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CNN LARRY KING LIVE
Interview With Richard Clarke
Aired March 24, 2004 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
RICHARD CLARKE, FMR. WHITE HOUSE ADVISER: I believe the Bush administration in the first eight months considered terrorism an important issue, but not an urgent issue.
LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, Richard Clarke, the former White House counterterrorism chief making the explosive claims about why President Bush failed to prevent September 11. Now, new revelations challenge credibility plus fierce debate over allegations. With "Newsweek's" Michael Isikoff. He was an eyewitness to Clarke's testimony today at the hearings. Judith Miller, the Pulitzer Prize- winning "New York Times" reporter on the Middle East and terrorism beat.
Republican Senator Chuck Hagel of the Foreign Relations and Select Intelligence Committees, and Democratic Senator Joe Biden ranking member of Foreign Relations. All next on LARRY KING LIVE.
KING: Our panel will join us later, we begin with Richard Clarke. He testified before the commission today. He served as White House counterterrorism czar for both President Bush and Clinton, served in the administrations of President Bush No. 1 and Ronald Reagan and is the author of an extraordinary new book, "Against All Enemies, Inside America's War on Terror" published by Free Press Day, you see its cover. Why did you write this, Dick?
CLARKE: Larry, after I left the government I realized two things. One, that not a lot of people knew what happened on 9/11. There was no good account of that. And the more compelling reason, there was no good account of why we had failed to stop it. The families, many of whom I met today at the hearing and other people were constantly asking, why couldn't the great United States of America have stopped this attack and what do we have to do to make sure it never happens again? I had some of the answers, I thought and they weren't getting out anywhere else. I really felt I needed to get it off my chest.
KING: Why did you begin with an apology? What were you apologizing for and to whom?
CLARKE: I apologized to the families of the victims, the 3,000 people who died on 9/11. I apologized personally and I apologized on behalf of the government because the government failed them. The government was supposed to protect their loved ones, supposed to stop these kinds of attacks and despite extraordinary efforts of some in the CIA and FBI and State and a few other places, nonetheless, the attacks took place. So, what I said was, it doesn't really matter that we tried hard, it matters that we failed. And I asked them to understand the facts, but I asked them to accept my apology, more importantly, to forgive me because I think we all, those of us who were involved, need to ask them for forgiveness. They've lost their loved ones.
KING: Isn't all acts of terror a failure of somebody?
CLARKE: Certainly, certainly they are. Few acts of terror or no acts of terror were ever as extraordinary as those of 9/11. You know, if you look at the entire eight years of the Clinton administration, 35 Americans were killed by al Qaeda over eight years. And 3,000 were killed on 9/11. It's a whole different class than previous acts of terrorism.
KING: Let's touch a lot of bases here. You spoke in August and praised the administration, you highlighted positive aspects that they had done, minimized negative aspects and then the book seems to counteract that. Why?
CLARKE: Well, Larry, what you're referring to is something the White House is trying out today as part of its continuing program to undermine my credibility. And, you know, for the Bush White House to be attempting to undermine my credibility is really sort of ironic and sort of the pot calling the kettle black. They're the ones who have the credibility problem, Larry. You know, they're trying to divert attention from the issues that I am raising and that other people are raising in the 9/11 Commission process.
The issue is -- could the Bush administration have done more prior to 9/11? The second issue is, what did it do after 9/11? Did it fight the war on terror well or did it not? Did it divert attention and actually hurt the war on terror by fighting an unnecessary costly diversionary war in Iraq? That's what we should be talking about and the White House, obviously, doesn't want to talk about that.
KING: But the question, Dick, was why did you praise them two years ago?
CLARKE: I didn't praise them. What you're referring to is this background briefing that the White House leaked today in violation of the rules on background briefings. When I was a special assistant to the president -- here's what happened.
"TIME" magazine came out with a very explosive story saying, that, in fact, the White House hasn't done everything it could have done. That in fact, that the administration had been handed a plan by me at the beginning of the administration to deal with al Qaeda and that they ignored it. Remember this, this was the cover story on "TIME" and said they had a plan.
Well, that hurt the White House a lot for obvious reasons. It was true. And they asked me to try to help them out. I was working for the president of the United States at the time. And I said, well, look, I'm not going to lie. And they said, look, can't you at least emphasize the things that we did do? Emphasize the positive?
Well, you had no other choice at that moment. There are three things you can do. You can resign rather than do it, you can lie and say the administration did all these things it didn't do. Or, if you want to stay inside the government and try to continue to change it from inside, you can stay on, do what they ask you to do, give a background briefing to the press and emphasize those things which they had done. And I chose to do that.
But, you know, it seems very ironic to me that what the White House is sort of saying is they don't understand why I, as a special assistant to the president of the United States, didn't criticize the president to the press. If I had criticized the president to the press as a special assistant, I would have been fired within an hour. They know that. This is part of their whole attempt to get Larry King to ask Dick Clarke this kind of question. So we're not talking about the major issue.
KING: We're going to get to that in a minute. But who told you to do that briefing?
CLARKE: The national security adviser, the press secretary, the communication's director, they all talked to me, asked me to do the briefing and were telling me to spin it in a very positive way.
KING: What do you make of Condoleezza Rice's actions through this? Her statements about you, the issuing today of an e-mail you sent her four days before 9/11, which seems to back up what she thinks. What's your overview of that?
CLARKE: They're scrambling very hard at the White House. They've got a lot of people -- the vice president, the chief of staff, the national security director, the press secretary, the communication's director. They have five or six people running around doing talk shows and trying to refute me and trying to besmirch me. Larry, I said in the preface of this book, I knew before I wrote this book that the White House will let loose the dogs to attack me. That's what they're doing. That's what they did to Paul O'Neill when he told the truth and I come back to this point that all of this is to get us, rather than being on this show talking about the failures of the Bush administration, instead talking about the flack that they're throwing up every day.
KING: Was 9/11 preventable?
CLARKE: Well, we'll never know. But let me compare 9/11 and the period immediately before it to the millennium rollover and the period immediately before that. In December, 1999, we received intelligence reports that there were going to be major al Qaeda attacks. President Clinton asked his national security adviser Sandy Berger to hold daily meetings with the attorney general, the FBI director, the CIA director and stop the attacks. And every day they went back from the White House to the FBI, to the Justice Department, to the CIA and they shook the trees to find out if there was any information. You know, when you know the United States is going to be attacked, the top people in the United States government ought to be working hands-on to prevent it and working together.
Now, contrast that with what happened in the summer of 2001, when we even had more clear indications that there was going to be an attack. Did the president ask for daily meetings of his team to try to stop the attack? Did Condi Rice hold meetings of her counterparts to try to stop the attack? No.
And if she had, if the FBI director and the attorney general had gone back day after day to their department to the White House, what would they have shaken loose? We now know from testimony before the Commission that buried in the FBI was the fact that two of the hijackers had entered the United States. Now, if that information had been able to be shaken loose by the FBI director and the attorney general in response to daily meetings with the White House, if we had known that those two -- if the attorney general had known, if the FBI director had known, that those two were in the United States, Larry, I believe we could have caught those two. Would that have stopped...
KING: But who knew -- you knew they were in the United States, who else knew?
CLARKE: No, I didn't. I didn't know.
KING: We should have known is what you're saying.
CLARKE: The people in the FBI knew. Not the director.
KING: They did know.
CLARKE: Some people in the FBI knew. And if Condi Rice had been doing her job and holding those daily meetings, the way Sandy Berger did, if she had a hands-on attitude to being national security adviser, when she had information that there was a threat against the United States, that kind of information was shaken out in December 1999, it would have been shaken out in the summer of 2001, if she had been doing her job.
KING: Let me get a break and be right back with Richard Clarke. The book, "Against All Enemies: Inside America's War on Terror." The panel at the bottom of the hour. Don't go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: George Tenet briefed me on a regular basis about the terrorist threats to the United States of America. And had my administration had any information that terrorists were going to attack New York City on September the 11th, we would have acted.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CONDOLEEZZA RICE, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Richard Clarke had plenty of opportunities to tell us in the administration that he thought the war on terrorism was moving in the wrong direction, and he chose not to. In fact, when he came to me and asked if I would support him with Tom Ridge to become the deputy secretary of homeland security, a department which he now says should never have been -- never have been created. When he asked me to support him in that job, he said he supported the president. So frankly, I'm flabbergasted.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Mr. Clarke, what would you say to the flabbergasted Dr. Rice?
CLARKE: I'd say, let's get back to the main issue. Before you went to the break, Larry, you had the president saying that George Tenet was briefing him regularly on the threat. He was. George Tenet told me that, and I saw the briefings. The president was being told on a regular basis that an al Qaeda threat was coming, an al Qaeda attack was coming.
Now, what does the president say in his own words to Bob Woodward in "Bush at War?" He says, Bush acknowledged that bin Laden was not his focus or that of his national security team. "I was not on point," the president said. "I didn't feel a sense of urgency."
Well, how can you not feel a sense of urgency when George Tenet is telling you in daily briefings, day after day, that a major al Qaeda attack is coming? That's my point. That's one of my points. The other point is, which I'd like to get to, that by fighting the war in Iraq, the president has actually diminished our ability to fight the war on terrorism.
KING: What do you mean by that? Why does Iraq diminish the war on terrorism?
CLARKE: In three ways. Number one, it diverts us from reducing the vulnerabilities here at home, like protecting the rails from attacks like the one on Madrid. We're spending $180 billion in Iraq. We should be spending that money reducing our vulnerabilities to terrorism here at home, much more than we are. The railroads, the chemical plants, they are all still unprotected.
The second way it reduces the war on terrorism is by inflaming the Islamic world and helping, as Rumsfeld said in his internal memo, helping create more terrorists more rapidly than we can capture or kill them, because of the hatred in the Islamic world generated against the United States by our needless invasion of Iraq.
And the third way, of course, was it actually took troops and intelligence assets away from the hunt for bin Laden. We'll probably catch bin Laden here shortly, but it's two years too late. In those two years, al Qaeda has morphed into a hydra, a multi-headed organization, so that by the time we catch him now, it won't matter very much, because all of these al Qaeda-like organizations have grown up around the world, like the group that attacked in Madrid.
The point is, the war in Iraq was not necessary. Iraq was not an imminent threat to the United States. And by going to war with Iraq, we have greatly reduced our possibility to prosecute the war on terrorism. That's what I say in the book.
KING: And the book -- I am sure this book will be read in a wide variety of sources. The book is "Against All Enemies."
Dr. Rice said that you asked to be the assistant head of the new security agency, painting a picture that you may be in anger over not getting what you wanted and so this book is your way of getting off. What is your response to her statement that you wanted that job?
CLARKE: My response to her statement that, on the one hand I didn't like the department on the other hand I did -- is the following. The president of the United States and Tom Ridge didn't like the idea of the Department of Homeland Security. They spoke publicly against the idea of a Department of Homeland Security. When they were told it was going to pass in the Congress anyway and it was going to be called the Lieberman bill, then they changed on a dime overnight and said it was their idea, and then they said anyone who opposed it was not patriotic, like Max Cleland. They said he was not patriotic because he didn't think there should be a Department of Homeland Security. Max Cleland, who had lost three of his four limbs fighting for the United States, they said he was unpatriotic because he didn't support their stand on homeland security, which was their own stand just a week before.
KING: But, Dick, did you want that job?
CLARKE: No, what I said was because I had been doing all of these things in the homeland security area for the last 10 years, if they wanted to consider me for deputy secretary over there, I would be willing to be considered. But that doesn't change the fact that Tom Ridge, George Bush, yeah, and me, thought that the department was not a good idea, that we shouldn't reorganize everything in the middle of the war on terrorism.
KING: Did these problems start with Clinton?
CLARKE: Absolutely. And you know, people who haven't read the book seem to think that I only criticize the Bush administration. I criticize the Clinton administration, too. And I did so today in my testimony before the 9/11 commission. The news media did not cover that in the evening news, but I did criticize the Bush administration and the Clinton administration, I think, equally.
You know, the Clinton administration failed to bomb the camps that were in Afghanistan that we knew were there. They bombed them once, Clinton bombed them once, the public reaction was negative to that. Remember, wag the dog, everyone said Clinton is just bombing Afghanistan to divert attention from the Monica business. And so he didn't bomb them again.
And that was during a time when they were turning out thousands of terrorists, trained terrorists. It was an assembly line, those camp in Afghanistan were an assembly line, a conveyer belt that were sending terrorists out on a regular basis all over the world.
I thought they should have been blown up. I recommended it. And it didn't happen. I criticize the Clinton administration for that. I think there's a lot of blame to go around, and, as I said several times, I think I deserve some of that blame. I am willing to take that blame; I wish the president were willing to take some, too.
KING: President Clinton on this program said he was in Australia on 9/11, and he said as soon as he heard of the incident he said, bin Laden. Does that surprise you?
CLARKE: Well, no, Bill Clinton was obsessed with getting bin Laden. Bill Clinton ordered bin Laden assassinated. He ordered not only bin Laden assassinated but all of his lieutenants. The CIA failed him. The CIA couldn't do it, and now the CIA is trying to say, well, the orders were ambiguous. Let me tell you, Larry, National Security Adviser Sandy Berger and myself both talked to George Tenet and talked to his chief lieutenants and said, are you very clear what this order is? This is an order to kill bin Laden. They said, yes, they were very clear.
KING: Is somebody lying?
CLARKE: No, you know, people in this town are too smart to lie, especially under oath.
KING: So what do you call it?
CLARKE: I call it creative memory sometimes. I call it interpretation and emphasis sometimes. I think the American people need to know the truth about what happened, so that we can make sure it doesn't happen again. And I think heaven for the family members of the victims who caused this commission to come into existence over the objections of the White House and who have now been able to get it extended over the objections of the White House.
KING: We'll take a break and be back with some more moments with Richard, and then we'll have are panel assemble. Senator Chuck Hagel and Senator Joe Biden, two very influential United States senators. And tow terrific journalist, Michael Isikoff and Judith Miller and they'll react to what Mr. Clarke has had to say. Back with Richard Clarke right after this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COLIN POWELL, SECRETARY OF STATE: The president, by word indeed, made clear his interests and his intense desire to protect the nation from terrorism. He frequently asked and prodded us to do more. He decided early on that we needed to be more aggressive in going after terrorists and especially al Qaeda. As he said in early spring as we were developing are new comprehensive strategy, "I'm tried swatting flies. He wanted a thorough comprehensive, diplomatic, military, intelligence, law enforcement and financial strategy going after al Qaeda. (END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD RUMSFELD, DEFENSE SECRETARY: Everything is more difficult today. it's tougher to recruit. It's tougher to train. It's tougher to retain. It's tougher to finance. It's tougher to move things. It's tougher to communicate with each other for those folks. Someone asked me is Saddam -- Osama bin Laden masterminding all of this and I said, you know, who knows?
But if I were in his shoes I would think I would be spending an awfully lot of time not getting caught. Most of his time is probably spent not getting caught and so he's busy and that's a good thing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Richard Clarke is the guest, the book is "Against All Enemies."
You said you believe he'll be caught soon, why?
CLARKE: We have now shifted the special forces that speak Arabic and some predators back from Iraq where they've been for the last year and to Afghanistan where they should have been in the first place looking for bin Laden and his lieutenants. These are the people who caught Saddam Hussein. They're very good, I know many of them. And I suspect we'll catch bin Laden, but it is two years too late because al Qaeda has now morphed during this time. You know, in all of Afghanistan, we only have 1,100 U.S. troops, that's fewer U.S. troops in Afghanistan than we have police in Manhattan. Why because the administration held back the troops we needed because they wanted to invade Iraq. That's a clear example of how invading Iraq has diverted resources on terrorism. It's also inflamed the Arab world and that will take a generation for us to get over, even if we're successful in Iraq in building a Jeffersonian (ph) Democracy, which is going to be hard, in the meantime by invading an Arab country and occupying it, when we didn't have to, when there was no imminent threat against the United States we have been generating a new al Qaeda-like terrorists throughout Islamic world and that's the point I think we should be talking about and not my e-mails.
KING: Dick, we look forward to having you on a lot in the upcoming months. One other thing, you served four presidents.
In the issue of security, who was the strongest president you served?
CLARKE: Well, I think George Bush the first was a national security expert. He had been CIA director, had been U.N. director. He was able to build a multi-nation coalition to fight Iraq the first time, which is what we should have been doing this time. If thought we had to go after Iraq, we should have done what George Bush the first did and build a real and not this thing we have now. KING: So you give him of the four the highest marks?
CLARKE: Oh, yes, I think absolutely. George Bush the first was a real national security professional, but I must admit, he did not retaliate for the deaths of Americans on Pam Am 103, and that kind of lack of retaliation, again, with Ronald Reagan in Beirut when the terrorists killed the marines there, that lack of retaliation by Reagan and Bush contributed to the attitude that bin Laden and others had that they could attack the United States and get away with it.
KING: You were a proponent of a strong reaction to all kind of occurrences, right?
CLARKE: Well, I think if you let people get away with things like that -- then you pay a price in the future.
KING: You would favor what Israel did with Hamas?
CLARKE: That's a very tough question. I think if you're an Israeli, perhaps, you do favor it. If you're a bit more detached as we can be in the United States, you realize it's just part of a continuing cycle and that Hamas will now retaliate and kill more Israelis, perhaps they would have done that anyway. The Arab/Israeli process is a difficult issue that we should spend more time on. I wish the administration were trying to get the Arab states to generate a Palestinian interlocutor, so that we could have negotiations. Obviously, we can't negotiate with Arafat.
KING: Thank you, Dick.
CLARKE: Thank you, Larry.
KING: Richard Clarke, the book is "Against All Enemies: Inside America's War on Terror."
Our panel joins us right after this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you saying you were asked to make an untrue case to the press and public and you went ahead and did it?
CLARKE: No, sir, not an untrue case. I was asked to highlight the positive aspects of what the administration had done and to minimize the negative aspects of what the administration had done. And as a special assistant to the president, one is frequently asked to do that kind of thing. I've done for several presidents.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Now let's meet our panel to discuss what we just saw and heard. In Washington, Senator Chuck Hagel, Republican of Nebraska, Foreign Relations Committee, Select Intelligence Committee; Senator Joe Biden, Democrat of Delaware, ranking member, senator Foreign Relations Committee, Internal Operations and Terrorism Subcommittee; in Washington, Michael Isikoff, investigative correspondent, "Newsweek" magazine, one of the best -- he's covered these hearings this week and has an article on Bush and Clinton's war on terror in the current "Newsweek"; and in New York, Judith Miller, the Pulitzer Prize-winning correspondent for "The New York Times." She writes about national security issues.
Before we get to our discussion, a quick discussion for Michael Isikoff. How are you doing physically?
MICHAEL ISIKOFF, "NEWSWEEK": I'm doing fine.
KING: Well, you lost what...
ISIKOFF: Why do you ask?
KING: Because you were injured.
ISIKOFF: No, no, no. I'm sorry. You're thinking of my -- of Michael Weiskopf "Time" magazine.
KING: Oh. OK.
KING: ... mixed up...
ISIKOFF: We've been confused for years.
KING: ... but you're well.
ISIKOFF: But I'm fine, yes.
KING: All right, Chuck Hagel, what do you make of what just happened the last half hour?
SEN. CHUCK HAGEL (R), NEBRASKA: Larry, we are seeing played out here a series of very serious accusations and charges against not just the Bush administration, but the Clinton administration, and previous to that, the first Bush administration and Reagan administration.
I think the objective here, really, for all of us -- and we should not forget it, Larry -- is to find out where the holes and the gaps are. Yes, there's accountability and responsibility for those in charge. There must be. That's our system. But the real end-of-the- day responsibility here is to fix the problems and to find the gaps, so that this country can be assured that we are safer today and we can deal with these new threats of the 21st century in a way that are relevant and give us some sense of security and accomplishment. And the world must be part of that and have confidence and trust in American leadership as we do that.
KING: Senator Biden, will Mr. Clarke help us in obtaining that goal? SEN. JOE BIDEN (D), DELAWARE: Well, I think so, Larry. Look, I think it's important to look at the context when these things were taking place and the failures on the part of all three administrations. You have to look at the context. But I do think one thing that he says is absolutely accurate, in my experience, and that is that the very strength of this administration, their ability to focus in a laser-like way on a single issue, is also their greatest weakness.
They started off from the time they took office focusing almost exclusively the first eight months on national missile defense, so much so that I made a speech on the day before 9/11, on 9/10, to the National Press Club, saying they've taken their eye off of terror, they're focusing on the wrong thing, and we're going to pay a heavy price for it. I didn't know about 9/11. I wouldn't -- but the point was, it was clear to me the focus was on national missile defense. And then immediately after 9/11, it's also clear to me, from my own personal experience, the focus was immediately on Iraq.
And I think the one criticism among many that Mr. Clarke makes -- and I've never met Mr. Clarke until tonight -- makes that's absolutely accurate is -- remember that major fight -- I was on your show -- about the need to increase the international security force and the number of troops in Afghanistan, when I came back from Afghanistan, I think the first or second person there, for five days. And Colin Powell went to bat to say we had to do that, and he got shut down by the Defense Department. And the reason he got shut down by the Defense Department was in part because they did not want to divert...
KING: All right...
BIDEN: ... for any amount of time resources.
KING: Michael was, in your opinion -- was Mr. Clarke impressive?
ISIKOFF: Yes, I thought he did a very effective job. I thought the apology that he started out was dramatic. It resonated at the hearings. It was the first time anybody has apologized for September 11. And I thought he also did a very effective job of parrying the attempts to undermine his credibility, which actually were bolstered not just by his own testimony, in fact -- you know, less by his own testimony, by a lot of what the commission staff released in a series of staff reports over the last two days, which emphasized and flushed out many of the details that support Mr. Clarke's main charge, which is that this was not a high priority for the administration within the administration during those first eight months.
Yesterday a report about the Pentagon, making the point that Secretary Rumsfeld had barely been briefed on the terrorism issue, that the Pentagon hadn't filled the one job, assistant secretary job, special operations and low-intensity conflict, that dealt with terrorism. Today there was a staff report about within the CIA, that there were a number of counterterrorism officials in the CIA who were so frustrated by the lack of attention being given to the issue that one of them was actually considering resigning and going public to bring public attention, to try to get more focus on the issue. So this new evidence being brought out by the commission tends to support the basic account that Clarke has given.
KING: Judith, isn't it a little amazing that in all these administrations, no one has yet said We did anything wrong? No one did anything wrong.
JUDITH MILLER, "NEW YORK TIMES": I guess if one watches politics long enough, Larry, one wouldn't be surprised by that. But I think that part of the reason that Dick Clarke had the crowd, as it were, in his hands, is that he was the first person to say not only, I'm sorry, but I failed. And I think for those of us who were watching and worried about terrorism before 9/11, you have to have that sense.
I mean, I remember when "The New York Times" did a three-part series that I was participating in, in January of 2001, about the danger that al Qaeda posed to this country, alas, I didn't get a single call for a comment or about the news in that extraordinary series. And it was typical of the attention being elsewhere.
And something else that Dick Clarke said today that I hope we can discuss a little, is that he said in a democracy like ours, with so many moving parts, it's hard to take action unless there are body bags. And I think part of the new threats that we face, that Senator Hagel referred to and that Joe Biden has spoken and written about, are these new terrorist threats that are going to be very hard to counter without sustained attention.
KING: Senator Hagel, did anything Mr. Clarke say tonight or this afternoon give you pause, cause you to question your own party or your own officials?
HAGEL: Larry, first of all, I have never taken a partisan approach to the issue of national security or going to war. I may be different than some of my colleagues on that point, but I think it's a very serious commitment a nation makes when it commits its men and women to war and some will die. And I don't think it's a matter of supporting your president or supporting your party. You support the Constitution and what you think is right for the country.
But beyond that, I would say that what was said today by Mr. Clarke -- I've read excerpts of his book -- are areas that do need to be probed. These are areas that Senator Biden and I, and on a non- partisan basis, Senator Lugar, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, a Republican, have questioned over the last two and three years. And it should not, it must not be put in cylinders of partisan politics because, if for no other reason, the seriousness of the threats are enough. But then trying to develop a consensus and a policy and sustain that policy to deal with these threats is very difficult, if you polarize a nation on the basis of this as a partisan issue. So some of have tried to stay away from that, and I think if we can continue to do that, then we're going to work our way through this and we'll meet these great challenges.
KING: Is -- Joe Biden, do you think the administration's wrong in this attack on Mr. Clarke? BIDEN: Oh, yes, I think that's wrong. I mean, this is a classic thing, I mean, administrations do this. These guys are past masters at it. I was kidding with my colleagues here, saying, Does he have a safe house? I mean, you know, he wasn't joking. Everybody knew. And you know, Larry. You know -- you have to be objective about this, but you know the dogs are out. I mean, you know, this is the way it works in this town.
But the point that I think that Judith made is a very important one. You have to look at the context here. You know, one of the reasons why -- I think this is my only criticism, if there's any, of what Mr. Clarke has said -- is the implication is that, you know, the first Bush administration didn't move, and the second -- and the Clinton administration didn't move. Well, you've got to look at the context. The context of the Clinton wanting to move -- and I know he wanted to move -- was "Wag the Dog." You had people on this show, Larry, week after week -- And the reason why he went after those guys in Afghanistan -- isn't that a joke? Isn't this just to take his wife, the dog, the movie...
And guess what? It shouldn't have affected the president, but the truth is, he was politically weak enough he didn't do it. And I might add, an awful lot of the guys who're criticizing Chuck and me from both our parties, left and right, were the very guys saying, You can't violate the sovereignty of Afghanistan, right-wing guys and left-wing guys saying, You can't violate the sovereignty of Afghanistan. That was the context.
The criticism of Bush, in my view, relates to this myopic focus on things that took their eye off the ball. I don't know whether it would have stopped 9/11, but I know one thing. As I said, I got unshirted (ph) hell for making that speech initially on 9/10, saying these guys were not doing anything about terror.
KING: Let me get a break. As we go to break, Mr. Clarke discusses what Ms. Miller just brought up, body bags. Watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CLARKE: Remember, in the millennium, we succeeded in stopping the attacks. That was good news. But it was not good news for those of us who also wanted to put pressure on the Congress and other places because we were not able to point to -- and I hate to say this -- body bags. You know, unfortunately, this country takes body bags and requires body bags sometimes to make really tough decisions about money and about governmental arrangements.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: We're making progress. There is more work to do, and this country will stay on the hunt. The best way to protect our country from further attack is to find the terrorists before they come to our homeland or anywhere else to inflict harm.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Michael Isikoff, are you surprised that Mr. Clarke says that directly President Clinton ordered the assassination of bin Laden and that the CIA says it didn't get that direct message? Who's right there?
ISIKOFF: Well, actually, there seems to have been a conflict. Clarke says that Clinton ordered it. The CIA says that they never understood that the order was as encompassing as the -- as Sandy Berger and Clarke says it was. Obviously, it would be interesting to hear what former president Clinton has to say in this regard.
I do want to say, though, on the question of -- I was struck -- the most fascinating thing that Clarke said, to me, during the hearings today was he laid out a scenario by which -- actually, a plausible one, by which September 11 could have been prevented if there had been the kind of urgency to the issue that he thought it could be. And that was, we did know. The government did know. The CIA knew and the FBI late in August knew that two of the hijackers -- Nawaf al Hazmi (ph), Khalid al Midar (ph) -- were inside the United States. Two suspected al Qaeda operatives were inside the country. Yet there was no concerted government attempt to find these guys. There was a late bulletin from the FBI.
What Clarke suggested he would have done -- he says he would like to think he would have done, had he known about this, was an all-out public manhunt. Put these guys' pictures all over the place, "America's Most Wanted," have their pictures in the paper. And had that been done, which does sound like a plausible thing that could have been done, it might at least have deterred those two guys...
ISIKOFF: ... from getting on the planes, and it might well have disrupted the plot. It's the first time I've heard a plausible scenario by which the government could have taken the little information it did have and actually stopped the plot.
KING: Putting their pictures where everybody gets on board an airplane.
KING: Have people looking out for them. You buy that, Judith?
MILLER: Well, I think the problem with homeland defense and with defending us against an organization like al Qaeda, which is now global and multi-headed and multi-faceted, is that the terrorists just have to be lucky once, Larry. And we have to be lucky all of the time. It is a combination of excellent intelligence, or what we've now heard called "actionable intelligence," and sheer luck. And I'm not sure. I don't think that Dick Clarke is sure. I would have liked to think that it might have been preventable, but I don't think we really know. I think what is shocking and continues to amaze me, and I am sure Michael, as well, is these instances time after time again of the firewall between the CIA and FBI. Everybody has known that that was a problem for years and for years, and we've heard all of these promises that information is going to be exchanged. And time and again, it wasn't.
KING: I thought, Michael, it was corrected?
ISIKOFF: I'm sorry. Well, they say it's corrected. You know, we'll never know until the next time. But the incident I just talked about was a classic example of that firewall. The CIA had tracked these guys coming into the country in early 2000, yet the information was never passed along to the FBI until very late in the game. And even then, FBI criminal investigators were not cut in on the case. So that's as clear an example as we've had, where one arm of the U.S. government isn't talking to another one, isn't talking to a third, because dick Clarke says he never even knew about the whole issue, even though he was the counterterrorism guy at the National Security Council.
BIDEN: Larry, I think the most important point he made, if you don't mind my interrupting, is when you bring in the director of the FBI, when you bring in the CIA director, as president of the United States, with your national security adviser and have them in the same room and, as he said, you shake the tree, that break downs the walls. I guarantee you that breaks down the walls.
KING: Chuck, do you agree? Senator Hagel?
HAGEL: I do. And I might add one of the things that we are finding out as we are working our way through this process -- it just didn't begin, I think, as we all know, with Dick Clarke's book. But we had a gigantic collapse in our intelligence community, gathering sources, processing, that resulted in not just 9/11, but a number of problems that we've seen. We're going to have to reorganize the intelligence community. We're going to have to restructure it. It must be made relevant and far more driven by the challenges and the threats today. And part of that is the integration of the resources of our intelligence communities and the pieces of that community.
It is difficult. It's imperfect. It is imprecise. It is complicated. But we must do far better than what we have done. And I believe one of the things that will come out of this -- and our Senate Intelligence Committee reports that will be forthcoming and other reports -- will be, in fact, a new focus on a restructured intelligence community that prepares this country as best we can for what's ahead.
KING: We'll take a break and come back with some more moments with Senators Hagel and Biden and Michael Isikoff and Judith Miller right after this.
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I believe that we have been complacent as a society. I think that we have failed to fully comprehend the gathering storm. Even now, after September 11, I think it's far from clear that our society truly understands the gravity of the threat that we face or is yet willing to do what I believe is going to be necessary to counter it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MADELEINE ALBRIGHT, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: We were mostly accused of overreacting, not underreacting. And I believe we reacted appropriately. And as I said earlier, we would have acted more had we had actionable intelligence. And so I think we dealt very appropriately with the issue.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Let's take a couple calls for our panel. Nashville. Hello.
CALLER: Yes. My question is, I would like to know, when two of the hijackers went to flight school down somewhere in south Florida, with a camel (ph) sack full of money and they said, We want to learn how to fly planes, but we don't want to learn how to take off and we don't want to learn how to land, why not -- did a red flag not go up then and that should then be reported to the authorities?
KING: Senator Biden?
BIDEN: I'll let Michael answer that.
ISIKOFF: Oh. I was going to say...
ISIKOFF: ... I think the particular instance that the caller's talking about is the Moussaoui case, which was actually in Minneapolis. And he did -- that was detected by the flight school. They did call the FBI, and that led to his arrest in mid-August, 2001.
KING: No, but didn't other two -- didn't the other two take lessons in Florida and ask -- just learn about the flying in the sky, not taking off and landing?
ISIKOFF: I'm not quite sure it was as -- as crisp and alarming as it was in the Moussaoui case, but there certainly were a lot of them taking flight schools all around the country. And that's why the FBI agent in Phoenix, Agent Williams, who wrote the Phoenix memo in July saying, Look, there are all these guys from Middle Eastern countries who are taking flight school, and they don't seem to be -- it's not quite clear why they're doing it, taking flight lessons. Maybe we should start looking at flight schools all around the country to see whether there's any pattern here and whether it is terrorist- related. That never got up to the -- that never got approved at the high levels of the FBI.
KING: Houston, Texas. Hello.
CALLER: Ms. Miller, can we expect anyone besides Mr. Clarke to come forward and say the war on terror was inasmuch a smokescreen for going to war in Iraq?
MILLER: Well, I think that Paul O'Neill, the former treasury secretary, has already said that. And part of the strength of Dick Clarke's words is that they come on top of that allegation by former secretary O'Neill. But the fact that a former counterterrorism official is saying this, who served both in the Republican and Democratic administrations, gives them added weight. And that's why the White House, I think, is scrambling, as we've seen, to get its own message out now.
KING: Senator Biden, we have a minute left. I'll give part to you and part to Senator Hagel. Are you optimistic that things will get better?
KING: You are. Based on more information we get now?
BIDEN: Based on the fact that everybody's beginning to put the puzzle together and understand the serious mistakes that were made. And I admit my mistake. I thought this administration -- well, anyway...
KING: All right. Senator Hagel?
HAGEL: Yes. Yes. Things will get better. They are getting better, for the reasons that Joe mentioned. Also, is because the fabric of our country, our people, our institutions -- we are equipped to deal with change and challenge and threat, and we do it better than anyone. And America should be assured that we're going to get there.
KING: Thank you all very much -- Senator Chuck Hagel, Senator Joe Biden, Michael Isikoff and Judith Miller.
And I'll be back in a couple of minutes and tell you about tomorrow night.
We also thank, of course, Dick Clarke for being with us in the first half hour. We'll be right back.
KING: ... is the one and only, one of our favorite people at CNN, always a delight, because when she comes on the screen, the screen gets much better to look at, Ms. Heidi Collins. Are you ready?
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