Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Steamed Rice 

Excerpt below from previous post (Sept. 08, 2006)


Steve Coll, (Washington Post South Asia bureau chief 1989-1992) writing in Ghost Wars:

The warnings did not register. The CIA briefed Bush's senior national security team about al Qaeda, but its officers sensed no deep interests: Rice, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Wolfowitz - the four with the strongest ideas and the most influence - had spent many months thinking and talking about what they would emphasize during their first one hundred days in the white House. They were focused on missle defense, military reform, China and Iraq. Neither terrorism nor South Asia was high on the list.

In their early briefings, Clarke's office described bin Laden as an "existential" threat to the United States, meaning that the danger he posed went beyond the dozens or hundreds of casualties al Qaeda might inflict in serial bombing attacks. Bin Laden and his followers sought mass destruction in American cities if they could, Clarke and officers at the CIA's Counterterrorism Center firmly believed. But they failed to persuade Bush or his top advisers. [...] CIA briefers sensed that Bush's national security cabinet viewed terrorism as the kind of phenomenon it had been during the 1980's: potent but limited, a theatrical sort of threat that could produce episodic public crises but did not jeapordize the fundamental security of the United States. [Coll, page 541]

Sandy Berger, who felt the first President Bush had failed to arrange adequate transition briefings on national security for the incoming Clinton team, vowed to run a handoff fo the sort he would have wished to receive. The "number one" issue on his agenda, he recalled, "was terrorism and al Qaeda.... We briefed them fully on what we were doing, on what else was under consideration, and what the threat was." Berger ordered each directorate in the National Security Council to write an issues memo for Rice and her deputy, Stephen Hadley. The memos were then enhanced by oral briefings and slide show presentations. Berger himself attended only one, the session organized by Richard Clarke to talk about bin Laden and al Qaeda. "Im here because I want to underscore how important this issue is," Berger explained to Rice. Later, in the West Wing of the White House, Berger told his successor, "You're going to spend more time during your four years on terrorism generally and bin Laden specifically than any issue. [Coll, Ghost Wars; page 541]

Clarke saw the early weeks of the Bush administration as an opportunity to win a more receptive audience for his ideas about bombing the Taliban and challenging bin Laden. He had on his desk analytical papers, recommendations and discarded Cabinet agendas from the last weeks of the Clinton administration. Clarke and his aides composed a three page memorandum to Rice dated January 25. A Cabinet-level meeting about al Qaeda's imminent threat was "urgently needed," he and his chief fo staff, Roger Cressey, wrote. This was not "some narrow little terrorist issue." Suspected al qaeda "sleeper cells" inside the United States were "a major threat in being." [Coll, Ghost Wars; page 542]

Clarke's January 25 memo went nowhere. No Cabinet meeting about al Qaeda, Afghanistan, or regional policy was scheduled. weeks later Rice completed the first phase of her NSC reorganization, and Clarke formally lost his cabinet-level status on terrorism issues. [Coll, Ghost Wars; page 543]

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