CBS Sixty Minutes
March 21, 2004

Leslie Stahl interviews Richard Clark

LESLIE STAHL: {... and was held over by President George W Bush. In testimony in front of the 9/11 Commission later this week, and in a new book to be published tomorrow, 'Against All Enemies', Clarke will bell the story of what happened behind the scenes at the White House before, during and after September 11th. He does so first tonight, on Sixty Minutes. When the terrorists struck on the morning of 9/11, it was thought that the White House would be the first target and the building was evacuated.}

[VIDEO WITH RICHARD CLARKE]

CLARKE: It went from having hundreds of people, a hubbub of activity, to being totally abandoned.

STAHL (exp): {Richard Clarke was one of only a handful of people who stayed behind. He ran the government's response to the attacks from the situation room in the West Wing.}

CLARKE: Well I kept thinking of the words from 'Apocalypse Now', the whispered words of Marlon Brando when he thought about Vietnam, 'The horror! The horror!' because we knew what was going on in New York. We knew about the bodies flying out of the windows, people falling through the air. We knew that Osama bin Laden had succeeded in bringing horror to the streets of America.

STAHL (exp): {After the President returned to the White House on 9/11, he and his top advisors including Clarke began holding meetings about how to respond and retaliate. As Clarke writes in his book, he expected the administration to focus its military response on Osama bin laden and al Qaeda but was surprised when the talk quickly turned to another target.}

STAHL:  You relayed a conversation you had with Sec'y of Defense Rumsfeld.

CLARKE: Well Rumsfeld was saying that we needed to bomb Iraq and we all said, 'No no, al Qaeda is in Afghanistan. We need to bomb Afghanistan.' Rumsfeld said, 'There aren't any good targets in Afghanistan and there are lots of good targets in Iraq.' I said, 'Well there are lots of good targets in lots of places but Iraq had nothing to with it.'

STAHL: You wrote you thought he was joking.

CLARKE: Initially I thought when he said there aren't enough targets in Afghanistan, I thought he was joking.

STAHL: Now what was your reaction to all this Iraq talk? What did you tell everybody?

CLARKE: What I said was, you know, invading Iraq or bombing Iraq after we're attacked by somebody else, it's akin to, what if Franklin Roosevelt after Pearl Harbor instead of going to war with Japan said, "Let's invade Mexico." It's very analagous.

STAHL: But didn't they think there was a connection?

CLARKE: I think they wanted to believe that there was a connection but the CIA was sitting there, the FBI was sitting there, I was sitting there saying, We've looked at this issue for years, for years we've looked for a connection and there's just no connection.

STAHL: And you told them that?

CLARKE: Absolutely.

STAHL: You personally ...

CLARK: I told them that, George Tenet told them that ...

STAHL: Who did you tell?

CLARKE: I told that to the group, to the SState, the SDef, the AG. They all knew it.

STAHL: You talk about a conversation you personally had with the president.

CLARKE: Yes. THe president -- we were in the situation room complex -- the president dragged me into a room with a couple of other people, shut the door, and said, 'I want you to find whether Iraq did this.' Now he never said, 'Make it up.' But the entire conversation left me in absolutely no doubt that George Bush wanted me to come back with a report that said 'Iraq did this.'

STAHL: Didn't you tell him that you'd looked and there'd been no connection?

CLARKE: I said, 'Mr. President. We've done this before. We have been looking at this. We looked at it with an open mind. There's no connection.' He came back at me and said, "Iraq! Saddam! Find out if there's a connection.' And in a very intimidating way. I mean, that we should come back with that answer. We wrote a report.

STAHL: In other words, you did go back and look.

CLARKE: We went back again and we looked.

STAHL: You did. And was it a serious look? Did you really ... ?

CLARKE: It was a serious look. We got together all the FBI experts, all the CIA experts. We wrote the report. We sent the report out to CIA and down to FBI and said, 'Will you sign this report?' They all cleared the report and we sent it up to the president and it got bounced by the National Security Advisor or Deputy. It got bounced and sent back saying, 'Wrong answer.'

STAHL: Come on!

CLARKE: Do it again.

STAHL: Wrong answer?

CLARKE: Do it again.

STAHL: Did the President see it?

CLARKE: I have no idea to this day if the President saw it because after we did it again it came to the same conclusion. And frankly, Leslie, I don't think the people around the President show him memos like that. I don't think he sees memos that he wouldn't like the answer [to].

STAHL (exposition): {Clarke was the President's top advisor on terrorism and yet it wasn't until after 9-11 that he ever got to brief Mr. Bush on the subject. Clarke says that prior to 9-11 this administration did not take the threat seriously.}

CLARKE: We had a terrorist organization that was going after us, al Qaeda. That should have been the first item on the agenda and it was pushed back, and back, and back for months.

STAHL: You're about to testify publicly before a committee that wants to know if the Bush administration dropped the ball. What are you going to tell the committee when they ask you that?

CLARKE: Well there's a lot of blame to go around and I probably deserve some blame too. But on January 24th of 2001, I wrote a memo to Condileezza Rice asking for, urgently -- underlined urgently -- a cabinet level meeting to deal with the impending al Qaeda attack and that urgent memo wasn't acted on.

STAHL: Do you blame her for not understanding the significance of terrorism?

CLARKE: I blame the entire Bush leadership for continuing to work on the Cold War issues when they came back in power in 2001. It was as though they were preserved in amber from when they left office eight years earlier. They came back, they wanted to work on the same issues right away -- Iraq, Star Wars -- not the new issues, the new threats that had developed over the preceding eight years

STAHL (exp): {Clarke finally got his meeting to brief about al Qaeda in April, three months after his urgent request, but it wasn't with the president or the cabinet. It was with the number twos in each relevant department. For the Pentagon, it was Paul Wolfowitz.}

CLARKE: I began saying, 'We have to deal with bin Laden. We have to deal with al Qaeda.' Paul Wolfowitz the Deputy Sec'y of Defense said, 'No, no, no. We don't have to deal with al Qaeda. Why are we talking about that little guy? We have to talk about Iraqi terrorism against the United States.' And I said, 'Paul, there hasn't been any Iraqi terrorism against the Untied States in eight years,' and I turned to the Deputy Director of [the] CIA and said, 'Isn't that right?' and he said, 'Yeah, that's right. There is no Iraqi terrorism against the United States.'

STAHL: In eight years.

CLARKE: In eight years.

STAHL: Now explain that.

STAHL (exp): {He explained that there was no Iraqi terrorism against the US after 1993 when Saddam Hussein attempted to assassinate the first President Bush while he was visiting Kuwait.}

CLARKE: We responded to that by blowing up Iraqi intelligence headquarters and by sending a very clear message through diplomatic channels to the Iraqis, saying if you do any terrorism against the United States again, it won't just be Iraqi intelligence headquarters, it'll be your whole government. It was a very chilling message. And apparently it work because there's absolutely no evidence of Iraqi terrorism since that day until we invaded them. Now there's Iraqi terrorism against the United States.

STAHL: Was there any connection between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda?

CLARKE: Were they cooperating? No.

STAHL: Was Iraq supporting al Qaeda?

CLARKE: No. There's absolutely no evidence that Iraq was supporting al Qaeda. Ever.

STAHL: You call certain people in the administration and they'll say that's still open ...

CLARKE: Yeah, well ...

STAHL ... that's an open issue.

CLARKE: Well they'll say that until Hell freezes over.

STAHL (exp): {By June, 2001, there still hadn't been a cabinet-level meeting on terrorism, even though the US intelligence community was picking up an unprecedented level of ominous chatter. The CIA Director warned the White House.}

CLARKE: George Tenet was saying to the White House, saying to the President cause he briefed him every morning, a major al Qaeda attack is going to happen against the United States, somewhere in the world in the weeks and months ahead. He said that in June, July, August.

STAHL (exp): {The last time the CIA had picked up a similar level of intelligence chatter was back in December 1999 when Clarke was the Terrorism Czar in the Clinton White House. Clarke says that President Clinton ordered his cabinet to go to battle stations, meaning they were on high alert, holding meetings nearly every day. That, Clarke says, helped thwart a major attack on Los Angeles Int'l airport when this al Qaeda operative was stopped at the border with Canada driving a car full of explosives. Clarke harshly criticizes President Bush for not going to battle stations when the CIA warned him of a comparable threat in the months before 9/11.}

CLARKE: He never thought it was important enough for *him* [Clarke's emphasis] to hold a meeting on the subject, or for him to order his National Security Advisor to hold a cabinet-level meeting on the subject.

STAHL: Why would having a meeting make a difference?

CLARKE: If you compare December 1999 to June and July of 2001, in December '99, every day or every other day, the head of the FBI, the head of the CIA, the Attorney General had to go to the White House and sit in a meeting and report on all the things that they personally had done to stop the al Qaeda attack, so they were going back every  night to their departments and shaking the trees personally and finding out all the information. If that had happened in July of 2001, we might have found out in the White House, the Attorney General might have found out that there were al Qaeda operatives in the United States. FBI, at lower levels, knew -- never told me, never told the highest levels in the FBI.

STAHL (exp): {The FBI and the CIA knew that these two al Qaeda operatives [pictures displayed onscreen] both among the 9/11 hijackers, had been living in the United States since 2000, yet neither agency passed that information up the chain of command or told Dick Clarke, the White House Terrorism Coordinator.}

CLARKE: And here I am in the White House saying, something's about to happen. Tell me -- if a sparrow falls from the tree, I want to know, if anything unusual's going on, because we're about to be hit.

STAHL: No one told you. No one told you.

CLARKE: Leslie, if we had put their picture on the CBS Evening News, if we had put their picture on Dan Rather, on USA Today, we could have caught those guys and then we might have been able to pull that thread and get more of the conspiracy. I'm not saying we could have stopped 9/11, but we could have at least had a chance.

STAHL (exp): {But as we all know, the al Qaeda sleeper cell was left free to plan the 9/11 attack while Dick Clarke kept agitating for the high-level White House meeting he had been seeking.}

STAHL: You finally did get your cabinet-level meeting. Finally. When did that meeting take place?

CLARKE: The cabinet meeting I asked for right after the inauguration took place one week prior to 9/11.

STAHL (exp): {When Clarke finally got his meeting on September 4th, he proposed a plan to bomb al Qaeda sanctuaries in Afghanistan and to kill Osama bin Laden. It's the same plan he had tried to persuade the Clinton administration to adopt, to no avail. When we come back, Clarke's view of the President's actions after 9/11, and the White House view of Clarke.}

CLARKE: He ignored terrorism for months when maybe we could have done something to stop 9/11. Maybe. We'll never know.

STAHL: Does a person who works in a White House owe the President his loyalty?

CLARKE: Yes. Up to --

STAHL: Well --

CLARKE: -- up to a point.

STAHL: Well, this is not a loyal book, I'm sorry.

CLARKE: No no it 's yes, up to a point. Up to a point. When the President starts doing things that risk American lives, then loyalty to him has to be put aside, and the way he has --

STAHL: You think he risked American lives?

CLARKE: I think the way he has responded to al Qaeda, both before 9/11 by doing nothing and by what he's done after 9/11 has made us less safe. Absolutely.

STAHL: Don't you think he handled himself and hit all the right notes after 9/11, showed strength, got us through it, you don't give him credit for that?

CLARKE: He gave a really good speech right after 9/11.

STAHL: You don't give him credit for anything. Nothing.

CLARKE: I think he's done a terrible job on the war against terrorism.

STAHL (exp): {That may be the most serious indictment yet of the administration's handling of terrorism since it comes from the President's own former terrorism advisor. It's not a surprise, then, that the number two man on the President's National Security Council, Steven [ph] Hadley vehemently disagrees with Clarke. He says the President has taken the fight to the terrorists and is hardening the homeland.}

[VIDEO WITH HADLEY]

STAHL: Dick Clarke, he was the administration's top official on counter-terrorism. How would you describe the job he did?

STEVEN HADLEY: Look, Dick is a very dedicated -- very knowledgeable about this  issue. When the President came into office, one of the decisions we made was to keep Mr. Clarke and his counter-terrorism group intact, bring them into the new administration really --

STAHL (exp): {He says Clarke did a good job, but is just dead wrong when he says the President didn't heed the warnings about al Qaeda before the attacks on 9/11.}

HADLEY: The President heard those warnings. The President got -- met daily with his Chief of Intelligence, the Director of Central Intelligence, George Tenet, and his staff and they kept him fully informed. At one point the President became somewhat imatient with us, and said "I'm tired of swatting flies. Where's my new strategy to eliminate al Qaeda?"

STAHL (exp): {Hadley says that contrary to Clarke's assertion, the President didn't ignore the ominous intelligence chatter in the summer of 2001.}

HADLEY: All the chatter was of an attack, a potential al Qaeda attack overseas, but interestingly enough, the President got concerned about whether there was the possibility of an attack on the homeland. He asked the intelligence community, 'Look hard. See if we're missing something about a threat to the homeland,' and at that point, various alerts went out from the Federal Aviation Administration to the FBI saying, 'The intelligence suggests a threat overseas. We don't want to be caught unprepared. We don't want to rule out a threat to the possibility of a threat to the homeland and therefore preparatory steps need to be made.' So the President put us on battle stations.

STAHL: Now he[Clarke]'s the top terrorism official in this administration at that point. He's saying you didn't go to battle stations.

HADLEY: Well I think that's just wrong --

STAHL (exp): {He also says Clarke was wrong when he said the President pressured him to find a link between Iraq and 9/11}

HADLEY: We can not find evidence that this conversation between Mr. Clarke and the President ever occurred.

STAHL: Now can I interrupt you for one second. We have done our own work on that ourselves and we have two sources who tell us independently of Dick Clarke that there was this encounter. One of them was an actual witness.

HADLEY: Look, the -- I -- I stand on what I said. But the point I think we're missing in this is of course the President wanted to know if there was any evidence linking Iraq to 9/11.

STAHL (exp): {So he's not denying the President asked for another review, nor is he denying that Clarke wrote a memo stating once again that Iraq was not involved in 9/11. In fact the White House showed us the memo dated September 18th. As Clarke said, it was bounced back. The notation reads, 'Please update and resubmit,' and it was written by Steven Hadley.}

HADLEY: I asked him to go back -- not 'wrong answer' -- I asked him to go back and check it again a week or two later to make sure there was no new emerging evidence that Iraq was involved.

STAHL (exp): {Hadley says the whole issue about Iraq was moot by the time Clarke submitted his memo, since the President, at a meeting with his War Cabinet at Camp David had already decided to focus the US response to 9/11 on Afghanistan, which is what Clarke had been recommending. But Clarke said it was not moot, because the administration wanted to make Iraq phase two of the response, no matter what happened in Afghanistan.}

VIDEOTAPE OF GW BUSH: You can't distinguish between Al Qaeda and Saddam when you talk about the war on terror.

STAHL: (exp): {Clarke contends that with statements like that, the President continually left an impression that Saddam had been involved in 9/11.}

[VIDEO WITH CLARKE]

CLARKE: The White House carefully manipulated public opinion, never quite lied, but gave the very strong impression that Iraq did it.

STAHL: But you're suggesting here that they knew better --

CLARKE: They did know better.

STAHL -- and it was deliberate.

CLARKE: They did know better. They did know better. We told them. The FBI told them. The CIA told them. They did know better. And the tragedy here is that Americans went to their deaths in Iraq thinking that they were avenging September 11 when Iraq had nothing to do with September 11. I think for a Commander in Chief and a Vice President to allow that to happen is unconscionable.

STAHL (exp): {And he thinks the President to this day misinterprets the nature and the scope of the terrorist threat.}

CLARKE: He asked us after 9/11 to give him cards with pictures of the major al Qaeda leaders and tell us when they were arrested or killed so he could draw X's through their pictures, and you know, I write in the book, I have this image of George Bush sitting by a warm fireplace in the White House drawing X's through al Qaeda leaders and thinking that he's got most of them and therefore he's taken care of the problem, and while George Bush thinks he's crossing them out one by one there are all these new al Qaeda people who are being recruited who hate the United States in large measure because of what Bush has done.

STAHL (exp): {He says that the war in Iraq has not only inflamed anti-Americanism in the Arab world, it drained resources away from the fight in Afghanistan and the push to eliminate Osama bin Laden.}

[VIDEO WITH HADLEY]

HADLEY: It's not correct. Iraq, as the President has said, is at the center of the war on terror. We have narrowed the ground available to al Qaeda and to the terrorists. Their sanctuary in Afghanistan is gone. Their sanctuary in Iraq is gone. Saudi Arabia and Pakistan are now allies in the war on terror, so Iraq has contributed in that way to narrowing the sanctuaries available to terrorists.

[VIDEO WITH CLARKE]

STAHL: Don't you think that Iraq, the Middle East, and the world is better off with Saddam Hussein out power? That's just a widely --

CLARK: I think there --

STAHL: That's just a widely held view that

CLARKE: Leslie, I think the world would be better off if a number of leaders around the world were out of power. The question is, what price should the United States pay? The price we paid was very very high and we're still paying that price for doing it.

 

STAHL: What do you mean?

CLARKE: Osama bin Laden had been saying for years, 'America wants to invade an Arab country and occupy it -- an oil rich Arab country. He'd been saying this. This was part of his propaganda. So what do we do after 9/11? We invade an oil rich, and occupy and oil rich Arab country which was doing nothing to threaten us. In other words, we stepped right into bin Laden's propaganda and the result of that is that al Qaeda and organizations like it, offshoots of it, second generation al Qaeda, have greatly strengthened.

STAHL (exp): {Exhibit A, he now says, is the attack on the passenger trains in Madrid.}

[VIDEO WITH HADLEY]

STAHL: Dick Clarke worked for Reagan, Bush I, Clinton, and now here. He has a track record. Why do you think a man with those credentials would be so completely critical of the way this administration has handled the war on terrorism?

HADLEY: Well I don't know. I have not read Dick's book. I don't know what he has said about the prior administration which, again, was in office and dealing with this problem for eight years. We were in office -- [garbled portion, signal stalled or power surge] -- dealings I had with him was that he was pleased at the leadership provided by the President.

STAHL: He did tell you he was pleased when he left?

HADLEY: My belief was that he appreciated the leadership that the President had provided.

STAHL (exp): {But there's no hint of that in his book or in our interview. When Clarke worked for President Clinton, he was known as the Terrorism Czar. When George Bush came into office, though he kept Clarke on at the White House, he stripped him of his cabinet level rank.}

[VIDEO WITH CLARKE]

STAHL: They demoted you. Aren't you open to charges that this is all sour grapes because they demoted you and reduced your leverage, your power in the White House?

CLARKE: No. Frankly, if I had been so upset that the National Coordinator for Counterterrorism had been downgraded from a cabinet-level position to a staff level position, if that had bothered me enough I would have quit. I didn't quit.

STAHL (exp): {Not for another two years. He finally resigned last year after thirty years in government service. A senior White House official told us he thinks Clarke's book is an audition for a job in the Kerry campaign.}

STAHL: Are you working to defeat Bush and are you working to help Kerry get elected?

CLARKE: No. I'm not working for Kerry. I'm an independent. I'm not working for the Kerry campaign.

STAHL: We're here at Harvard right now. You teach a course at the Kennedy School with Kerry's National Security Advisor, Rand Beers.

CLARKE: Mmm-hmm. I have worked for Ronald Reagan, I have worked for George Bush the First. I have worked for George Bush the Second. I am not participating in this campaign, but I am putting facts out that I think people ought to know.

STAHL: Looking back on September 11th, the day itself, beside the attacks and the horrible images of those planes hitting, what do you remember?

CLARKE: I remember trying very hard to keep my emotions in check. I knew people in the Pentagon, I knew people in the World Trade Center, I assumed that friends of mine had died and in fact it turned out that they had. I felt an enormous rage and anger against al Qaeda but also a rage and anger against the US government that we hadn't been able to stop it.

STAHL: Well I'll tell you something. Some of that rage is in this book.

CLARKE: Well, it should be.

STAHL (exp): [Over the weekend, we got a note from the Pentagon saying, 'Any suggestion that the President did anything other than act aggressively, quickly and effectively to address the al Qaeda and Taliban threat in Afghanistan is absurd."}