former top counterterrorism official under Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush before resigning in 2003 in protest of the Iraq War. His new novel is Sting of the Drone.
Richard Clarke, the nation’s former top counterterrorism official, tells Democracy Now! he believes President George W. Bush is guilty of war crimes for launching the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Clarke served as national coordinator for security and counterterrorism during Bush’s first year in office. He resigned in 2003 following the Iraq invasion and later made headlines by accusing Bush officials of ignoring pre-9/11 warnings about an imminent attack by al-Qaeda. "I think things that they authorized probably fall within the area of war crimes," Clarke says. "Whether that would be productive or not, I think, is a discussion we could all have. But we have established procedures now with the International Criminal Court in The Hague, where people who take actions as serving presidents or prime ministers of countries have been indicted and have been tried. So the precedent is there to do that sort of thing. And I think we need to ask ourselves whether or not it would be useful to do that in the case of members of the Bush administration. It’s clear that things that the Bush administration did — in my mind, at least — were war crimes."
AMY GOODMAN: Do you think President Bush should be brought up on war crimes, and Vice President Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, for the attack on Iraq?
RICHARD CLARKE: I think things that they authorized probably fall within the area of war crimes. Whether that would be productive or not, I think, is a discussion we could all have. But we have established procedures now with the International Criminal Court in The Hague where people who take actions as serving presidents or prime ministers of countries have been indicted and have been tried. So the precedent is there to do that sort of thing. And I think we need to ask ourselves whether or not it would be useful to do that in the case of members of the Bush administration. It’s clear that things that the Bush administration did—in my mind, at least, it’s clear, that some of the things they did were war crimes.
AARON MATÉ: Now, Richard Clarke, you were obviously part of the Clinton administration, and you took part in the discussions on the issue of who to target. So, on this issue, in 2002, you testified before Congress, and it’s since been declassified, and you said, quote, "We didn’t want to create a broad precedent that would allow intelligence officials in the future to have hit lists and routinely engage in something that approximated assassination." You went on to say, quote, "There was concern in both the Justice Department and in some elements of the White House and some elements of the CIA that we not create an American hit list that would become an ongoing institution that we could just keep adding names to and have hit teams go out and assassinate people." Can you talk about the deliberations that took place when you were there under President Clinton?
RICHARD CLARKE: So, we had established that bin Laden wanted to kill large numbers of Americans. And the only option that we had to target him, since we couldn’t fly in and pick him up and arrest him, although we had tried that, was Cruise missile attacks. And those cruise missile attacks created high risk of collateral damage and introduced a whole set of problems. And so, we looked at, if you—if it was legal to use cruise missiles, which would kill a lot of people, why wasn’t it legal to use something that was more precise, that would just go after the very few people that we were concerned with? And that discussion went on for a while. And we knew there was a barrier there that we weren’t sure we wanted to cross. And ultimately, the fact was that President Clinton did authorize CIA to attempt to arrest bin Laden, and failing that, he authorized the use of lethal force. That was a time when we crossed the barrier and actually had a name on a hit list. We knew, however, that the Israelis had been doing this for a long time, coming up with hit lists. And we knew it was extremely counterproductive in their case, and we wanted to avoid that.
Fast-forward to the Bush administration and then the Obama administration, and you have, as I describe in chapter two of the novel, a kill committee, people who sit around in the White House passing folders back and forth of names and voting on who they’re going to kill. I just find that it went way too far. If any of us back in the Clinton administration would have imagined that in the same room, in the same chairs a few years later, people would be sitting around with a long lists and folders with pictures and names of people, and voting on who would live and who would die, I think we might never have authorized the first use of lethal force against bin Laden.
AMY GOODMAN: Richard Clarke, I want to go to a clip of journalist Glenn Greenwald on Democracy Now! just a few weeks ago, talking about NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden’s reaction to drones.
GLENN GREENWALD: One of the things that he told me was like a turning point for him was he had an NSA job in Japan, where—and this was the job right before Dell—that he said he was able to watch the real-time surveillance being fed by drones, in which you could see an entire village in a place where America is not at war, like Yemen or Somalia or Pakistan. And you could see literally little dots of people and what they were doing, and then you would have intelligence about who they were and who they were calling and this vast picture that was able to be created of them by not even physically being in the country. And the invasiveness and the extent of that surveillance, he said, was something even he, working inside this community, had no idea even existed. And—
AMY GOODMAN: He was watching a village before it was struck by a drone?
GLENN GREENWALD: Right. I mean, these were surveillance drones, typically. And so, it wasn’t even necessarily that the drones were killing people, though a lot of times they did. That was the reason for putting these villages under surveillance, was to decide who to kill. But he could watch just how much the U.S. government covertly could put entire populations under a microscope. And the fact that this had been done without any democratic debate or without his fellow citizens knowing about it was extremely alarming to him. And the more he came to see just how ubiquitous this system of suspicionless surveillance was, the more compelled he felt not to keep it a secret.
AMY GOODMAN: Now, that’s Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Glenn Greenwald, who, with Laura Poitras, revealed the—a number of the documents that Edward Snowden made available to them when they interviewed him in Hong Kong. Richard Clarke, you sit on an NSA advisory committee for President Obama in dealing with these revelations. In a sense, Edward Snowden is having the same reactions that you had—alarmed at what he was looking at, villages that could soon be struck by U.S. drones.
RICHARD CLARKE: Well, I did for six months serve on an advisory board that looked into some of the revelations about NSA and recommended the termination of the so-called Section 215 program, the telephone metadata program, recommended we close that. We made 46 recommendations. They’re all unclassified, they’re all online. The president has taken some of them. Unfortunately, he hasn’t taken all of them. And that’s a subject for another discussion.
I have no problem with reconnaissance. Reconnaissance occurs all the time. There are lots of countries now that have satellites with high-resolution cameras that take pictures all the time. That doesn’t trouble me. I’ve grown used to it. I’ve grown used to the fact that in this city of Washington, I’m probably on a hundred cameras a day, whether it’s in the elevator or on the sidewalk or driving in my car. I know when the car—when I’m in the car and the cameras get me, because they send me a ticket.
But we’re on camera all the time, and not just by the government. In stores, we’re on camera. And stores are now combining that information with our mobile phones to look at our buying patterns and notice that we spent some time at the perfume counter and we didn’t buy anything, and then we get a little text email or something, you know, telling us about perfume, because we have an interest in it, because they saw us on a camera standing in front of the counter. The surveillance by government and by the private sector and the use of data, big data analysis, matching data from one source with data from another, is a real issue that we need to address as a government. President Obama has started that. He has asked John Podesta to do a major review of the big data possibilities out there. But I think we, as a country, need to have a discussion about that.
AMY GOODMAN: Your thoughts about Edward Snowden? In an interesting way, he’s similar to you. You quit over the U.S. invasion of Iraq. You talked about how President Bush came up to you and said, what, the issue was Iraq, and you looked at him startled when—after 9/11, saying Iraq has nothing to do with it. You blew the whistle, like Edward Snowden did. Your thoughts on that kind of parallel and what you think should happen to Edward Snowden?
RICHARD CLARKE: Well, there’s not too much of a parallel. I resigned, quit the government altogether, testified before congressional committees and before the 9/11 Commission, wrote a book revealing what the Bush administration had and had not done to stop 9/11 and what they did after the fact, how the president wanted me, after the fact, to blame Iraq for the 9/11 attack. What Snowden has done has clearly exposed programs that were stupid, that were, I think, illegal, some of them—personally, my view—and those programs have, some of them, stopped. And I’ve been part of the effort to stop some of them, particularly the 215 telephone metadata program, which I did not know about. I had been out of the government for 10 years. And when I found out about it as a result of the Snowden revelations, I was gobsmacked. I couldn’t believe that the government was doing that.
AMY GOODMAN: Richard Clarke served as counterterrorism czar under President Clinton and President Bush. He has just published a novel titled Sting of the Drone. He recently served on President Obama’s advisory panel on NSA spying.
If you’d like a copy of today’s show, go to democracynow.org. Also on our website, you can watch our interview with the longtime Japanese-American civil rights activist, Yuri Kochiyama, who’s died at the age of 93. She talks about being with Malcolm X when he was assassinated in 1965, as well as her time living in a Japanese internment camp in World War II with her family.