Ex-Terror Aide: Declassify It All

CAROUSEL - A victim of the quake in Port-au-Prince, searches for other survivors on Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2010 after the largest earthquake ever recorded in Haiti.
Daniel Morel
A former top counterterrorism official and Bush administration critic is welcoming a call by Republicans to declassify his earlier testimony to Congress.

Meanwhile, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice is resisting requests to testify in public to the commission investigating the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, telling CBS News' 60 Minutes, "it is a longstanding principle that sitting national security advisers do not testify before the Congress."

Last week, Richard Clarke told the commission that the Bush administration did not make fighting al Qaeda an urgent priority before the 2001 attacks and was fixated on Iraq. The White House has denied his allegations.

Republican lawmakers hope to show discrepancies between Clarke's recent attacks on the administration's terrorism policies with flattering statements he made as a White House aide.

Clarke suggested they also declassify all e-mails, memos and all other correspondence between him and Rice, as well as her private testimony before the commission.

Asked about Clarke's request for the declassification, Secretary of State Colin Powell on CBS News' Face the Nation, said, "My bias will be to provide this information in an unclassified manner not only to the commission, but to the American people."

White House spokesman Jim Morrell said decisions on declassification "will be made in discussion with the 9/11 commission."

Rice, a chief critic of Clarke, has said Clarke praised President Bush's anti-terror efforts while working for the president, but then began telling a different story after leaving his post and writing a book that has become a best seller since going on sale last week.

On Capitol Hill last week, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn, said Clarke "has told two entirely different stories under oath" — one before the commission and one in classified testimony in July 2002 before a joint House-Senate intelligence inquiry into the Sept. 11 attacks.

Clarke said in a broadcast interview that he "would welcome" that declassification. "Let's declassify everything," Clarke said.

He also accused the administration of waging a "campaign to destroy me professionally and personally," and called on the White House to "raise the level of discourse."

Sharpening his criticism of the Bush administration, Clarke said President Clinton was more aggressive than Mr. Bush in trying to confront al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden's organization.

"He did something, and President Bush did nothing prior to September 11," said in a broadcast interview.

"I think they deserve a failing grade for what they did before" Sept. 11, Clarke said of the Bush's administration. "They never got around to doing anything."

Meanwhile, the Sept. 11 commission will not relent in its pursuit of public testimony from Rice but is unlikely to subpoena her, the panel's chairman said Sunday.

The White House is declining to let Rice appear at the commission's televised hearings, citing the constitutional principle of separation of powers.

However, the Bush administration has asked the commission for a second private session with Rice to clear up "a number of mischaracterizations" of her statements and positions about the attacks. She met with the panel for about four hours at the White House on Feb. 7.

"We will accept any testimony" from Rice, who was "very, very forthcoming in her first meeting with us," said former New Jersey Gov. Thomas Kean, a Republican named by Mr. Bush to lead the Sept. 11 commission.

"But we do feel unanimously as a commission that she should testify in public. We feel it's important to get her case out there. We recognize there are arguments having to do with separation of powers. We think in a tragedy of this magnitude that those kind of legal arguments are probably overridden," Kean said in a broadcast interview.

Rice, who has spoken at length to reporters about the administration's commitment and strategy for fighting terrorism, rejected that argument.

"It is an unprecedented event," Rice told 60 Minutes. "But this commission is rightly not concentrating on what happened on the day of September 11 … This is a matter of policy. And we have yet to find an example of a national security advisor, sitting national security advisor, who has been willing to testify on matters of policy."

Commissioner John Lehman, a Republican, said Rice "has nothing to hide, and yet this is creating the impression for honest Americans all over the country and people all over the world that the White House has something to hide, that Condi Rice has something to hide.

"And if they do, we sure haven't found it. There are no smoking guns. That's what makes this so absurd. It's a political blunder of the first order," Lehman said in a broadcast interview.

Kean said commissioners "are still going to press" for her public testimony, but were unlikely to subpoena her.

Clarke's criticism cut to the heart of one of the president's reelection campaign themes: his national security credentials, not just before Sept. 11 but also since then, in Iraq and elsewhere.

Clarke has suggested the president pressured aides to find an Iraq link to Sept. 11. Rice acknowledged Sunday that Mr. Bush asked whether Iraq was involved, but denied he wanted a particular answer.

"The president asked a perfectly logical question," Rice said. "This was a country with which we'd been to war a couple of times, that were firing at our airplanes in the no-fly zone. It made perfectly good sense to ask about Iraq."

60 Minutes Correspondent Ed Bradley asked Rice why, according to some reports, there have been more terrorist attacks in the 30 months since Sept. 11 than there were in the 30 months before — despite the war on terror.

"We are being attacked by them because they know that we're at war with them. And they're going to continue to attack," Rice said.