While discussing ABC's upcoming miniseries The Path to 9/11, terrorism expert Roger Cressey countered a series of false assertions by James Hirsen and Richard Miniter relating to the Clinton administration's role in the lead-up to September 11 attacks.
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Roger Cressey, an NBC terrorism analyst and a former counterterrorism adviser to Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, faced an array of "factually wrong" claims from NewsMax.com columnist James Hirsen and author and journalist Richard Miniter on the September 5 edition of MSNBC's Scarborough Country. Cressey's responses came during a discussion of ABC's upcoming six-hour miniseries The Path to 9/11, which ABC says is based on the findings of the 9-11 Commission report. Cressey described an assertion by Miniter that the Clinton administration "had 13 different shots" to capture Osama bin Laden as "flat-out wrong." Further, when Scarborough asked Cressey whether "history show[s]" that Clinton didn't capture bin Laden because "the president and his cabinet were afraid to do so because they may offend some people in the Arab world," Cressey replied that "that had nothing to do with it." However, Scarborough did not allow Cressey to respond to Hirsen's false claim that "[t]he wall of separation, drafted by [former Clinton deputy Attorney General] Jamie Gorelick ... led to Osama bin Laden not being captured."
As Media Matters for America noted, ABC describes The Path to 9/11 as "a dramatization of the events detailed in The 9/11 Commission Report and other sources" that will air over the course of two nights -- September 10 and 11.
Hirsen's suggestion that Clinton administration officials erected a so-called "wall of separation" -- a claim he also made in a September 5 NewsMax column about the miniseries -- echoes a similar false accusation popular among conservative media figures: that a 1995 policy, instituted by Gorelick and former Attorney General Janet Reno, prohibited Defense Department officials from sharing with the FBI military intelligence that purportedly identified lead 9-11 hijacker Mohammed Atta. But as Media Matters has noted, the memo and guidelines in question merely clarified long-unwritten restrictions on the sharing of information between the FBI's intelligence arm and the Justice Department's criminal division. Indeed, the 1995 documents had no bearing on the military's ability to share information with other intelligence agencies.
Former Sen. Slade Gorton [R-WA], a 9-11 Commission member, specifically addressed and debunked the theory that Gorelick's memo prevented such intelligence-sharing in an August 18, 2005, letter to the editor in The Washington Times:
The one witness who did name Atta came to our staff shortly before the commission's report went to the printer. He said he thought he had seen something showing Atta in Brooklyn early in 2000. We knew, in fact, that Atta first arrived in the United States in June 2000 with a visa. For this and other reasons, the witness simply was not credible on this subject.
Additionally, the assertion that the commission failed to report on this program to protect Ms. Gorelick is ridiculous. She had nothing to do with any "wall" between law enforcement and our intelligence agencies. The 1995 Department of Justice guidelines at issue were internal to the Justice Department and were not even sent to any other agency. The guidelines had no effect on the Department of Defense and certainly did not prohibit it from communicating with the FBI, the CIA or anyone else.
Moreover, the "wall" that conservatives accuse Democrats of erecting had been built well before Gorelick -- or Clinton -- took office. The joint House and Senate intelligence committees' report on pre-September 11 intelligence failures stated: "The 'Wall' is not a single barrier, but a series of restrictions between and within agencies constructed over sixty years as a result of legal, policy, institutional, and personal factors." Similarly, a ruling by the top-secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review -- when it met for the first time in 2002 -- traces the origin of the "wall" to "some point during the 1980s."
Nor did enforcement of the "wall" end with the Clinton administration. In his April 12, 2004, testimony before the 9-11 Commission, then-Attorney General John Ashcroft conceded that his own deputy Attorney General, Larry Thompson, reauthorized the "wall" in August 2001.
In addition, Hirsen repeated the debunked claim that Clinton "was offered an extradition deal with Osama bin Laden and turned it down because of legal indications." As Media Matters has noted, the 9-11 Commission found "no reliable evidence to support" the claim that Sudan, which was harboring bin Laden during the time in question, offered to turn him over to the United States. The commission also determined that, based on Clinton's testimony, in "wrongly recounting a number of press stories he had read," Clinton had "misspoken" in his 2002 speech. Further, during a June 20, 2004, interview on CBS' 60 Minutes, Clinton categorically denied that such an offer was made: "'There was a story which is factually inaccurate that the Sudanese offered bin Laden to us,' says Mr. Clinton. 'As far as I know, there is not a shred of evidence of that.' "
From the September 5 edition of MSNBC's Scarborough Country:
SCARBOROUGH: Roger, let me begin with you. Obviously there are parts of this docudrama that are more drama than fact. But talk about Bill Clinton and the central premise by ABC that he should have done more to get bin Laden.
CRESSEY: Joe, what's amazing about this, based on what I've seen so far, is how much they've gotten wrong. They got the small stuff wrong such as Khalid Sheikh Mohammed instructing Ahmed Ressam to carry out the millennium attack. Then they got the big stuff wrong, this fantasy about how we had a CIA officer and the Northern Alliance leader, Ahmed [Shah] Massoud, looking at bin Laden and they breathlessly call the White House to say we need to take him out and the White House said no. I mean, it's sheer fantasy. So, if they want to critique the Clinton administration and the Bush administration, based on fact, I think that's fine. But what ABC has done here is something straight out of Disney and fantasyland. It's factually wrong. And that's shameful.
SCARBOROUGH: But, Roger, at the same time, doesn't history show that Bill Clinton had several opportunities to go after bin Laden, but the president and his cabinet were afraid to do so because they may offend some people in the Arab world?
CRESSEY: Actually, Joe, that had nothing to do with it. If you read the 9-11 Commission report, it makes it very clear. In most of those cases, George Tenet, the director of the CIA, said because there was single-source intelligence, it was his recommendation to the president not to take the shot. There was never a case where we had a clear shot at bin Laden and the decision to take it wasn't made.
SCARBOROUGH: Richard Miniter, I know you've written a book with a differing opinion, and it seems to me there is a part of that book where you talked about how members of Clinton's cabinet were afraid of the fallout from an attack on bin Laden. Talk about it.
MINITER: Well, since February 1993, within 30 days of Bill Clinton being sworn into office, we had the attack on the World Trade Center, which the FBI determined was an attack planned by bin Laden's network. We saw an attack virtually every year of the Clinton administration and they, basically, with the exception of their brilliant defeat of the millennium plots in 1999, they basically did nothing.
SCARBOROUGH: Did they have a shot at Osama bin Laden, though?
MINITER: They had 13 different shots, including a February 1996 offer by Sudan --
CRESSEY: That's flat-out wrong, Joe. That is factually wrong.
MINITER: Well, you know what? Your argument is not with me but with the 9-11 Commission and with [former National Security Council counterterrorism coordinator] Richard Clarke, your former mentor, who said on the record to me in my book Losing Bin Laden that they had opportunities to take out bin Laden that were not -- they did not pursue.
CRESSEY: Mr. Miniter, I read some of your draft -- Mr. Clarke shared it with me -- and you got it factually wrong, and we went back to you and said what you wrote was factually incorrect, so you are not a credible source, here. I actually talked to the 9-11 Commission members and staff, and they did not say 13 times.
MINITER: Well, first of all, I submitted my drafts to Clarke for accuracy, and I have the emails from Clarke correcting the record. I also have multiple sources.
CRESSEY: Your sources are wrong.
MINITER: Why don't you read the final draft and talk about how accurate it is? And also the 9-11 Commission bought 35 copies of my book for research purposes, and part of the questioning of Clarke was based on that text.
SCARBOROUGH: Now, Roger, I'm curious about this. Obviously, there's a big difference of opinion, and I'm gonna ask if can I get copies of those e-mails. We can talk about it before the ABC show. But it seems to me, Roger -- I remember your former boss, Richard Clarke, when he wrote his book, he was critical of both the Bush administration and the Clinton administration, but once he got out and started promoting that book, he was a heck of a lot more complimentary of the Clinton administration. I thought I heard some testimony where he said there was very little the Clinton administration did the last 18 months as far as pursuing Osama bin Laden. Am I misreading that information?
CRESSEY: I think Dick is on record as saying the Clinton administration made some mistakes. I think we both -- both Dick and I believe we should have struck Afghanistan after the USS Cole was attacked. I think there were plenty of opportunities to do more. The question is, were these opportunities like what is being portrayed in this ABC miniseries? And the fact is, Joe, they're not. And so ABC is deliberately misrepresenting what was portrayed in the 9-11 Commission report.
HIRSEN: Hey, Joe.
MINITER: I got a question for you. After the attack on the USS Cole --
SCARBOROUGH: Hold on a sec, I want to ask James this. James, why would ABC deliberately put out a docudrama that somebody like Roger Cressey would say is flat wrong -- a guy that obviously was very close to these events, was very close to the 9-11 Commission, that studied it from beginning to end.
HIRSEN: Well, Bill Clinton disagrees with Roger Cressey. We have a tape that NewsMax.com taped of a speech he made in 2002 to a Long Island business association, where he said that he was offered an extradition deal with Osama bin Laden and turned it down because of legal indications. And look, [late Spanish philosopher George] Santayana says that those that can't learn from history are condemned to repeat it. There was a law-enforcement paradigm in dealing with terrorism. That's very important for the American public to see. And that's what's being set forth in this ABC miniseries. The wall of separation drafted by Jamie Gorelick, the inability of the FBI and the CIA to communicate, and the reliance on lawyers to make military decisions led to Osama bin Laden not being captured.
SCARBOROUGH: All right, James, let's look at -- you're talking about some things that actually are in the movie. Let's look at another clip.
SCARBOROUGH: James, final question to you. This is surprising hearing from people that actually ABC would put together a movie that slanted to the right. What's going on in Hollywood?
HIRSEN: Look, this is Disney and ABC. They're not slanting to the right. They blame the Bush administration just as much. And there's a hysterical reaction. They want to see this film stuffed down [former national security adviser] Sandy Berger's pants, for some reason. They seem to have this reaction that, prior to the Bush administration, historical facts are off limits. And the big picture is that the law enforcement, the sole law-enforcement paradigm for dealing with terrorists is exactly what the debate is today. There are people on the left that want to return to that approach to terrorism rather than using the military counterterrorism and considering this a war, which it is.
SCARBOROUGH: Gentlemen, thank you for being with us. And I've talked to Roger Cressey an awful lot. I would not say that Roger Cressey is on the left or the right. He is an expert when it comes to counterterrorism.