Minutes after the second jetliner hit the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, Richard A. Clarke recounts in his new book, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice anointed him "crisis manager."
The assignment meant Clarke, the White House counterterrorism adviser, found himself ordering around high-level officials and urging his superiors to ground air traffic, according to his account. Clarke also takes credit for barring President Bush from immediately returning to Washington.
The passage, which opens Clarke's incendiary new book, "Against All Enemies," provides a telling look at Clarke's traits as the nation's longtime counterterrorism czar. It indicates that Rice and other senior officials had so much confidence in Clarke, they entrusted him with a key leadership role after the hijackings.
But it also reveals a hard-charging style and a penchant for self-promotion that has earned him many enemies over the years, and which has given ammunition to his critics in recent days.
"Dick certainly did infuriate a lot of his interagency colleagues with his take-no-prisoners style," said Daniel Benjamin, a counterterrorism official in the Clinton White House who is now a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "But that was one of the things that made him valuable to his masters and to the political leadership. . . . He broke a lot of crockery, but Dick's mastery of the bureaucracy was almost unrivaled in the 1990s."
Strong opinions are the norm when it comes to Dick Clarke. A 30-year veteran bureaucrat, Clarke rose to the uppermost ranks of the national security establishment under presidents of both parties but also managed to anger numerous colleagues with his brusque style and bursts of temper. His previous boss, former national security adviser Samuel R. "Sandy" Berger, has said he regularly had to turn down demands from colleagues that Clarke be fired.
Clarke's brash manner is on full display in "Against All Enemies," a searing portrait of missteps and misjudgments in the war on terror. While laying some blame on the former Bush and Clinton administrations, Clarke is most explicit in his criticism of George W. Bush and his top advisers, particularly Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and his deputy, Paul D. Wolfowitz. They are portrayed as indifferent to al Qaeda but obsessed with Iraq and Saddam Hussein, even in the wake of attacks carried out by Osama bin Laden's terrorist organization.
Through it all, Clarke portrays himself as a kind of unheeded Paul Revere, warning a succession of leaders about the threat posed by bin Laden and other Islamic terrorists but frequently ignored or marginalized in his calls for drastic action.
He also has chosen to release his book and to sit for a lengthy "60 Minutes" interview, on the eve of hearings today and Wednesday by the independent commission investigating the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Clarke, who left the Bush administration last year after a public demotion, is a scheduled witness.
The timing is classic Clarke, according to many who know him well. Former colleagues say Clarke is a wily tactician in the political world of Washington and would be well aware of the firestorm he would cause by the release of his book during a presidential campaign.
Most acquaintances do not regard him as a partisan. Clarke was viewed as a hawk and "true believer" by many within the Clinton administration, and Clarke himself says he is an independent who is registered as a Republican.
"You can't accuse him of being passive or too liberal on foreign policy," said Vince Cannistraro, a former CIA official who worked with Clarke in the Reagan years. "He's very abrasive and aggressive and pushes his point of view very hard."
But White House spokesman Scott McClellan noted yesterday that Clarke is a close friend of former counterterrorism official Rand Beers, who is an adviser to Sen. John F. Kerry's presidential campaign, and teaches a course with him.
Phyllis Oakley, who headed the Intelligence and Research Bureau in the State Department during the Clinton administration, described Clarke as someone who "could get things done on peacekeeping, organizing the military because he knew where to go in the Pentagon." At that time, she added, Clinton's two national security advisers, Berger and Anthony Lake, "didn't know how to line up the troops."
The allegations in Clarke's book getting the most attention center on the current Bush administration, including claims that Bush, Wolfowitz and others urged him to find an Iraqi connection to the terrorist attacks despite a clear lack of evidence. Clarke wrote that "I grew increasingly concerned that too many of my fellow citizens were being misled." Clarke wrote that he "began to feel an obligation to write what I knew."
McClellan dismissed Clarke's criticisms yesterday and said he "conveniently" released his book in the middle of the campaign season. "If Dick Clarke had such grave concerns, why wait so long?" McClellan said. "Why wait until the election?"
Clarke also takes issue with previous administrations. He criticizes the first Bush administration for not taking action in 1991 after Hussein brutally put down a Shiite uprising in Iraq.
And in 1993, Clarke writes, he wanted the Clinton administration to undertake a much more vigorous bombing campaign in response to the attempted assassination of former president George H.W. Bush, a plot he says he called to the attention of the White House.
He discloses how he supervised the response, which ended up being a strike against Iraqi intelligence headquarters in Baghdad, but adds that he was "initially disappointed that the retaliation had been so small, that targets had been taken off the list, and that the raid was scheduled in the middle of the night when few Iraqi intelligence officers would be present."