March 24, 2004 | Broadcast

The Abrams Report

Thanks to all of you. All right, Mr. Babbin, let me start with you. You know we watch again — these are the experts today. Yesterday we heard from the secretary of state, the sort of the bosses, in effect. Today, in particular, Clarke, Armitage, some of the other people who are really the people doing the nitty gritty work in terms of figuring out what’s out there. Are the answers we’re getting good enough?

JED BABBIN, FMR. DEP. UNDERSECY OF DEFENSE: Well, they’re not good enough in terms of trying to figure out precisely why we did not have the intelligence to prevent these attacks. What we are getting is a very clear picture of how the intelligence community, prior to 9/11, wasn’t really able to work with each other and really synchronize all of the information they were getting.

I certainly defer to Mr. Woolsey on this, but my understanding is that there were legal impediments for the FBI to let certain criminal information go to the CIA, for the CIA to operate here in the United States. There are a lot of things that we now know that should have been done, and quite frankly, I’m more concerned that even now they are not yet being done.

ABRAMS: But Mr. Woolsey you know if the changes that have been enacted since 9/11 had applied pre 9/11, you know I still wonder — let’s even assume that the CIA and the FBI were in better communication. You know it still seems to me if there were so many problems with the way both administrations viewed the threat of terror, that it really might not have made the difference.

JIM WOOLSEY, FMR. CIA DIRECTOR: It would certainly have helped if the FBI could have given information, for example, about the ’93 World Trade Center bombing that it had to the CIA before the passage of the USA Patriot Act in ’01. But that was impossible under the federal rules of criminal procedure at the time. There were things that could have been better.

But generally speaking, I think one wants to be careful believing that intelligence is going to give you a number of opportunities to do things like shoot a predator’s missile at bin Laden or grab him in a camp in Afghanistan. They had a few chances one way or another to do things like this. But there was always something wrong. There were people from the United Arab Emirates there and they didn’t want to take a chance of hurting them or Zawahiri was beside a mosque and you didn’t want to take a chance of damaging the mosque.

ABRAMS: Well is it fair then to blame the Clinton administration for that? I mean we’re hearing the reasons why they didn’t go after him, and of course, it’s easy to have “20/20” hindsight. But is it fair those who say, look, Bill Clinton’s administration is to blame because they had all those opportunities and they didn’t pursue them.

WOOLSEY: Well there’s plenty of blame in this to pass around. I think we shouldn’t get into the blame game that much. But I do think it’s clear the Clinton administration, for almost all its tenure, regarded terrorism as a law enforcement problem, and they I think regarded it that way for too long, a job of grabbing people and bringing them to justice, as distinct from taking some of the risks you have to take in going to war. And I think that part of the problem was they regarded al Qaeda as a completely unique and new thing in history, an institution that had no ties of — or connections or even contacts with governments and that’s crazy.

Tenet refuted that in October of ’02 when he wrote to the Senate. And Clarke is the principal advocate of that position and I think it’s wrong. It’s not as if the Iraqis controlled al Qaeda. But there’s certainly a lot of contacts. Sort of like two mafia families that hate each other and insult each other, kill each other, but work together from time to time.

ABRAMS: Yes, well that’s a subject for debate on another day. But Mr. Warner, look, there’s a lot of underlying finger-pointing going on. It’s not overt. They’re not saying they’re the ones who did it, they’re responsible. But they’re saying, well, we didn’t do it. And certainly if they had given us more or if they had done more — do you think it’s going to be important for the 9/11 commission not just to say here were the problems and here are the solutions for the future, but this particular person is to blame for this, and this particular person is to blame for that?

TED WARNER, DEFENSE ANALYST: No. I agree with Jim Woolsey. I think playing the blame game is not what this ought to all be about. The real issue is how we might have improved the intelligence, the sharing of intelligence, when we might have come to the conclusion that this was a deadly threat to us. I disagree with Mr. Woolsey that the idea that Clinton administration treated it only as a law enforcement issue. I think after the incident with the bombings of the embassies in 1998, when you fire a cruise missile at someone, that’s not treating things as just law enforcement. So there are a lot of issues to go through. But what we really ought to be aiming at is improving the procedures so that we pursue this war on terrorism more effectively.

ABRAMS: We keep saying that, Mr. Babbin, and you know everyone is echoing the same thought. But it seems pretty clear that we know the problems. We know now what went wrong effectively. And it seems to me that, you know, the politicians are all getting into the blame game now. But that seems to me really the only open question, which is, yes, we know what the Clinton administration should have done now. We know what the Bush administration should have done now. And it seems to me the only open question, which I’m sure the 9/11 commission is not going to answer, is apportioning blame.

BABBIN: Well, really the blame issue is something that we don’t need to get into. We know that the Clinton administration made an affirmative decision to use these dust-off air strikes when they should have and could have sent ground troops in there, special operations people, to route these guys out, to capture them and kill them. Whether they’re blamed for it or not at this point doesn’t much matter. We had an inconsistent policy throughout the Clinton administration. What we have now, I think, is a more consistent policy. What we have to do is when we find these guys, when we have the intelligence, we have to have a consistent policy that will be ruthless and decisive and not pause and route these folks out, capture them or kill them wherever they are.

ABRAMS: Very quickly, was the Bush administration’s policy consistent pre 9/11?

BABBIN: Well, it was building up to it. The Bush administration quintupled covert operations funds prior to 9/11, or they were asking for the money…

ABRAMS: Mr. Warner…

BABBIN: … they were trying to do it.

ABRAMS: Mr. Warner, final word. I’ve only got 15 seconds.

WARNER: Well, I just think that characterization of the Clinton approach to all this is totally wrong. There are — there were shortcomings, but there was, as Secretary Cohen said, a set of arrangements put into place. There was no public…


WARNER: … support for going into Afghanistan in a major way and we didn’t have the intelligence in a way that permitted us to do it with Special Forces.

ABRAMS: All right, Jed Babbin, Ted Warner, and James Woolsey, you know, couldn’t have a better panel than this to talk about this issue. Thanks very much.