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Epiphanies: Richard A. Clarke

IN 1995, WE GOT THE CIA to agree to create a special office to figure out what [Osama] bin Laden was about. Soon after, they got a walk-in: someone who had been in al Qaeda and embezzled from them. He was on the run and tried to defect to the United States several times. Several ...

IN 1995, WE GOT THE CIA to agree to create a special office to figure out what [Osama] bin Laden was about. Soon after, they got a walk-in: someone who had been in al Qaeda and embezzled from them. He was on the run and tried to defect to the United States several times. Several of our embassies stupidly refused him. And he told us the whole story. It was the first time we heard the name "al Qaeda."

WHATEVER ELSE YOU SAY about George Tenet, prior to 9/11, he was vociferous about al Qaeda and bin Laden. They didn’t listen to him, either. And he was their director of CIA, for Christ’s sake.

THE IMPRESSION that I had when the Bush administration came in was that they were the most serious team that had ever walked in. They were very impressively credentialed people. But during the spring and summer of 2001, it dawned on me that they were also dysfunctional. You can take a lot of highly qualified people, put them together, and the whole is less than the sum of the parts. I still don’t understand it. When they started focusing on creating a Department of Homeland Security in order to prevent Sen. [Joe] Lieberman from doing so, I realized that they were more concerned with politics than results.

I KNEW FOR A LONG TIME that we were going to invade [Iraq]. But I didn’t know until shortly into 2003 that we were going to occupy. Someone came in and told me that the Defense Department had issued a contract for a company to rewrite Iraqi high school textbooks. And then I realized that this was not about replacing Saddam Hussein. This was about some insane plot to rebuild Iraq in our image. And then I knew that the war on terrorism was lost. Because if you’re occupying an Arab country, you can’t possibly gain Arab support against [the terrorists].

Richard A. Clarke, counterterrorism czar under U.S. Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, is a security consultant.

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