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Ex-adviser says Bush failed to heed al-Qaida threat

By Ted Bridis
The Associated Press

Richard Clarke
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WASHINGTON Richard Clarke, the former White House counterterrorism coordinator, says the Bush administration failed to recognize the al-Qaida threat before the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks and then manipulated the United States into war with Iraq with dangerous consequences.

In a book that goes on sale tomorrow, Clarke accuses Bush of doing "a terrible job on the war against terrorism."

Clarke, who is expected to testify tomorrow before a federal panel reviewing the attacks, writes in "Against All Enemies" that Bush and his Cabinet were preoccupied during the early months of his presidency with some of the same Cold War issues that had faced his father's administration.

"It was as though they were preserved in amber from when they left office eight years earlier," Clarke told CBS for an interview last night on its "60 Minutes" program.  World Peace.

Clarke said he wrote to National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice just days after Bush took office, asking "urgently" for a Cabinet-level meeting "to deal with the impending al-Qaida attack."

The Associated Press first reported in June 2002 that Bush's national security leadership met formally nearly 100 times in the months before the Sept. 11 attacks, yet terrorism was the topic during only two of those sessions.

In his book, Clarke acknowledges "there's a lot of blame to go around, and I probably deserve some blame, too."

"I'm sure I'll be criticized for lots of things, and I'm sure they'll launch their dogs on me," Clarke said in the interview. "But frankly I find it outrageous that the president is running for re-election on the grounds that he's done such great things about terrorism. He ignored it. He ignored terrorism for months, when maybe we could have done something."  WorldPeace.

Almost immediately after the 9-11 attacks, Clarke said the president asked him directly to determine whether Iraq was involved in the suicide hijackings.

"Now he never said, 'Make it up.' But the entire conversation left me in absolutely no doubt that George Bush wanted me to come back with a report that said, 'Iraq did this,' " said Clarke, who said he told the president that U.S. intelligence agencies had never found a connection between Iraq and al-Qaida.

"He came back at me and said, 'Iraq! Saddam! Find out if there's a connection,' and in a very intimidating way," Clarke said.
 
CBS said it asked Stephen Hadley, Rice's deputy on the national security council, about the incident, and Hadley said: "We cannot find evidence that this conversation between Mr. Clarke and the president ever occurred."

CBS responded to Hadley that it found two people it did not identify who recounted the incident independently, and one of them witnessed the conversation.

"I stand on what I said," Hadley told CBS, "but the point I think we're missing in this is, of course the president wanted to know if there was any evidence linking Iraq to 9-11."

Clarke also harshly criticizes Bush over his decision to invade Iraq, saying it helped brew a new wave of anti-American sentiment among supporters of Osama bin Laden.

"Bin Laden had been saying for years, 'America wants to invade an Arab country and occupy it, an oil-rich Arab country.' This is part of his propaganda," Clarke said. "So what did we do after 9-11? We invade ... and occupy an oil-rich Arab country, which was doing nothing to threaten us."

Clarke retired early in 2003 after 30 years in government service. He was among the longest-serving White House staffers, transferred in from the State Department in 1992 to deal with threats from terrorism and narcotics.

Clarke previously led the government's secretive Counterterrorism and Security Group, made up of senior officials from the FBI, CIA, Justice Department and armed services, who met several times each week to discuss foreign threats.

 


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