Counterterrorism Adviser: Probe Anti-Terror Policy

Richard Clarke Testifies Before the 9/11 Commission. i i

In 2004, Richard Clarke testified before The National Commission on Terrorist Attacks on the United States. Luke Frazza/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Luke Frazza/AFP/Getty Images
Richard Clarke Testifies Before the 9/11 Commission.

In 2004, Richard Clarke testified before The National Commission on Terrorist Attacks on the United States.

Luke Frazza/AFP/Getty Images

A series of revelations about the Bush administration's drive to expand executive authority in the war against terrorism continues to unfold.

Now, outspoken former counterterrorism adviser Richard Clarke, who served President Clinton and President George W. Bush, is calling for an investigation. But he would set some conditions.

Clarke argued in a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed for a blue-ribbon, bipartisan panel to probe allegations of abuse of power under the Bush administration.

Attorney General Eric Holder is said to be considering an investigation, something President Obama has resisted, saying it would be a distraction. But Clarke tells host Guy Raz there's a larger issue that needs to be explored publicly.

"It involves the vice president, Cheney; it involves the former attorney general, Gonzalez, and others," Clarke says. "And until we have a non-partisan, blue-ribbon panel investigate all that, we'll never know."

Though he thinks it's important to know who was up to what in the Bush administration, Clarke insists that the procedure immunize those investigated from prosecution. "Name and shame, but don't send to jail," he advises, saying the threat of prison for high-ranking officials would create "a political firestorm."

The CIA and some in Congress are already trading barbs over how much the CIA told them with respect to covert actions. A few weeks ago, CIA Director Leon Panetta shut down a Bush-era program that was developing plans to assassinate senior members of al-Qaida. The program was never implemented. Key Congressional members said they had never been informed of the program. Clarke is unsurprised by either the program or the outrage.

"I think there are two separate things here," he says. "One is: Does Congress get informed well by CIA? And the answer there is no, it does not." Clarke says the way the system works now, "notification" of key leaders in Congress is notification in name only.

"They can't take notes, they can't really protest in writing — it doesn't work, and [House Speaker] Nancy Pelosi and others in the House are quite right to say the system needs to be reformed," he says.

"The other issue is: Should we have a hit squad to go out after the leadership of a terrorist organization that's trying to kill us? I think most Americans would say yes, we should — under very tight controls. Frankly, CIA is not the right place to do that."

The CIA "has not done well on covert action historically, as opposed to clandestine collection of information, where they have sometimes done well," he says.

Instead, the job would best be handed to a "well-trained, well-disciplined unit of the U.S. military." The United States does have enemies out there who do wish to do it harm, Clarke says, "and we do need to act in our own self-defense, sometimes pre-emptively, against terrorists."

But for the most part, the job of keeping America safe need not involve hit squads or the military, Clarke says, adding that the FBI and many other state and federal law agencies are perfectly adequate for many counterterrorism tasks. Recent reports that some officials in the Bush administration proposed using the military to arrest suspected terrorists inside the U.S. are new to Clarke, "but it doesn't surprise me that it was being discussed."

"All sorts of crazy ideas were being discussed in that time frame, by people who'd never worked on these issues before," he says.

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