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Clarke Attack Follows WH Pattern of Smearing

From the radio newsmagazine
Between The Lines
Between the Lines Q&A
A weekly column featuring progressive viewpoints
on national and international issues
under-reported in mainstream media
for release April 5, 2004

White House Attack on Former Counter-Terrorism Chief Follows Pattern of Smearing Whistleblowers

Interview with Daniel Ellsberg, former U.S. Defense Department analyst prosecuted for his release of the "Pentagon Papers," conducted by Scott Harris

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In testimony before the commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington, former counter-terrorism chief Richard Clarke charged that the Bush administration failed to recognize the urgent threat posed by al Qaeda before 9/11, and manipulated America into fighting an unprovoked war against Iraq. Since giving his damaging testimony and the release of his book, "Against All Enemies," Clarke has been attacked by the White House and its allies as an opportunist looking for work in a future Democratic administration, and as an inconsistent, untrustworthy figure trying to sell his new book.

But Clarke, who served under Ronald Reagan, the first Bush White House, Bill Clinton and the current administration, says that his detractors are engaged in character assassination rather than dealing with the substance of his criticism. The stakes are high in this election year, with many observers predicting that White House attacks on Clarke will only further weaken President Bush.

In 1971, Daniel Ellsberg was a career U.S. government analyst when he leaked the now-famous "Pentagon Papers" to the press. The 47-volume Defense Department internal study of the U.S. role in Southeast Asian conflicts over three decades was classified top secret. The documents chronicled the lies and deceit employed by government officials to justify U.S. military intervention in the region's wars. Ellsberg, originally a strong supporter of the Vietnam War who later became a committed opponent, faced felony charges that could have put him in prison for 115 years. Between The Lines' Scott Harris spoke with Daniel Ellsberg, who assesses the significance of Richard Clarke's testimony and the damage that could result to Bush's presidency.

Daniel Ellsberg: Well, it's very understandable why the White House is in a panic here of trying to discredit Mr. Clarke because his revelations are devastating. He's done something almost unprecedented here -- I think it may well be unprecedented, not only in this country, but perhaps any country -- and that is to reveal, in the form of a memoir, devastating information about the incompetence and deceptions and apathy in ways that cost many lives of his own colleagues and superiors, including the president in the very term (of office) in which the book is published.

People have revealed memoirs before, usually very cautious about criticizing their former bosses of either party, but normally many years later. In this case, it's coming right at a time when it not only affects the policies and the people who are still office, but during an election year. What has very great bearing -- it's extremely relevant and timely -- but it could have the maximum effect of actually removing his boss from power, making him actually accountable in a way that in the ordinary course of things would not be possible simply because the public would not have the information on which to act.

Between The Lines: Of the two major charges that Richard Clarke has leveled at the White House -- one being they were not taking seriously and urgently the threat of terrorism from al Qaeda, and number two, they really scattered and defused the war against al Qaeda by turning instead to declare war against Saddam Hussein in Iraq. Of those two, which do you think is more damaging to the White House as they face their re-election campaign?

Daniel Ellsberg: They're both pretty damaging, of course. Bush, he admitted to Bob Woodward at least a year ago that he had not had a sense of urgency about bin Laden and he could imply that that was because the intelligence wasn't clear enough, although it's now clear that his counter-terrorism chief was pushing that day by day, practically. It's true also that it wasn't getting to Bush it would seem, but that was the fault of the intervening level, apparently Condoleezza Rice, in particular.

I think that the second point which has to do with how (Bush) reacted to the challenge once it was unmistakable with the downing of the two World Trade Center towers, the question of what did he do then is probably more spectacular in a way or relevant to the question because his basis for re-election very largely is on the grounds of his having taken a very tough and presumably appropriate action after the towers were hit. And that's exactly what Clarke is refuting in a very devastating way, which is being confirmed by many other people at the time, namely that he went in an entirely wrong direction. Tough? Yes, but against the wrong people -- against the wrong target.

I think Clarke gives a very telling analogy which seems pretty appropriate. He says, "It's as if we invaded Mexico after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. Very similar. You can criticize that not only as a distraction from the real threat and a diversion of resources and attention from then on, which seems to have been true -- very costly in our effectiveness against terror. But he was not just diverting resources, it was actually making the problem directly very much worse.

Between The Lines: In your own experience with the Nixon administration, you faced a desperate attempt by the Nixon White House to discredit you, by among other things, their breaking into your psychiatrist office and a whole host of other dirty tricks. Are we seeing a repeat of history in some small way here with the White House damage control machine going into high gear? Are they making fatal errors now in terms of attacking Clarke, do you think?

Daniel Ellsberg: Probably, because they're working hard to attack him and this crew seems to make at least as many errors as their predecessors ever did. So, I think we can assume they are making errors right now which maybe very costly for them.

An exact analogy is their effort to punish, actually, Joseph Wilson the (former) ambassador who revealed that the White House was deceiving -- and that Condi Rice specifically was speaking falsely -- in saying they'd had no warning that what they were saying about Iraq seeking uranium from Niger and that they had no indication that it was false. He personally had given them the information that it was false much earlier.

In revealing the name of the wife of Joseph Wilson, they were breaking a federal law which protects the identities of (CIA) clandestine operators. So somebody in the White House, and the indications so far is that it was Carl Rove from the president's office and other people in the vice president's office; they broke a federal law and it may well come out that the administration will begin to unravel significantly in this very election year on the basis of that.

If they don't restrain themselves more than they have done so far on Clarke, I think we can bet that they will break the law in other ways, or they will do things that will rebound very severely.

Daniel Ellsberg's release of "The Pentagon Papers" in 1971 bolstered opposition to the Vietnam War. Ellsberg's book, "Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers" is published by Viking. Visit his website at

Related links on our website at
-"A White House 'Adept at Revenge'"
- "Bush Puts a 'Cancer on the Presidency' - Watergate Insider calls this White House 'Scary'"
- "Daniel Ellsberg Sees a New Trend -- Telling All While the Issue is Hot"
- "Heads-Up To Ashcroft Proves Threat Was Known Before 9/11"
- "Running Scared"
- "Clarke's Public Service"
- "Ex-Advisor Says Bush Eyed Bombing of Iraq on 9/11"
- Those Who Dared to Come Forward: In-depth compilation on Washington insiders who are speaking out on Bush administration policies and actions

Visit our Between The Lines Newswire regularly at to read other in-depth news stories that are under-reported or ignored in the corporate media.


Scott Harris, is executive producer of Between The Lines, which can be heard on over 35 radio stations. This interview excerpt was featured on the award-winning, syndicated weekly radio newsmagazine, Between The Lines ( for the week ending April 9, 2004. This Between The Lines Q&A was compiled by Scott Harris and Anna Manzo.

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