Two documents recently became public that shed new light on one of the most contentious issues of President Bush's first term: how seriously the new administration took the threat of al Qaeda.
Both documents were written by the National Security Council's veteran counterterrorism coordinator, Richard A. Clarke. One was a three-page memo for national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, dated Jan. 25, 2001, five days after Bush was sworn in. The other, a 13-page "strategy" paper for dealing with al Qaeda, was drafted at the end of 2000. Clarke attached a copy to his Jan. 25 memo.
Clarke, who no longer works for the NSC, caused a sensation last year when he faulted the administration for moving too slowly to fight Osama bin Laden and his terrorist network. Rice told the 9/11 Commission that the administration worked throughout the spring and summer of 2001 to develop a comprehensive al Qaeda strategy. She also wrote, in a March 2004 op-ed in The Washington Post, that "No al Qaeda plan was turned over to the administration" when it took office.
While the 9/11 Commission summarized Clarke's Jan. 25 memo in its report, a look at the full text provides new insights into the origins of the controversy. Both documents were released publicly at therequest of the private National Security Archive. The following excerpts are reproduced verbatim, including Clarke's distinctive spelling of "al Qida."
FROM THE JAN. 25, 2001 MEMO
Pending Time Sensitive Decisions
At the close of the Clinton Administration, two decisions about al Qida were deferred to the Bush Administration.
-- First, should we provide the Afghan Northern Alliance enough assistance to maintain it as a viable opposition force to the Taliban/al Qida? If we do not, I believe that the Northern Alliance may be effectively taken out of action this Spring when fighting resumes after the winter thaw. The al Qida 55th Brigade, which has been a key fighting force for the Taliban, would then be freed to send its personnel elsewhere, where they would likely threaten US interests. For any assistance to get there in time to effect the Spring fighting, a decision is needed now.
-- Second, should we increase assistance to Uzbekistan to allow them to deal with the al Qida/IMU [Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, a local jihadist group] threat?
Three other issues awaiting addressal now are:
-- First, what the new Administration says to the Taliban and Pakistan about the importance we attach to ending the al Qida sanctuary in Afghanistan . . .
-- Second, do we propose significant program growth in the FY02 budget for anti-al Qida operations by CIA and counter-terrorism training and assistance by State and CIA?
-- Third, when and how does the Administration choose to respond to the [Oct. 2000] attack on the USS Cole.
The memo urged the convening of a "Principals" meeting -- the cabinet-rank officials who deal with national security -- to decide the following question: