THE BLOG

Turning Tragedy Into Talking Points

10/16/2012 02:32 pm ET | Updated Dec 16, 2012

For the past week, Republicans have been attempting to hold President Obama responsible for the death of Ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens. The extremely partisan Congressman Darrell Issa has been holding supposedly nonpartisan hearings on the subject, and he and other Republicans have been demanding admission from the White House of its involvement.

The committee has established that two mid-level security "experts," one from the National Guard, and the other from the State Department, acknowledged that they had attempted to obtain additional security personnel. Vice President Biden asserted that "we" meaning (he says) the President and himself, were never made aware of the requests. I can well believe that, but it calls to mind a previous instance when higher ups were not made aware of far more threatening information, and I mean 9/11.

Richard Clarke, the National Coordinator for Security, Infrastructure Protection, and Counter-terrorism, informed Condoleezza Rice, President Bush's National Security Advisor, on January 25, 2001, of the imminent al Qaeda threat. According to Clark, as quoted in Wikipedia, "Rice told me that the Principals Committee, which had been the first venue for terrorism policy discussions in the Clinton administration, would not address the issue until it had been 'framed' by the Deputies."

That meeting occurred in April of 2001. According to Wikipedia, "Clarke strongly suggested that the U.S. put pressure on both the Taliban and Al-Qaeda by arming the Northern Alliance and other groups in Afghanistan. Simultaneously, that they target bin Laden and his leadership by reinitiating flights of the MQ-1 Predators. To which Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz responded, "Well, I just don't understand why we are beginning by talking about this one man bin Laden." Clarke replied that he was talking about bin Laden and his network because it posed "an immediate and serious threat to the United States." According to Clarke, Wolfowitz turned to him and said, "You give bin Laden too much credit. He could not do all these things like the 1993 attack on New York, not without a state sponsor. Just because FBI and CIA have failed to find the linkages does not mean they don't exist."

Wikipedia continues that "At a July 5, 2001, White House gathering...Clarke stated that "something really spectacular is going to happen here, and it's going to happen soon." Donald Kerrick, a three-star general who was a deputy National Security Advisor in the late Clinton administration and stayed on into the Bush administration, wrote Hadley a classified two-page memo stating that the NSA needed to "pay attention to Al-Qaida and counterterrorism" and that the U.S. would be "struck again.""

In this case, the White House was warned, but the FBI also had warnings. Two FBI agents, Kenneth Williams in the Phoenix office in 1990, and Coleen Rowley of the Minneapolis office, both warned headquarters. The Williams lead was not followed up, and Rowley and the Minneapolis office were ordered not to look into the computer of the suspected terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui, who has since been sentenced to life in prison for his role in terrorist activities. The Minneapolis office sent over 70 emails to headquarters, but in the end, the lawyers refused to give them permission to search the computer.

President Bush was reelected, and John Kerry never challenged him about the White House role, or lack of one, into a terrorist act that killed 3,000 Americans. No one knows who Condoleezza Rice told about Richard Clarke's reports. The bipartisan Democrats never held the "White House" responsible. So far as I know, nobody at the FBI was fired either. But Coleen Rowley, enraged by her experience, did resign.

I think almost every American mourns the loss of Ambassador Stevens. He was a very good man, and he and his family deserve all our sympathies, but that loss does not compare with the loss of 3,000 American lives because Condoleezza Rice didn't react to Richard Clarke's alleged warnings. The Democrats in Congress in 2001 stuck to the best American tradition--when tragedy strikes do not attack the other party. Congressman Issa and his friends have ignored that tradition, and are trying to turn Ambassador Stevens' death into an election talking point, just before tomorrow's debate.

Shame on them.