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CNN Larry King Live - Transcript

Location: Unknown



LENGTH: 7538 words

HEADLINE: Interview With Richard Clarke

GUESTS: Richard Clarke, Michael Isikoff, Judith Miller, Chuck Hagel, Joe Biden

BYLINE: Larry King

Interview with Richard Clarke.


DONALD RUMSFELD, DEFENSE SECRETARY: Everything is more difficult today. it's tougher to recruit. It's tougher to train. It's tougher to retain. It's tougher to finance. It's tougher to move things. It's tougher to communicate with each other for those folks. Someone asked me is Saddam-Osama bin Laden masterminding all of this and I said, you know, who knows?

But if I were in his shoes I would think I would be spending an awfully lot of time not getting caught. Most of his time is probably spent not getting caught and so he's busy and that's a good thing.


KING: Richard Clarke is the guest, the book is "Against All Enemies."

You said you believe he'll be caught soon, why?

CLARKE: We have now shifted the special forces that speak Arabic and some predators back from Iraq where they've been for the last year and to Afghanistan where they should have been in the first place looking for bin Laden and his lieutenants. These are the people who caught Saddam Hussein. They're very good, I know many of them. And I suspect we'll catch bin Laden, but it is two years too late because al Qaeda has now morphed during this time. You know, in all of Afghanistan, we only have 1,100 U.S. troops, that's fewer U.S. troops in Afghanistan than we have police in Manhattan. Why because the administration held back the troops we needed because they wanted to invade Iraq. That's a clear example of how invading Iraq has diverted resources on terrorism. It's also inflamed the Arab world and that will take a generation for us to get over, even if we're successful in Iraq in building a Jeffersonian (ph) Democracy, which is going to be hard, in the meantime by invading an Arab country and occupying it, when we didn't have to, when there was no imminent threat against the United States we have been generating a new al Qaeda-like terrorists throughout Islamic world and that's the point I think we should be talking about and not my e-mails.

KING: Dick, we look forward to having you on a lot in the upcoming months. One other thing, you served four presidents.

In the issue of security, who was the strongest president you served?

CLARKE: Well, I think George Bush the first was a national security expert. He had been CIA director, had been U.N. director. He was able to build a multi-nation coalition to fight Iraq the first time, which is what we should have been doing this time. If thought we had to go after Iraq, we should have done what George Bush the first did and build a real and not this thing we have now.

KING: So you give him of the four the highest marks?

CLARKE: Oh, yes, I think absolutely. George Bush the first was a real national security professional, but I must admit, he did not retaliate for the deaths of Americans on Pam Am 103, and that kind of lack of retaliation, again, with Ronald Reagan in Beirut when the terrorists killed the marines there, that lack of retaliation by Reagan and Bush contributed to the attitude that bin Laden and others had that they could attack the United States and get away with it.

KING: You were a proponent of a strong reaction to all kind of occurrences, right?

CLARKE: Well, I think if you let people get away with things like that-then you pay a price in the future.

KING: You would favor what Israel did with Hamas?

CLARKE: That's a very tough question. I think if you're an Israeli, perhaps, you do favor it. If you're a bit more detached as we can be in the United States, you realize it's just part of a continuing cycle and that Hamas will now retaliate and kill more Israelis, perhaps they would have done that anyway. The Arab/Israeli process is a difficult issue that we should spend more time on. I wish the administration were trying to get the Arab states to generate a Palestinian interlocutor, so that we could have negotiations. Obviously, we can't negotiate with Arafat.

KING: Thank you, Dick.

CLARKE: Thank you, Larry.

KING: Richard Clarke, the book is "Against All Enemies: Inside America's War on Terror."

Our panel joins us right after this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you saying you were asked to make an untrue case to the press and public and you went ahead and did it?

CLARKE: No, sir, not an untrue case. I was asked to highlight the positive aspects of what the administration had done and to minimize the negative aspects of what the administration had done. And as a special assistant to the president, one is frequently asked to do that kind of thing. I've done for several presidents.



KING: Now let's meet our panel to discuss what we just saw and heard. In Washington, Senator Chuck Hagel, Republican of Nebraska, Foreign Relations Committee, Select Intelligence Committee; Senator Joe Biden, Democrat of Delaware, ranking member, senator Foreign Relations Committee, Internal Operations and Terrorism Subcommittee; in Washington, Michael Isikoff, investigative correspondent, "Newsweek" magazine, one of the best-he's covered these hearings this week and has an article on Bush and Clinton's war on terror in the current "Newsweek"; and in New York, Judith Miller, the Pulitzer Prize-winning correspondent for "The New York Times." She writes about national security issues.

Before we get to our discussion, a quick discussion for Michael Isikoff. How are you doing physically?



KING: Well, you lost what...

ISIKOFF: Why do you ask?

KING: Because you were injured.

ISIKOFF: No, no, no. I'm sorry. You're thinking of my-of Michael Weiskopf "Time" magazine.



KING: ... mixed up...

ISIKOFF: We've been confused for years.

KING: ... but you're well.

ISIKOFF: But I'm fine, yes.

KING: All right, Chuck Hagel, what do you make of what just happened the last half hour?

SEN. CHUCK HAGEL ®, NEBRASKA: Larry, we are seeing played out here a series of very serious accusations and charges against not just the Bush administration, but the Clinton administration, and previous to that, the first Bush administration and Reagan administration.

I think the objective here, really, for all of us-and we should not forget it, Larry-is to find out where the holes and the gaps are. Yes, there's accountability and responsibility for those in charge. There must be. That's our system. But the real end-of-the- day responsibility here is to fix the problems and to find the gaps, so that this country can be assured that we are safer today and we can deal with these new threats of the 21st century in a way that are relevant and give us some sense of security and accomplishment. And the world must be part of that and have confidence and trust in American leadership as we do that.

KING: Senator Biden, will Mr. Clarke help us in obtaining that goal?

SEN. JOE BIDEN (D), DELAWARE: Well, I think so, Larry. Look, I think it's important to look at the context when these things were taking place and the failures on the part of all three administrations. You have to look at the context. But I do think one thing that he says is absolutely accurate, in my experience, and that is that the very strength of this administration, their ability to focus in a laser-like way on a single issue, is also their greatest weakness.

They started off from the time they took office focusing almost exclusively the first eight months on national missile defense, so much so that I made a speech on the day before 9/11, on 9/10, to the National Press Club, saying they've taken their eye off of terror, they're focusing on the wrong thing, and we're going to pay a heavy price for it. I didn't know about 9/11. I wouldn't-but the point was, it was clear to me the focus was on national missile defense. And then immediately after 9/11, it's also clear to me, from my own personal experience, the focus was immediately on Iraq.

And I think the one criticism among many that Mr. Clarke makes-and I've never met Mr. Clarke until tonight-makes that's absolutely accurate is-remember that major fight-I was on your show-about the need to increase the international security force and the number of troops in Afghanistan, when I came back from Afghanistan, I think the first or second person there, for five days. And Colin Powell went to bat to say we had to do that, and he got shut down by the Defense Department. And the reason he got shut down by the Defense Department was in part because they did not want to divert...

KING: All right...

BIDEN: ... for any amount of time resources.

KING: Michael was, in your opinion-was Mr. Clarke impressive?

ISIKOFF: Yes, I thought he did a very effective job. I thought the apology that he started out was dramatic. It resonated at the hearings. It was the first time anybody has apologized for September 11. And I thought he also did a very effective job of parrying the attempts to undermine his credibility, which actually were bolstered not just by his own testimony, in fact-you know, less by his own testimony, by a lot of what the commission staff released in a series of staff reports over the last two days, which emphasized and flushed out many of the details that support Mr. Clarke's main charge, which is that this was not a high priority for the administration within the administration during those first eight months.

Yesterday a report about the Pentagon, making the point that Secretary Rumsfeld had barely been briefed on the terrorism issue, that the Pentagon hadn't filled the one job, assistant secretary job, special operations and low-intensity conflict, that dealt with terrorism. Today there was a staff report about within the CIA, that there were a number of counterterrorism officials in the CIA who were so frustrated by the lack of attention being given to the issue that one of them was actually considering resigning and going public to bring public attention, to try to get more focus on the issue.

So this new evidence being brought out by the commission tends to support the basic account that Clarke has given.

KING: Judith, isn't it a little amazing that in all these administrations, no one has yet said We did anything wrong? No one did anything wrong.

JUDITH MILLER, "NEW YORK TIMES": I guess if one watches politics long enough, Larry, one wouldn't be surprised by that. But I think that part of the reason that Dick Clarke had the crowd, as it were, in his hands, is that he was the first person to say not only, I'm sorry, but I failed. And I think for those of us who were watching and worried about terrorism before 9/11, you have to have that sense.

I mean, I remember when "The New York Times" did a three-part series that I was participating in, in January of 2001, about the danger that al Qaeda posed to this country, alas, I didn't get a single call for a comment or about the news in that extraordinary series. And it was typical of the attention being elsewhere.

And something else that Dick Clarke said today that I hope we can discuss a little, is that he said in a democracy like ours, with so many moving parts, it's hard to take action unless there are body bags. And I think part of the new threats that we face, that Senator Hagel referred to and that Joe Biden has spoken and written about, are these new terrorist threats that are going to be very hard to counter without sustained attention.

KING: Senator Hagel, did anything Mr. Clarke say tonight or this afternoon give you pause, cause you to question your own party or your own officials?

HAGEL: Larry, first of all, I have never taken a partisan approach to the issue of national security or going to war. I may be different than some of my colleagues on that point, but I think it's a very serious commitment a nation makes when it commits its men and women to war and some will die. And I don't think it's a matter of supporting your president or supporting your party. You support the Constitution and what you think is right for the country.

But beyond that, I would say that what was said today by Mr. Clarke-I've read excerpts of his book-are areas that do need to be probed. These are areas that Senator Biden and I, and on a non- partisan basis, Senator Lugar, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, a Republican, have questioned over the last two and three years. And it should not, it must not be put in cylinders of partisan politics because, if for no other reason, the seriousness of the threats are enough. But then trying to develop a consensus and a policy and sustain that policy to deal with these threats is very difficult, if you polarize a nation on the basis of this as a partisan issue. So some of have tried to stay away from that, and I think if we can continue to do that, then we're going to work our way through this and we'll meet these great challenges.

KING: Is-Joe Biden, do you think the administration's wrong in this attack on Mr. Clarke?

BIDEN: Oh, yes, I think that's wrong. I mean, this is a classic thing, I mean, administrations do this. These guys are past masters at it. I was kidding with my colleagues here, saying, Does he have a safe house? I mean, you know, he wasn't joking. Everybody knew. And you know, Larry. You know-you have to be objective about this, but you know the dogs are out. I mean, you know, this is the way it works in this town.

But the point that I think that Judith made is a very important one. You have to look at the context here. You know, one of the reasons why-I think this is my only criticism, if there's any, of what Mr. Clarke has said-is the implication is that, you know, the first Bush administration didn't move, and the second-and the Clinton administration didn't move. Well, you've got to look at the context. The context of the Clinton wanting to move-and I know he wanted to move-was "Wag the Dog." You had people on this show, Larry, week after week-And the reason why he went after those guys in Afghanistan-isn't that a joke? Isn't this just to take his wife, the dog, the movie...

And guess what? It shouldn't have affected the president, but the truth is, he was politically weak enough he didn't do it. And I might add, an awful lot of the guys who're criticizing Chuck and me from both our parties, left and right, were the very guys saying, You can't violate the sovereignty of Afghanistan, right-wing guys and left-wing guys saying, You can't violate the sovereignty of Afghanistan. That was the context.

The criticism of Bush, in my view, relates to this myopic focus on things that took their eye off the ball. I don't know whether it would have stopped 9/11, but I know one thing. As I said, I got unshirted (ph) hell for making that speech initially on 9/10, saying these guys were not doing anything about terror.

KING: Let me get a break. As we go to break, Mr. Clarke discusses what Ms. Miller just brought up, body bags. Watch.


CLARKE: Remember, in the millennium, we succeeded in stopping the attacks. That was good news. But it was not good news for those of us who also wanted to put pressure on the Congress and other places because we were not able to point to-and I hate to say this-body bags. You know, unfortunately, this country takes body bags and requires body bags sometimes to make really tough decisions about money and about governmental arrangements.




BUSH: We're making progress. There is more work to do, and this country will stay on the hunt. The best way to protect our country from further attack is to find the terrorists before they come to our homeland or anywhere else to inflict harm.


KING: Michael Isikoff, are you surprised that Mr. Clarke says that directly President Clinton ordered the assassination of bin Laden and that the CIA says it didn't get that direct message? Who's right there?

ISIKOFF: Well, actually, there seems to have been a conflict. Clarke says that Clinton ordered it. The CIA says that they never understood that the order was as encompassing as the-as Sandy Berger and Clarke says it was. Obviously, it would be interesting to hear what former president Clinton has to say in this regard.

I do want to say, though, on the question of-I was struck-the most fascinating thing that Clarke said, to me, during the hearings today was he laid out a scenario by which-actually, a plausible one, by which September 11 could have been prevented if there had been the kind of urgency to the issue that he thought it could be. And that was, we did know. The government did know. The CIA knew and the FBI late in August knew that two of the hijackers-Nawaf al Hazmi (ph), Khalid al Midar (ph) -- were inside the United States. Two suspected al Qaeda operatives were inside the country. Yet there was no concerted government attempt to find these guys. There was a late bulletin from the FBI.

What Clarke suggested he would have done-he says he would like to think he would have done, had he known about this, was an all-out public manhunt. Put these guys' pictures all over the place, "America's Most Wanted," have their pictures in the paper. And had that been done, which does sound like a plausible thing that could have been done, it might at least have deterred those two guys...

KING: Yes.

ISIKOFF: ... from getting on the planes, and it might well have disrupted the plot. It's the first time I've heard a plausible scenario by which the government could have taken the little information it did have and actually stopped the plot.

KING: Putting their pictures where everybody gets on board an airplane.


KING: Have people looking out for them. You buy that, Judith?

MILLER: Well, I think the problem with homeland defense and with defending us against an organization like al Qaeda, which is now global and multi-headed and multi-faceted, is that the terrorists just have to be lucky once, Larry. And we have to be lucky all of the time. It is a combination of excellent intelligence, or what we've now heard called "actionable intelligence," and sheer luck. And I'm not sure. I don't think that Dick Clarke is sure. I would have liked to think that it might have been preventable, but I don't think we really know.

I think what is shocking and continues to amaze me, and I am sure Michael, as well, is these instances time after time again of the firewall between the CIA and FBI. Everybody has known that that was a problem for years and for years, and we've heard all of these promises that information is going to be exchanged. And time and again, it wasn't.

KING: I thought, Michael, it was corrected?

ISIKOFF: I'm sorry. Well, they say it's corrected. You know, we'll never know until the next time. But the incident I just talked about was a classic example of that firewall. The CIA had tracked these guys coming into the country in early 2000, yet the information was never passed along to the FBI until very late in the game. And even then, FBI criminal investigators were not cut in on the case. So that's as clear an example as we've had, where one arm of the U.S. government isn't talking to another one, isn't talking to a third, because dick Clarke says he never even knew about the whole issue, even though he was the counterterrorism guy at the National Security Council.

BIDEN: Larry, I think the most important point he made, if you don't mind my interrupting, is when you bring in the director of the FBI, when you bring in the CIA director, as president of the United States, with your national security adviser and have them in the same room and, as he said, you shake the tree, that break downs the walls. I guarantee you that breaks down the walls.

KING: Chuck, do you agree? Senator Hagel?

HAGEL: I do. And I might add one of the things that we are finding out as we are working our way through this process-it just didn't begin, I think, as we all know, with Dick Clarke's book. But we had a gigantic collapse in our intelligence community, gathering sources, processing, that resulted in not just 9/11, but a number of problems that we've seen. We're going to have to reorganize the intelligence community. We're going to have to restructure it. It must be made relevant and far more driven by the challenges and the threats today. And part of that is the integration of the resources of our intelligence communities and the pieces of that community.

It is difficult. It's imperfect. It is imprecise. It is complicated. But we must do far better than what we have done. And I believe one of the things that will come out of this-and our Senate Intelligence Committee reports that will be forthcoming and other reports-will be, in fact, a new focus on a restructured intelligence community that prepares this country as best we can for what's ahead.

KING: We'll take a break and come back with some more moments with Senators Hagel and Biden and Michael Isikoff and Judith Miller right after this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I believe that we have been complacent as a society. I think that we have failed to fully comprehend the gathering storm. Even now, after September 11, I think it's far from clear that our society truly understands the gravity of the threat that we face or is yet willing to do what I believe is going to be necessary to counter it.




MADELEINE ALBRIGHT, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: We were mostly accused of overreacting, not underreacting. And I believe we reacted appropriately. And as I said earlier, we would have acted more had we had actionable intelligence. And so I think we dealt very appropriately with the issue.


KING: Let's take a couple calls for our panel. Nashville. Hello.

CALLER: Yes. My question is, I would like to know, when two of the hijackers went to flight school down somewhere in south Florida, with a camel (ph) sack full of money and they said, We want to learn how to fly planes, but we don't want to learn how to take off and we don't want to learn how to land, why not-did a red flag not go up then and that should then be reported to the authorities?

KING: Senator Biden?

BIDEN: I'll let Michael answer that.

ISIKOFF: Oh. I was going to say...

KING: Michael?

ISIKOFF: ... I think the particular instance that the caller's talking about is the Moussaoui case, which was actually in Minneapolis. And he did-that was detected by the flight school. They did call the FBI, and that led to his arrest in mid-August, 2001.

KING: No, but didn't other two-didn't the other two take lessons in Florida and ask-just learn about the flying in the sky, not taking off and landing?

ISIKOFF: I'm not quite sure it was as-as crisp and alarming as it was in the Moussaoui case, but there certainly were a lot of them taking flight schools all around the country. And that's why the FBI agent in Phoenix, Agent Williams, who wrote the Phoenix memo in July saying, Look, there are all these guys from Middle Eastern countries who are taking flight school, and they don't seem to be-it's not quite clear why they're doing it, taking flight lessons. Maybe we should start looking at flight schools all around the country to see whether there's any pattern here and whether it is terrorist- related. That never got up to the-that never got approved at the high levels of the FBI.

KING: Houston, Texas. Hello.

CALLER: Ms. Miller, can we expect anyone besides Mr. Clarke to come forward and say the war on terror was inasmuch a smokescreen for going to war in Iraq?

MILLER: Well, I think that Paul O'Neill, the former treasury secretary, has already said that. And part of the strength of Dick Clarke's words is that they come on top of that allegation by former secretary O'Neill. But the fact that a former counterterrorism official is saying this, who served both in the Republican and Democratic administrations, gives them added weight. And that's why the White House, I think, is scrambling, as we've seen, to get its own message out now.

KING: Senator Biden, we have a minute left. I'll give part to you and part to Senator Hagel. Are you optimistic that things will get better?


KING: You are. Based on more information we get now?

BIDEN: Based on the fact that everybody's beginning to put the puzzle together and understand the serious mistakes that were made. And I admit my mistake. I thought this administration-well, anyway...

KING: All right. Senator Hagel?


HAGEL: Yes. Yes. Things will get better. They are getting better, for the reasons that Joe mentioned. Also, is because the fabric of our country, our people, our institutions-we are equipped to deal with change and challenge and threat, and we do it better than anyone. And America should be assured that we're going to get there.

KING: Thank you all very much-Senator Chuck Hagel, Senator Joe Biden, Michael Isikoff and Judith Miller.

And I'll be back in a couple of minutes and tell you about tomorrow night.

We also thank, of course, Dick Clarke for being with us in the first half hour. We'll be right back.

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