Standard deviation

"Standard deviation" Continued...

Issue: "Darwin's meltdown," April 3, 2004

The other senior policymaker who served in both administrations, CIA Director George Tenet, confirms the different approach to the al-Qaeda threat. Mr. Bush, he told the commission, wanted daily face-to-face briefings from the CIA director-something Mr. Tenet did not do under President Clinton. CIA contact with President Bush was &quota marked change," Mr. Tenet told the commission.

And strangely enough, Mr. Clarke himself didn't have doubts about other terrorist attacks that occurred on his long watch. In another 60 Minutes appearance in 2000, for instance, he defended the Clinton administration for failing to stop a terrorist attack on the USS Cole in which 17 sailors died. That attack, he insisted, showed &quota great deal of sophistication" that made it impossible to predict or prevent. The &quotsophisticated" weapon in that instance was a single rubber raft laden with explosives, not four jetliners hijacked simultaneously to be flown into buildings.

Mr. Clarke's critique also showed other inconsistencies. He used to be much more hawkish in going after countries believed to have weapons of mass destruction-the Bush administration's top argument for invading Iraq. In 1998, for instance, he helped drive the decision to bomb a Sudanese pharmaceutical plant that the Clinton administration suspected of producing nerve gas. An investigation later revealed the plant was producing baby formula, and the United States quietly paid reparations to the owner of the plant, Saleh Idris.

Still, Mr. Clarke was unapologetic. &quotWe should have a very low barrier in terms of acting when there is a threat of weapons of mass destruction being used against American citizens," he told The Washington Post in April of 2000, defending the Sudan bombing decision. &quotWe should not have a barrier of evidence that can be used in a court of law."

Although he blasts the Bush administration for linking Iraq to the attacks of 9/11 despite the flimsiest of evidence, Mr. Clarke has been known to do the same thing himself. In 1996, after terrorists bombed a U.S. military-housing complex in Saudi Arabia, Mr. Clarke tried to pin the blame on Iran. Anthony Lake, then national security adviser to President Clinton, overruled Mr. Clarke's conspiracy theory, saying that the case against Iran was circumstantial at best.

Finally, Mr. Clarke in recent years seemed to raise his expectations of just how successful the fight against terrorism should be. He told the 9/11 panel that he wanted to make the elimination of al-Qaeda an official policy of the Bush administration, but was rebuffed by his superiors. &quotI was told ... that was overly ambitious and that we should take the word eliminate out and say 'significantly erode,'" he complained.

Under the Clinton administration, however, that same objective appeared to be good enough for Mr. Clarke. &quotOur goal should be to so erode [bin Laden's] network of organizations that they no longer pose a serious threat," he told The Washington Post four years ago, shortly after the Cole bombing. Elimination appeared to be out of the question.

What remains very much in question is how the Clarke book-coupled with the final report of the 9/11 commission, due out in July-will affect the presidential race. Some family members of 9/11 victims say they, like the average voter, are still making up their minds.

&quotI would never ever under any circumstances vote for Bush, but I'm not sure I'd vote for John Kerry," whispered Mr. McIlvaine, who has been active in September 11th Families for a Peaceful Tomorrow, a pacifist group. The old anger, evidently, has yet to completely disappear. The trick for the Bush campaign, as Election Day creeps closer, is to avoid any new anger among the broader public-and any new bombshells by disgruntled former employees.


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