Home  |   Jihad Watch  |   Horowitz  |   Archive  |   Columnists  |     DHFC  |  Store  |   Contact  |   Links  |   Search Monday, November 24, 2014
FrontPageMag Article
Write Comment View Comments Printable Article Email Article
Font:
No Hablo Arabic: Clinton's Failure on CIA Translators By: Richard Miniter
Washington Times | Thursday, September 04, 2003


This is the second installment of a four-part excerpt from Richard Miniter's new book Losing Bin Laden, which is available for $20 from the FrontPage Magazine Bookstore. Read part one.

CIA Director James Woolsey was fighting other bureaucratic battles — instead of [Osama] bin Laden. The CIA was critically short of translators who spoke or read Arabic, Farsi, Pashto and the other languages of the great "terrorist belt." That belt begins on the dirty beaches of Somalia, arcs up the river valleys of Sudan and Egypt, across the desert flats of Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf states, over the dry plateaus of Syria and Iraq, past the wastes of Iran, through the mountains of Afghanistan and Pakistan, and ends in the cold steppes of Central Asia. In the world's most terror-prone region, the CIA was essentially blind, deaf, and dumb.

Partly as a result, the intelligence community was able to decipher and translate less than ten percent of the volume of telephone and other intercepts gained from its extensive networks of spy satellites and listening stations. Indeed, throughout the Islamic world, even many radio and television news reports went untranslated. While state-run broadcasts from the Communist bloc were a prime source of intelligence during the Cold War, in the Clinton years the CIA did not have the same capability against militant Islamists. And that deficiency was largely Clinton's fault.

Mr. Woolsey hoped to fix these dangerous deficiencies, but he ran into congressional roadblocks. Sen. Dennis DeConcini, Arizona Democrat, repeatedly blocked any attempts to boost the CIA's budget for Arabic translators.

Mr. Woolsey and Mr. DeConcini came to viscerally dislike each other. The senator told the author that he lost faith in Woolsey when he defended the secret construction of a $300 million National Reconnaissance Office headquarters in Northern Virginia. When Woolsey privately warned the senator against speaking publicly about sensitive intelligence information, Mr. DeConcini was outraged. He said he phoned both Clinton and [National Security Advisor Tony] Lake, threatening to demand Woolsey's resignation on the floor of the U.S. Senate unless Woolsey apologized. Mr. Woolsey never apologized, and Mr. DeConcini never forgave him. As a result, Mr. Woolsey estimates that two-thirds of all his meetings on Capitol Hill were about undoing spending cuts proposed by DeConcini, then a key Senate Appropriations Subcommittee chairman. Woolsey had made a powerful enemy and America's security would pay the price.

When Mr. Woolsey suggested spending a few million dollars to hire Arabic-language translators in 1994, the feud with Mr. DeConcini intensified. Mr. DeConcini said he would only approve the request if it was a presidential priority. "I wanted to be sure," Mr. DeConcini told the author, "that Woolsey was not out on his own, like a cowboy." If Mr. Woolsey did have Clinton's ear, it is unlikely DeConcini would have blocked the CIA's efforts to hire more translators.

Would the senator have given the CIA the money if Mr. Clinton wanted it? Mr. DeConcini did not hesitate. "Absolutely."

Some might be tempted to blame Mr. DeConcini alone. To be sure, without congressional approval, it would be illegal for the CIA to shift even one dollar from one part of its estimated $30 billion budget to hire translators. But DeConcini called the president at least once and National Security Advisor Tony Lake many times, and never received a definitive response on whether hiring Arabic translators for the CIA was a presidential priority. With no such assurance, DeConcini felt confident in rejecting it. A Democratic senator does not lightly defy a Democratic president over a relatively small spending measure needed for national security, DeConcini insisted. But if Clinton wasn't interested, DeConcini would not be defying the president. The senator would have a free hand to thwart Woolsey.Withoutabsolving DeConcini, Woolsey seems to acknowledge this point: "This was DeConcini's way of using the fact that I had no particular access to the president to turn down my request."

So, Mr. Clinton's ostracism of Mr. Woolsey had weakened his hand in Congress and weakened the CIA at a critical time. Then the fecklessness of Mr. Clinton and his White House would only make matters worse. Over the next few months, the senator said that he called the president at least once and could not get a clear answer on the translator appropriation. He also phoned Lake many times, but never received a definitive response. Apparently the White House did not think hiring CIA translators to monitor terrorist states was very important.

On the day that the appropriations subcommittee was voting on the CIA budget, Lake finally called DeConcini back about the translators. "It wasn't the eleventh hour," Mr. DeConcini said, "it was the twelfth hour." Did the White House want the funds? As Mr. DeConcini recalls, Lake responded tentatively, "Well, we want some of that."

"Well, it's too late," DeConcini said. Lake, he recalls, did not object or argue. There would be no funding for the translators. "I don't bear him [Woolsey] any ill feeling," DeConcini said. "He just wasn't in a position to get what he wanted. I guess the term would be 'screwed by the White House.' "

So, a bureaucratic feud and President Clinton's indifference kept America blind and deaf as bin Laden plotted.

This is the second installment of a four-part excerpt from Richard Miniter's new book Losing Bin Laden, which is available for $20 from the FrontPage Magazine Bookstore. Read part one.



We have implemented a new commenting system. To use it you must login/register with disqus. Registering is simple and can be done while posting this comment itself. Please contact gzenone [at] horowitzfreedomcenter.org if you have any difficulties.
blog comments powered by Disqus




Home | Blog | Horowitz | Archives | Columnists | Search | Store | Links | CSPC | Contact | Advertise with Us | Privacy Policy

Copyright©2007 FrontPageMagazine.com