The homeland security and national security community is full of all types of personalities. Some are reserved and quiet; others are loud and bombastic. But there are few personalities as polarizing as Richard Clarke. As a former senior official to the Administrations of Bush (41), Clinton, and Bush (43), he made quite the reputation for himself in the fields of national security, counterterrorism and cybersecurity. His credentials and experience are truly impressive, but talk to anyone who has ever worked with, or for him, and you will either see them shudder or offer you a series of colorful words that would likely have your mother reaching for a bar of soap to insert into your mouth.
You can pick up any number of books or articles on the recent history and policy decisions surrounding 9/11, and Clarke is one of the names you see mentioned. In each of those, the writer will accurately portray his brilliance, but in the same vein cover his more than brusque and sharp elbowed personality. As one former colleague of his described to me after his first (and best-selling) book, Against All Enemies, came out: “He’s by far one of the smartest persons I’ve ever worked with. He’s also the most arrogant.”
Clarke has never shied away from making headlines or making waves. In fact, you might say he lives for it. He’s the author of several books and a media fixture on multiple news programs commenting on the failures of Administrations in recognizing the threat of Al Qaeda, the growing cyber threat and other national security matters. With the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks quickly approaching, it would seem that Mr. Clarke has ventured again into headline making.
In an article, “An Explosive 9/11 Charge,” by the Daily Beast’s Philip Shenon, Clarke is quoted in a soon-to-be-released interview as pointing the finger at former CIA Director George Tenet and two other CIA colleagues, claiming they “engaged in a massive cover-up in 2000 and 2001 to hide intelligence from the White House and the FBI that might have prevented the attacks.” Further:
“In the interview for the documentary, Clarke offers an incendiary theory that, if true, would rewrite the history of the 9/11 attacks, suggesting that the CIA intentionally withheld information from the White House and FBI in 2000 and 2001 that two Saudi-born terrorists were on U.S. soil—terrorists who went on to become suicide hijackers on 9/11.”
There are many things that George Tenet and the CIA can rightfully and accurately be accused of, the two biggest being their “failure of imagination” in recognizing the type of attacks the 19 9/11 hijackers would undertake; and, not having a “slam dunk” when it comes to knowing where Saddam Hussein kept his WMDs. Both of those are serious enough issues that leave one helluva mark of history upon them. Those two decisions alone have cost the lives of thousands of people in the United States and around the world, but to accuse them of essentially engaging neglectful treason and turning a blind eye to one of the most horrific and unimaginable attacks is a bridge too far.
Why is it a bridge too far? There are no facts to the outrageous charge. The 9/11 Commission exhaustively investigated this issue (and others) during its comprehensive work and found nothing to it. Additionally, investigative reporters, Congressional Members and staffers, and more have examined the failures in intelligence that occurred, allowing the 9/11 attack to unfold. Not once did anyone uncover one iota of evidence that Tenet or anyone else in the Intelligence community knowingly allowed the 9/11 hijackers to murder 3,000 people.
Whether he’s anxious to be on the media circuit in the pre-9/11 anniversary days or just anxious to burn any remaining bridges he has left to former colleagues, Clarke’s charges are slanderous without any proof.
Since this story broke, Richard Clarke has done something he rarely does. He’s gone silent. Efforts by multiple reporters to get him to comment have been unsuccessful.
I find that silence telling. For a man very practiced in throwing verbal hand grenades when the evidence is on his side, (and even when that evidence is debatable), throwing a charge like this without any facts speaks to how cavalier he’s been, or rather, become. You can have all of the bluster and arrogance that comes with being brilliant and being one of the few people in the room when big historic moments occurred, but that does not entitle you to a free pass that your accusations are sound and correct when there is no proof to back them up.
Clarke has much to be proud of in his public career and for sparking many informed debates on complex subjects such as national, homeland and cybersecurity. All of those distinctions don’t mean a thing when you start playing to the black-van, conspiracy crowd who still see 9/11 as an inside job.
I remember watching firsthand Clarke belittle a conspiracy minded questioner at the first Aspen Institute National Security Forum in June 2010 when this person alluded to plots by the government to do something sinister. In a his own smug way, Clarke just waved his hand at the questioner basically telling him he didn’t know what he was talking about, had no facts and rudely laughed him off.
I can’t help but think that is just how Clarke’s latest charge should be greeted. Rather than deal with facts (which he’s worked in), he’s become part of the set that will say anything, just to get a rise out of people so that they will pay attention to him. Sort of like most of the talking heads on MSNBC, other cable outlets and some select presidential candidates. You can’t take them seriously when they aren’t grounded in reality, yet we give them attention.
That is a fact that seems to have escaped a man who has introduced himself to more than one person as “Richard F-ing Clarke.” For as distasteful as I have found him on the occasions I’ve seen him present in-person and in the media, I’ve always admired that he knew his stuff and was informed. That appears to no longer be the case and that by itself is a shame.