The Clinton Record on Protecting America

Following the World Trade Center attack of February 1993, what did the Clinton administration do to protect the United States from future terrorism? Did they adopt a comprehensive counter terrorism plan as well as a domestic preparedness capability? Despite the former president’s claims in his ‘My Life” memoir, they did not.

Senator Clinton is running for the White House on her record as First Lady between 1993 and 2001, and on her Senate service. That record, however it’s parsed — be it her record or her husband’s — is devoid of critical achievements in counter-terrorism.

Americans have been told again and again that the US had a homeland security policy in place when President Bush first took office as well as a policy to deal with stopping terrorism here and abroad. But that’s simply false: There was no strategy for stopping terrorism nor was there a strategy for homeland security.

In a closed briefing to a House subcommittee in the summer of 2000, nearly 8 years after the first World Trade Center attacks, a senior Clinton White House official stunned the staff by ridiculing the notion of adopting a “comprehensive counter terrorism” strategy, saying such a policy would be “silly.” He further said that even outlining the likely terrorist threats to the United States — a task the subcommittee professional staff encouraged the White House to do–was not doable because “of all the different threats.”

As for adopting a preparedness plan to deal with domestic terrorist attacks, the official said the White House “was looking at” putting forward such a plan, this nearly a decade after the WTC attacks and four years after the Morrow building in Oklahoma City was destroyed. The official — when asked how the administration might assign priorities to the $12.9 billion then in the budget for counter terrorism efforts — simply gave the Committee staff a list of terror organizations.

The subcommittee was trying to assess the US government-wide attempts to “detect, deter, prevent and respond to terrorist acts.” The Committee wrote the White House official in July 2000 asking when an integrated threat assessment would be prepared, when a comprehensive counter terrorism plan would be adopted and how the government would prioritize government-wide spending to combat terrorism. No reply was ever forthcoming.

This was a critically important issue. The Committee had held hearings calling for just the new policies about which the White House was being questioned. The Committee found “the Federal Bureau of Investigation assesses the domestic threat but cannot point to a single document providing an in-depth analysis prioritizing threats.” In addition, “the lack of intelligence” about pending threats was a severe weakness of the intelligence community said the Committee.

The subcommittee chairman also noted that two major counter terrorism commission reports , both of which were Congressionally chartered, (Public Law 105-261 and 277), recommended there be a national office to coordinate agency efforts to combat terrorism and a national strategy for agencies to use as an overarching guide to develop operational counter terrorism plans. These commission reports were chaired by former Virginia Governor James Gilmore and Ambassador Paul Bremmer, later the Administrator of the Provisional Coalition Authority in Iraq, respectively. The Second Annual Report of the Advisory Panel to Assess Domestic Response Capabilities for Terrorism Involving Weapons of Mass Destruction and The National Commission on Terrorism both laid out a strategy to better enable the US Government to protect the American people from terrorism.

They called for a coherent, functional national strategy to combat terrorism, an empirical understanding of the terrorist threat and a comprehensive national counter-terrorism plan reflected in Federal spending priorities. As such they were the first serious counter-terrorism strategy recommendations to be put forward, but they were ignored by the Clinton administration.

In a letter to the incoming Bush administration dated January 22, 2001, the chairman warned that the senior Clinton White House official charged with combating terrorism and protecting the homeland had previously told Congress that “there is no need for a national strategy” on dealing with terrorism and that US government agencies “do not require a planning and preparation document to respond to terrorist attacks.”

This cavalier attitude toward national security and terrorism wasn’t an isolated event. We know now that in the last two years of the Clinton era, there was no plan to go after Al Qaeda. This same senior White House official admitted the Clintons could not decide on whether to “aid the Northern Alliance, secure the help of Uzbekistan, change the policy of the Pakistan government toward the Taliban, or greatly increase intelligence resources.” In early March 201, the Bush administration adopted all of these stalled policies. The elimination of the Taliban became national policy. The era of “swatting flies” was over.

The senior White House official was Richard Clarke, National Coordinator for Security, Infrastructure Protection and Counter Terrorism. The Subcommittee chairman was Congressman Christopher Shays. The House Subcommittee was National Security, Veterans Affairs and International Relations of the Committee on Government Reform. This is the record upon which Clarke claimed false credit, and on which Hillary Clinton wants to run.