Cyber-Terrorism?

I’ve been curious about what the administration’s counter to Clarke’s book and interviews would look like. My best guess would be that it would center on Clarke being “disgruntled.” About an hour ago, Dick Cheney was on Rush Limbaugh’s show, advancing this story and adding a new one, that Clarke wasn’t in the loop because he had moved over to cyber-security:

RUSH: All right, let’s get straight to what the news is all about now before we branch out to things. Why did the administration keep Richard Clarke on the counterterrorism team when you all assumed office in January of 2001?

CHENEY: Well, I wasn’t directly involved in that decision. He was moved out of the counterterrorism business over to the cybersecurity side of things. That is, he was given the new assignment at some point there. I don’t recall the exact time frame.

RUSH: Cybersecurity? Meaning Internet security?

CHENEY: Yeah, worried about attacks on computer systems and sophisticated information technology systems we have these days that an adversary would use or try use.

RUSH: Well, now, that explains a lot, that answer right there.

CHENEY: Well, he wasn’t in the loop, frankly, on a lot of this stuff, and I saw part of his interview last night.

RUSH: He was demoted.

This charge is designed to serve two purposes: first, it feeds into the “disgruntled employee” theory; second, it suggests that Clarke doesn’t know what he is talking about — he may not have seen all the pre and post 9/11 planning for dealing with al Qaeda, but that doesn’t mean said planning didn’t occur. Clarke simply didn’t see the planning because he was off working — disgruntledly — on cyber-security. Does this story hold up?

Today, the White House has released its “White House Rebuttal to Clarke Interview,” arranged in a “Myth: …” and “Facts: …” format. The rebuttal strongly documents Clarke’s deep involvement in anti-terror work at the White House, though it suggests at times that Clarke was actually relegated cyber-security (subtext: everything he is doing now is a consequence of his bitterness over that.)

In the second myth-fact pair, the White House says,

Myth: We didn’t listen to Dick Clarke. Clarke had proposed ideas against al-Qa’ida, such as launching missiles from an armed Predator or modestly increasing assistance to the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan, that would have prevented 9-11 but these plans were not acted upon.

The Facts:

At Dr. Rice’s request, in January 2001, Dick Clarke presented her with a number of ideas to address the al-Qa’ida threat. The Administration acted upon the ideas that made sense. For example, the Administration approved increased assistance to Uzbekistan, a frontline state in opposing al-Qa’ida, and pushed hard to develop a weaponized Predator unmanned aerial vehicle.

This suggests that Clarke was working on terrorism, had some ideas, and that some were rejected while some were pursued.

Thereafter, in the third “myth,” the cyber-security issue rears its head, though the statement first reiterates Clarke’s anti-terrorism role:

Myth: Dick Clarke was never allowed to brief the President on the threat posed by al-Qa’ida.

The Facts:

* Dick Clarke was the President’s principal counterterrorism expert. If he had asked to brief the President on any counterterrorism issue, Clarke could have done so. He never did.

* Instead, the only time Dick Clarke asked to brief the President was during the height of the terrorism threat spike in June 2001, when he asked to brief the President — not on al-Qa’ida, but on cybersecurity. He did so.

Then in the “Facts” part of the fourth myth rebuttal, the statement reads that

The Government’s interagency counterterrorism crisis management forum (the Counterterrorism Security Group, or “CSG”), chaired by Dick Clarke, met regularly, often daily, during the high threat period [Summer 2001]. The CSG was at “battle stations.” If Dick Clarke or other members of this group needed anything, they had immediate and daily access to their superiors. Dick Clarke never suggested that the President or the Principals needed to intervene to take any immediate action on these threats.

Dick did not ask to brief the President on the al-Qa’ida threat during this period – or at any other time. Instead, in the middle of the al-Qa’ida threat period, Clarke asked to brief the President, but on cybersecurity, not al-Qaida. He did so.

Ok. So Clarke was deeply involved in anti-terrorism work in the Bush White House, even chairing the Counterterrorism Security Group, but whenever he got a chance to talk to the president or a cabinet-level official (a Secretary or a Czar), he instead chose to blather on about cyber-security. One more. From the “Facts” part of the eighth myth-fact segment:

Dick Clarke continued, in the Bush Administration, to be the National Coordinator for Counterterrorism and the President’s principal counterterrorism expert. He was expected to organize and attend all meetings of Principals and Deputies on terrorism. And he did.

There it is. The Office of the Press Secretary, which released the rebuttal, calls Clarke “the National Coordinator for Counterterrorism and the President’s principal counterterrorism expert,” states that Clarke chaired the “Counterterrorism Security Group,” and says that “if he had asked to brief the President on any counterterrorism issue, Clarke could have done so.” Dick Cheney says Clark “worried about attacks on computer systems and sophisticated information technology systems we have these days that an adversary would use or try use … he wasn’t in the loop, frankly, on a lot of this stuff.”

One of these two, the Office of the Press Secretary or Dick Cheney, is grossly mistaken — or lying — about whether Clarke was “in the loop.”

AB