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Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Clarke part XLVIII

Kevin Drum writes
"AIR BIN LADEN....Remember those flights shortly after 9/11 that gathered up members of the bin Laden family and spirited them quickly out of the country? Who authorized those flights, anyway?

A few weeks ago, Richard Clarke testified to Congress about this:"

Here I give a longer quote from the 9/11 commission hearings than Drum did, since this is (to say the least) a lower volume blog, pixels are less precious.

"CLARKE: You're absolutely right that the Saudi Arabian government did not cooperate with us significantly in the fight against terrorism prior to 9/11. Indeed, it didn't really cooperate until after bombs blew up in Riyadh.

Now, as to this controversy about the Saudi evacuation aircraft, let me tell you everything I know, which is that in the days following 9/11 -- whether it was on 9/12 or 9/15, I can't tell you -- we were in a constant crisis management meeting that had started the morning of 9/11 and ran for days on end. We were making lots of decisions, but we were coordinating them with all the agencies through the video teleconference procedure.

The Saudi embassy therefore asked for these people to be evacuated; the same sort of thing that we do all the time in similar crises, evacuating Americans.

The request came to me and I refused to approve it. I suggested that it be routed to the FBI and that the FBI look at the names of the individuals who were going to be on the passenger manifest and that they approve it -- or not.

I spoke with at that time the number two person in the FBI, Dale Watson, and asked him to deal with this issue.

The FBI then approved -- after some period of time, and I can't tell you how long -- approved the flight.

Now, what degree of review the FBI did of those names, I cannot tell you. How many people there are on the plane, I cannot tell you.

But I have asked since: Were there any individuals on that flight that in retrospect the FBI wishes they could have interviewed in this country. And the answer I've been given is no, that there was no one who left on that flight who the FBI now wants to interview. "

back to Kevin Drum

"Today, Alexander Bolton reports in The Hill that Clarke has, um, clarified his previous statement:"

Back to more extensive quotes, this time from The Hill

"In an interview with The Hill yesterday, Clarke said, “I take responsibility for it. I don’t think it was a mistake, and I’d do it again.”


But Clarke yesterday appeared to put an end to the mystery.

“It didn’t get any higher than me,” he said. “On 9-11, 9-12 and 9-13, many things didn’t get any higher than me. I decided it in consultation with the FBI.”


This new account of the events seemed to contradict Clarke’s sworn testimony before the Sept. 11 commission at the end of March about who approved the flights.

[see testimony above]

“That’s a little different than saying, ‘I claim sole responsibility for it now,’” Roemer said yesterday."

The testimony is a little different from saying 'I claim sole responsibility for it now,' which might be why Clarke has never said that he takes sole responsibility.

Back to The Hill

"However, the FBI has denied approving the flight.

FBI spokeswoman Donna Spiser said, “We haven’t had anything to do with arranging and clearing the flights.”

“We did know who was on the flights and interviewed anyone we thought we needed to,” she said. “We didn’t interview 100 percent of the [passengers on the] flight. We didn’t think anyone on the flight was of investigative interest.”"

Doesn't "We didn’t think anyone on the flight was of investigative interest." confirm Clarke's version ? Or is the FBI claim that they "interviewed anyone we thought we needed to" and "didn't think anyone on the flight was of investigative interest," but that they kept their lack of interest a secret and thus "haven't had anything to do with ... clearing the flight."

Kevin Drum is not totally willing to be convinced that Clarke, the FBI and no one else are responsible. A commenter, however, writes that this "doesn't speak too well to Clarke's credibility". I strongly disagree with the commenter's assesment.

To me the testimony a few weeks ago and the clarification are essentially identical. In the testimony Clarke defends the decision underlining his acceptance of responsibility.

Clarke's story is, and consistently has been, he got the request. He did not approve it immediately but asked the FBI if it was OK by them. Someone at the FBI said it was ok. Clarke approved the flight. The testimony and the clarification are perfectly consistent extracts from this account.

It seems to me that Clarke has acceped responsibility for an unpopular decision. If that doesn't "doesn't speak too well to Clarke's credibility" what could possible speak well to Clarke's credibility.

Quick pop quiz. There are a lot of people with a lot of credibility. Name one who has ever earned more credibility by saying something than Clarke has by taking responsibility repeatedly for the air Bin Laden flight.

[Edit: The post has been edited to remove the claim, which I can not support, that Clarke wrote something similar in "Against All Enemies". I thought I read it there, but I can't find the passage if, indeed, it is in the book]

[More edit: I also added some quotes from "The Hill"]

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