Richard Clarke: The Sound and the Fury

As the furor over Richard Clarke’s book and 9-11 Commission testimony begins its second week, the whole thing keeps getting more surreal. The push now seems to be to declassify selected pieces of Clarke’s 2002 congressional testimony in order to use it for perjury charges — or at least to let that be the headline for a few days.

Here’s my take. Clarke isn’t a saint. There is, however, a ton of corroborating evidence for at least the big contentions in his book and testimony. An article by Condoleezza Rice in Foreign Affairs from 2000 has little mention of terrorism as a national security priority, and what mention there is focuses on “rogue states” like North Korea and Iran. No mention is made of bin Laden or al-Qaeda as threats, and it’s clear that Rice does have a “statist” view of foreign policy and security, just as Ivo Daalder, Ron Suskind, Richard Clarke, and others have previously claimed. Interestingly, Rice’s comments on Iraq discuss it as a leading “rogue state” but make no mention of exporting terrorism worldwide — whereas she makes precisely that claim concerning Iran.

Clarke’s testimony and book are also well-confirmed by an August 2002 article in Time Magazine by Michael Elliott (the article isn’t linked here because it’s in a paid archive but is available for $2.50). Elliott’s article confirms, at the very least, that broad elements of this story have been known in the public record for at least 18 months, before Clarke left government service to begin writing his book.

So there’s a couple of possibilities: (1) Clarke could be intentionally misleading everyone, but if he did, he planned the deception well because a lot of other people seem to be helping him out, (2) Clarke is essentially correct about the history of counter-terrorism throughout the Clinton and Bush Administrations. Which is the more likely hypothesis? Given the supporting evidence beyond Clarke’s testimony and books, I’m leaning towards accepting the simpler of the two explanations: Clarke is telling the truth.

Everything else is secondary. Sure, he’s an abrasive guy, and yeah, maybe he’s an asshole. Maybe he even did what he was told in 2002 and “spun” his testimony before Congress a bit, possibly even on orders from his superiors.

But as Josh Marshall has pointed out, none of that matters from the perspective of the public knowing the truth about what happened before 9/11. Granted, it’s possible some of this may come back to bite Clarke (particularly if the vindictive White House can make perjury stick), but that only sucks for Clarke. The rest of us still know more of the truth than we knew before. And that’s a good thing.

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