“The authors lay bare… an intelligence failure of historic proportions.”
—JOHN KIRIAKOU, Former CIA officer and author of The Convenient Terrorist
In 2009, documentarians Duffy and Nowosielski arrived at the offices of Richard Clarke, the former counter-terror adviser to Presidents Clinton and Bush. There, for the first time, Clarke boldly accused his friend and one-time Central Intelligence Agency director George Tenet of “malfeasance and misfeasance” in the pre-war on terrorism. Thus began an incredible—never-before-told—investigative journey of intrigue into how the fall-out from a covert decision within America’s intelligence community about two future September 11th hijackers may have come to secretly define the terror wars and launched a “war on whistleblowers.”
The Watchdogs Didn’t Bark details that story, unearthed over a ten-year investigation. Following the careers of a dozen counterterror employees of the US government from the late 1980s to the present, the book puts the government’s systems of accountability under a microscope. How did current CIA director Gina Haspel manage to climb her agency’s ladder with such speed? The authors examine the merits of decades of serious accusations made against some of her key allies. What can explain how two key Al Qaeda plotters—operating inside the United States for nearly two years before the 9/11 tragedy—could fall onto the radars of so many US agencies without any of them succeeding in stopping the attacks? The authors find unexpected answers and a system all-too-easily manipulated against the best interests of the American people. Taking readers on a character-driven account of how the true lessons of the September 11th attacks were cynically inverted to empower the state, an alarm is raised which is more pertinent today than ever before.
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About the Author
Ray Nowosielski is a documentary filmmaker and journalist who has written for Salon and Truthout and contributed to investigations by Newsweek , The Daily Beast , and The Intercept. He has directed several documentaries, including 2006’s critically acclaimed Press For Truth , and has produced for HBO, Amazon, Discovery Impact, and Morgan Spurlock. He lives in New York City.
John Duffy is a writer and activist. He produced the documentary Press for Truth as well as the investigative podcast Who Is Rich Blee? He has worked extensively in the environmental movement to fight tar sand extraction, fracking, and logging on public lands. His anonymous essays critiquing the contradictions of big systems and their fallout on ecology and society appear regularly in a variety of media. He currently lives in a quiet cabin in the Midwest with his family.
Read an Excerpt
Detective: "Is there any other point to which you would wish to draw my attention?"
Holmes: "To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time."
Detective: "The dog did nothing in the night-time."
Holmes: "That was the curious incident."
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, "The Adventure of Silver Blaze"
On October 14, 2009, our four-person documentary crew parked in the lot outside one of three generic brick-and-glass business towers stretching a dozen stories into the sky of Arlington, Virginia. Looking up from inside our rented minivan, we knew one of the floors above was home to Good Harbor, the start-up security consulting firm owned by Richard Clarke. He had been the National Coordinator for Counterterror, more colloquially known as the "White House counterterror adviser," working during both the Clinton and Bush administrations. By the time of our interview, he was six years out of government service.
We instructed the two camera operators to "roll" from the moment we entered until the moment we left. This would be our key interview. Clarke had been the top man in the land for countering terrorism, and he was in a unique position to answer the central question on our minds: If the CIA had been running some kind of operation regarding two 9/11 hijackers of Saudi origin, Khalid al Mihdhar and Nawaf al Hazmi, as the facts indicated, had they done it alone, or had it been green-lit by the Clinton or Bush White Houses?
Heading into the interview, we were concerned that Clarke would find the subject uncomfortable and only engage with it to a shallow degree. We had developed a stair-step strategy, first aiming to get him to confirm certain details around the edges. We then hoped to use those confirmations to build toward the heart of the matter. Unbeknownst to us, Clarke had agreed to the interview that day eager to come clean about his thoughts. What he had to say would have an impact on the counterterror community of his era. Despite four major government investigations into the attacks in the interim, many who were employed by the government had been debating internally for the past eight years over what had gone wrong. Clarke would shine a light.
Inside his conference room, a row of windows faced east offering a view of the Washington Monument. Our lights were almost in place when we got our first glimpse of him, entering without pretense and quietly taking a seat at the head of the table. He was shorter than we had expected, balding, with white and silver hair. Wearing a blue suit and wire glasses, Clarke seemed comfortable. His face flashed moments of warmth, while his eyes, we felt, betrayed a world-weary thoughtfulness. Over the course of our discussion, his posture, his demeanor, and his precise articulation of certain points would convince us of his sincerity. It seemed he was laying his cards on the table.
"Look, the basic story about these two guys, Mihdhar and Hazmi, is that they entered the United States [in the year 2000]. The CIA didn't know about it at the time, but they discovered fairly soon thereafter. And fifty," he said, repeating it for emphasis, "fifty people in the CIA had access to that information, people ranging from low-level analysts all the way through the CIA director. That information was not shared with the FBI for months, and when it was shared with the FBI it was never given to the assistant director of the FBI for counterterror. And that information was absolutely never shared with the White House."
"Under either Clinton or Bush?" we sought to clarify.
"No. It was the same people under Clinton and Bush," he continued. "It was me and my staff. The CIA admits they never told us. The CIA admits they never told the FBI, until [less than a month before the attacks] when they knew about it over twelve months earlier."
We noticed a glaring contradiction between what Clarke was telling us and the primary defense that CIA officials had used in the years since the attacks. The CIA's director during the years before and after, George Tenet, had painted a picture to government investigations of his bureaucracy "blinking red" during the months before, causing him to give unheeded warnings all over Washington in 2001, his "hair on fire." How did that story square with Clarke's, that of a lack of meaningful information sharing by Tenet's agency?
We asked about a spontaneous briefing that Tenet had insisted upon presenting to President George W. Bush's national security adviser Condoleezza Rice a little over two months before the attacks. We knew Clarke had been in the room as the CIA's director and two of his counterterror managers laid out their "best case" for action regarding Al Qaeda. We wanted to know whether or not they had mentioned Mihdhar or Hazmi. Clarke interrupted us.
"You cannot expect me to remember dates, but whatever meeting it was, whenever it was, if it involved those guys' [Mihdhar's and Hazmi's] names or the fact that Al Qaeda people had entered the United States, we were not informed about it at any point before 9/11. Condi didn't know, I didn't know, no one in the [Bush or Clinton] White House knew. I never heard their names until 9/11."
As we began asking a question about another detail, Clarke lost patience with our slow approach. He cut to the chase. "Look, we had about every other day a threat committee, where CIA and NSA and FBI and [Defense Department] would brief on the latest intelligence. [The CIA] never briefed us [on this]. We must have had dozens, scores of threat committee meetings over the period of time when they knew these guys were inside the country, and they never mentioned it. They were sharing vast amounts of information with me and my staff, and we had a structure, both to get their written reports, their raw reports, and to get oral briefings, and over a year goes by, and they never tell us." He came to his point, flying directly into the heart of the matter. "That means one thing to me: there was an intentional and very high-level decision in the CIA not to let the White House know."
Former Cabinet-level presidential advisers, as a general rule, do not level such public accusations against America's premier spy agency. The words reached our ears and left us momentarily shocked. He must know, we thought to ourselves, that when we release the interview his words will reverberate through the halls of the CIA's Langley headquarters. We asked the obvious: "How high level?"
Clarke replied without hesitation, "I would think [that kind of decision] would have to be made by the CIA director."
Preparing for this interview, we thought we might have to assemble a barrage of admissions in order to get Clarke to, perhaps, concede such a thing could have happened. Our own investigation up to that point had left us leaning in that direction to explain a lot about the performance of the intelligence agencies in the years before the attacks. Now Clarke was deciding to go on record to indict his former colleague, and former friend, the CIA's beloved former leader George Tenet.
"So now the question is 'Why?'" Clarke asked with a tone that hinted he was about to lay out his theory. He did first make a point of letting us know that, "We are now in the area of conjecture and hypothesis."
It was clear Clarke would not need our help to say what he wanted to say. We kept quiet and let him tell his story. "I have thought about this a lot, and there is only one conceivable reason that I can come up with [to explain the agency's repeated failure to share information about the hijackers]. There may be other reasons, but I've only been able to come up with one."
We leaned in. "I can understand [CIA] possibly saying, 'We need to develop "sources" inside Al Qaeda. When we do that, we can't tell anybody about it.' And I can understand them perhaps seeing these two guys show up in the United States and saying, 'Ah ha, this is our chance to "flip" them, this is our chance to get ears inside Al Qaeda.' And to do that, we can't tell anybody outside the CIA, until we got them, until they're really giving us information." He summed it up for us, "The CIA was trying to 'turn' these guys. They failed in that effort. They broke from [proper] procedures in that process, and they didn't want to be blamed after the fact."
What would otherwise be dismissed quickly as a "conspiracy theory" had within that moment become the official, though speculative, position of the former White House counterterror advisor. If he believed this, we thought, why was he only now bringing it up? And why not to the New York Times or CNN? Why give this to two unknown journalists? We later came to believe that we had simply been the only ones who had asked.
Clarke pushed forward, outlining his theory that he had been intentionally cut out of the loop regarding Mihdhar and Hazmi. "Tenet followed all of the information about Al Qaeda in microscopic detail. He read raw intelligence reports before analysts in the CounterTerrorist Center did. And he would pick up the phone and call me at 7:30 in the morning to talk about them. There was no barrier between George and the CIA information machine when it came to Al Qaeda."
His account was level, thoughtful, but not without feeling. Clearly, this issue transcended politics for Clarke. "My relationship with him," he explained referring to Tenet, "we were close friends. He called me several times a day. We shared the most trivial of information with each other." Clarke continued, "There was not a lack of information sharing. They told me everything, except this."
Toward the conclusion of our discussion with Clarke, the tone had become almost somber. We asked, "How are you left emotionally by all this? Are you pissed?"
"I am outraged," he answered, "and have been ever since I first learned that the CIA knew these guys were in the country. But I believed for the longest time that this was probably one or two low-level CIA people who made the decision not to disseminate the information. Now that I know that fifty CIA officers knew this, and they included all sorts of people who were regularly talking to me, yeah, saying 'I'm pissed' doesn't begin to describe it."
* * *
Richard Clarke first worked alongside George Tenet on President William Clinton's National Security Council (NSC), located just west of the White House inside the stately Eisenhower Executive Office Building. The NSC had been created by the same 1947 legislation that had birthed the CIA. It tended to be run by each president's Cabinet-level national security adviser, and its purpose was political, to coordinate the various government agencies toward the president's national security and foreign policy goals. Clarke served as the council's leader for counterterror objectives, while Tenet was liaison to the thirteen agencies making up "the American intelligence community."
Clarke and Tenet had a lot in common. Both had pulled themselves up from working-class backgrounds into an elite world. Both had a natural talent and instinct for navigating the Washington bureaucracy. Both had a knack for making useful DC friends. And both ended up as the only people to work at a high level in both Bill Clinton's and George W. Bush's White Houses during what turned out to be a pivotal moment in history.
One month into Clinton's new administration, a building in New York City, the World Trade Center, was bombed by terrorists. The event had helped Clarke's career, as the president began turning to him more frequently for briefings. Newsweek later reported, "[Clinton] got his intelligence from Clarke, who collected it from the various spy agencies. Clarke was not a 'principal' on the NSC, but he might as well have been, wandering into top-level meetings and even the Oval Office." Clarke was known to have more sway with President Clinton than the CIA did.
Working side by side on the National Security Council, Clarke and Tenet were in the right place at the right time. Tenet was the senior intelligence director, a position that saw him liaising with Clinton's CIA director James Woolsey, who had a notoriously weak relationship with the president. "[Bill Clinton] wouldn't let the CIA director in his office," says former State Department chief of staff Larry Wilkerson. "That's why Woolsey quit."
President Clinton decided to make Tenet his deputy CIA director in 1995 and, two years later, nominated him to lead the agency. As the "Director of Central Intelligence," George Tenet ran the CIA, but he also oversaw thirteen other bureaucracies. These included offices within the State, Treasury, and Energy departments, eight within the military, and the spying arms of both the Drug Enforcement Agency and the FBI. Tenet ultimately managed an annual budget of around twenty-five billion dollars, paying about half a million contractors and employees. By comparison, the CEO of the most profitable corporation in the United States, Exxon Mobil, managed just under one hundred thousand.
"The CIA loved Tenet," one spy told author Michael Allen. Known as a backslapper and a hugger, in a short period of time he earned something many previous directors had not, the willing devotion of his employees. "He walked the halls at all hours, chomping on a cigar, dropping into the offices of his senior officers to ask them what they were working on. He strolled through the cafeteria and had lunch with junior officers."
The tables had turned dramatically for Clarke and Tenet under a new president in 2001, George W. Bush. Clarke found his Cabinet-level position downgraded. Tenet was told by Bush himself that he was hanging on by a thread, but after a time Bush warmed to him, and kept him on as DCI.
Army Colonel Larry Wilkerson says the new president took a decidedly different approach toward the CIA director than Clinton had. "Others like George W. Bush feel it's better to co-opt [CIA directors], to 'warm hand' them." While Clarke pushed for months to get a meeting with the president, Bush and Tenet developed a close relationship. The power dynamic changed uncomfortably for Clarke, yet he still believed his pal Tenet was keeping him in the loop in his role as a demoted counterterror adviser.
* * *
We got back in touch with Richard Clarke again in August 2011. Via email we informed him that a twelve-minute piece had been edited from his interview and would soon be released on YouTube. The video was meant to create buzz for a one-off true crime podcast called Who Is Rich Blee? that we were planning to premiere online on the tenth anniversary of September 11.
We wanted to give Clarke the opportunity to review it to see if there were any statements he wanted to back away from upon further reflection. He had, after all, been strangely silent on the issue during the nearly two years since we had visited him. He had given no other interviews on the subject. Clarke hopped on the phone with us for a few minutes. He explained he would require no edits. He was standing behind what he had said.
It was also decided by our team that the time had come to use the forthcoming release of Clarke's statements to push out a response from George Tenet himself. Perhaps, we hoped, he might even sit down for an interview to defend himself. We sent Tenet's publisher a private web link to the Clarke interview and waited for a response.
A startling moment followed. A voice mail from Bill Harlow, a CIA writer who had coauthored Tenet's memoir, At the Eye of the Storm, let us know he was in receipt of our request and had sent a statement to us by email signed not only by Tenet, but also by Cofer Black, the former head of the CIA CounterTerrorism Center, and by Rich Blee, the former chief of the CIA office dedicated to Al Qaeda. Until that moment, Blee had never before publicly acknowledged his own name. His agency tended to argue in these cases that his identity was still protected by a "cover status" despite Blee's retirement. He had also never before defended his actions directly to Americans. Apparently, what Clarke told us had echoed beyond just Langley's halls and into the homes of retired CIA managers.
In our in-box, Harlow's letter read, "HarperCollins relayed to us your request to interview George Tenet. Mr. Tenet does not wish to be interviewed either on camera or on background for your project. However, in light of some of the absurd and patently false statements made by Richard Clarke in the YouTube clip you shared, Mr. Tenet reached out to Cofer Black and Richard Blee. Together they are providing the attached joint statement to you. We request that you make their statement available, in its entirety, to any media organization to which you distribute your interview with Richard Clarke."
The attachment read:
Joint Statement from George J. Tenet, Cofer Black and Richard Blee August 3, 2011 Richard Clarke was an able public servant who served his country well for many years. But his recently released comments about the run up to 9/11 are reckless and profoundly wrong.
Clarke starts with the presumption that important information on the travel of future hijackers to the United States was intentionally withheld from him in early 2000. It was not.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Watchdogs Didn't Bark"
Copyright © 2018 John Duffy & Ray Nowosielski.
Excerpted by permission of Skyhorse Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Foreword David Talbot vii
Dedication & Acknowledgments ix
A Note on Sources xiii
Principal Characters xv
1 Indefinite Doubt 1
2 Origin Stories 13
3 Shake Up 35
4 Spy Craft 49
5 It All Falls Apart 75
6 The Big Sell 95
7 Abyss 127
8 Getting Away with It 159
9 The Sword and the Scale 193
10 Identification 223