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THE CLOCK CHIMES THIRTEEN

Paul Monk on Richard Clarke’s muddled account of an intelligence puzzle.

“…the case that Iraq and al Qaeda forged an alliance is far stronger than the conventional wisdom would suggest - and the case against it far weaker.”

- Richard Miniter (2003)[i]

Richard Clarke’s Against All Enemies: Inside America’s War on Terror, is a polemic directed against the Bush administration for invading Iraq last year. It is, in many ways, a very interesting and highly readable book. If you accept his basic premise, that there was no substantive link between Iraq and al Qaeda, his case is both eloquent and quite persuasive.[ii] The strange thing is that he makes almost no effort to establish that basic premise. He asserts it and scornfully dismisses any and all claims that any such link existed.

This is rather disconcerting. It is all the more so because he demonstrably misrepresents the case that has been made in detail that there was a substantive link between Iraq and al Qaeda. Given how confused and polemical so much of the global debate about the Iraq war has been from the outset, this is dismaying. One might have hoped that the erstwhile head of counter-terrorism analysis for the White House would take pains to set things out as carefully as possible.

Regrettably, he has not. His book is littered with easily avoidable factual errors. He states in his Preface that the book is “flawed”, because it is “a first person account, not an academic history.”[iii] Yet, given his belief that “too many of my fellow citizens were being misled”[iv], allowing a seriously flawed account of the case against his most basic premise to go into print is inexcusable. To get the thing right, he did not need to draw on classified information, only to check sources easily available on the public record and then set out his case as clearly as possible. He did neither.

His belief is that al Qaeda carried out all its terrorist attacks, but especially the 1993 and 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center, without state sponsorship. Yet he acknowledges that al Qaeda had close links with a number of states in the 1990s - Sudan, Afghanistan and Iran. It is only Iraq which he claims had no significant links with al Qaeda. In the circumstances, he surely needed to show this, not merely assert it.

The most disconcerting passage in his book is the one in which he dismisses as an “urban legend” the claim that Saddam Hussein was behind the terrorist Ramzi Yousef, who orchestrated the 1993 attack on the WTC. This was the hypothesis of the FBI team, led by Jim Fox, who first investigated the matter in 1993-94. They deduced that it was a ‘false flag’ operation, in which the New York based Muslim fanatics involved in the case were left stranded in New York to make the attacks appear to be the work of inspired amateurs, while the Iraqi operatives escaped under false identities.[v]

Clarke makes no mention of Fox. He states simply that this hypothesis was the work of Laurie Mylroie, an independent Iraq specialist. He then completely misrepresents her as having stated that “the real Ramzi Yousef was not in the federal Metropolitan Detention Center in Manhattan, but lounging at the right hand of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad.”[vi] In fact, what Myrloie argued was that Ramzi Yousef was arrested in Pakistan in February 1995, tried and convicted in 1998 and sentenced to 240 years in a US prison, but that the trial judge, Kevin Duffy, remarked, in sentencing the man, “We don’t even know what your real name is.”[vii]

What on earth did Duffy mean? To understand what he meant, why it matters and why Clarke’s misrepresentation of Mylroie’s case borders on the scandalous, it is necessary to look in a bit of detail at what Mylroie found, when she examined the trial records and the FBI’s files and interviewed Jim Fox. Clarke should have done just this himself. His failure to do so and his strange caricature of the Fox/Mylroie hypothesis led James Woolsey, who was CIA Director in 1993-94, to remark, “For Clarke to say something like that is like the 13th chime of the clock. Not only is it bizarre in and of itself, it calls into question...everything from the same source.” [viii]

Ramzi Yousef entered the United States, on 1 September 1992, on an Iraqi passport.  He proceeded to take over the amateurish group of New York Muslims planning a pipe bomb attack on the WTC and turned it into a staggering plot to demolish the whole complex, release clouds of poisoned gas in the process and kill up to 250,000 New Yorkers. He was known among the New York Muslims in the conspiracy as ‘Rashid the Iraqi’. However, once the plot was in being, he went to a Jersey City police station, claiming that his name was actually Abdul Basit Karim and that he had lost his Pakistani passport two days earlier.

On 31 December, he went to the Pakistani consulate in New York, presented partial and inconsistent Xerox copies of the 1984 and 1988 passports of Abdul Basit and was granted a temporary passport in that name by skeptical Pakistani consular officials. Fox and Mylroie argued that, whoever Ramzi Yousef actually is, he is not Abdul Basit.[ix] When Yousef was arrested in Pakistan, in February 1995, he was carrying a Pakistani identity card giving his name as Ali Muhammed Baluch. The Pakistani press, as reported in the New York Times, deduced that he was a Baluch working for Iraqi intelligence.[x]

There was a real Abdul Basit, a resident of Kuwait, of Pakistani origin, who, with his whole family, disappeared during the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait in late 1990 and Ramzi Yousef does not match the description of that man. If he was working for Iraqi intelligence, how would he have obtained doctored copies of the passports of Abdul Basit? From Iraqi intelligence, who would have obtained them from the real Abdul Basit in Kuwait in 1990. If he truly was Abdul Basit, resident of Kuwait, why did he go out of his way to make sure he fled the United States under his ‘true’ identity after setting up the most terrifying terrorist plot of all time?

A British police investigation, following the 1993 WTC attack, concluded that Ramzi Yousef, whoever he really was, was not Abdul Basit.[xi] If he was not, then the very trail used by Yousef to conceal his flight from New York, leads us back to the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait in 1990, the disappearance of the real Abdul Basit and his family at that time, and the possibility that Iraqi intelligence took over his identity for use as a legend. That, at least, was the argument of Laurie Mylroie.

Gil Childers, counsel for the prosecution in the 1998 trial of Ramzi Yousef for the 1993 WTC bombing, on reading Mylroie’s work in 2000, declared  that she had done the investigative work that the US government should have done, but did not do.[xii] James Woolsey, who had been Director of the CIA at the time of the 1993 attack, wrote a Foreword to the revised edition of Mylroie’s book, issued after the 9/11 attacks, in which he described it as a “brilliant and brave book” with a compelling argument. Vince Cannistraro, former chief of CIA counterterrorism operations, described it as “one of the most brilliant pieces of research and scholarship I have ever read.” Richard Clarke caricatures and dismisses it.

Now consider that when Khalid Sheik Mohammed, mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, was arrested, also in Pakistan, in early 2002, he was in a city known to be the centre of Iraqi intelligence operations in Pakistan; that he, also, claims to be a Kuwaiti of Pakistani origin, but is of uncertain identity; that he worked with Ramzi Yousef on various terrorist projects between 1992 and 1995, but does not appear to have joined forces with al Qaeda until the late 1990s; and that he claims to be Ramzi Yousef’s uncle by marriage. The question that Laurie Mylroie has pointedly asked is, were these individuals part of an Iraqi intelligence operation to avenge the defeat of Saddam in 1991, which formed links with al Qaeda after the 1991 Gulf War and an alliance with it not later than 1998?

What I hoped to find in Clarke’s book was a serious account of this matter. There is no such thing. There is, instead, the strange assertion that Mylroie denied Yousef was in prison in the United States and that he was by Saddam’s side in Baghdad acting as a terrorist mastermind after someone else had been imprisoned. This is accompanied by equally peculiar claims that Mylroie’s argument has been “investigated for years and found to be totally untrue” and that it is “totally discredited”.[xiii] He even claims that Yousef arrived in New York in 1992 without a passport of any kind, when in fact, he arrived on an Iraqi passport. And for none of his claims does he offer any substantiation whatsoever.

He does not even state by whom the alleged investigations into this matter were conducted for years, though he implies that it was by his own NSC staff, who numbered twelve.[xiv] The reality is that, between 1993 and 1998, FBI investigators who pressed for an inquiry into Iraq’s connections with Ramzi Yousef were steered away from this line of inquiry by the Clinton administration. The CIA was not involved in investigating the matter at all, because it was deemed a law enforcement, not a national security issue. Clarke repeatedly expresses scorn for the deficiencies of both the FBI and the CIA[xv], so even had they systematically investigated the Mylroie argument he would have to explain why he accepted their findings. But there is no such explanation, because he does not refer to any specific investigation by anyone nor to any specific findings.

This is all the more remarkable because, in at least two cases, he discusses the findings of other, comparable investigations and exhibits a clear capacity for explaining the grounds for his judgments. The first is the Oklahoma bombing of 19 April 1995. Clarke declares that he is intrigued by the possibility that Ramzi Yousef and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed trained Terry Nichols, the associate of Timothy McVeigh, in Cebu in how to use explosives with deadly effect - just as Yousef (or Rashid the Iraqi) had earlier trained the rag tag Muslims in New York in how to do a really large scale terrorist attack. It intrigued him, he writes, “because I could never disprove it.” Yet he pronounces the Mylroie hypothesis, which is a great deal better substantiated than this, as “totally discredited” without adducing a scintilla of evidence and while radically misrepresenting what her argument actually is.

The second is the TWA 800 case of 17 July 1996, when a 747 exploded after taking off from New York. In this case he takes some pains to explain several hypotheses about what caused the explosion and why the FBI forensic investigation ultimately concluded that it was an accident. There had been conspiracy theories around and he comments, “Conspiracy theories are a constant in counterterrorism…Dismissing conspiracy theories out of hand, however, is dangerous.” Yet this is precisely what he does in regard to Mylroie’s ‘conspiracy theory’.

That Clarke renders an altogether inadequate account of the case does not, of course, entail the conclusion that the Fox/Mylroie hypothesis is correct. The fact that neither Yousef nor Khalid Sheikh Mohammed has confessed to being an Iraqi agent since being arrested by US authorities, coupled with the Bush administration's incentive to extract such a confession from them, would appear to suggest that something is wrong with the theory that they acted for or on behalf of Saddam Hussein. But it would help to know exactly what. Clarke is no help at all here.

The problem, in other words, is not that Clarke is demonstrably wrong, but that, like so many others participants in this debate (and many another) he passes over objections to his preferred belief with indecent haste and intellectual incoherence. That he could have done better is shown by his far more circumspect treatment of the Oklahoma City and TWA 80 cases. Paradoxiaclly, his determination to dismiss Mylroie leaves her argument unscathed. If you are even a little bit curious, read Mylroie's books and judge for yourself whether her case is plausible.[xvi]  Just don't quote Clarke as an authority on the subject, because his account of it is completely unreliable.


[i] Richard Miniter Losing bin Laden: How Bill Clinton’s Failures Unleashed Global Terror, Regnery Publishing, Washington D.C., 2003, Appendix A ‘The Iraq - al Qaeda Connection’, p. 231.

[ii] Richard Clarke Against All Enemies: Inside America’s War on Terror, Simon & Schuster, Free Press, 2004. He writes, towards the end of the book: “I know that in one sense the world is better off without him [Saddam] in power, but not the way it was done, not at the cost we have paid and will pay for it; not by diverting us from eliminating al Qaeda and its clones; not by using the funds we need to eliminate our vulnerabilities to terrorism at home; not at the incredibly high price of increasing Muslim hatred of America and strengthening al Qaeda.” p. 264.

[iii] Ibid. p. xi.

[iv] Ibid. p. ix.

[v] Laurie Mylroie The War Against America: Saddam Hussein and the World Trade Center Attacks, Regan Books, Harper Collins, 2001, p. 115.

[vi] Clarke op. cit. p. 95.

[vii] Reported in the New York Times, 9 January 1998. Quoted in Laurie Mylroie Bush vs The Beltway: How the CIA and the State Department Tried to Stop the War on Terror, Regan Books, Harper Collins, New York, 2003, p. 158.

[viii] James Woolsey to Lou Dobbs, CNN Moneyline, 23 March 2004. The fuller citation is: “Look, Clarke
in his book creates out of whole cloth the notion that some of us whom he calls part of a cult believe that Ramzi Yousef was not really in prison in Colorado. In fact, he was, as Clarke puts it, lounging beside Saddam Hussein as a mastermind of Iraqi intelligence during the 90s. It's nonsense. None of us has said anything remotely like that. We're curious about whether or not this young Pakistani who lived in
Kuwait was born there, Abdul Basit became -- changed his name to Ramzi Yousef and became a terrorist or whether there had been some kind of theft of his identity. For Clarke to say something like that is like the 13th chime of the clock. Not only is it bizarre in and of itself, it calls into question, as far as I'm concerned, everything from the same source.

[ix] Ibid. p. 51.

[x] Ibid. p. 75. New York Times 13 February 1995.

[xi] Ibid. p. 158.

[xii] Ibid. p. 61.

[xiii], Clarke, op. cit., p. 232.

[xiv] ibid. p. 126. He writes: “I learned early on in my government career not to believe that the government experts knew it all. The list of major intelligence failures and law enforcement errors is far too long to dismiss alternative views. Because I was personally skeptical about what agencies told me and always intrigued by the possibility of the unlikely explanation, I encouraged my analysts to have open minds and perform due diligence on every claim. For that reason, we had always looked for Iraqi involvement in the 1993 World Trade Center attack, to no avail.”

[xv] Ibid. At p. 116 he states, for example, “Freeh should have been spending his time fixing the mess that the FBI had become, an organization with fifty six princedoms…without any modern information technology to support them.” At p. 156, “By [1995] I had enough experinec of CIA and FBI to doubt that they would ever have even heard of the Aum [Shinrikyo, which had just vreleased sarin in the Tokyo subway]. I was not disappointed.”

[xvi] For a devastating response by Mylroie to Clarke’s book, see her article ‘Don’t look at me: Dick Clarke’s reversed reality’, National Review On-Line, 5 April 2004. Here are two telling excerpts from it:

On Clarke’s sloppiness in matters of detail: “Intelligence analysts need to have a reasonably good memory, but Clarke's book is riddled with errors. Libya bombed Pan Am 103 in 1988, during the Reagan administration, not in 1989 under Bush 41, as Clarke claims; El Sayyid Nosair murdered Meir Kahane in 1990, not 1992; the Khobar bombing was after April 1996 (in June), not before. The 1982 U.S. intervention in Lebanon was not prompted by events related to Iran: Israel had invaded Lebanon to expel the PLO, and the U.S. then intervened to oversee the PLO's evacuation to Tunisia and otherwise to help establish a new government in Beirut.

 Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has protested that Clarke quotes him speaking at a meeting he did not attend. Clarke claims that Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz rejected his view that Osama bin Laden's threats should be taken with the same seriousness as those of Adolph Hitler. Wolfowitz, however, disputes that characterization, asserting that he himself agrees that Hitler is the prime example of why such figures cannot be ignored.

To bolster his claim after 9/11 that he had vigorously pursued the possibility of Iraq's involvement in the first attack on the Trade Center, Clarke wrote a memo stating that "[W]hen the bombing happened," he "focused on Iraq as the possible culprit because of Iraqi involvement in the attempted assassination of President Bush in Kuwait in the same month." But as Wolfowitz noted during the 9/11 Commission hearings, Iraq's attempted assassination of Bush was two months after the Trade Center bombing.One person who worked with Clarke in government explains that he was never very good with facts. Facts slow you down and otherwise got in the way of his hard-charging style. Perhaps for that reason, Clarke was also prone to making things up”.

On Clarke’s peculiar reasoning about Clinton’s ‘deterrence’ of Iraq: “Most egregiously, Clarke maintains that when Clinton hit Iraqi intelligence headquarters in June 1993, that attack ended Iraq's involvement in terrorism. But if the 1991 Gulf War did not do so, why should one cruise-missile strike achieve that goal?

Clinton was aware at the time of New York FBI's suspicions that Iraq was behind the Trade Center bombing. Although Clinton said publicly that his strike on Iraqi intelligence headquarters was punishment for the attempted assassination of Bush, he also meant it to answer for the terrorism in New York, just in case New York FBI was correct. Clinton believed, as Clarke writes, that that strike would deter Saddam from all future acts of terrorism. By not telling the public that it seemed Saddam may have tried to topple New York's tallest tower onto its twin, Clinton avoided the risk (from his perspective) of a public demand that he take much more vigorous action.

That initial decision to deal surreptitiously with suspicions of Iraq's involvement in a major terrorist attack was reinforced by the ad hoc, all-purpose explanation for such assaults against the U.S. that emerged: Such activity was the work of loose networks, not supported by any state. This theory represented a 180-degree revision of the previous understanding of terrorism, and it provided a cover not only for U.S. inaction but also for terrorist activity on the part of hostile governments, particularly Iraq.

This was the flawed analysis that led ultimately to the attacks of 9/11. This, almost certainly, explains Clarke's over-the-top denunciations of those who have argued that Iraq was involved in the first attack on the Trade Center, as well as his repeated assertions that he searched for such evidence, but it was just not there. At stake is the question of who was responsible for our vulnerability on that terrible day. Clarke apparently believes that the best defense is a good offense.”