Richard Clarke’s apology to America for 9/11, and his best-selling book, Against All Enemies, which criticizes the White House’s obsession with invading Iraq, have made him famous, wealthy, and a hero to many. But the former “counterterrorism czar,” who went into government three decades ago to help prevent another Vietnam, is still grappling with a sense of failure. Talking to Clarke and his colleagues, VICKY WARD learns about his anger and frustration, his turbulent history with Condoleezza Rice, and his courage under political re.
One Tuesday evening toward the end of April, Richard Clarke, the counterterrorism expert who had served in government for 30 years, was signing books in an upstairs room in ’21,’ the legendary New York restaurant.
The 53-year-old, whose once red hair is now white and thinning, said little and smiled infrequently at the mostly middle-aged men who had lined up to get their autographed copies of Clarke’s new, best-selling memoir, Against All Enemies: Inside America’s War on Terror. Many offered their congratulations and admiration for “speaking the truth.” The words “courage” and “bravery” were bandied about. Clarke was gracious, but a little shy and awkward.
You got the feeling that outside of his own tight-knit set he felt unsafe, uncomfortable-perhaps even bored. “He really hates this sort of thing,” whispered his former National Security Council colleague R. P. Eddy, a sharply dressed 31-year-old, who now runs a counterterrorism think tank in New York City. “When I worked for him, I used to take advantage of it. I was making such a small salary that I’d go to all the fancy receptions he was asked to, so I could get the free food and beer. Clarke never, ever wanted to go.”
Another of Clarke’s colleagues, William Wechsler, an N.S.C. director turned management consultant, says, “He grudgingly tolerates the Washington chattering class.”
Yet, now he’s what the chattering class is chattering about.
Clarke, hitherto unknown outside of government circles, is suddenly famous as the person who, for most of the day, was running crisis management from the White House Situation Room on September 11, 2001. The first chapter of his book chronicles in the style of a thriller how he coordinated, via secure videoconference, the responses of government agencies and individuals that day. After the towers were hit, National-Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice immediately demanded three times to “get Dick Clarke,” who was giving a speech at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center, right down the street. When he entered the room she told him to run the meeting to formulate the response.
He had, after all, been in charge of counterterrorism for the government since 1992, and he’d written the Presidential Decision Directive that provided formal guidelines for terrorism prevention and response. His book sometimes gives the impression that he was the one calling the shots on 9/11, but, according to a former member of his staff, that was not quite true. “He was careful that day to cue up decisions to the principals (the foreign-policy Cabinet members)… He wasn’t calling the shots-that’s too much-he was cuing up the shots.”
The book goes on to chronicle Clarke’s extraordinary career as one of the longest-serving and highest-rising United States bureaucrats ever, reaching his apotheosis in 1998 when President Clinton appointed him national coordinator for security, infrastructure, protection, and counterterrorism, a title that the press quickly abbreviated to “counterterrorism czar.” Wechsler says, “There was a perfect description of Dick in The New York Times (during the Clinton presidency), which likened him to a character in a John le Carre novel. It said he was a person who appears to command only a desk, but who, with a hushed discussion into a phone, sends ships and men around the world.”
Such power earned Clarke plenty of enemies-particularly at the State Department and the Department of Defense, where officials often wondered how on earth a civilian with no military background had the audacity to tell them what to do “with their toys,” as one person puts it. Clarke’s manner was sometimes thought to be abrasive, aggressive, and self-aggrandizing. He often bullied or was dismissive toward people he considered ill-prepared in meetings. Sandy Berger, one of Clinton’s national-security advisers and Clarke’s onetime boss, has said that he was asked to fire Clarke on a regular basis. One ambassador in the State Department describes Clarke as “one of the foulest human beings I’ve ever met.”
Even his enemies, however, agree that Clarke was too experienced and too good at his job to ignore. “One of the things that made Dick so effective,” says Wechsler, “was that he had so much experience working with so many different parts of government.
“For example,” Wechsler continues, “if the Pentagon said, We can’t do this, because we don’t have the forces, Dick, because he’s been around, would say, Well, that’s ridiculous. Ten years ago you did the same mission and it was really this many troops.”
George W. Bush kept him on as senior director for terrorism at the National Security Council, but he lost his seat at the principals’ table-and, according to Clarke, this was one of many increasingly serious missteps made by Bush’s administration in the war on terrorism.
Against All Enemies recounts how the administration was asleep at the switch, not taking proper stock of Clarke’s repeated warnings or those of the C.I.A., which that summer was receiving escalating intelligence reports of al-Qaeda activity. In the spring of 2001, Clarke sent Rice and N.S.C. staffers an e-mail saying al-Qaeda “was trying to kill Americans, to have hundreds of dead in the streets of America.”
The final straw for Clarke came with what he sees as the administration’s wrongheaded obsession with invading Iraq. He views it as a costly, dangerous distraction that merely handed al-Qaeda the psychological arsenal it had previously lacked, by turning the more moderate Muslim community against us. “We played right into Osama bin Laden’s hands,” Clarke says. “He told the (moderate) Muslim world we’d go in and attack a neutral, oil-rich country and take it over, and what did we do? Exactly that.”
In his book, Clarke outlines how on September 12, 2001, the president asked him to find out if there was any connection between the terrorist attacks and Iraq. Clarke’s colleague Paul Kurtz led the research effort and prepared a memorandum stating that there was no indication of Iraqi state sponsorship of terrorism. The memorandum was returned. “Please update and resubmit” was written on it.
Clarke’s pent-up anger spills onto the pages of Against All Enemies, written in the summer and fall of 2003. The book became a No. 1 best-seller and the movie rights have been bought by Sony Pictures Entertainment in a reported six-figure deal. The book’s publication date coincided with Clarke’s testimony at the bipartisan 9/11-commission hearings in the Hart Senate Office Building. During his testimony he famously apologized to the country, and to the relatives and loved ones of the victims who sat behind him, for failing to prevent the loss of 3,000 lives. “Your government failed you. Those entrusted with protecting you failed you. And I failed you,” he said. It was the first time anyone who’d been in government on 9/11 had said sorry.
The White House reacted furiously and in an uncharacteristically disorganized fashion. It wasted no time in charging that Clarke had a book to sell and that he had a less prominent role under Rice than he wanted. “He wasn’t in the loop,” said Dick Cheney-a statement later contradicted by Rice, who said, Actually, yes, he was.
The administration, according to Newsweek, said Clarke was bitter because he’d been asked to give up his office space; he’d even threatened to sue. (Clarke says, “We didn’t move. No one asked us to move.”) He “resented working for Condi,” said a senior administration official. He didn’t turn up at her meetings. E-mails were leaked in which one staffer told Clarke, “Condi noted your absence this morning.” Clarke’s response was “Oh Barf. Shut up. I’ll talk to Condi.”
It was also asserted that Rand Beers, a former National Security Council head of counterterrorism who is now working as the national- and homeland-security-issue coordinator for John Kerry’s presidential campaign, is Clarke’s “best friend.” (Clarke said under oath that he would not work for Kerry.) Then there was the press briefing on the phone from Ari Fleischer’s office in August 2002 in which, said the White House, Clarke had commended the administration’s actions prior to 9/11. Of course, Clarke responded. He was still in its employ. He had been saying what he was told to say, as honestly as he could.
The back-and-forth merely revved up the controversy-and, with the pressure mounting, Condoleezza Rice eventually testified in public to the 9/11 commission, defending her position and that of the president in the wake of Clarke’s claims. As one of Clarke’s friends points out, however, the commercials that kick-started the president’s re-election campaign, showing him as the man we can trust on homeland security, were taken off the airwaves.
Clarke, meanwhile, continued about his business-he runs a security consulting firm named Good Harbor Consulting. In early April, the students in the class he teaches with Rand Beers at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, at Harvard, gave him a standing ovation. They presented him with a copy of Kennedy’s book Profiles in Courage, signed by each student.
Clarke smiled and thanked them.
His final words before leaving were: “Don’t think this will affect your grades.”
When, in early April, a reporter turns up at Clarke’s house, it scarcely seems the epicenter of the political storm that has engulfed the nation.
Situated in a quiet corner of Arlington, Virginia, it is the picture of bucolic tranquillity. In the crimson-themed living room, which doubles as a reception area, FM jazz is piped through speakers, and scented candles are lit everywhere-on shelves, on the mantel, and on the floor in front of the fireplace. There are prints, many of sailing boats, and wine bottles are scattered about in an artistic fashion-Clarke is an enthusiastic member of a local wine club. It’s clearly a bachelor’s house, but it’s also the home of someone who has strong, bold tastes.
Clarke leads the reporter to his dining room, painted in dark green. Sunlight floods in through the large window, and Clarke, sitting against it, looks softer, more vulnerable, than he does on television. He’s wearing an oxford-cloth shirt, chinos, and loafers. His eyes are so brown as to be almost violet.
He talks slowly, almost ponderously. His first concern, this afternoon, is the welfare of Beverly Roundtree, his assistant of 15 years.
“Bev must leave at four p.m.,” he says, indicating we must not run over the allotted time.
Clarke’s firm, Good Harbor Consulting, was begun in October 2002 by Roger Cressey, who had left the White House as Clarke’s chief of staff in September 2002, five months before his boss did. Cressey, who drops by this afternoon, is a likable, energetic guy who looks much younger than his 38 years. Clarke has several photographs of Cressey’s two young daughters on his mantel. At one point he brings in one of the photographs and shows it to me with avuncular pride. “We’re kind of like a Mob family, and Dick is the godfather,” Cressey explains later.
He’s referring to the handful of government officials who have in varying capacities toiled in Clarke’s orbit, in some cases for 20 years. Their names, mostly, are unfamiliar to anyone outside their world: Cressey, Beers, Wechsler, Kurtz, Eddy, John Tritak, Steven Simon, Dan Benjamin, Lisa Gordon-Hagerty, Mike Sheehan, David Schwartz, David Bowker, Charles Duelfer. These-and some others-are Dick Clarke’s club, or “rac”-watchers, as Schwartz calls them, referring to the acronym formed by Clarke’s initials.
These are the people Clarke argues with into the small hours at the dinner parties he has every so often at his house. “Quite often you find yourself socializing with people who have the same security clearance as you,” says Wechsler, “because if you’re in the national-security community you can’t talk about what you do with other people, because it’s classified.”
These guys worry continually about how to keep Americans safe. They often disagree on the most effective way to get that done. Some of them think Clarke’s book was too partisan, too generous to Bill Clinton and C.I.A. director George Tenet; some think it was too personal in its attacks. But on one aspect they are united: Dick Clarke, they say, almost to a person, was the best boss they ever had.
“Hurting him is like hurting me,” says Cressey, thumping the table this sunny afternoon. He is referring to the White House smear campaign. “I take it personally.”
Clarke is more measured in discussing the attempt to discredit him.
“It’s laughable and trivial, really,” he says, referring to what’s been thrown at him as “a whole series of really amusing little criticisms.” He has heard, however, from friends still in the White House that, in addition to the predictable dirt-digging frenzy, National Security Council lawyers called many of his former colleagues, asking for information that could be used against him. “It’s really an abuse of the taxpayer’s dollar to have civil servants spend a great deal of time engaging in character assassination. And, by the way, it didn’t work. And it was pathetic,” Clarke says.
Clarke takes a reporter back to the beginning of 2001 to go over his version of events and to answer some of the accusations leveled at him. First, he says, he knew Condoleezza Rice from their time in the George H. W. Bush administration, in which she was a director in the N.S.C. and he’d been at the State Department, and had been looking forward to working with her.
“I had a very good impression of her,” he says. “I thought she was, you know, very confident on Soviet affairs, Warsaw Pact, and military affairs,” although, he later says, she and her colleagues “know nothing about the Middle East.”
When she started her job as national-security adviser for George W. Bush, Clarke says, he told her that the world had changed in the last eight years. The Soviet Union had fallen, and globalization and new technologies meant there were now non-state factors that threatened security. Borders, he said, had become less significant because of the speed and ease of travel, the Internet, and information-sharing technologies. Thus, in his view, the old N.S.C. model organized around geographic regions did not work so well anymore. “What is international and what is domestic gets very blurred these days,” he says.
He says he told her that al-Qaeda was America’s No. 1 threat. In the book he writes that it seemed that she hadn’t heard the term before. Rice’s defenders pointed out that she spoke about Osama bin Laden in a radio interview in October 2000. “She obviously knew about bin Laden,” Clarke now says. “But it’s not just Condi. A lot of people … didn’t get the phrase ‘al-Qaeda.'”
According to Clarke, Rice told him that she couldn’t see why the N.S.C. should be worrying about things like “getting equipment and training to firemen around this country.”
She told Clarke that she wanted him to focus on breaking up the N.S.C.’s Office of Transnational Threats, which he headed, spinning out some of the jobs and getting back to the old N.S.C. model. She also told him that he did not need to go to the principals’ meetings any longer.
Clarke says the reduction of his responsibilities-which did not affect his paycheck-was significant because it sent a signal to the bureaucracy that counterterrorism was no longer as important as it had been in the Clinton administration.
In fact, Clarke and his staff felt that counterterrorism was being shoved to the bottom of the agenda: “I was being told by people in the Pentagon they couldn’t get money. People in the Justice Department were telling me they couldn’t get money… I was told terrorism was no longer on the priority list for the attorney general for priority issues.”
Over at the Pentagon, Donald Rumsfeld had not replied to Clarke’s request for a briefing meeting in January. Rumsfeld was also attempting to scale back the D.O.D.’s special ops, war on drugs, and peacekeeping-all the operations Clarke considered an essential part of fighting al-Qaeda on its own turf.
“Rumsfeld and (Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul) Wolfowitz didn’t understand the importance of getting our special-operations troops overseas on training missions in areas of potential instability. Especially Central Asia,” says Mark Jacobson, a former official in the office of Douglas Feith, deputy undersecretary of defense for policy. He adds that Feith was a “lousy manager” whose “enormous backlog of paperwork” prevented crucial decisions from being made in a timely fashion. (Feith did not respond to a request for comment.)
Clarke noticed, too, that Rumsfeld was bizarrely territorial. From time to time Rice showed Clarke notes sent by the defense secretary, all telling her essentially to stay off his turf. Jacobson says the missives, on odd pieces of white paper, were referred to derogatorily within the D.O.D. as “snowflakes,” because there were so many of them. “The first time Rice got one of them she thought, Hmm, what do I do with this?” says Clarke, who adds she was advised to ignore them. “Every once in a while another one of these ranting Rumsfeld notes to Condi would come.”
Rumsfeld pretty much ignored Clarke, partly, some in Clarke’s team assumed, because of Clarke’s poor relationship with Wolfowitz.
“The feeling was that Wolfowitz and Scooter Libby (who’d been at Defense as deputy undersecretary of defense for policy in Bush I and was now Cheney’s chief of staff) hated Dick,” says a former senior White House official. Steven Simon, a former director on the N.S.C., says he has no personal knowledge of either Wolfowitz’s or Libby’s feelings toward Clarke, but he did know that “Clarke had a reputation in Bush I as constantly pushing D.O.D. to do things they didn’t want to do. He was seen as a person who was always raiding the chicken coop in search of funds or commodities that would serve his agenda.”
The irony, given how events turned out, is that Clarke’s one advocate inside the White House, the one person who argued for him and saved his job, was … Condoleezza Rice. “She really liked Dick,” says a former senior administration official, “and he liked her.”
For a while, Clarke tried to toe the line. He even broke with six years of habit by attending the N.S.C. daily morning meeting-something he considered “a tremendous waste of time.” “No substance was ever dealt with at those meetings,” Clarke says. “They were: What are we going to do today? What’s the schedule? What’s the press guidance we need based on what’s in the morning newspaper? What’s Congress up to? These are not decision meetings.”
Clarke says that Rice’s meetings were even worse than the twice-weekly meetings of her predecessor, Sandy Berger, because “in the first few months of the administration the new people in these meetings were very eager beavers… It was a bit like ‘Teacher, teacher, pick me, pick me.'”
In the spring, Clarke told Rice and her deputy, Stephen Hadley, that he’d found ways to restructure the Office of Transnational Threats, as she had asked. He wanted to splinter off cyberterrorism and proposed that he head that division. They asked him to find someone to replace himself as head of counterterrorism in general.
“They were amazed, amazed,” Clarke says. They thought he’d want to head the more general unit. Still, they agreed, as long as they could find a replacement, which they did in General Wayne Downing, former commander in chief of the Special Operations Command. (Downing resigned from the post in June 2002.)
Clarke’s now famous January 2001 memo advocating a series of actions to “roll back” al-Qaeda, including cutting off its financing, helping such organizations as the Northern Alliance fight it in Afghanistan, and breaking up international cells, seemed to languish, ignored, in people’s in-boxes. Finally it was discussed at the end of April, in a meeting of deputies chaired by Hadley, who wanted to reach a consensus among all the departments and agencies before formalizing policy. Clarke describes Hadley as a “very precise lawyer… You could light a nuclear bomb off under him and his hair wouldn’t get singed.” Reaching a consensus was bound to take time. The C.I.A., for instance, was against Clarke’s suggestion to resume using the Predator, an unmanned plane, to spy on and possibly target al-Qaeda missile camps in Afghanistan, in part because a Predator had crashed the year before.
Meanwhile, in May and June the C.I.A. was getting increasingly scary intelligence reports that al-Qaeda was planning something big. Clarke sent Rice and her N.S.C. colleagues additional memos. At the same time, George Tenet was personally briefing the president about the reports.
Clarke leans forward. “I’m not sure everybody has grasped this… Tenet on 40 occasions in these morning meetings mentioned al-Qaeda to the president. Forty times, many of them in a very alarmed way, about a pending attack.
“And, as far as I can tell from what has been said at the commission, on one of these occasions, one out of 40, the president must have said something like ‘Well, what are we going to do about it?'”
On August 6, Bush received the page-and-a-half-long presidential brief from the C.I.A., the title of which was “Bin Ladin Determined to Strike in US.” Significantly, Clarke and his team were not shown it. (Cressey says that Clinton showed them the presidential briefs far more often.)
In her testimony to the 9/11 commission, Rice described the August 6 memo as “historical.” William Wechsler says, “I saw intelligence every day… I mean, that is hair- raising, that headline. These (warnings) are very unusual.” For Condoleezza Rice to say it’s historical, according to Wechsler, is “absolutely ridiculous… Intelligence reports to the president are very, very qualified, trying to be very accurate, trying to be very succinct. It was a long one, too, a page and a half.” (Normally, he says, such reports are only half a page long.)
Finally, on September 4, when the principals were back in the capital from traveling and their summer vacations, they held a meeting, in which most of Clarke’s ideas were provisionally accepted as policy. As the world now knows, it was too late. Seven days later al-Qaeda killed nearly 3,000 people on American soil.
When asked why he had not requested to brief the president himself-as Rice had testified-Clarke maintains that he did, back in January, but Rice told him Bush would not be briefed unless there was a new policy he needed to make a decision on. “They’re very protective of this president,” Clarke says. “He meets on a regular basis with only about a half-dozen senior White House people, who as a result wield tremendous influence.”
Because of the 9/11 attacks, Clarke’s move to the cyber board, as it was known colloquially, was delayed; the Office of Homeland Security, soon to be replaced by the Department of Homeland Security, was formed in November, and Clarke, even though he believed the new department would be as cumbersome as the merger of AOL and Time Warner, offered to become eventual secretary Tom Ridge’s number-two man. “That’s the model they want to go forward with,” he said. “I can certainly do that.”
He was turned down in favor of the secretary of the navy, Gordon England, who lasted seven months in the job. The Office of Homeland Security, said by people within the administration to have been a disorganized mess, was full of mostly inexperienced people Ridge had hired from Pennsylvania and “from agencies who did not know the alphabet of government bureaucracy,” according to a former administration official. The current number two at the department, Admiral James Loy, who is generally respected, keeled over recently in the White House, says an insider, apparently from exhaustion.
Recognizing the department’s failure in one regard, the president in last year’s State of the Union address effectively ended its role as an all-sources intelligence-fusion center, shifting that responsibility to a new organization, the Terrorist Threat Integration Center.
Increasingly, Clarke found it hard to keep to himself his disdain for the bureaucracy. In April 2004 he told his class at Harvard that during the anthrax scare of 2001 a meeting took place in the Oval Office, during which the president, encouraged by the vice president, suggested that the entire White House staff take the antibiotic Cipro for two weeks as a form of “inoculation.” A Clarke staffer, who was one of his experts on weapons of mass destruction, suggested this was not a good idea, since Cipro, as was widely explained on television at the time, is not the kind of drug you take unnecessarily.
Clarke, when recounting the exchange to his students, could barely hide his derision. “Basically, (the W.M.D. expert) had to tell the president it was a totally stupid idea.”
Before he left the White House, Clarke had a one-on-one lunch with Rice in her office, in which, he says, he told her he was deeply concerned about the impending invasion of Iraq. “She obviously forgets the conversation took place,” he says, referring to Rice’s claims that he never told her of such concerns, “(and) there are no other witnesses in the room.”
He later told her he was considering writing a memoir.
Clarke had recently had coffee with General Wesley Clark, who was at the time considering a run for president and who had his own issues with the invasion of Iraq. In 2002, Clark, who had been commander of nato forces during the war in Kosovo, wrote Waging Modern War, a book critical of many Pentagon officials. After learning of Clarke’s possible memoir, the general said, “It was an awful thing to write a book … in terms of conflicting loyalties. But he told me some of the things that had happened to him, and I said, ‘Dick, this is a story you simply must tell… You must tell this story.'”
General Clark knew that inevitably things would get personal once the book was out. “You’re dealing with the highest matters of state … and the future of the United States of America… Of course it’s personal… This is a real issue with the lives of our countrymen at stake,” he says. The general reckoned his friend’s hide was thick enough to take it.
During our interview Clarke says that if he has a regret it is that the debate about the buildup to the Iraq war turned into a personal slugfest between him and Rice. “It has distracted from the message in the book … which is not so much what happened pre-9/11, but post-,” he says.
He watched Rice’s testimony in a room at the Charles Hotel, next door to Harvard’s Kennedy School. Two of his teaching assistants, Bridger McGaw, 29, and Erich Rosenbach, 31, were with him. Clarke had asked them to come and help take notes so he could prepare his remarks to ABC (for which he is retained as a consultant) after Rice’s testimony.
“He got annoyed when he saw the ticker under the screen go, ‘He Said, She Said: Tonight on Paula Zahn,'” recalls McGaw. He told us, “No, this is not what this is about.”
However, says Rosenbach, Clarke was angered during Rice’s testimony. “He said ‘bullshit’ a couple of times.”
One of the things that annoyed Clarke most, recalls Rosenbach, was when Rice stated that the intelligence was scattered and did not show a complete picture.
According to Rosenbach, Clarke said, “Of course not! That’s why you work hard to bring people together and force action.”
Clarke also objected when Rice said that she did not believe calling a meeting of the principals, along with their counterterrorism experts, would have helped prevent 9/11 or would have been a good use of their time. He also objected to her thesis that structural constraints prevented action.
“Dick told us, ‘Anyone who’s been in government, or studied government, like you do, knows that bureaucracy is a fact of business,'” says Rosenbach. “‘And good leaders know that the way to overcome this bureaucracy is through the power of personality.'”
During his career in government, Clarke was known as the ultimate survivor. Few could guess his personal politics. Some of the Clinton people thought he was a far-right conservative, but sometimes he’d surprise them by saying, “I’m a member of the A.C.L.U. Are you?” recalls William Wechsler.
At the end of the Clinton administration he was up on the Hill wooing Republicans. “He cultivated ties with Republicans and Democrats,” says Steven Simon. “All he was interested in was holding on to his job and doing what he loved to do. This was his life.”
“What interests him is what he just gave up,” says his former boss Leslie H. Gelb, now president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations. “It was a big deal for him to leave.”
Clarke grew up in Boston, the child of a nurse and a chocolate-factory worker, who died when Clarke was 13 and who had served part-time in the National Guard, “because he liked riding horses and he couldn’t afford to do it otherwise,” says his son.
In 1961, when he was 12, Dick won a place at the prestigious Boston Latin School, alma mater of Benjamin Franklin, John Hancock, Samuel Adams, and Joseph P. Kennedy. On the day of John F. Kennedy’s inauguration, Dick watched Boston Latin School students parade down Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House-a moment he will never forget. “From the day I went to that school, for the entire six years I was there, I was assuming that I was preparing for public service,” he says.
A Boston philanthropist, William Morrissey, who made a policy of aiding boys from Boston Latin School, helped to fund Clarke’s undergraduate years at the University of Pennsylvania. It was around this time that Clarke cemented his plans to get into government-partly because of what he calls “the complete folly” of the Vietnam War, against which he was an ardent activist. “I wanted to get involved in national security in 1973 as a career so that Vietnam didn’t happen again,” he says.
He went to the Pentagon for five years, working in the office of the secretary of defense as an analyst on nuclear weapons and European security issues. In 1979 he joined the State Department, where he quickly distinguished himself and rose at age 38 to become the youngest-ever assistant secretary of state for politico-military affairs. His brief under Reagan and then the first Bush administration centered on the Cold War issues of arms control and security. One boss, Admiral Jonathan Howe, remembered that Clarke “really did his homework and had good ideas and followed through.” Another person recalls that Clarke stood out amid a crowd of smooth-tongued, elitist Foreign Service hires-many of whom looked down upon Clarke the way that “an aristocrat views a tradesman.”
One of Clarke’s achievements, recalls Simon, was negotiating agreements to secure bases in the Middle East around the time of the first Gulf War. “If you ever saw Dick’s contacts in the Gulf,” says a former N.S.C. staffer, “you can see his influence.” In 1991, Clarke led the effort to create and design the United Nations Special Commission’s program of weapons inspections in Iraq.
Not everyone appreciated what Leslie Gelb, who in 1979 was assistant secretary of state for politico-military affairs, perceived as a strength. “He had this almost unique capacity to take the most complicated issue, technical and complicated, sort it out, and ram it through the bureaucracy,” says Gelb.
The ramming aspect left some colleagues angry. James Dobbins, now with the Rand Corporation, faced off against Clarke during this period, when Dobbins was assistant secretary of state for Europe and was concerned that some of Clarke’s bargaining positions for negotiating the reduction of weapons between the U.S. and Russia would simply be unworkable from the perspective of some of the countries he was responsible for.
“The State Department,” says a former colleague, “was an institution for which Dick could not hide his contempt.” Dobbins, who later worked alongside Clarke very effectively during the 1994 intervention in Haiti, says politely that, though he can’t remember details of the arms-reduction dispute, “the relationship was a fairly tense one. Dick was very competitive and sure of himself, and so was I.”
Not everybody is so gracious.
In 1992, Secretary of State James Baker seemed to find the excuse he needed to force Clarke out of the State Department, after it was suspected that Israel had passed on U.S. weapons to China. Baker accused Clarke of turning a blind eye, a charge that Clarke absolutely refutes. “I launched investigations. And I found in every case except one there was no substance to the charges,” Clarke says. “People should have learned something about me at that point, which was, as a career civil servant, I said what I thought … and I wasn’t easily pushed around.”
Clarke’s career was saved by Admiral Jonathan Howe, then deputy national-security adviser, and others who, according to Simon, “saved his bacon.” The White House hired Clarke as a national-security staffer. “He was,” remembers Cressey, “put in charge of the areas that no one wanted.” These included peacekeeping in Somalia-a mission that ultimately failed, but through no fault of Clarke’s, according to Simon-and getting rid of Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali from the United Nations for political reasons. He also took on the portfolio of the senior director for international programs, known colloquially as “drugs and thugs.”
Within the White House bureaucracy, Clarke wasted no time in empire building. One of his nicknames was Pac-Man, according to Susan Rice, a Clarke protegee who became assistant secretary of state for African affairs. She and others say he gathered up people, groomed them, and then sent them out into the government, thus building a coalition of allies.
One of his first acts, according to a former colleague, was to exert greater influence on the Counterterrorism Security Group, which was nominally controlled by the State Department under Barbara Bodine-a woman whom Clarke had offended the very first time they met by being rude to her in a meeting.
When asked about her feelings toward Clarke, Bodine says, “I took that line in the book (which says that former F.B.I. counterterrorism director John O’Neill had problems during the East African-embassy- bombing investigations with Bodine, who is described by Clarke as “the U.S. Ambassador I would least like to deal with under those circumstances”) as a compliment.”
Clarke’s next major accomplishment, in the eyes of others, was a politico-military plan he drafted for Haiti, when the U.S. invaded it and restored to power elected president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who had been ousted in a coup.
“As obvious an idea as this seems, it was Dick’s notion to have an integrated politico-military plan,” says Simon. “(Before this) the State Department would plan it, and they’d mess everything up because they wouldn’t take into consideration what the military needed. And the military, on the other hand, wouldn’t be making any effort to reach out to NGOs (non-governmental organizations), who were going to be working on the ground delivering humanitarian assistance and making things stable.”
Shortly after, Clarke co-wrote what would become Presidential Decision Directive 39, in which, late at night over scotch, he and Simon formulated a counterterrorism policy that considered which areas of government should be responsible for what. Clarke wanted many more agencies involved than the traditional ones-military, law enforcement, and intelligence-represented at the Counterterrorism Security Group. He realized that in order to fight terrorism you needed the help of customs (to stop drug and arms trafficking), the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Department of Transportation (airlines, etc.), and others. “He was way ahead of his time,” says Simon, in that, although there’d been the World Trade Center attack (in 1993), there hadn’t yet been Oklahoma City, the bombings of two U.S. Embassies in East Africa, or the U.S.S. Cole.
David Bowker recalls that when he went to work for Clarke as an intern, in the mid-90s, Clarke brought him into an interagency meeting convened in the White House Situation Room to discuss weapons importation. According to Bowker, Clarke asked everyone in the meeting about their respective implementations of tasks he’d assigned the month before. A representative for customs, says Bowker, “was obviously not having much success with narcotics seizures,” and she did not have a report on the tasks Clarke had assigned her, but nonetheless she trumpeted her agency’s successes. Clarke told her in no uncertain terms that she was not answering his questions and that he was transferring responsibility from her agency to another group. The manner in which he did this, according to Bowker, was “not pretty… It was embarrassing… People were fidgeting in the room,” but “it was a display of leadership … and that task was done the next month we met.”
“I’ve said it to his face, and I’ll say it to you,” says Susan Rice. “I used to joke that, in working for Dick Clarke, 14 out of 15 days he was the greatest guy in the world to work for, and on the 15th day he was an S.O.B.” Even Cressey says he sometimes had to shut the door and say to Clarke, “Asshole, can you do me a favor next time and say it a little differently?”
But there was a method to the madness. R. P. Eddy recalls the time when in the late 90s the volcano on the Caribbean island of Montserrat was erupting and the Americans had offered to help the British evacuate the place. Clarke advised Eddy to get the C.I.A.’s maps of the island. One snag: Eddy discovered that the C.I.A. was having a picnic that day. Clarke, hearing this, picked up the white secure phone in his office and was put through to the C.I.A.’s operations center. “Do I need to call George Tenet to get this done?” he asked. The maps arrived 45 minutes later.
Ambassador Robert Gelbard, known to rac-watchers as “Uncle Bob,” says that in October and November 2002, during his stint as ambassador to Indonesia, he felt that the embassy was under surveillance and being threatened by al-Qaeda. “I could not get the Indonesian government to support me and give me the kind of police coverage that I needed,” says Gelbard. “And, frankly, I couldn’t get much help from Washington. Dick was virtually the only person who was prepared to act in a serious, forthright, and aggressive way to get me a lot of the help I needed. Including mundane things such as a counter-surveillance team. He bludgeoned the State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security into getting me those people. And seven months later we discovered we’d been absolutely right, when an al-Qaeda hit team from Yemen came into Indonesia to try to blow up my embassy.” (In his book Clarke writes that Wolfowitz had felt that Gelbard was being “paranoid” about an al-Qaeda presence in Indonesia.)
In 1998, Clarke had drafted a more detailed P.D.D., along the same lines as 39; this was P.D.D. 62, which placed the head of the Counterterrorism Security Group (himself) at the principals’ table. This, too, was signed by President Clinton, partly because by this time there had been attacks on our embassies in East Africa, but Attorney General Janet Reno, in particular, was opposed to Clarke’s presence at the meetings. “Cabinet members have to deal with a hundred issues a day. And Dick is dealing with just terrorism. So when you put an expert on a table with all the other Cabinet members, they don’t like it, because they’re the weaker hand. They don’t know all the details,” says a former N.S.C. staffer, explaining Reno’s reaction.
Simon saw it as a tactical error by Clarke, since Reno and others were so ruffled by his demands that Clarke had to be very careful not to push for too much at the principals’ table. “The body language was interesting,” says one participant. “He would sit against the wall and only occasionally lean in to the table.” Simon adds, “It was a Pyrrhic victory. One example of where Dick pushed too far.”
Most significant perhaps was a clause in P.D.D. 62 that said the chairman of the Counterterrorism Security Group had the power to review the budgets for counterterrorism programs. Clinton approved it, and Clarke’s list of enemies grew.
For every story depicting Clarke’s “sharp elbows,” the rac-watchers can come up with another depicting softness, managerial skill, and great personal kindness.
“Everyone wanted to go work for Dick Clarke,” says Mark Jacobson, formerly at Defense.
“He was not afraid to delegate,” says Wechsler, who adds that at one point Clarke even got rid of his desk and replaced it with a conference table.
“When issues came up,” says Cressey, “he’d gather us all around and we’d chew over what to do. He did that better than anyone else in government.”
Wechsler remembers that “on at least two occasions members of the Cabinet called Dick to complain about something that I had done. And Dick’s immediate answer was: ‘He’s doing exactly what I want him to do.’ At which point he called me and asked, ‘What are you doing?'”
R. P. Eddy recalls that one time in the mid-90s Clarke called him into his West Wing office and told him to shut the door. “You’ve upset Bev (Roundtree) somehow,” he told Eddy, who was in his early 20s and new to the job, “and that will not do.” Clarke reached into his pocket and gave Eddy, then earning just $6,800 a year, $40 to buy a bouquet for Roundtree.
Eddy emphasizes that Clarke can be unspeakably generous. “I almost fell out of my chair when I heard (conservative columnist Robert) Novak hinting that Clarke could be misogynistic or racist,” he says. “It blew me away… One of our (African-American) colleagues had a daughter… Dick would see her on July Fourth holidays and so on, when she’d come to the White House. He became aware of the (financial) challenges facing this woman and her daughter, so he secretly set up a scholarship fund for this girl. So all of a sudden checks were showing up … and the mother was made aware that it was available for this girl to go to college. Her mother had no idea who paid for it… I’m not sure to this day she knows.”
According to his editor, Bruce Nichols, and his literary agent, Len Sherman, it was pure happenstance that Clarke testified before the 9/11 commission the same week his book came out. “There was a draft by the fall. And then we had to wait for the White House review. So that took quite a while,” says Nichols. “Once the White House cleared the book for publication-which was February 4-we were able to come up with a (publication) date.”
As for the decision to apologize, which cynics have seen as a self-serving marketing ploy, several of Clarke’s closest friends say that idea was born out of a conversation between Clarke and Cressey. The two of them were at Clarke’s house the night before, drinking Pinot Noir and discussing what Clarke would say in his testimony the next day.
Cressey is clearly still tormented by what happened that bright September day of 2001. “We’re part of a small group of people in the bureaucracy that did nothing but al-Qaeda, so we, more than anybody else, understood what was going on, and we have our own tremendous sense of guilt and responsibility in the sense of failure,” he says. “And that’s why what (Senate majority leader Bill) Frist said (“Mr. Clarke’s theatrical apology … was not an act of humility, but an act of supreme arrogance and manipulation”) pissed me off, you know? Who is he to question the sincerity of Dick Clarke’s apology? He wouldn’t have known Osama bin Laden if he walked on the Senate floor prior to 9/11.”
Clarke says, “It’s an arrogant thing to think, Could I have ever stopped another Vietnam? But it really filled me with frustration that when I saw Iraq coming I wasn’t able to do anything. After having spent 30 years in national security and having been in some senior-level positions you would think that I might be able to have some influence, some tiny influence. But I couldn’t have any.”
Clarke’s book has had more effect. Even those who saw it as self-serving or melodramatic cannot refute that it and his testimony at the 9/11 hearings have raised the level of the debate about the country’s readiness to fight terrorism and about our invasion of Iraq and the subsequent chaos there.
At the book signing and dinner at ’21,’ Clarke addressed another of the criticisms raised by his book-namely that, as a result of his actions, he was hurting the civil-service profession. What future administrations would want to keep on bureaucrats like himself if they were to turn partisan? he has been asked.
“Hundreds of people (who have) come up to me … and thanked me for this book have made whatever criticism I took inconsequential,” Clarke says, referring to the strangers who have stopped him in restaurants, in airports, and on the street. “It has helped persuade me that I did the right thing… For too long after 9/11 we all thought that the way to be patriotic was to not question. I thought that the patriots who started this country, Sam Adams and the others … were very challenging to authority and challenging to assumptions. If we’re going to save this country, no matter what you think of the war on terrorism, we need to return to that kind of spirit and be true democrats, with a small d.”