Worst of the Web Today: Taranto cited 1998 bin Laden PDB as evidence of Pres. Clinton's "inaction"

››› ››› SIMON MALOY

OpinionJournal.com editor James Taranto cited a 1998 memo to then-President Bill Clinton titled "Bin Ladin Preparing to Hijack US Aircraft and Other Attacks" to claim that Clinton ignored evidence of the danger Al Qaeda posed to the United States. However, the 9-11 Commission detailed an immediate and aggressive response to the memo by the Clinton administration.

In his September 27 "Best of the Web Today" column, Wall Street Journal OpinionJournal.com editor James Taranto responded to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's (D-NY) September 26 claim that "I'm certain that if my husband and his national security team had been shown a classified report entitled 'Bin Laden Determined to Attack Inside the United States' he would have taken it more seriously than history suggests it was taken by our current president and his national security team." Taranto pointed out that the "the 9/11 Commission reported that on Dec. 4, 1998, President Clinton received a Presidential Daily Briefing [PDB] titled 'Bin Ladin Preparing to Hijack US Aircraft and Other Attacks' " -- suggesting that President Clinton was guilty of the same "inaction" the Bush administration displayed in response to the August 6, 2001, PDB to which Sen. Clinton referred in her comments. Taranto omitted, however, the 9-11 Commission's description of how President Clinton responded to the 1998 PDB, and how President Clinton's immediate and aggressive response differed from that of the Bush administration to the 2001 PDB.

Taranto wrote:

If you're nostalgic for 1998, this is a good week for you. Poor Hillary Clinton, now a U.S. senator, is defending her husband, now an ex-president, after the latter's bad behavior, namely his outburst on "Fox News Sunday." The Associated Press reports:

"I think my husband did a great job in demonstrating that Democrats are not going to take these attacks," Hillary Clinton said Tuesday. "I'm certain that if my husband and his national security team had been shown a classified report entitled 'Bin Laden Determined To Attack Inside the United States' he would have taken it more seriously than history suggests it was taken by our current president and his national security team."

First of all, did Mr. Clinton really do "a great job in demonstrating that Democrats are not going to take these attacks"? It seemed to us that he looked not tough but desperate. He was not strong and resolute; he was lashing out from a position of weakness.

Second, the 9/11 commission reported that on Dec. 4, 1998, President Clinton received a Presidential Daily Briefing titled "Bin Ladin Preparing to Hijack US Aircraft and Other Attacks."

The 9-11 Commission report -- in the same chapter to which Taranto linked-- described Clinton's response as follows:

The same day, Clarke convened a meeting of his CSG [Counterterrorism Security Group] to discuss both the hijacking concern and the antiaircraft missile threat. To address the hijacking warning, the group agreed that New York airports should go to maximum security starting that weekend. They agreed to boost security at other East coast airports. The CIA agreed to distribute versions of the report to the FBI and FAA to pass to the New York Police Department and the airlines. The FAA issued a security directive on December 8, with specific requirements for more intensive air carrier screening of passengers and more oversight of the screening process, at all three New York area airports.

As Media Matters for America noted, this response stands in stark contrast to that of the Bush administration to the August 6, 2001, PDB. The 9-11 Commission stated that Bush "did not recall discussing the August 6 report with the Attorney General or whether Rice had done so" and "found no indication" that his aides further discussed with him "the possibility of a threat of an al Qaeda attack in the United States" prior to 9-11 -- this despite the fact that "[m]ost of the intelligence community recognized in the summer of 2001 that the number and severity of threat reports were unprecedented."

Taranto went on to write:

It is unfair to condemn Clinton with 20/20 hindsight, but history is unfair. Like James Buchanan and the Civil War or Herbert Hoover and the Depression, Clinton will take the blame for inaction while a crisis mounted. True, George W. Bush didn't do much better during his first eight months in office, but he had the remainder of his terms to make up for it. As someone who is obsessed with his own legacy, Clinton knows all this deep down, which is why he snapped in that interview. In a way you have to feel sorry for the guy.

Taranto offered no explanation as to how, exactly, Bush has "ma[d]e up" for all but ignoring Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda in the months leading up to September 11, 2001. Bin Laden and his top deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, remain at large, President Bush reportedly passed up an opportunity to capture or kill bin Laden in Afghanistan, and the newly declassified portions of the April 2006 National Intelligence Estimate concluded that the number of terrorists worldwide has increased and that the Iraq war is "cultivating supporters for the global jihadist movement."

Posted In
National Security & Foreign Policy, Terrorism
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Wall Street Journal
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James Taranto
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