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Fmr. Counterterror Chief Richard Clarke on Intel Bill, Iraq and the Threat of Another Attack on the U.S.

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As the House approves the biggest overhaul of the country’s intelligence agencies in half a century we hear an address by former counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke. [includes rush transcript]

The House voted yesterday to approve the biggest overhaul of the country’s intelligence agencies in half a century.

The legislation will implement key recommendations made by the Sept. 11 commission and create a new director of national intelligence with strong budget powers to oversee 15 spy agencies. It also creates a new counterterrorism center that would plan and help oversee operations.

The bill passed with a 336-75 vote after being sidetracked by House Speaker Dennis Hastert due to concerns over issues surrounding military intelligence and immigration. The Senate is expected to pass the bill today where it will be sent to President Bush for his signature.

The bill is the second major government overhaul since the Sept. 11 attacks following the creation of the Department of Homeland Security. The legislation stalled last month and appeared dead for the year, but found new life under pressure from families of victims of the Sept. 11 attacks.

During the 9/11 hearings last March, controversy swirled over the testimony of former Counterterrorism Chief Richard Clarke. Clarke was the only person to apologize to the families of the victims of 9/11 and his testimony came amidst a political firestorm over the publication of his book Against All Enemies. The book accuses the White House of ignoring the threat posed by al-Qaeda leading up to 9/11 and that Bush wanted to strike Iraq immediately after the attacks, despite no evidence that Baghdad was involved.

Clarke is widely viewed as a leading figure in national security circles. He held top posts under every president since Reagan and served as both President Clinton and President Bush’s top anti-terrorism official.

Yesterday he spoke at the New York Society for Ethical Culture at an event co-sponsored by, DEMOS, and Pacifica Radio’s WBAI.

  • Richard Clarke, speaking at the New York Society for Ethical Culture on December 7, 2004.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Last night as the House was voting on the bill, Richard Clarke spoke at the New York Society for Ethical Culture. The event was co-sponsored by, among others, Pacifica radio station WBAI.

RICHARD CLARKE: I have agreed tonight to do the impossible, which is to talk about where we go from here in the war on terrorism and Homeland Security in 15 minutes or less. Since that is impossible, let me instead refer you to this lovely little book which was published a few weeks ago by the Century Foundation, which is called Defeating the Jihadists. This talks about the things that we should do for the next four years in Homeland Security and in the war on terrorism and in the protection of civil liberties. The Century Foundation has this available for download on the Internet at the Century Foundation,, and if you download it, it’s free. Or, you can buy it on and all the proceeds go to the Foundation. So, in my remaining time, let me comment briefly on things that we have seen in the last few weeks in the war on terrorism and in Homeland Security. First, today, we have seen the unusual, which are press reports on an assessment of the situation in Iraq by the CIA’S Station Chief in Iraq. Normally those things are top-secret and no one ever sees them. But for some reason this one has made it out into the public. And what the CIA’s outgoing Station Chief; the man who is leaving the job there after some time in Baghdad, his assessment is that things are going very badly in Iraq and that we could end up with a civil war. Please note this is not what the president has told you. This is not what Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld said even this week. But within the government, within the classified world, the assessment is things are going very badly indeed. That will not come as a shock to you. Yesterday, we had an attack on the American consulate in jeddah. That indicated two things, I think. First of all, that Al Qaeda, or some variant of it, is alive and well although the president would tell you it is on the ropes. The second thing it told me was some of the motivation, because the group that did the attack yesterday called itself the Fallujah Brigade. You may remember Fallujah; it was the city that we had to liberate in order to hold elections. If anyone has seen Fallujah since we liberated it, and film of inside Fallujah is very hard to get because the United States Military is not allowing journalists in very much. But some film has made its way out of Fallujah. Fallujah might participate in an election in January, but not in January of 2005. In order to liberate the city to hold an election we destroyed the city where 300,000 people had called their home. Again, not exactly what the administration has told you. They have told you we liberated it to have an election but the reality is we have destroyed it. The third thing that has happened recently is the president continues the appointments of his new Cabinet. His new Cabinet, which is, if the old Cabinet was a closed circle, this Cabinet is an infinite dot. They are keeping Donald Rumsfeld. They are appointing as the attorney general someone who participated in drafting memos saying the torture was permitted. So the man who is now protecting our civil liberties believes torture is permitted. They have at the head of CIA a Republican politician. And they have now appointed as secretary of Homeland Security a man who totally failed in his mission in Baghdad to help create a police department. The fourth thing that I would note in recent days is the administration discussing the Iranian Nuclear Program. Now, there may well be an Iranian Nuclear Program. And if there is, that should be a source of concern for all of us. But who in the world, who in a punitive coalition, who in the United Nations, will believe us when we go to them again and say that a country in the Middle East is building a nuclear bomb and we have to do something about it? Nonetheless, word is leaking out of the Pentagon that orders have gone to central command to update the contingency plan for hostilities against Iran. We all need to watch this space very carefully and very closely. Because while we do have to worry about Iranian-sponsored terrorism and Iranian nuclear programs, we also have to make sure that we do not repeat the mistake of Iraq. The fifth thing is actually something more hopeful. Perhaps by the time we leave here tonight the House and Senate will have passed the 9/11 Commission’s recommendations. And those recommendations are not merely what the press has told you about, changing organizational designs for the Intelligence community. Also in the bill are some extremely important measures, such as increasing the United States’ government’s participation in what the 9/11 Commission called the battle of ideas. Secondly, increasing economic support for Islamic countries in need such as Pakistan and Yemen where we need to build schools other than those that teach killing. Thirdly, the bill creates a national commission to preserve our civil liberties. This is very different than what the president signed in his executive order which was an in-house panel made up of people from within the administration who would only comment on civil liberties when asked. This legislation creates an independent commission with the power of subpoena to have oversight on all U.S. Government activities that might infringe on our civil liberties. This brings me to the title of my book. I often get asked at events like this why the title of the book is Against All Enemies. It is because I fear that people are using the threat of terrorism to undermine our civil liberties. And, therefore, I think we need to remind people of the oath of office that the president has taken and that all federal officials have taken. An oath of office written in the constitutional convention in Philadelphia over 200 years ago. An oath of office that requires federal officials to say that they will preserve, protect and defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic. We all hope there will never be another terrorist attack in the United States. But there could be, since we have not eliminated the terrorist threat. Instead, we have gone off and made it worse by invading Iraq. There could be, because we are stimulating people to join terrorist organizations by our activities in Iraq. There could be because we are spending money destroying Iraq rather than creating homeland security here at home. And if there is another terrorist attack, there will be people in the Congress who will attempt to use that terrorist attack as a basis for a Patriot Act 2, which will erode our civil liberties if passed. So the one thing I ask all of you tonight, is that if that happens, if there is another terrorist attack, this time let us react differently than we did after 9/11 when we all closed ranks and all shut our mouths and shut our minds. Let us the next time remind federal officials of their oath to protect the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic.

AMY GOODMAN: Former Counterterrorism Chief Richard Clarke speaking in New York last night as the House voted to overhaul the nation’s intelligence system.

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