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Richard Clarke on 'Hardball'

Full transcript of March 31 interview

MR. MATTHEWS:  Good evening.  I’m Chris Matthews.  I’m in NBC News headquarters in New York and I’m joined right now by the former senior counterterrorism adviser in the Bush White House, Richard Clarke.  He’s the author of “Against All Enemies.”  Thank you for joining us.

I have two big questions tonight.  I hope we have this hour to get those answered.  One is why were we so successfully attacked September 11th and No. 2, Why did we turn our action against the terrorists into a war against Iraq, a country the President himself admits was not involved in the attack?

But first of all, let’s get to the news and the big question.

The President of the United States has agreed to testify—or rather, not testify, to meet with the 9/11 commissioners, along with the Vice President.

Why do you believe he’s insisted on meeting there only with the Vice President?

MR. CLARKE:  That’s a good question.  I think the Vice President can probably help him remember some of the answers and they can refer each other to help them through.  You know, it’s always easier when you’ve got someone who worked with you on these issues, sitting next to you, who can help you answer the questions.

MR. MATTHEWS:  Do you think it could be so they coordinate their, their memories?

MR. CLARKE:  Well, it certainly makes it harder for the commission to find a difference between the two stories, if the two of them are telling their story simultaneously and they hear each other’s stories—

MR. MATTHEWS:  You’re smiling.

MR. CLARKE:  Well—

MR. MATTHEWS:  You think they might have different stories.

MR. CLARKE:  When I testified, for six hours, in—before the, the joint inquiry in the Congress, and I testified for 15 hours

in closed session—


MR. CLARKE:  --with the commission, I was the only one in the room.  I didn’t have a lawyer, I didn’t have my deputy, I didn’t have my notes from the White House and, well, I guess when you’re President you get special treatment.

MR. MATTHEWS:  But why do you think that special terrorists includes the President’s di—direction and dictation that no notes, no transcript be taken and that he not take the oath and the Vice president not take the oath?

You had to take the oath, you had a transcript taken that could be gone over point by point.  Why do you believe the President insisted on a different playing field?

MR. CLARKE:  Well, I think the President’s lawyer, Al Gonzalez, is being very picky about the prerogatives of the office, and, you know, frankly, under the circumstances, this is a special commission.  It’s not the Congress.  He’s not appearing before a committee of the Congress which is what Gonzalez keeps saying.

This is not a committee of the Congress.  This is a special commission.  There hasn’t been one like it since the Warren Commissioner, and so it’s really not precedential, but they’re arguing that it is precedential and therefore they don’t want any eroding of the prerogatives of the President.

MR. MATTHEWS:  In fact they’ve made it that explicit, they don’t want this to be set as a prec—let me ask you about your role.

Do you believe your testimony and before that, your book, has played a role in moving the White House to release Condee Rice to testify openly?

MR. CLARKE:  I don’t know.  You know, it’s very difficult to observe yourself and to know what your own role or your own effect is.  I think the families have been very strong, the families of the victims, in demanding this commission, in demanding that the commission be extended, in demanding that Dr. Rice testify.  I think they’re a very powerful force.

MR. MATTHEWS:  Your book makes a very strong accusation that the President really wasn’t fully prepared, he hadn’t fully prepared his government to deal with the threat a terrorism before 9/11.  Is that right?

MR. CLARKE:  Well, the President himself says this.  His—

MR. MATTHEWS:  He did it with Bob Woodward.

MR. CLARKE:  You know, and his chairman of the Joint Chiefs says it.  His chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Hugh Shelton, says in an interview that was published two years ago, that when Clinton left and Bush came into office, that terrorism was pushed to the back burner.

So I’m not the only one who observed this.  Lots of people observe—

MR. MATTHEWS:  Well, what will Condee Rice’s testimony do to that, that impression, that argument that the President was not fully preparing the country?

MR. CLARKE:  I don’t know what Dr. Rice will testify and, to, but she has said in the past that he met, the President met every morning, five days a week with the director of Central Intelligence and that she, the national security adviser, was in the room and that they discussed terrorism from time to time, and once, in May, the President said he wanted to have a strategy to deal with al Qaeda.

So she’ll be able to say, if she repeats what she said before, that the, the President did learn about al Qaeda in the intelligence briefings and he once asked for a strategy.

MR. MATTHEWS:  Will she be telling the truth?

MR. CLARKE:  Of course.

MR. MATTHEWS:  You believe, you believe in her abil—her willingness to tell the whole truth?

MR. CLARKE:  Absolutely.  Dr. Rice is a very honorable woman who served her country very admirably and I don’t see any reason to impugn her veracity.

MR. MATTHEWS:  In the press this has been set up as an argument between you and her.  You say the President was not fully preparing the country.  She said he was doing a very serious job of preparing the country.

You believe that will be her testimony, right?

MR. CLARKE:  Yeah, but the notion that this is a “he said, she said” is what a lot of media want, want to play on, frankly.  A lotta cable TV and a lotta media want to say, hype this story up and say this is, you know, Condee against Dick.  It’s not, and I don’t want it to be.

MR. MATTHEWS:  And you don’t believe in your book that you pointed the finger at Condoleezza Rice as part a the reason the President wasn’t prepared?

MR. CLARKE:  Look, the President has to have the ultimate responsibility.

The President was the guy who was getting those intelligence briefings very morning from George Tenet and week after week, month after month, hearing about al Qaeda and once in May said I want to have a strategy.

Later, he tells, in December of 2001, he tells Bob Woodward, yeah, I know I knew there was a strategy and development somewhere but I didn’t know where.

So in May he asks for the strategy to deal with al Qaeda after this Chinese water torture every day of intelligence reports about al Qaeda.  It finally works and he asks for the strategy, and yet, in September, he hasn’t asked for it again, he doesn’t know where it is.  By his own admission, he doesn’t know at what stage it is in development.

You know, I think the President has to have the responsibility.

MR. MATTHEWS:  Is this gonna end up being one a those you say the glass is half empty, then she says the glass was half full and this becomes a moot point and two weeks after front page pictures of her in the major news magazines, her, this ra—very attractive woman, very likeable woman, almost, if she weren’t so smart, Miss Congeniality, she—you can’t win that argument, can you? if it becomes half full, half empty, cause she can always say, hey, look, I was at meetings that Richard wasn’t at.

I was at—so many times I was with the President; he was not there.  I can tell you what he can’t tell you.  I can win the argument.

MR. CLARKE:  I don’t think it’s about winning the argument.

MR. MATTHEWS:  It isn’t?

MR. CLARKE:  We have a presidential commission that is doing fact-finding—


MR. CLARKE:  --and it’s going to issue a report in July, and hopefully it will look at the facts, rather than winning an argument, and it will state conclusions.  So let’s wait and see what that says.

MR. MATTHEWS:  Why would if you—if she’s going to tell the truth, and you have confidence that she will cite actual events and actual conversations, and you’ve done the same in your book, and you would take the oath for your book, wouldn’t you?

MR. CLARKE:  Oh, absolutely.

MR. MATTHEWS:  You’d swear to the truth of your book—


MR. MATTHEWS:  Right now.

MR. CLARKE:  Yeah, absolutely, and I’ve sworn under all the 21 hours or whatever it is—


MR. CLARKE:  --before the commission.

MR. MATTHEWS:  --how can two truths be complementary if one truth says the President didn’t prepare the country and the other truth, the other testimony said he did?  How can they both be true?

MR. CLARKE:  Because it’s a matter of opinion.  It’s a matter of opinion rather than fact.  If I say the President—the President’s principals committee, the Secretary of State—


MR. CLARKE:  --the director of Central Intelligence, director—they met about 100 times before 9/11.  99 of them were not about terrorism.  I would therefore say this record of one out of a hundred meetings at Condee Rice’s level indicates it’s not a priority.

She may say, well, it was a priority because we thought it was.

MR. MATTHEWS:  Let’s get to some a the really details here.  Sixty-seven percent of the American people, according to the latest Gallop poll, as of yesterday, said they believe that 9/11 could not have been stopped, could not have been prevented.

Are you one of those 67 percent?

MR. CLARKE:  I don’t know, I don’t know if it could have been.  I think it’s very easy, and in, in some ways all too facile to say either yes or no.


MR. CLARKE:  I think we need to look at what the facts are and what the facts are, as we now know them, are that CIA knew, at a low level, and FBI knew, at a low level, that two of the 19 hijackers were in the United States.


MR. CLARKE:  Now CIA knew it for over a year.  FBI learned it a month before the attack.  If that information had bubbled up, if the system had worked in FBI, if the system had worked in CIA, I think we probably could have.  I would like to think I would have gone on battle stations, put the—

[Simultaneous conversation.]

MR. MATTHEWS:  But you’re humble, you’re too humble here about what the United States knew.

We also knew that, that people from the Arab coun—some of these Arab countries, which are troubling in their politics—

MR. CLARKE:  Uh-huh.

MR. MATTHEWS:  --were getting flight lessons here, out of nowhere, all over the place, especially in Phoenix.  Later on, we found it was Florida.

MR. CLARKE:  Right.

MR. MATTHEWS:  We know that this fellow Zaccaria Moussaoui was, was getting—tried to get flight training in very advanced commercial jet piloting, even though he’d never flown, apparently, a Piper Cub.  We knew what else?  What else did we—we knew that we had to prepare for something like the Atlanta Olympics, for planes being used as missiles.  All of these pieces—did anyone have them all?

MR. CLARKE:  It turns out the FBI had all sorts of information about people in the United States taking flight lessons.  Sometimes that information didn’t leave the field office.  Sometime it did leave the field office and go to headquarters but it stayed at low levels.

Now there’s another set of commission hearings coming up, where the former director of the FBI and the current director of the FBI, the former attorney general or the current attorney general will have to testify, and I think, frankly, they’ve got a lot of explaining to do about why this FBI, which was given billions of dollars.

You know, the Clinton administration increased the counterterrorism budget of the FBI by 350 percent.  Why it couldn’t have an information retrieval system.

MR. MATTHEWS:  Right.  Well, if you were conducting the 9/11 commission instead of being a witness before it, would you be looking at the role of Louis Freeh?

MR. CLARKE:  Absolutely.  And the commission is.

MR. MATTHEWS:  The commiss—the FBI director.  But I want to get back to that same question.

There’s so much of this information, it’s like particles, and the question is could—did they ever come together—the flight training, Moussaoui, the al Qaeda people in the country, the prospect of an attack of planes used as missiles—did you have all that information?

MR. CLARKE:  We, we had—

MR. MATTHEWS:  Did you—

MR. MATTHEWS:  We had none—

MR. MATTHEWS:  --personally?

MR. CLARKE:  We had none of the following information.  We in the White House didn’t know about the FBI reports on the flight training.


MR. CLARKE:  We in the White House didn’t know about the CIA or FBI, knowing that two of the hijackers were in the country, and despite the fact that we held daily meetings with the FBI and CIA throughout that summer, and said to them, look, something is about to happen, lower the threshold for what you tell us, tell us anything—


MR. CLARKE:  --you know, and let’s all do that around the table—every agency, every department, and we’ll do fusion, intelligence fusion.  We’ll bring all this information together as we did during the millennium period, December 1999, and we’ll see what we can find out.

Tell us everything, anything.

MR. MATTHEWS:  Let’s talk about something very critical.  You said in your book that as I briefed Condoleezza Rice on al Qaeda—this is in January of 2001, a month, almost a year before 9/11--her facial expression gave me the impression that she’d never heard the term before.

Subsequent to that, your book coming out, NBC’s Lisa Myers, has gone back and found a radio interview where Rice gave, the year before, and here’s what she said on the radio.  This is the year before that conversation.  Let’s listen.

DR RICE:  “We don’t wanna wake up one day and find out that Osama bin Laden has been successful on our own territory.”

MR. MATTHEWS:  That’s a contradiction.  You said—

MR. CLARKE:  --.

MR. MATTHEWS:  --she wasn’t familiar with al Qaeda and here she is, the year before, talking about bin Laden’s operation, maybe heading out to—

MR. CLARKE:  Chris, did you hear what she said?  She talked about bin Laden.


MR. CLARKE:  And what I said in the passage you’re referring to in the book, it’s when I said al Qaeda she looked confused.  When I said bin Laden, she recognized who I was talking about.

MR. MATTHEWS:  So you—but you made a narrower point.  You’re making a narrower point now than it seemed to imply in the book.

MR. CLARKE:  No; no.  No, no, no.

MR. MATTHEWS:  In the book you’re implying she wasn’t familiar with the whole operation.  She wasn’t familiar with the term, al Qaeda, which means “The Base” in Arabic.

MR. CLARKE:  People can, people can look at what I said in the book.  What I said in the book was she understood that there was a guy, bin Laden.


MR. CLARKE:  I don’t think she, or any of the Bush people coming in, until we briefed them realized that there was this larger thing than just one—

MR. MATTHEWS:  She thought it was just a gag, not a network.

MR. CLARKE:  Exactly.  Exactly right.

MR. MATTHEWS:  And you think you made that clearly in the book.  You didn’t imply that she was out to lunch with regard to whole—

MR. CLARKE:  No, no, no, no.

MR. MATTHEWS:  --the whole al Qaeda operation.


MR. MATTHEWS:  Just [inaudible].

MR. CLARKE:  Anybody—body in the United States who was interested in national security had heard of bin Laden.


MR. CLARKE:  What I was saying was she didn’t recognize, A, that there was this network called al Qaeda and B, that it was enormous.

MR. MATTHEWS:  You know how I read it when I read it the first time? and I bet I’m like a lotta readers, and I think in fairness you gotta recognize this.  We read it like she was “out to lunch,” she doesn’t even know about al Qaeda and she’s the national security adviser.

You’re saying now that you simply meant to say she was unaware that this group was much broader in its, in its tentacles—

MR. CLARKE:  And that al—

MR. MATTHEWS:  --than she appreciated?

MR. CLARKE:  And that the Vice President, the Secretary of State, all of them, when they got briefed for the first time, as I describe in that section of the book, when they—when we briefed them, my team briefed them for the first time about the extent of this network, 50, 60 countries, cells, affiliate groups, millions of dollars moving around, they were shocked.

MR. MATTHEWS:  Was Condee Rice on top a the terrorism threat?

MR. CLARKE:  Was she on top of the terrorism threat?

MR. MATTHEWS:  Big question.

MR. CLARKE:  We told her everything we knew, every, every time we had any information we shared it with her.  I urged her at the beginning of the administration, within the first two days, I urged her to hold a meeting—

MR. MATTHEWS:  That’s all input.  What about output?

Was she aware—was she cognizant of this threat that you were?

MR. CLARKE:  She was fully cognizant of it because not only was I telling her about it but she was also sitting in with the President every morning—

MR. MATTHEWS:  But she—

MR. CLARKE:  --listening to those—

MR. MATTHEWS:  --didn’t make the President cognizant and didn’t lend to him a sense of urgency?

MR. CLARKE:  The President himself said he didn’t have a sense of urgency and how that’s possible, after George Tenet briefs you every day.  Now George Tenet selects carefully what intelligence he—

MR. MATTHEWS:  So you’re now saying it’s not Condee, it’s not Tenet, it’s—the bottleneck here in terms of being prepared mentally for what we faced, 9/11, was the President himself.

I think his brain was unable to absorb—


MR. MATTHEWS:  Well, what are you saying?

MR. CLARKE:  I’m, I’m not gonna use terms like the President’s brain—

[Simultaneous conversation.]

MR. MATTHEWS:  Well, then, what—

MR. CLARKE:  What you’re, what you’re—

MR. MATTHEWS:  [inaudible].

MR. CLARKE:  I don’t want to make it loaded.  Let’s just talk about the facts.  The fact are the President was repeatedly briefed—

MR. MATTHEWS:  To what effect?

MR. CLARKE:  --by his Director of Central—

MR. MATTHEWS:  To what effect was he briefed?

MR. CLARKE:  And as far as I know the only thing that he ever did was to ask in May for a strategy which he never got.

MR. MATTHEWS:  So you’re arguing basically all the briefings, all the press were largely inconsequential cause all it led to was a curiosity at one point for one day?

MR. CLARKE:  There may be more evidence but I’m unaware of it.

MR. MATTHEWS:  Tough charge.  We’ll be right back.  Let’s talk about what it as like to be in the White House on the morning of 9/11.  We’re coming back for a tick-tock, a moment by moment of description of what it was for the man who was directing events in our response to 9/11.  Richard Clarke.

You’re watching Hardball on MSNBC.

MR. MATTHEWS:  We’re back with Richard Clarke.  Let’s take a look at what Condi Rice said about the possibility of what happened 9/11 beforehand.

[Videotape played.]

MR. MATTHEWS:  What did you think when you heard her say that?

MR. CLARKE:  Well, based on the information the CIA had provided the president in those morning briefings, I think that’s a logical conclusion.  The CIA—

MR. MATTHEWS:  But you didn’t conclude that.  You had prepared as far back as the Atlanta Olympics for the use of airplanes as missiles.

MR. CLARKE:  But what she’s saying is all of the information—

MR. MATTHEWS:  She said “nobody.”

MR. CLARKE:  Yeah, but she’s also saying all of the information she had seen was about traditional hijackings, and there was a report—I don’t think this has come out before—there was a report that the Blind Sheikh, Abdul Rahman, who was in prison here in the United States—

MR. MATTHEWS:  Because of ‘93.

MR. CLARKE:  Because of plots to blow up things in New York City.


MR. CLARKE:  --that his son had gone out and joined bin Laden and that his son was talking about the possibility of hijacking U.S. planes and trading the passengers to get his father’s freedom.

MR. MATTHEWS:  That’s right.  Different cause, different mission.

MR. CLARKE:  And when Dr. Rice says, you know, we had heard about traditional hijackings, maybe that’s what al Qaeda was going to do, she may be referring to those kinds of reports that she had seen.

MR. MATTHEWS:  But now she’s correcting her testimony, apparently.  You’ve heard that.


MR. MATTHEWS:  Well, she is.

Let’s go to this.  This fascinating to me.  On the morning of 9/11, CIA Director George Tenet was having breakfast I think at the St. Regis Hotel on 16th Street in Washington with David Boren, former chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.  And this is what he said when he heard about the attack.  This is the CIA Director.  “I wonder if it has anything to do with that guy taking pilot training.”  Apparently, he was talking about Zaccaria Moussaoui, the guy out in Minnesota who had wanted flight training in advanced commercial jets even though he’d never flown a plane.  Okay.  He said that that morning.

The president said, “That’s one bad pilot,” and went back to teaching that school.  That’s a Grand Canyon of a difference in reaction.  The one man, the CIA director, immediately thinks, “My God, this is what we were worried about”  The president of the United States, completely unaware of what the CIA director was worried about immediately.

How can you have that Grand Canyon of difference between immediate reactions?  One man is totally aware we’re on the cutting edge of, the president not.  Wasn’t he briefed?

MR. CLARKE:  Apparently not, and neither was I.  I didn’t know about Zaccaria Moussaoui.

MR. MATTHEWS:  You didn’t know about Moussaoui.

MR. CLARKE:  But my initial reaction—

MR. MATTHEWS:  He would have been a good giveaway, wouldn’t he, that something was up?

MR. CLARKE:  He would have been a very big giveaway.

MR. MATTHEWS:  Why the hell would a guy who didn’t know how to fly any plane want to fly the biggest planes in the world only after takeoff. He didn’t want to know about takeoff, he didn’t want to know about landing.  He just wanted to be able to take over, he wanted to learn how to hijack a commercial airliner.

MR. CLARKE:  Look, it was always a theoretical possibility.  We had Tom Clancy write a novel about someone hijacking an airplane and flying it into the dome of—the Rotunda of the United States Capitol.

MR. MATTHEWS:  Do you think the president [sic] should have whispered that fact in the president’s ear before 9/11?  That there’s some guy, “We’ve just got a guy out there from one of these countries we’re worried about who’s trying to learn how to hijack a plane.  Do you think we should be focused on that, Mr. President?”

MR. CLARKE:  It would have been nice if they had told me, whose job it was to do something about it.  If I had known it, I would like to think—now, I know it’s 20/20 retrospect, but I would like to think that I would have done something about it.

MR. MATTHEWS:  But, see, it’s not 20/20 for George Tenet.  That morning his synapses clicked, and he said, “Oh, my God.  Could it be.”

MR. CLARKE:  Well, he apparently knew something that I didn’t know, and it hadn’t been distributed widely.  It hadn’t been discussed in the Terrorism Committee.

MR. MATTHEWS:  So we get back to the same question every regular American out there watching, not the political types, that regular people want to know—could an intelligent leader, doing his or her job, have connected the dots?  Moussaoui is out there trying to learn how to fly advanced commercial airplanes once they’re in the air, but not before they’re taking off.

Other guys taking pilot lessons out in Phoenix—there’s others we found out in Florida—we’ve got two al Qaeda guys floating around the country, and we had somebody with your expertise preparing for the possibilities of an airplane as a missile for the Atlanta Olympics, and nobody—or did anybody drop the ball here?  That’s my big question for you—

MR. CLARKE:  Well, people did drop the ball.

MR. MATTHEWS:  Who dropped the ball?

MR. CLARKE:  People did drop the ball.  The people in the FBI and CIA dropped the ball or we would have known those facts.

MR. MATTHEWS:  Well, a lot of people—

Richard Clarke, we’re coming to talk more with Richard Clarke.  You’re watching “Hardball” on MSNBC.

[Commercial break.]

MR. MATTHEWS:  We’re back with Richard Clarke.  This is of course the big question I want go back again after the commercial now and give you the fullest time in the world to answer it.  Put it all of together.  Why wasn’t it all put together?

MR. CLARKE:  Information came in to CIA that two terrorists who had been involved in the USS Cole attack were entering the United States.  Some low-level person in CIA was supposed to—

MR. MATTHEWS:  In 2000.

MR. CLARKE:  In 2000.—was supposed to take that information and move it into another communication system so it was distributed to the FBI, and the State Department, and potentially my office.  That person didn’t do that, and most of the year went by.  Over a year went by.  I still don’t understand because no one has ever explained to me, not for blame game, but who was that person?  Why was the system reliant on one person?


MR. CLARKE:  Why weren’t there internal controls so that person’s supervisor knew that the job hadn’t been done?

MR. MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you a simpler question, which drives people crazy, but I keep asking it.  If a couple guys got on an airplane up in Portland, Maine, right now and went down to Logan Airport, hijacked a plane, how would it be any different today?

Are we sure that our system, as you mentioned the system, is better today to stop the same thing from happening again?

MR. CLARKE:  Well, we know that it’s much harder to get anything that looks like a weapon onto an airplane.  We’ve spent billions of dollars and hired 40,000 people to make sure that you can’t get—

MR. MATTHEWS:  You could be strangling flight attendants with belt buck—with belts.  You could be hitting people to death with shoes.  Anything can be a weapon if you’re skilled at using it.

MR. CLARKE:  Well, within the Washington area, the air defenses now exist which didn’t exist before.

MR. MATTHEWS:  For the target.

MR. CLARKE:  For the White House—

MR. MATTHEWS:  Point defense.

MR. CLARKE:  Point defense.


MR. CLARKE:  I’m led to believe that we can now get fighter airplanes over New York and over Washington faster.

MR. MATTHEWS:  What about Sears Tower?  What about going out to San Francisco and hitting the skyline there?

MR. CLARKE:  I’m led to believe we can get the fighter planes up fast.

MR. MATTHEWS:  Okay.  Thank you, Richard Clarke.

In the next our, the reasons why we went to war with Iraq.  The second big question, how did pursuit of al Qaeda lead to Baghdad?  We’ll be right back to talk about that with Richard Clarke at MSNBC.

[Commercial break.]

MR. MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to “Hardball.”  We’re back with Richard Clarke.

Let me ask you about that day of days, day of infamy, 9/11.  When Condi Rice put you in charge, she said, “Okay, Dick, you’re the crisis manager.  What do you recommend?”  Out of nowhere, a man who’s been an adviser in the background with the president of the United States, who hasn’t been given much attention from the president, all of a sudden you’re thrown out into the front lines, and you’re made commander-in-chief.

MR. CLARKE:  No, no, no.  No, I was not made in commander-in-chief.

MR. MATTHEWS:  Well, weren’t you—in your book, you were told you were to give everybody instructions, particularly the vice president, “What do we do?”  And he said, “We’ll do it.  What else do you want us to do?  We’ll do it.”  A checklist.

MR. CLARKE:  I—I had some things I could decide at my level.  I had a lot of things that I referred to the vice president, and he referred to the president.  And they very quickly turned—

MR. MATTHEWS:  The president was out of town, wasn’t he?

MR. CLARKE:  Yeah.  The vice president had him on the phone, and the phone dropped off from time-to-time.  But when we needed decisions to shoot down airplanes and to do similar things like that, the president made those decisions.

MR. MATTHEWS:  But you were like Mr. Spock to his Captain Kirk.  I mean, you were basically giving the advice of an expert on what you had to do, and they were taking it.

MR. CLARKE:  We were making most of the decisions.  When we realized we didn’t have the authority—


MR. CLARKE:  --we went to the vice president.  He got the decisions from the president.  They did a great job turning those decisions around very quickly.

MR. MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you this about the conversations that went on.  You were privy at that day—the vice president’s wife, Lynne, was there; Scooter Libby was there, the vice president’s chief of staff.  They’re all sitting around chatting about the events as they occur in real time.  What was the conversation about?

MR. CLARKE:  Well, they were in the bomb shelter in the East Wing.  I was in the Situation Room in the West Wing, and only once did I physically move from one wing to the other, and that was very eery because, walking through the White House, normally lots of hubbub—


MR. CLARKE:  --lots of guards.  There was no one in the building.  This long, long walk from the West Wing—

MR. MATTHEWS:  What stairs goes down to the East Wing bunker?

MR. CLARKE:  You probably shouldn’t know that.

MR. MATTHEWS:  Near the movie theater?

MR. CLARKE:  I probably shouldn’t answer that.

MR. MATTHEWS:  Okay.  Let’s move on.

Let me talk about the day after 9/11, which I found equally fascinating.  The president of the United States confronts you and several others in the Situation Room, the little room down in the basement of the West Wing, and he asks you, he keeps pushing on connections to Iraq—did Iraq have anything to do with this—and, finally, he said, “Can you find just a shred?  Find me a shred.”  That’s the key word.

Thinking about it since, do you still feel that he was intimidating you?

MR. CLARKE:  Oh, I think he was communicating very clearly what he wanted the answer to be.  The White House is now saying, “Well, of course, he was asking Dick to look for all possibilities.  Don’t just assume it’s al Qaeda or al Qaeda alone.”

That’s not what was going on.  He wasn’t saying, “Look at Iran.  Look at Hezbollah.  Look at HAMAS.”

MR. MATTHEWS:  Yes, but even Roger Cressey, your partner, he even says—you worked with him then, you work with him now—he says he wouldn’t have put that language on it, intimidating or testily—you used words like “testily” in the book, and I think “intimidating” on “60 Minutes.”

Give me a good word.  What was the president’s approach to you?  Was it, “Give me the answer I want, there’s an Iraq connection,” or is it, “Isn’t there a possibility there’s an Iraq connection here?”

MR. CLARKE:  It was, “Iraq, Saddam, find me if there’s any connection.”

And when I said, “Mr. President, we will do that, of course, but we’ve done it before, and rather recently, and the answer has always been no, and it’s likely to be no this time,” he didn’t like that answer, and he got mad.  And, you know, I think everyone in the room agrees that he was mad.

MR. MATTHEWS:  Well, let’s talk about that.  You then had a little, like we all do in office politics, you had the separate meeting afterwards.

MR. CLARKE:  Right.

MR. MATTHEWS:  What was that all about?  And somebody, one of your colleagues said, “What was all of that about?”

And then your other colleague, Lisa Gordon-Hegarty, you quote in your book saying, “Wolfowitz got to him.”

Now, Wolfowitz is deputy secretary of defense.  He’s a hawk.  He wanted this war.  But how did one person have that much influence that you would agree, and you’d write in your book, one guy—is he Svengali?  How did he get Bush to go for the war that wasn’t connected directly to 9/11?

MR. CLARKE:  Well, I don’t think Wolfowitz alone did.

MR. MATTHEWS:  But you said Wolfowitz got to him.

MR. CLARKE:  No, no, no.  Lisa said Wolfowitz got to him.

MR. MATTHEWS:  And you duly recorded it for history.

MR. CLARKE:  Well, that was her view at that time.  I thought it was an important meeting.

MR. MATTHEWS:  What was your view?

MR. CLARKE:  I think the entire group that calls itself the Vulcans—the vice president, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Rice—all of those people who taught Bush national security in the year before he became president, I think they all came in with an agenda that had Iraq on the top of the list or certainly in the top three, and they wanted to overthrow Saddam Hussein.  They were just—

MR. MATTHEWS:  Well, let’s go to those reasons.  You list in your book five motives for going to war with Iraq, and none of them even mention weapons of mass destruction, which I heartily think history has proven you right.  “Finish the Iraq War,” what did that mean to you, “Finish the—“  Was this a sense of the son has to finish the old man’s business?

MR. CLARKE:  I think—

MR. MATTHEWS:  Tell me about that, what you think that really means.

MR. CLARKE:  I think, for the president, he was interested in finishing the old man’s business.  I think, for the vice president, he was interested in cleaning up a mistake that he made when he was secretary of defense because, after all, Dick Cheney was the one who passed along, passed on the decision to end the war, 100 hours of ground war.  And by ending the 100 hours of ground war, we didn’t eliminate the Republican Guard Divisions.  The Republican Guard Divisions then kept Hussain in power—


MR. CLARKE:  --and killed the Kurds, killed the Shi’a.

MR. MATTHEWS:  What was Rumsfeld’s motive?  Why was he so intent on pushing the war, as well, with Iraq even though it wasn’t directly involved with 9/11?

MR. CLARKE:  You have to guess at all of this, and I may not—

MR. MATTHEWS:  He’s the hardest one, from outside, to figure.

MR. CLARKE:  I may not have been in a good place to make these guesses—


MR. CLARKE:  --but I’m making them nonetheless.  I think he believed in the sort of Messianic view of the United States, reaching into the Middle East, twisting out a regime, replacing it with a Jeffersonian democracy and having the ripple effect—

MR. MATTHEWS:  That’s the Wolfowitz argument.  I’ve heard it from Paul, personally, three-and-a-half hours at lunch one day, it’s the “Jacobin.”  We can liberate the world by force.

MR. CLARKE:  Right.

MR. MATTHEWS:  Do you think that’s a reasonable prospect—

MR. CLARKE:  Well, I think what they failed—

MR. MATTHEWS:  --with the terrorist expertise you have?

MR. CLARKE:  I think they did a bad job of analysis, which is even if you can do this, even if you can replace this messy country with the Jeffersonian democracy, what are the side effects wile you’re doing it?  Before it becomes a Jeffersonian democracy, and even after, what are the costs in the rest of the Islamic World/

MR. MATTHEWS:  Does the president, to this day, as far as you know, based on all of your conversations with him and knowledge of him, did he ever appreciate the fact that going to war with Iraq could itself be a recruitment poster for al Qaeda—

MR. CLARKE:  Well, I never had—

MR. MATTHEWS:  --our worst enemy?

MR. CLARKE:  I never had the chance to talk to the president about it, and I don’t know if he ever—

MR. MATTHEWS:  Did he ever pass down to you curiosity about what an action like going to war with Iraq would do to the recruitment situation with regard to al Qaeda, which was our primary enemy?

MR. CLARKE:  My guess, and this is really sad, is that they never sat around, those Vulcans—the president, Dr. Rice, Rumsfeld, all of those people—never sat around and said, “What will the effect be on the recruitment of al Qaeda, on the empowerment of al Qaeda?  What’s the negative, downside of going into Iraq?”

MR. MATTHEWS:  Rumsfeld said, “We don’t have any metrics on that.”  How’d you like that technocratic answer?

MR. CLARKE:  Well, he’s great with these words, but I mean—

MR. MATTHEWS:  In other words, we don’t know whether going to war in Iraq will help us in the war on terror or really hurt us worse.

MR. CLARKE:  So what you don’t—if you don’t have metrics, you ask experts.  So let’s ask the president of Egypt, who knows something about the Arab World—

MR. MATTHEWS:  He said it will create a thousand bin Ladens.

MR. CLARKE:  He said, “Before you invade Iraq, there’s one bin Laden.  After you invade Iraq, there’ll be 100.”  That was the opinion of all of the Arab leaders and all of the Arab experts, and they ignored all of them.

MR. MATTHEWS:  Some people believe that one of the motivations to your writing this book, a very tough, critical book—which, by the way, I’m glad to announce for you, for your benefit, it’s going to be number one on the New York Times Best Seller List next week—is that you really disagree with the president about the decision to go to war with Iraq, that we should have pursued al Qaeda and stuck with that cause.

MR. CLARKE:  That is my chief motivation in writing the book—to get the debate out about the future of the war on terrorism.  You know, we had an opportunity, we had a window of opportunity after 9/11 to really root out terrorism.  Instead, we took this excursion, going into Iraq, which had the exact opposite effect.  It strengthened terrorism.

MR. MATTHEWS:  If the president had been surrounded not by the people you mentioned, not by Rumsfeld, and the vice president, and their deputies—Scooter Libby—and all of these hawks who were premeditated, want to do this, and we all know this now, suppose he was surrounded by, as his key advisers, Colin Powell, Richard Armitage, Richard Haas, people of that sort of moderate view of things, who might well have gone after al Qaeda, do you think he would have gone in their direction?     Was he moved by his advisers, the president?

MR. CLARKE:  I think every president is moved, up to a point, by their—

MR. MATTHEWS:  This is a serious question.

MR. CLARKE:  Yeah.

MR. MATTHEWS:  Do you believe his advisers were critical here to his decision to go to war?

MR. CLARKE:  I think his advisers’ lack of an analysis, of an analytical process—I’m used to, you know, beginning with Henry Kissinger, you have debates, you have analysis, you have options.

MR. MATTHEWS:  This was supposed—this was set up, though, as a very balanced administration on the surface.  You had Christie Whitman, Paul O’Neill, Colin Powell, moderates, along with the more hawkish conservatives, right-wingers, some of them.  And it didn’t work out that way, why not?  Why weren’t the moderate voices heard in the president’s inner council?

MR. CLARKE:  Because, within the National Security cluster of the Cabinet, there was just Colin Powell in that category.

MR. MATTHEWS:  And he always got beaten by Rummy and Cheney?

MR. CLARKE:  Because the vice president started getting involved at the Cabinet level.  The  vice president started attending meetings—

MR. MATTHEWS:  Did he tip the scales?

MR. CLARKE:  Of course.

MR. MATTHEWS:  Did he have his thumb on the scales?

MR. CLARKE:  Look, the vice president was in meetings that vice presidents have never been in before, helping shape the policy before it got to the president.

MR. MATTHEWS:  You know, the Constitution gives the vice president of the United States no executive power.  Did he have it—does he have it in this administration, executive power?

MR. CLARKE:  No, I don’t think he makes decisions.

MR. MATTHEWS:  What does he do?

MR. CLARKE:  I think he advises.

MR. MATTHEWS:  Had he been against the war with Iraq, would we have gone?

MR. CLARKE:  I doubt it.  He was critical.

MR. MATTHEWS:  Was he the key man in moving the president to a war in Iraq, rather than a full pursuit of al Qaeda?

MR. CLARKE:  There wasn’t a lot of space between what the vice president believed and what the secretary of defense believed or the national security adviser believed.  They all had Iraq on the mind from the day they came into office.

MR. MATTHEWS:  Did George Bush?

MR. CLARKE:  I think so.

MR. MATTHEWS:  You think so, but you’re sure of these other people.  Why are you unsure of the president’s position on it?

MR. CLARKE:  I didn’t—

MR. MATTHEWS:  When the commander-in-chief—

MR. CLARKE:  I didn’t get to spend much time with the president.

MR. MATTHEWS:  But when the commander-in-chief takes us to war, isn’t it important to know whose decision it primarily was?

MR. CLARKE:  It was clearly—

MR. MATTHEWS:  You said it was a council decision it was you said.

MR. CLARKE:  It was clearly his decision, and he believed in it, and I think he probably still believes in it, and that’s the sad part.

MR. MATTHEWS:  Have you sensed, in your retrospective communication with all of the people at the White House who still enjoy your company and communication, that the president feels a little bit used by some of these people, that there was no weapons of mass destruction found over there, there was no connection manifest with 9/11, that the people like Chalabi were probably feeding us a lot of stovepipe information to get what they wanted done, there were no cheering crowds, there was no oil to pay for it.  It is a mess.  Do you think he—

MR. CLARKE:  And there will be huge costs in terms of the war on terrorism.

MR. MATTHEWS:  Does the president bear any grudge against those who gave him this advice, starting at the VP level?

MR. CLARKE:  I think only he knows, and there’s no indication that I’ve ever seen or heard from anybody that the president has any doubts.  I think he’s a true believer, and he believes he did the right thing.

MR. MATTHEWS:  We’ll be right back.  We’re coming back with Richard Clarke to talk about the big questions of our time: How’d we get hit and why’d we go to Iraq?

You’re watching “Hardball” on MSNBC.

[Commercial break.]

MR. MATTHEWS:  I start my day listening to Don Imus on MSNBC every morning.  And he loves to rail against David Rosenthal, the editor of Simon & Schuster.  My experience, having published a couple of books for Simon & Schuster, is they never interfere with your, with your right.  Did you get any influence from Schuster or anybody at Simon & Schuster/Free Press to push into a harder line on—


MR. MATTHEWS:  --on this administration criticism?

MR. CLARKE:  I wrote the book.  And people have asked me, you know, did, did the editors change it or did you have a ghost writer.  No.  I wrote the book.

MR. MATTHEWS:  Did anybody say put a little harder heat on them?


MR. MATTHEWS:  Okay, let’s talk about Clinton now, right now.  I want you to put some heat on Clinton to sort of even this thing out here.  Do you believe that Bill Clinton did his job as commander in chief with regard to the eight years you served under him in terms of preparing this terrorist attack?

MR. CLARKE:  Yeah, I do.

MR. MATTHEWS:  He did his job?  No complaints?

MR. CLARKE:  Oh, I have complaints.  I have a lot of complaints.

MR. MATTHEWS:  Let’s hear them.

MR. CLARKE:  You want to begin with what he did do?

MR. MATTHEWS:  How about what he didn’t do?  Let’s get some balance here.

MR. CLARKE:  He did not, despite the fact that it seemed pretty obvious to me, order the bombing of the camps in Afghanistan, except once.  Now, when he did it the once, there was a huge uproar of Wag the Dog, and—

MR. MATTHEWS:  Sure.  Because he was involved with the whole Monica mess at that point in time.

MR. CLARKE:  And, and, and because of that, I think he may have been reluctant to do what he did.  But he said he would do it again if we got good intelligence about—

MR. MATTHEWS:  What about the Predator pictures we had of bin Laden down there in those camps and—we’ve got movies of them, in fact, at NBC—and they show a guy that looked very much like bin Laden and we had him in the targets, almost like in a movie, and didn’t hit him.  What do you make of the president’s culpability there?  Clinton’s?

MR. CLARKE:  Well, the president’s culpability is zero.  The CIA’s culpability is huge.  The CIA required as a condition of doing that deployment in October 2000 that there be no weapon—no hit plan associated with it, because they wanted it to be an experiment and they didn’t want to have to make decisions about command and control.  We could have had submarines off the coast waiting for the Predator video.  But CIA insisted that this just be an experiment to see if the Predator could find him.

MR. MATTHEWS:  You’re very clear in your critique of President Bush and his people.  Are you equally clear—in the book there’s a contradiction.  You at some point say, as you just did, that Bush—that President Clinton did the job, he was a serious commander in chief, he pursued what he had to pursue in terms of leads and he did prepare us as much as he could for what came in 2001.  But you also make excuses for him, allowances for him, by saying, of course, he was caught up in the Monica thing.  Of course, at another point in your book you say he was caught up in the Middle East problems, which are interminable.

What is it?  Is he fully responsible to history now, or is he excused by history because he had other things pressing on him?

MR. CLARKE:  I think—

MR. MATTHEWS:  Which is it?

MR. CLARKE:  I asked a minute ago if I could say what he did do.  And if you look at the book, he did an enormous amount on terrorism.  It was one of his chief issues.  And he did an enormous amount of stopping Iraqi terrorism, stopping Iranian terrorism, stopping the al Qaeda attacks on the Millennium, stopping the al Qaeda jihad in Bosnia, increasing the money we spent on homeland defense by a factor of four.


MR. CLARKE:  Two things he didn’t do.  One, blow up the camps in Afghanistan to stop the export of trained terrorists from—

MR. MATTHEWS:  Where were you at the moment he made the—

MR. CLARKE:  And two—

MR. MATTHEWS:  --these decisions?

MR. CLARKE:  And two, the second thing he didn’t do was to say to CIA, wait a minute, I ordered you to kill bin Laden and his lieutenants, why the hell haven’t you done that?  He—

MR. MATTHEWS:  Where were you during—in real time during this?  Were you in a position bureaucratically to go to somebody on top of you, Sandy Berger or whatever, and say Sandy, damnit, I’m going to sit in this office till something gets done.  Were you in any position to pressure the president to do what you now think he should have done?

MR. CLARKE:  I think if you asked Sandy Berger, he would tell you that I went into his office a lot and yelled, God damnit, CIA hasn’t killed bin Laden yet, we need to put pressure on bin Laden—on George Tenet.  And Sandy would say on many occasions I went into his office and screamed at him that we have to bomb the camps.

MR. MATTHEWS:  What’s the secret to George Tenet’s survival?

MR. CLARKE:  Well, George Tenet is a very good director of CIA.  He has taken an organization that was in ruins, particularly the human intelligence side, and has begun a long-term program to rebuild it.  He hasn’t gone for the quick fix.  He realizes that we have to do institutional repair here.

Now, while he’s doing that institutional repair, there are going to be times when it still looks like the Keystone Cops—not finding weapons of mass destruction, not being able to kill bin Laden.  But Tenet realizes you can’t do those kinds of changes overnight.  You’ve got to be in it for the long haul.

MR. MATTHEWS:  You know, you sound like someone saying a college football coach is in a rebuilding year—

MR. CLARKE:  He is.

MR. MATTHEWS:  --when you lose, like two and win eight.

MR. CLARKE:  That’s—

MR. MATTHEWS:  I mean lose eight and win two.

MR. CLARKE:  Well, Tenet’s used that same phrase.  You must have heard him say it.

MR. MATTHEWS:  I didn’t.  Well, it sounds like a defense that doesn’t hold up.

Let me ask you about the people in the White House.  Condi Rice.  Should she be national security advisor to the president or is she over her head?

MR. CLARKE:  Oh, no, she is not over her head at all.  She has a very, very good understanding of what the president wants, what the president needs.  And the best thing as national security advisor, aside from expertise—and she’s got Ph.D.s and all of this—aside from the expertise, the best thing you can have is a close personal rapport with the president, if you want to be a national security adviser.  And she’s got the closest personal rapport with the president of any national security advisor.

MR. MATTHEWS:  But—That may be true, but it also could be patronizing on your part.  When those two get their heads together, is it your view there’s enough there—

MR. CLARKE:  Condi Rice—

MR. MATTHEWS:  --to protect the country?  Is there enough focus on questions of terrorism when those two get together to defend this country?

MR. CLARKE:  Well, there certainly is now.

MR. MATTHEWS:  Was there 9/11?

MR. CLARKE:  They had a hundred principles meetings and they had only one of them on terrorism prior to 9/11.  So I don’t think there was enough emphasis.

MR. MATTHEWS:  So the president was not on point?

MR. CLARKE:  The president says himself, whoa, I was not on point.

MR. MATTHEWS:  Was Condi?

MR. CLARKE:  Condi didn’t spend much time on terrorism.  A hundred meetings she chaired, one of them on terrorism.

MR. MATTHEWS:  Is the president of the United States up to the job of defending this country against terrorism?  Our president right now?

MR. CLARKE:  I think he made a huge mistake by going into Iraq that has really hurt the war on terrorism.

MR. MATTHEWS:  Okay.  We’ll be right back to talk to Richard Clarke, your response to the criticism of Richard Clarke in his book.  You’re watching “Hardball.”

[Commercial break.]

MR. MATTHEWS:  We’re back with Richard Clarke.  Here’s what former secretary of state, Lawrence Eagleburger, said about you on Tuesday, Mr. Clarke.

[Videotape played.]

MR. MATTHEWS:  Well, did you cry wolf too often, or too—did you cry Wolfowitz too often?

MR. CLARKE:  Larry Eagleburger is a great American who served his country honorably.


MR. CLARKE:  And I value his views on foreign policy.

MR. MATTHEWS:  But fairly, in terms of the number of times you raised the threat of a terrorist attack against the United States, when you, as you put it rather colorfully, ran into Sandy Burger’s office as head the National Security Council and said we’ve got a big problem, we’ve got to move here.  What percentage of the times were dry holes or near misses or whatever?

MR. CLARKE:  Every time I did that, the director of central intelligence was right next to me doing it just as much.  I was reflecting the views of the CIA director.  I was agreeing with him that we faced a real threat from al Qaeda.  And we did some things to stop al Qaeda attacks successfully, attacks that people have never heard about because we stopped them.

MR. MATTHEWS:  Is there going to be a movie based on your life?

MR. CLARKE:  I certainly hope not.

MR. MATTHEWS:  Have you heard anything about it, talked to anybody about it?

MR. CLARKE:  I’ve read in the press—

MR. MATTHEWS:  No conversations with agents or anything so far?

MR. CLARKE:  My agents may be having conversations.

MR. MATTHEWS:  No, no, no.

MR. CLARKE:  I, I haven’t approved any movies, nor have I approved this TV ad which I just saw this morning.

MR. MATTHEWS:  Right.  You were talking about it during the break.  You don’t like that organization?

MR. CLARKE:  Well, I woke up this morning, turned on the TV, and there—I heard my own voice on a TV ad.  Now, I never approved my voice being used on a TV ad, and I don’t much care for it.

MR. MATTHEWS:  Good.  Is there any discussions with HBO or anybody else in terms of making a TV movie about your experiences, any discussions at all that you know about?

MR. CLARKE:  I think I just answered that question.  My agents may be talking to people.

MR. MATTHEWS:  And you have authorized them to do so?

MR. CLARKE:  I haven’t authorized any movie yet.

MR. MATTHEWS:  Any movie discussions?

MR. CLARKE:  I haven’t authorized anything.  But I will say this.  If there’s a movie, revenues, substantial revenues from any movie, just as substantial revenues from this book, are going to go to charities related to Iraq, to Afghanistan, and to the victims of 9/11.

MR. MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about the concerns you might have—I’m not going to ask you how you’re going to vote this time because, maybe like a lot of people, you’re going to decide in November.  But let me ask you this.  If this administration gets reelected with its world view that we’ve talked about for the last hour, going into Iraq—what country’s next?

MR. CLARKE:  Well, that’s the scary part.  They made a huge mistake, about as big a mistake as you can make.  Because here they have this war on terrorism and they dropped it and started a war on Iraq, which made the war on terrorism harder—

MR. MATTHEWS:  Well, what’s the next war?  Is it Iran?  Or is it Syria?

MR. CLARKE:  If the same people are around, it could be Iran, it could be Syria.  And I fear that they haven’t learned from their mistake.

MR. MATTHEWS:  Thank you very much, Richard Clarke.  Number One on the New York Times best seller list.  If it’s a movie, it goes to charity.

Tomorrow night on “Hardball,” we’ll get reaction from the Bush campaign, who, as Richard Clarke told us tonight, the beat goes on.  Plus former general, Barry McCaffrey, on the ongoing violence.  It’s terrible again today in Iraq.

Right now, it’s time for the countdown with Keith.

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