Ijaz: He and some of his staff members were convinced that by forcing bin Laden's expulsion from Sudan the arch-terrorist would run back to Afghanistan where, they incorrectly assessed, it would take him years to get back up and running. That would buy them enough time to push through the armed Predator drone concept. Then, if the Predator found bin Laden, as it did in 1999, Clarke could personally order it to kill the Saudi fugitive and reap the glory of having given that order.
Why is Clarke trying to prove Iraq and Al Qaeda aren't connected? — (Brenden, Portland, OR)
Ijaz: Let's face it: had the book said anything positive about the Bush administration or made the tangible case of a connection between Al Qaeda and Iraq, it wouldn't sell very many copies. The media are always desperate to find some insider who will trash the administration for what they perceive are the faults in President Bush's policy paradigms. The same happens to any administration while it is in power — that's part of life in Washington. What is so dangerous about the Clarke affair is that he has taken the focus of our senior National Security Council and intelligence officials away from the job at hand — defeating the terrorists — and instead given the terrorists comfort as they watch in amusement while one branch of our government feuds with another. I remind you that Clarke himself made the original connection between Al Qaeda and Iraq. In a January 23, 1999 Washington Post article by Vernon Loeb, he told Mr. Loeb regarding the August 20, 1998 U.S. missile strike on the al-Shifa pharmaceutical plant that intelligence existed which connected bin Laden to the ownership of the al-Shifa plant, the Iraqi nerve gas agents, and Sudan's ruling junta, the National Islamic Front. If he knew that then, stated it for the record, and it was never disputed by anyone, it is either a flat lie or a severe memory lapse for him to say anything else now.
The Bush administration only uses Ansar al Islam and Zarqawi as their proof of a connection. If there really is more evidence, why don't they use it? — (Meg, Schenectady, NY)
Ijaz: This is a serious mistake on the part of the administration, and frankly I cannot tell you why. The evidence of Iraq's contacts with, support for and intimate relationship at an intelligence level with senior Al Qaeda operatives including bin Laden is plentiful. My suspicion is that the collection of that data involved sensitive sources and methods, and that there may still be ongoing operations in that part of the world (i.e., with Syria or Iran) where either the same or similar sources and methods are being used. We certainly don't want to aid and abet the enemy. If this is not the case, then the Bush White House has made a serious political error in judgment not sharing openly all the evidence they have of an Iraqi-al Qaeda connection.
If Sudan was a state sponsor of terror, why would it be in their interest to cooperate with the U.S.? — (Dave, Pheonix, AZ)
Ijaz: By 1996, bin Laden was actively interfering in the internal politics of Sudan. He was siding with its Islamist leader and then Speaker of the National Assembly Hasan al-Turabi (an ideologue) against the government of Omar Hasan El Bashir, Sudan's military dictator (and a pragmatist). Bin Laden wanted to rule over a state, and Turabi was a willing participant in making that happen. In Islam, there is a clearly written rule that if you are a guest in someone's home, you never cause a fight between husband and wife. If you need any proof of the rift between Turabi and Bashir, just yesterday Turabi was arrested along with 12 other Sudanese army officials for conspiring to overthrow Bashir's government. This is the second time in five years Turabi has been put under arrest for anti-government activities. So, at that time, Sudan's interest in getting rid of bin Laden and cooperating with the U.S. was more for internal domestic political reasons than anything else, and they were shopping to see what price if any they could extract from Washington if the Sudanese were willing to hand him over. Unfortunately, our people in the U.S. government just didn't understand the magnitude of the threat Al Qaeda and bin Laden were growing into at that time, no matter how many different ways I tried to tell them. And I am on record in my op-ed pieces, testimony before Congressional and Senate committees, and in personal meetings with all our senior national security and intelligence officials as having said so. Had they understood how fearful Bashir was of bin Laden at that time (even though he could not openly admit it), they might have understood the power behind bin Laden's various moves in 1996.
If Clarke passed up a golden opportunity to get bin Laden more than once, is it because he didn't care, or because other larger forces on a global scale were at work? If it is the latter, what is the likelihood anyone will broach the subject publicly? — Joan (Blue Point, NY)
Ijaz: Clarke's fundamental viewpoint on terrorism was never concerned with dismantling Islamic extremists by getting inside their networks and unraveling them from within, which is the policy track I advocated with President Clinton and Sandy Berger, among others, at the time. Clarke was of the view that our military was technologically sophisticated enough to literally find and kill all the bad guys with Predator drone missile strikes. Except by the time he got an armed Predator in the air, Khobar Towers had been bombed, the U.S. Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania had been bombed, the USS Cole had been attacked — how many terrorist strikes had to take place before we got the message these guys were serious about destroying our way of life. It's all quite simple, really. You had a president who didn't want to hear bad news from his intelligence chief and therefore rarely met with him or read his memos. You had a lawyer turned national security adviser who couldn't grasp the magnitude of the threat and relied on his aides like Clarke to do the thinking for him. And you had men like Clarke with oversized egos who genuinely thought they had Al Qaeda pegged as a ragtag bunch of Islamist fanatics who would be fun to go hunting after with U.S. Predator drones. In a nutshell, the U.S. national security apparatus, when it came to understanding Islam's lunatic fringe, was kindergarten under President Clinton. The terrorists were getting their PhDs in becoming perhaps the most serious threat humanity has yet faced other than disease and natural disasters.
Mansoor Ijaz is a FOX News Channel foreign affairs and terrorism analyst and founder and chairman of The Crescent Partnerships, a series of New York-based private equity partnerships focused exclusively on the development of national security technologies.
As a private American citizen, Ijaz negotiated Sudan’s counterterrorism offer to the Clinton administration in April 1997 and proposed the framework for a cease-fire of hostilities in Kashmir between Indian security forces and Muslim separatists in August 2000.