The Chicago Tribune reports in a breathless headline today, "Pre 9/11 Memo to Rice Noted Al Qaeda Threat, Solutions." Breaking news? Hardly, it turns out to be Richard Clarke's much boasted-about Memo describing Osama Bin Laden's animus toward America and his Al Qaeda Training Camps in Afghanistan, and suggesting that the United States could inflict serious damage to Al Qaeda by attacking these camps from the air. Despite the alarming headline, Clarke's memo contains not a thing about the type of attack that stunned America on September 11, 2001.
In fact, Clarke had been offering the Clinton National Security team the same insight for years, with no effective action taken, despite Al Qaeda attacks between 1993 and 2000 against The World Trade Center, a U.S. Army barracks at the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia, U.S. Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, and the Naval Destroyer U.S.S. Cole in the Gulf of Aden. Having made a late transition, following the disputed 2000 Presidential Election, President Bush had ordered a comprehensive review of U.S. Counterterrorism Policy. That review, completed on September 4, 2001, was already underway in February 2001 when Clarke sent his memo to NSA Rice, and Clarke's pique at the Bush Administration seems to center not around policy differences, but around his own loss of access to the President. Having grown accustomed to moving - as he perceived it - in the Clinton inner-circle, Clarke did not adjust well to being overlooked and underappreciated by the newcomers. Bill Clinton may have ignored Clarke's recommendations, but at least he flattered The Sage.
Clarke famously interpreted Condoleeza Rice's blank facial expression, as he one day delivered a soliloquy on the Al Qaeda threat, to indicate that Rice had never heard of Al Qaeda (a fact objectively refuted by Rice's public statements prior to the incident Clarke referred to); but anyone who watched the 9/11 Commission Hearings and saw Clarke's self-serving and sanctimonious testimony, or the grandstanding of his megalomaniacal "apology" for letting 9/11 happen, could easily deduce an alternate explanation for the National Security Adviser's facial expression, namely that Dr. Rice does not suffer pedants gladly.
Reading the story of Clarke's Memo, I had to wonder why the Tribune takes no interest in other National Security Memos that reached Dr. Rice. For example, the Clinton Administration had a National Security policy (endorsed by Congressional Resolution, with the concurrence of most current members of the Democrat House and Senate Leadership) which called for bringing about Regime Change in Iraq. This policy undoubtedly produced many memos, which Dr. Rice evidently did not act upon for at least two years, so why the selective indignation over Rice's supposed inaction on the Clarke memo? Why no ominous headlines from The Trib castigating the Bush Administration for dragging its feet two long years before acting on President Clinton's dire warnings about the WMD threat from Iraq?