Friday, October 08, 2004

Reading Richard Clarke 

Unlike many people with strong political views, I try to devote at least half my reading to authors with whom I expect to disagree. You have to know how the other side looks at the world, and occasionally they make arguments that rock your world. The most recent such book for me was Imperial Hubris, by Anonymous, which I may even read a second time. While I do not agree with everything in that book -- the author's take on the Iraq war in particular -- it is essential reading on the war on Islamist jihad.

The same cannot be said for Richard Clarke's book, Against All Enemies, half of which I read on my flight across the Atlantic yesterday. It may pick up on the back half -- I'm still in the Clinton Administration, as it were -- but there is very little in the first half Clarke's book that I did not already know, more or less, other than details of bureaucratic infighting. There are, however, very interesting tidbits.

The first weird passage involves the right-wing conspiracy theory that the Oklahoma City bombing originated with Al Qaeda. I had read references to this theory on the wingnut fringe, but I had not seen any writer with a reputation to protect push it along. Even the Bushies have not floated the story, which (if true) would make the Clinton Administration's failures particularly damning. But Clarke seems to take the story seriously, without being willing to say as much. Here is everything that he writes on the topic (emphasis added):
Another conspiracy theory intrigued me because I could never disprove it. The theory seemed unlike on its face: Ramzi Yousef or Khalid Sheik Muhammad had taught Terry Nichols how to blow up the Oklahoma Federal Building. The problem was that, upon investigation, we established that both Ramzi Yousef and Nichols had been in the city of Cebu on the same days. I had been to Cebu years earlier; it is on an island in the central Philippines. It was a town in which word could have spread that a local girl was bringing her American boyfriend home and that the American hated the U.S. government.

Yousef and Khalid Sheik Muhammad had gone there to help create an al Qaeda spinoff, a philippine affiliate chapter, named after a hero of the Afghan war against the Soviets, Abu Sayaff. Could the Al Qaeda explosives expert have been introduced to the angry American who proclaimed his hatred for the U.S. government? We do not know, despite some FBI investigation. We do know that Nichols's bombs did not work before his Philippine stay and were deadly when he returned. We also know that Nichols continued to call Cebu long after his wife returned to the United States. The final coincidence is that several Al Qaeda operatives had attended a radical Islamic conference a few years earlier in, of all places, Oklahoma City.

That's it. Clarke does not go on to say that he thinks the theory is bullshit because of reasons X, Y and Z. He just leaves it hanging there, implying that he believes that Nichols did, in fact, learn how to make bombs from Al Qaeda. But he does not want to come out and say it, in part because it interferes with the strongly pro-Clinton line in the book. For example, if he said he believed the Nichols-Al Qaeda link, it would impeach this argument:
[After reviewing the bombing of the Marine barracks in Lebanon and Pan Am 103,] [t]hose two acts stood as the most lethal acts of foreign terrorism against Americans until September 11. Nothing occurring during Clinton's tenure approached either attack in terms of the numbers of Americans killed by foreign terrorism. [Unless you believe the Nichols-Al Qaeda conspiracy - ed.] Neither Ronald Reagan nor George H.W. Bush retaliated for these devastating attacks on Americans.

I think Clarke believes the Al Qaeda connection to Oklahoma City, but he can't bring himself to say so because it so undermines his thesis that only Republican administrations have blown the war on terror. Or maybe he's worried that his new cocktail party circuit would go away if he pissed off his new friends.


By Anonymous Anonymous, at Fri Oct 08, 11:02:00 AM:

I lived in Oklahoma at the time, 55 miles from the blast site, and we felt it. Many people I talked to at the time believed there was a connection between Nichols, McVee and al Qaeda. Jayna Davis, a local TV reporter, worked for years to get her information noticed by the FBI, only to be rebuffed. Reading her data, I am convinced there was not only a Phillipine al Qaeda connection top OKC, but an Iraqi one.

Steve Bragg

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