center for Security Policy in Washington.  He formerly held senior positions in the Reagan Defense Department.


Frank J. Gaffney, Jr. is the founder, president, and CEO of The Center for Security Policy. During the Reagan administration, Gaffney was the Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Nuclear Forces and Arms Control Policy, and a Professional Staff Member on the Senate Armed Services Committee, chaired by Senator John Tower (R-Texas). He is a columnist for The Washington Times, Jewish World Review, and Townhall.com and has also contributed to The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, The New Republic, The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Christian Science Monitor, The Los Angeles Times, and Newsday.


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