Philip Shenon, investigative reporter for the Times, has written a book on the 9-11 Commission and talked to Fresh Air host Terry Gross on National Public Radio Monday afternoon. Judging by Shenon's past willingness to put all the blame for 9-11 on the eight-month old Bush administration (as opposed to the eight years of Clinton that preceded it), it's no surprise Shenon praised Clinton administration partisans Sandy Berger and former Clinton and Bush counter-terrorism director Richard Clarke against a Bush administration Shenon portrays as venal and desperate.
Here's an excerpt from the long interview, as taken off the Nexis database:
Terry Gross: You write a little bit about how the Bush administration tried to undermine Richard Clarke's credibility after he testified before the commission. And just to refresh everybody's memories, Richard Clarke was a counterterrorism expert in the Bush administration and he told the 9/11 Commission and everybody who was willing to listen that he tried to warn the Bush administration early on about the threat of al-Qaeda and they just weren't willing to give him the time and the attention that he believed it deserved. What did you learn about how the Bush administration tried to undermine Richard Clarke's credibility after he testified to the 9/11 Commission?
Philip Shenon: Well, when Clarke went public in 2004, there was real panic at the White House. They thought this was a real threat to the president's re-election hopes and a real threat to the reputation of Condoleezza Rice. And they went all-out in public and behind the scenes to destroy his credibility. And on the eve of Clarke's testimony before the 9/11 Commission, the White House agreed to release a background briefing that Clarke had given two years earlier in which he appeared to support-offered very qualified support-for the president's record on terrorism. This had been a briefing that Clarke had given to a few reporters on the understanding that his name would never be revealed. On the eve of his appearance before the 9/11 Commission the White House agreed, with reporters, to allow his name to be revealed in an effort to show that, you know, what he said two years ago is not what he is saying today. He is therefore a liar, don't believe what he's about to tell the 9/11 Commission....You know, the record showed that Clarke had repeatedly, daily, hourly, warned his boss, Condi Rice, that, you know, something terrible was about to happen. And it appeared that the White House didn't often take him seriously.
Does this sound like "very qualified support"? As National Review Editor Rich Lowry noted in a 2004 column, Clarke said at that briefing: "There was no plan on al Qaida that was passed from the Clinton administration to the Bush administration." Clarke also noted how Bush changed the Clinton administration terror tactics "from one of rollback of al-Qaeda over the course of five years, which it had been, to a new strategy that called for the rapid elimination of al-Qaeda."
Back to Shenon's interview with NPR and the mysterious Sandy Berger, Clinton's former national security adviser and future laughingstock who got caught shoving copies of classified documents into his socks so as to avoid any blame for missing warnings about 9-11. Shenon hails Berger and suggested he only did it because he feared Republicans would blame him, even though, according to Shenon,"his friends and his colleagues will tell you that, you know, nobody was on top of the al-Qaeda threat like Sandy Berger."
Gross: Your book begins with Sandy Berger, who was President Clinton's national security adviser, smuggling confidential documents out of the National Archives by stuffing them into his clothes. This is an infamous story. Why do you start there, and what did you learn about why he smuggled out the documents?
Shenon: It's been a parlor game in Washington for a long time. Why would Sandy Berger destroy his reputation like this? It has an awful lot to do with Sandy Berger's personality. I believe he thought that if some of these documents found their way to the public or to Republicans on Capitol Hill that he would somehow be blamed for 9/11 when, in fact, a lot of his friends and his colleagues will tell you that, you know, nobody was on top of the al-Qaeda threat like Sandy Berger. And he did a lot of admirable work in trying to prepare for terrorist attacks as they rose up. The answer seems to be, as to why he stole these documents, that, again, he thought that some of these documents might somehow implicate him in not having acted fast enough or done enough to deal with the bin Laden threat over time.
Gross: And were these the only copies that he took?
Shenon: He kept stealing the same document. It was a report prepared by Dick Clarke shortly after the millennium threats. During the millennium, the intelligence community was absolutely convinced something terrible was about to happen. In fact, there was apparently a plot to blow up parts of Los Angeles airport. After the millennium period passed and there hadn't been a major attack, Berger tasked Clarke to put together a lengthy memo saying sort of what can we do better in the future, what have we learned from this? And Clarke came up with a long series of recommendations for future action. And it's this memo, copies of this memo that Berger keeps stealing. Every time he comes across it, he puts it in his coat or he puts it in his socks or he somehow gets it out of the archives. And the belief is, among his friends, that he thought if that document became public in some forum, it would be seen as a variety of actions that he could have taken to prevent 9/11 but didn't take.
Again, I think that may reflect Sandy Berger's a catastrophizer. People who know Sandy Berger and know his record suggest that he's one of the people who might well have been saluted in the 9/11 Commission report for having been on top of al-Qaeda.
Shenon once even defended Michael Moore's phony documentary "Fahrenheit 9-11" as being basically accurate.