On Feb. 21, the last day of an 11-year White House marathon, Richard A. Clarke walked into his office and turned in a gear bag fit for a Hollywood spook. From pockets and cases he shed an encrypted mobile phone, a satellite phone, a "priority service" mobile phone, a secure home phone and still another government cell phone.
Then came a .357 Magnum SIG-Sauer semiautomatic with jacketed hollow-points, and the special deputy U.S. marshal's badge that went with it.
Clarke was one of only three White House officials -- in any recent administration -- known to have packed a pistol for protection. There were times, friends joked, when he could have used it in interagency combat. The Secret Service authorized the gun for another reason: Until last year, Clarke coordinated U.S. efforts to hunt and kill al Qaeda's senior leaders, and there was evidence that al Qaeda preferred to reverse the transaction. In 1999, in an episode not disclosed before, Clarke abandoned his house for a month and acquired a temporary Secret Service detail when Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat passed urgent (and ultimately uncorroborated) word that an al Qaeda hit team had been dispatched for him.
Clarke's departure is a milestone of sorts in the war on terrorism -- not only the one that dates from Sept. 11, 2001, but the one that began in earnest five years earlier. And it tells government-watchers something about the decision-making style of the national security cabinet under President Bush.
Clarke, 52, reached the peak of his influence under President Bill Clinton, after serving presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush as deputy assistant and assistant secretary of state. The present commander-in-chief is said to like Clarke -- he sent him a warm, handwritten note and invited him to the Oval Office on Feb. 19 for a goodbye chat -- but Clarke's bulldozing style did not fit as well with the quiet consensus that the White House looks for now.
He submitted his resignation two months after White House foes blocked his selection as deputy secretary, under Tom Ridge, of the new Homeland Security Department. Clarke had made it clear he would not accept a lesser position.
According to available records and memories, no one has served longer continuously on the senior White House staff. The average stint is about two years. Clarke reached that mark in 1994.
In New York recently, he made the rounds of a new world of opportunities -- at a brokerage house, a television network, two think tanks and a publisher who wants to commission a pair of books. Stopping for coffee and cheesecake between meetings, a man long seen as a lifer in the Senior Executive Service described himself as relieved that he did not get the Homeland Security job.
"I already don't miss it," he said of Washington. Asked to elaborate, he replied: "You know that great feeling you get when you stop banging your head against a wall?"
Clarke was the government's first counterterrorism czar -- formally from 1998 to 2002, but in practice beginning in 1995. Security officials, friends and foes alike, said no one rivaled him as a spur to action. He was the first to draw effective attention to the risk that terrorists would acquire nuclear, biological and chemical weapons, the first to force concrete steps to protect critical information networks from cyberattack, and a dominant voice for spending money and covert resources against terrorists at a time when government was inclined to perceive them as a minor threat.
His style was seldom delicate.
"Clarke is a bully, but he has an absolute talent for making the government move," said the chief of one U.S. intelligence agency, who clashed with him in a previous post. "Dick wanted to see everybody put their parochial interests aside, and people didn't always do that."
Widely respected, Clarke was also widely disliked. Some rivals admitted privately, in interviews, to celebrating his departure.
"If you don't have enemies in the interagency, then you're not doing the job," said Roger Cressey, Clarke's deputy at the National Security Council and chief of staff more recently at the President's Critical Infrastructure Protection Board. "There are a lot of people in government who believe a consensus-based approach is the only way to get things done. There are some issues on which consensus is never going to happen. Dick was a master at rejecting the least-common-denominator approach and demanding more."
Under Clinton, Clarke had carte blanche from national security advisers Anthony Lake and Samuel R. "Sandy" Berger to blow past bureaucratic turf lines and assume operating and budgetary powers that were nowhere specified by statute or executive order. Berger said he regularly turned down demands that he fire Clarke.
Clarke had the political cover to roll two Treasury secretaries on funding for a terrorist-asset tracking center -- Robert E. Rubin and Lawrence H. Summers both opposed it, but Clarke pushed the money through Congress and the Office of Management and Budget. When the FBI and State Department clashed in Yemen after the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole, it was Clarke who brought together the secretary of state and the attorney general to decide lines of command.
His biggest loss came when a technology he championed, the armed Predator drone, proved five months before the Sept. 11 attacks that it could find and kill individuals. Clarke wanted to set it loose on Osama bin Laden. "Usually the CIA supported him, but on this one the directorate of operations resisted," said Michael Sheehan, State's former counterterrorism coordinator.
"Probably no one before or no one after is likely to exert such influence over these agencies that traditionally resist White House interference," Sheehan said. "They had a symbiotic relationship. Dick got them money from OMB . . . and political clearance for sensitive issues. In return, they worked with him . . . sometimes begrudgingly."
One close friend in government said, "Dick would just get into a foul mood sometimes and say things that made enemies of people forever, because he belittled them publicly," the friend said. "That used to be one of my jobs: to close the doors and go and yell at him." In the end, though, Lake and Berger "were prepared to clean up after him because he got things done."
The Bush White House works differently, valuing consensus and rewarding longtime loyalists. Clarke earned the confidence of Ridge and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, but neither encouraged him to break crockery if his proposals stalled. Some Bush partisans suspected him as a Clinton holdover. And Clarke had uneven relationships with Bush Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr., White House Counsel Alberto R. Gonzales and Lawrence B. Lindsey, Bush's former top economic adviser.
Clarke consented to a goodbye party at the Army and Navy Club. "Only my friends -- it was a small group," he said. He delivered the line ironically, but not altogether in jest. Ridge turned up, but no other Bush appointee outside the career security establishment.
Attrition diminished Clarke's closest cohort of allies. They included Charles E. Allen, the CIA's assistant director for collection, and Cofer Black, its former counterterrorism chief; Dale Watson and the late John O'Neill, who ran the FBI's counterterrorism operations; and Sheehan at the State Department. More recently he relied on Cressey, FBI cyberwarrior Ronald Dick and John Tritak, chief of the Commerce Department's Critical Infrastructure Assurance Office. All but Allen and Black are gone now.
Some of them have said privately the White House gutted the central project of Clarke's final year, a strategy to protect cyberspace from terrorists. He wanted, for example, a presidential call to Internet service providers to integrate security measures into every account, but was rebuffed by opponents hostile to any hint of regulation.
Clarke, in the interview, maintained that the core of his strategy remained intact. "I'm enormously proud of it, and want to be associated with it," he said.
Among friends, Clarke is skeptical that the coming war with Iraq is integral to the war on terrorism, as the White House maintains. He describes it as a diversion of scarce resources and a wedge between Washington and critical allies in destroying al Qaeda. Until late last year, he has said, Iraqi President Saddam Hussein would not have been among the top suspects should al Qaeda manage to acquire a weapon of mass destruction. Now, with Hussein's regime on the brink of falling, he will.
If and when the next attack comes, somebody else will get to cancel his plans and sleep on an office couch. No one schedules Clarke's travels now but Clarke. His first trip after he resigned was to the British Virgin Islands.