2/13/2005

'01 Memo to Rice Warned of Qaeda and Offered Plan

From the NY Times:
A strategy document outlining proposals for eliminating the threat from Al Qaeda, given to Condoleezza Rice as she assumed the post of national security adviser in January 2001, warned that the terror network had cells in the United States and 40 other countries and sought unconventional weapons, according to a declassified version of the document.
The 13-page proposal presented to Dr. Rice by her top counterterrorism adviser, Richard A. Clarke, laid out ways to step up the fight against Al Qaeda, focusing on Osama bin Laden's headquarters in Afghanistan. The ideas included giving "massive support" to anti-Taliban groups "to keep Islamic extremist fighters tied down"; destroying terrorist training camps "while classes are in session" and then sending in teams to gather intelligence on terrorist cells; deploying armed drone aircraft against known terrorists; more aggressively tracking Qaeda money; and accelerating the F.B.I.'s translation and analysis of material from surveillance of terrorism suspects in American cities.
Mr. Clarke was seeking a high-level meeting to decide on a plan of action. Dr. Rice and other administration officials have said that Mr. Clarke's ideas did not constitute an adequate plan, but they took them into consideration as they worked toward a more effective strategy against the terrorist threat.
Under the heading "the next three to five years," Mr. Clarke spelled out a series of steps building on groundwork that he said had already been laid, adding that "success can only be achieved if the pace and resource levels of the programs continue to grow as planned." He said the C.I.A. had "prepared a program" focused on eliminating Afghanistan as a haven for Al Qaeda.
It would feature "massive support" to anti-Taliban groups like the Northern Alliance and the destruction of training camps occupied by terrorists. "We would need to have special teams ready for covert entry into destroyed camps to acquire intelligence for locating terrorist cells outside Afghanistan," he wrote, saying that this would either require Special Operations troops or some other "liaison force capable of conducting activity on-the-ground inside Afghanistan." Predator drones, some of which could be armed, would support those forces, he wrote.
The previously secret documents were at the heart of a fiercely partisan debate over Mr. Clarke's contention, in a book and in public statements, that the Bush administration had ignored his warnings of the imminent danger posed by Mr. bin Laden and his terrorist organization. The shorter memorandum was written in response to a request for "major presidential policy reviews" worthy of a meeting of "principals," the president's top foreign policy advisers. It began: "We urgently need such a Principals level review on the al Qida network." The word "urgently" was italicized and underscored; the "al Qida" spelling was used in both documents. "We would make a major error if we underestimated the challenge al Qida poses," the memorandum said.
The principals' meeting on Al Qaeda took place, but not until Sept. 4, 2001, a week before the attacks on New York and the Pentagon.
The longer document was titled "Strategy for Eliminating the Threat From the Jihadist Networks of al Qida: Status and Prospects." It included a detailed description of the network, saying it was "well financed, has trained tens of thousands of jihadists, and has a cell structure in over 40 nations. It also is actively seeking to develop and acquire weapons of mass destruction." The strategy paper recounted past Qaeda plots against Americans abroad and at home and said an informant had reported "that an extensive network of al Qida 'sleeper' agents currently exists in the U.S." After reviewing steps taken since 1996 to combat Al Qaeda, the document listed further actions required to make the network "not a serious threat" within three to five years.
Dr. Rice, now the secretary of state, and other administration officials have asserted that the documents did not amount to a full plan for taking on the terrorist network.
"No Al Qaeda plan was turned over to the new administration," Dr. Rice wrote in an op-ed article for The Washington Post last March. She wrote that Mr. Clarke and his team "suggested several ideas, some of which had been around since 1998 but had not been adopted."

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