Wednesday, March 24, 2004

Another Statement from Daschle


What did the Bush Administration do before September 11 to defeat Al Qaeda?

During the nearly nine months it took the Administration to develop and sign off on its terrorism strategy, it does not appear the Bush Administration took any decisive or effective action to cripple Al Qaeda. Perhaps the most potentially significant action the Administration took prior to September 11 was in May 2001. At that time, reportedly in response to an increase in "chatter" about a potential Al Qaeda attack, President Bush appointed Vice President Cheney to head a task force "to combat terrorist attacks on the United States." But, according to The Washington Post and Newsweek, the Cheney Terrorism Task Force never met. The American people need to know whether this is true.

Did the Bush Administration commit adequate resources necessary to defeat Al Qaeda prior to September 11?

In the months before September 11, Attorney General Ashcroft listed the Justice Department's top objectives. According to this document, the Attorney General listed at least a dozen objectives that were more important than fighting Al Qaeda and terrorism. And in his September 10, 2001 submission to OMB, Attorney General Ashcroft did not endorse FBI requests for $58 million for 149 new counter-terrorism agents, 200 intelligence analysts, and 54 translators even while he approved spending increases for 68 programs not related to counter-terrorism. Even in the immediate aftermath of September 11, press reports indicate the White House budget office cut the Department of Justice?s funding requests by nearly two-thirds.

It might be that the Attorney General has a good explanation for why the other items on his list where higher priorities than terrorism. There might be a good explanation why the Attorney General did not support the FBI request for these funds. The American people need to know why this happened.

Finally, did the Bush Administration's apparent focus on Saddam Hussein detract from efforts to defeat Al Qaeda and leave America less secure?

Paul O'Neill and Richard Clarke are very different people with different backgrounds and experiences. Yet both have spent the majority of their public lives serving Republican Presidents and both had an insider?s vantage point on the current Administration?s security policies and priorities. And both agree that from the very beginning of this Administration through the terrible events of September 11 and beyond, President Bush and his senior advisors were fixated on Iraq.

O?Neill revealed that at the very first meeting in January 2001 of the President and his senior national security advisors, these officials discussed what to do about Iraq ? not terrorism. Mr. Clarke?s observations confirm Secretary O'Neill's assessment. According to Clarke, after failing to get a cabinet level meeting to discuss terrorism, Administration officials relented a permitted a deputies meeting in April 2001. At this meeting, Deputy Defense Secretary Wolfowitz argued that Iraq posed a terrorist threat at least as grave as Al Qaeda.

Even after September 11, both Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz reportedly made the case that the Administration should use the attacks of September 11 as a reason to invade Iraq. In Secretary Rumsfeld?s case, the reason was that there were no good targets in Afghanistan.

If the Administration's focus on Iraq appears to be coming clearer, so too are the consequences - for our troops, their families, and our security. In the debate leading up to the authorization of the use of force against Iraq, a number of us sought Administration assurances that action against Iraq would not harm our efforts to capture Bin Laden and destroy Al Qaeda; would not shift the focus from those responsible for September 11 to a less immediate threat; would not drain away much needed intelligence analysts, translators, and certain military assets in short supply; would not inflame the Arab world and alienate our allies and others whose cooperation was essential if we were to prevail in the war on terrorism.

Even at the time, we were amazed at the swiftness and certainty of the Administration?s response. Far from harming our efforts in the war on terrorism, the Administration repeatedly insisted that attacking Iraq would help them.

Unfortunately, like so many other predictions advanced by the Administration as it made the case for invading Iraq, these assertions have not been borne out. Osama Bin Laden is still at large. No one can deny that vital intelligence collection, intelligence analysts and special forces were shifted away from Afghanistan and directed to Iraq. And no one can deny that our credibility and standing in the Arab world and with our allies and others have suffered greatly as a result of the decision to attack Iraq based on an apparently false claim that it possessed weapons of mass destruction.

Reward good behavior.