Daniel Benjamin & Steven Simon, Age of Sacred Terror. Part 2: America Chapter 6, A Paradigm Lost
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Following the 1993 attacks U.S. policymakers and bureaucrats “began to scale the steep learning curve” . They note the inertia I write so much about in my foreign policy and NSC manuscripts. “Over decades, an unspoken consensus had shaped America policy: terrorists would be dealt with decisively because Americans rightly expected their government to protect them, and every effort would be made to ensure that justice would be rendered when harm was done. Terrorism would be combated vigorously to strengthen deterrence, so no one would conclude that the United States could be taken advantage of with impunity” [261-62]. The only exception was the brief exception when Reagan dealt with terrorists by selling armaments to Iran. They write that terrorism, in the grand scheme of things, was a second- or even third-tier concern. Since America had so rarely been attacked, Americans did not fear terrorism. They cite James Woolsey’s hearings for Clinton’s DCI as proof. Woolsey mentioned terrorism once in his hearing. It finally began to change in the latter half of the 1990s. As staffers at the NSC, they were lone wolfs challenging the ruling paradigm of U.S. foreign policy. What was needed they write was a “thunderclap” .
On January 25, 1993, just five days after Clinton’s inauguration, a Pakistani named Mir Aimal Kansi, pulled up to the entrance of the CIA and indiscreetly opened fire on cars on their way inside the grounds. Clinton’s NSC had scarcely unpacked their bags. A month earlier Ramzi Yousef attacked the World Trade Centers. In April the Kuwaiti security services uncovered a plot to kill former President George H.W. Bush. [Note: Clinton inaugurated in Jan 1993; their actions show that they realized a new paradigm was emerging and a resultant change for USFP was needed. The bureaucracy retarded said change and made it glacial; meanwhile Clinton and the new leaders continued doing mostly what their predecessors had done.]
On June 26, the U.S. retaliated by firing cruise missiles at Baghdad. It was the first time the Clinton administration used military power. It destroyed the headquarters of Iraqi intelligence services. Previously, President Reagan had last retaliated against the La Belle Discothèque by bombing Tripoli; Clinton’s attack constituted the first attack against terrorists—though clearly the US was still thinking in terms of state terrorism—in seven years since. [264.] In Israel Americans visiting were killed in 1993—four of them. In July Hezbollah bombed the Jewish cultural center in Buenos Aires. In short, there was no pattern of non-state actors (terrorist groups) to animate U.S. foreign policy. What is frequently denigrated as the law enforcement approach was actually paying off, or so it seemed. It was begun under Bush 41 and Brent Scowcroft and the Clinton administration inherited it. But Hezbollah was the wave of the future despite the fact that its actions went little noticed; in fact, its actions were noticed but rightfully blamed on its masters in Iran, reinforcing the notion of state rather than non-state actors.
It began to change after the June 25, 1996 explosion outside of the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia. That attack took the lives of 19 Americans who were there to enforce the no-flight zones in Iraq. It was the largest truck bomb the FBI had ever seen. [267.] Intelligence initially pointed to Saudi Hezbollah, a group of Saudi’s Shiia minority. As the FBI investigate, their attempts were thwarted by the Saudi regime. Saudis leader feared that the US might attack Iran from Saudi; clearly Saudis own authorities thought it was initially Saudis’ Hezbollah. The note that in a series of meetings between then deputy NSC advisor Sandy Berger and Prince Bandar met and the latter pressed the former on what the US would do with the information Riyadh provided. This began, in their view, the estrangement between FBI Director Louis Freeh. Director Freeh shuttled back and forth between Riyadh and got frustrated that the Saudis were not cooperating and that Berger and Lake would not press them harder. [268.]
In their view Clinton’s NSC principals began to recognize the new world disorder in which non-state actors could cause chaos. [Elsewhere I’ve read that Berger called them brown blobs.] NSC advisor Lake, they write, was terribly worried about these long before anyone focused on bin Laden. Lake began calling the poppy cultivation in Afghanistan and the money siphoned off to various groups the ‘nexus.’
They discuss the wall between law enforcement and intelligence. They cite Federal Rules of Criminal Procedures, Rule 6E which forbade disclosure of grand jury testimony as the base of it. They note that there were limits to the scope of Rule 6E and, at least in theory, ways of sharing national-security materials that do not violate it. But in the justice department this rule was scrupulously upheld. It was part of the culture. Lake and Berger met with Janet Reno to resolve it as it occurred to them that non-state terrorism was becoming a foreign policy priority. Stunningly, they write the following. “The FBI balked at the proposal, and Reno, although she was Louis Freeh’s boss, could never bring him around” .
On the other hand Congress began to see non-state actors and terrorism as a looming problem—partly, though they don’t cite it, due to blue-ribbon panels who kept talking about it. The Omnibus Counterterrorism Act in February 1995 resulted. The bill languished until the Oklahoma City bombing of April 19, 1995. They note that Newt Gingrich’s Congress fought the administration tooth and nail. After a full year of battling the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, which Republicans commandeered as a death-penalty showcase. It did, however, create an ‘Alien Terrorist Removal Court’ [272.] They cite the right-wing gun lobby and others who stripped provision away from the bill. Civil libertarians from the other direction attacked it. They coupled with conservatives to prevent multipoint wiretaps—of course subsequently finally passed in the Patriot Act. On March 20, 1995 Aum Shinrikyo released sarin gas on the Tokyo mass transportation system. It was the first evidence of terrorists groups—at least apocalyptic ones—wanting to obtain WMD. They write that Clinton’s NSC began to address the manifold knotty problems of terrorism with a view that WMD might be just over the horizon.
Presidential Decision Directive (PDD) thirty nine (PDD-39) came out of these discussions. Clinton signed it on June 21, 1995. [274.] It was the first time all the relevant front line agencies were brought together in a budget review to determine who was doing what and how. “It was the first major step toward centralizing control over federal counterterrorism policy in the White House” [274-75]. Richard A. Clarke shepherded the efforts. Clarke was the chair of the NSC subgroup Coordinating Subgroup which subsequently became called the Counterterrorism and Security Group (CSG). Clarke used PDD-39 to assert power and tell state department officials that he would no longer attend their meetings but rather they would be attending his CSG meetings as the interagency means of addressing Clinton’s directive. Clarke was both respected and loathed. He drove the joint chiefs ‘batshit’ as he’d call CENTCOM or other combatant commanders when he wanted something done. He alienated virtually everyone. They write that he was regularly threatened by cabinet and sub-cabinet appointees who called for his head nearly monthly.
They then write, “For all the irritation he caused, three qualities distinguished Clarke. First, he understood as well as anyone in Washington all the levers and pulley of foreign policy, from the particular image a specific satellite could provide, to what hardware could be transferred to a friendly country without congressional approval, to the mechanics of imposing economic sanctions.” “Second, he was relentless.” “Third, Clarke had a preternatural gift for spotting emerging issues” . He used PDD 39 to build an effective empire and to yield more power by PDD-62 which made him the first national coordinator for counterterrorism. It gave him a seat at the table when the foreign policy cabinet discussed terrorism. “It was the first time and NSC staff member had been so elevated” [278; my emphasis].
Another view of the bureaucratic politics that plagued a united approach on Jihadis is written about. “Another reason was that a large element of the threat was foreign, and therefore belonged to the CIA. Relations between the two government bureaucracies were historically poisonous. (The FBI chaffed at the CIA’s unwillingness to allow its intelligence to be used in court, and the CIA was irritated by the increasing number of legal attachés—FBI officers—in embassies. Unwittingly, at times, the LEGATTs, as they were called, were recruiting CIA sources. Tony Lake ultimately had to sit Directors Woolsey and Freeh down for a reconciliation lunch to reduce the infighting” . The FBI continued to view Yousef as a solo operater or ad hoc terrorist. Not until some bright people—including FBI’s John O’Neill, federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York, and others—pieced it together in late 1990s did that change. It resulted in U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White filing sealed indictments of bin Laden in June 1998, two months before the embassy bombings. .
They then turn to problems at CIA. Director Woolsey was busy—somewhat understandably—building a new generation of spy satellites. Spy satellites are not very effective against elusive non-state actors that are constantly on the move as opposed to fixed states whose whereabouts one knows a priori. Furthermore, relations with Clinton’s cabinet folks and Woolsey were bad. “Woolsey insisted on delivering policy prescriptions, violating the precept that the role of the CIA director is to provide information, not tell the President how to act.” They write that Woolsey’s mishandling of the Alrich Ames case is what finally caused him to be fired. Due to the Lake debacle (the Senate would not confirm him) the CIA was without a director for thirty months following Woolsey’s cashiering. Eventually Clinton turned to George Tenet. Tenet was popular on the Hill because had been staff director of SCIC. Tenet was finally confirmed and sworn in during July 1997.
Former Yugoslavia obviously occupied the administration. And because Bosnia had a large Muslim population, the world of Islamists intersected with Bosnia. Naturally veterans of Afghanistan who no longer had a fight there poured into Bosnia. Hundreds migrated to Bosnia to fight with their Muslim brothers against Serbia. Osama’s name was coming up with increasing frequency but the government still hadn’t put together al Qaeda and how it moved men and money around to various spots. When Bojinka was disrupted they write the NSC was shaken as no other plot had done. Both Lake and Richard Clarke were increasingly obsessed with what they called the nexus. They wanted a closer look at OBL so they went out to the agency to meet with the head of the Counterterrorism Center [then known as the CTC subsequently TTIC which has been supplanted more or less by the NCTC].
The address the erroneous claim that Sudan offered up bin Laden to the Clinton administration and it did not take him. “No senior U.S. official is aware of any such offer. From what is known about the close links between Sudanese intelligence and al-Qaeda and the relationship between Hassan al-Turabi, who in 1996 was one of the two most powerful men in Sudan, and Usama bin Laden, this claim should be viewed with extreme skepticism” . They do note that Richard Clarke during the same time frame did consider the question of whether the U.S. would want custody of b in Laden—something that may have led to the rumor about Sudan’s willingness to hand him over. Clarke decided that the U.S. did not want him. In any case, under pressure from the U.S. bin Laden departed from Sudan on May 18, 1996 and returned to Afghanistan! By this time, “an enduring anxiety about terrorism had taken root in the top levels of the U.S. government” .
Counterterrorism became a budget priority in 1996 and continued increasing thereafter. Indeed, they argue that Clinton administration used the TWA Flight 800 to redirect dollars to terrorism. Though they ruled out terrorism as a cause, the administration used it as a “springboard for $1.1 billion spending request to Congress, including more than $400 million for aviation security measures” and more that 140 more customs inspectors . By the end of Clinton’s second term the figure had nearly doubled from $5.7 to $11.3 billion in 2001. They write that over four years the money for traditional counterterrorism work increased 43%. By the time of the Atlanta Olympics, “The NSC was put in charge of coordinating arrangements around the many venues, and in a matter of weeks,” the NSC hammered out a coordinated effort with relevant agencies. I’ve read the same either in the 9/11 or Joint Inquiry where most of the credit was given to Richard Clarke—and they probably wouldn’t disagree. In fact on the next page they write “Five years before Muhammad Atta boarded American Airlines Flight 11 in Boston, Dick Clarke was worried about an airplane carrying out a suicide attack on the stadium or releasing a chemical or biological weapon” at the Atlanta Games. [297.]
They end the chapter discussing renditions, or what are know as “extraordinary renditions.” And they tout the Clinton administration for using them. They write that renditions are a term of art for the apprehension and transfer of individual who are wanted for terrorism, outside the legal extradition process. Before the Clinton administration they say only three renditions had ever been effected. By 1997 the number of renditions soured, with rendition allowing the government who housed or received the renditions from charger that they were U.S. lackeys.
They move next to the over-the-horizon event of biological weapons, citing Preston’s The Cobra Event. I remember reading the book when it came out, around 1997. I was somewhat obsessed thereafter and that’s probably the reason I kept telling students that I expected the U.S. to be attacked in the near future with such an attack. Clinton held a roundtable event in April 1998 at the White House. At Clinton’s request Richard Clarke convened a series of interagency meetings including the department of health and human services in June producing an emergency budget for such an event. They suggest that despite Clinton’s own interest and Clarke’s relentlessness, were it not for Sandy Berger things would not have taken off. Summer 1998 appears to be the year the U.S. government got serious about WMD attacks on the homeland.