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CIA Incompetence

Reported by Judy - July 20, 2004 -

Fox News, which is to say the Republicans, is trying to blame the CIA for the bad information about WMD that got the nation into the Iraq war, and they're trying to blame the Democrats for the CIA's incompetence. Trouble is, the facts are otherwise.

Republican Rep. Duncan Hunter today (July 20) said on Fox and Friends (8:17 a.m. EDT) that the reason the CIA performed so poorly was that the Clinton Administration cut the CIA's budget in the 1990s. Richard Clarke, the Republican who served as national counterterrorism coordinator both before and after the Clinton years, provides ample evidence to the contrary.

Clarke, in his account of counterterrorism in the Clinton years, says the administration "had done well in pumping up the counterterrorism funds" in the budgets for 1994 and 1995, although he did not get everything he asked for. When he asked for another $1 billion in 1996, Clinton's budget chief, despite his desire to drive down the deficit and balance the budget, said, "Okay, sounds good." [Clarke, Against All Enemies: Inside America's War on Terror (New York: Free Press, 2004) 128.]

Time and again, Clarke expressed disappointment in the CIA's performance in counterrorism. In 1995, only under White House pressure, did CIA start planning a CIA station dedicated to bin Laden's network (148). Although the CIA did carry out several snatches of terrorists in foreign countries, Clarke said the agency "was reluctant to put its personnel into Afghanistan" which was harboring bin Laden (150). On one occasion, the CIA agreed to send a third-country national into an al Qaeda camp to take soil samples for chemical weapons. Clarke says that while the CIA took great pride in the operation, a reporter from The New York Times later drove right up to the gate of an al Qaeda camp thought to be dealing with chemical weapons (178-179).

Clarke blames the CIA for the failure of the U.S. to assassinate bin Laden in the late 1990s, after Clinton had signed presidential directives authorizing the action. "I believe that those who in CIA claim the authorizations were insufficient or unclear are throwing up that claim as an excuse to cover the fact that they were pathetically unable to accomplish the mission," Clarke wrote (204). Clarke theorized that the CIA was afraid to take on risky missions for fear they would go badly and the CIA would get the blame for it. (209-210). Clarke also found that the CIA refused to spend any of its regular budget on counterterrorism, always asking for supplemental appropriations, of which it received several (210). As Clarke said, "Another way to say that was that everything they were doing was more important than fighting al Qaeda." (210)

In other words, the CIA ignored President Clinton's directive that fighting terrorism was the nation's top priority in the late 1990s and spent its budget on other things. The CIA's problem was not a lack of funds, but a lack of will.

Fox viewers, of course, never heard that part of the argument, because no Democrat appeared alongside Hunter.