Soon after Bill Clinton’s Inauguration in 2003, Islamic terrorists targeted the World Trade Center. The truck bomb left a crater six stories deep and killing six while wounding thousands. Six Muslim conspirators were eventually caught and convicted, but the mastermind- Ramzi Yousef- escaped. The administration’s decision was to “absorb” the attack as he cautioned about alienating Muslims. He never visited the site, nor did he visit any victims. Although vowing vengeance, there was none.
Later that year, eighteen American servicemen engaged in a humanitarian mission in Somalia were ambushed and killed. Another 80 were injured. Again, there was no military response. Schemes to explode bombs in the Lincoln and Holland tunnels were thwarted. A plot, hatched by Ramzi Yousef, to take over airliners and fly them into buildings was also thwarted in the Philippines.
Shortly after the Oklahoma City bombings, the President tasked law enforcement to develop a list of terrorist and their financial enablers. The FBI had compiled a list of three Islamic charities with close ties to Hamas. Officials later complained that they were blocked by the White House from opening investigations fearing accusations of “profiling” by Muslim groups. Dick Morris flatly charged, “Clinton’s failure to mobilize America to confront foreign terror after the 1993 attack [on the World Trade Center] led directly to the 9/11 disaster.” According to Morris, “Clinton was removed, uninvolved, and distant where the war on terror was concerned.” According to White House accounts, Monica Lewinsky had more than 24 private Oval Office visits with Clinton, but his CIA director- James Woolsey- had considerably fewer.
By 1996, Osama Bin-Laden had been labeled the most significant financier of terrorism in the world. In the hopes of having sanctions lifted, Sudanese president Omar Hassan Ahmed Bashir offered to extradite Bin-Laden to the US. At Clinton’s direction, they did not take him up on his offer. In May 1996, the Sudanese government capitulated to US demands that Bin-Laden had to leave Sudan. Clinton later explained that Bin-Laden had committed no crime and extraditing him would have made no sense at the time.
A month after he fled Sudan and found a new home in Afghanistan, a 5,000 pound truck bomb was detonated next to the Khobar Towers, an 8-story housing complex in Saudi Arabia being used as a US military barracks. The blast killed 19 and injured 372 American soldiers. Responsibility for the attack was claimed by a Shiite fundamentalist group, Saudi Hezbollah, a group close to Iran.
The disaster of the Khobar Towers investigation is a template for Obama’s dealings with Iran later on. Clinton was starting to forge relations with Iran. By 1998, the United States appeared to develop a “forgive and forget” attitude towards Iran’s complicity in the Khobar Tower and the State Department had softened a travel ban to Iran, waived sanctions against oil companies doing business in Iran, and the DEA removed Iran from the list of major illicit drug exporters.
FBI Director Louis Freeh began to believe that Clinton did not want law enforcement to pursue any further actions lest it upset the diplomatic efforts with Iran. We learned much after the fact that the FBI had developed enough evidence against Iran that a top secret communique was suggested. Saudi co-conspirators confessed their passports were provided by the Iranian embassy in Damascus and that they reported to a top Iranian general in the Revolutionary Guard (IRGC). The FBI managed to get the information despite the fact the White House placed up roadblocks and they later dismissed it as “hearsay.”
Clinton also naively believed that the election of Khatami represented an opportunity to thaw relations and that Iran would eventually renounce terror. Iran pushed back. Aids argued that if the letter’s contents were released, it would pressure the administration into taking military action to avenge the Khobar Tower attack.
The flow of information on the attacks slowed coming out of Saudi Arabia after Clinton suggested that Saudi Arabia was fomenting tensions between Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shiite Iran. It was later discovered that the flow of information was cut off by National Security adviser Sandy Berger. Things were so bad that Freeh and others reached out to George H.W. Bush who had good relations with the Saudis. It was not until 2001 that indictments were handed down in the Tower attacks and Attorney General John Ashcroft directly blamed Iran for supporting the terrorists. Incidentally, in 2006 federal judge Royce Lamberth ordered Iran to pay $254 million in damages to the families of those killed in the attacks.
Clinton visited Uganda in 1998 with a large contingent of African-American leaders in tow. There, he apologized for slavery even though no slave had ever been imported into the United States from Uganda (in fact, no slave ever from anywhere in eastern Africa). Four months later, al-Qaeda terrorists blew up the US embassies in Tanzania and Kenya. Over 5,000 were injured and 245 people were killed. Clinton, preoccupied with the Lewinsky affair at the time, ordered a cruise missile attack on two Muslim countries without consulting his national security advisers or the Joint Chiefs of Staff. One of those countries was Sudan based on the faulty belief that Bin-Laden was still there. One missile struck the only pharmaceutical plant in that country.
Then in 2000, Islamic terrorists targeted the USS Cole as it refueled in Yemen. This attack killed 17 sailors and injured 39. Again, the Clinton administration viewed this as a case for law enforcement, not the military. Further, Iraq’s Saddam Hussein became unimpressed with Clinton’s sporadic cruise missile strikes against him for violating the terms of the Gulf War. He remained defiant by expelling UN weapons inspectors, continued to develop and build a chemical warfare stockpile, and fired on US war planes. During his administration, Clinton’s most frequent foreign visitor was Yasser Arafat whose allegiance was to al-Qaeda and he sided with Iraq in the Gulf War. Arafat was the man who perfected the art of terrorism, yet Clinton was too busy cultivating Arafat as a “partner for peace.”
When Clinton took office in 1993, Chinese missile technology was negligible. By 2003, China had the capability to strike any city in the United States. Hazel O’Leary, his Energy Secretary, declassified over 11 million pages of military data while relaxing security measures at the nation’s nuclear labs. According to some investigators, it was China that benefited most from these policies.
Defense contractors were eager to sell technology to China and they poured millions into Clinton’s reelection campaign. Janet Reno and other counterintelligence agencies were called off as Lockheed Martin, Hughes Electronics and Loral and other companies helped China modernize their nuclear abilities. The Chinese intelligence chief, Ji Shengde, told Johnny Chung, “We like your President. We want to see him get reelected.” And apparently Clinton liked China also.
In 1995, while the WTC bombing was still being investigated, Deputy Attorney General Jamie Gorelick argued in a memo for greater separation between law enforcement and intelligence. Gorelick’s efforts served to strengthen the alleged safeguards by forbidding any sharing of information between the intelligence community and law enforcement. When this memo was penned, Clinton became worried about ongoing investigations over campaign donations from the Chinese. Both the FBI and the CIA were turning up damaging information on the Democrats and Clinton.
It was also a period when the FBI had begun to systematically investigate technology theft by foreign powers, most notably China. Had FBI agents confirmed China’s theft of weapons technology — or its transfer of weapons technology to nations like Pakistan, Iran and Syria — Clinton would have been forced by law and international treaty to react (and to thereby jeopardize the future flow of Chinese money into his political coffers).
By the time Gorelick penned her memo which became adopted, investigations into Chinese espionage were already under way. The FBI was starting to search for the source for the leak of nuclear warhead technology to China. More than 1,000 people had access to the documents but Janet Reno’s DOJ refused to seek warrants and other methods eventually led to Wen Ho Lee at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.
The FBI had acquired evidence linking China to illegal donations to the DNC in 1995, but Congress and the CIA did not learn of the evidence until 1997- after the 1996 election. Between 1994 and 1997, the CIA learned that China had sold stolen missile technology to Iran along with a nuclear fission reactor, advanced radar systems, and chemical agents. The memo simply reinforced Clinton’s Presidential Decision Directive 24 (PDD-24) signed a year before. This placed intelligence gathering directly under the control of his National Security Council and ultimately the White House. Intelligence sharing was transformed into a bureaucratic nightmare.
PDD-24 neutered the CIA by creating a National Counterintelligence Center (NCI) to oversee the CIA. All investigations underway at the time were brought under direct administrative control. Everything the CIA did now passed through the NCI. The NCI reported to the National Counterintelligence Operations Board (NCOB) which was appointed by the administration and reported to Clinton through the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs. This resulted in a huge bureaucratic roadblock for the CIA and the FBI. Cooperation between the CIA and FBI on investigations that overlapped were hampered. As a result of PDD-24 and Gorelick’s memo, the only place to go with intelligence was straight up to Clinton through layers of bureaucracy. Any information damaging to Clinton and the DNC languished in the Justice Department trapped between the walls erected by PDD-24 and the Gorelick memo.
Next: The Clinton administration’s litany of scandals