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Your Government Failed You

Breaking the Cycle of National Security Disasters

by Richard A. Clarke

Hardcover, 408 pages, Harpercollins, List Price: $25.95 |


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Your Government Failed You
Breaking the Cycle of National Security Disasters
Richard A. Clarke

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Book Summary

An analysis of America's national security policies evaluates the U.S. government's mistakes and why they have occurred, in a report that poses alternative solutions.

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Excerpt: Your Government Failed You

Your Government Failed You

Breaking the Cycle of National Security Disasters

HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

Copyright © 2008 Richard Clarke
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780061474620

Chapter One

9/11 Changed Everything?

When I said "Your government failed you" to the families of the victims of 9/11, it seemed to me that I was merely stating the obvious: the government had failed the American people. And I had.

Three thousand people had been murdered in a morning, not on a battlefield, not in their battleships as had happened at Pearl Harbor, but in their offices. They had been killed by a terrorist group that had promised to attack us, and which we had been unable to stop. The CIA had been unable to assassinate its leadership. It had also been unable to tell anyone when the terrorists had shown up in this country, even though it knew they were here. The national leadership had been unwilling to focus on the threat for months, although repeatedly warned to do so. And I had been unable to get either the bureaucracy or the new national leadership to act toward the terrorist network before the big attack in the way they would want to respond after thousands of Americans had been murdered.

The American people had a right to know what the failures were that led to 9/11 and why they occurred. I tried to tell that story as I saw it, stretching over more than two decades, in Against All Enemies, a book I wrote two years after the attack. Then the 9/11 Commission was forced into existence by the victims' families. Its report and staff studies looked at what had happened from a number of perspectives and uncovered new information. Since then several authors and analysts have added further detail.

On that horrific day in September, while trying to make the machinery of government work in the minutes and hours after the attack, I suppressed my anger at al Qaeda, at the U.S. government, at myself. There was an urgent job to be done that day. But in one brief moment of catching my breath, I was consoled by my colleague Roger Cressey, who noted that now, finally, all of our plans to destroy al Qaeda and its network of organizations would be implemented. The nation would deal seriously and competently with the problem. I assumed he was right and got back to work. It turned out he was wrong. Incredibly, after 9/11 our government failed us even more, much more.

"9/11 changed everything." That was the remark we heard over and over again in the years that followed. It was only partially true. 9/11 did not change the Constitution, although some have acted as if it did. Nor did the government's response to the attacks make us more secure. Though a great deal of activity has taken place, al Qaeda the organization and al Qaeda the movement still threaten the United States. We still have significant vulnerabilities at home. And abroad, we have far fewer friends and far more enemies than on 9/12.

By the second anniversary of the attack on America, the United States had invaded and occupied two Islamic nations, created an Orwellian-sounding new bureaucracy, launched a spending spree of unprecedented proportions, and was systematically shredding international law and our own Constitution. Despite our frenzy, or in many cases because of it, the problem we sought to address, violent Islamist extremism, was getting worse. Much of what our government did after 9/11, at home and abroad, departed from our values and identity as a nation. It was also massively counterproductive. Our government failed us before and after 9/11, and it continues to do so today.

Indeed, as this book unfolds you will see how I believe that we have been failing at important national security missions for a long time. Sometimes, as perhaps proved by the end of the Cold War, we succeed despite ourselves, like a student who makes it by even with some failing grades and incompletes. But the failures are piling high and we are not correcting them; in some cases we are making them worse. And there are new challenges that, like al Qaeda before 9/11, we know are coming and are not addressing sufficiently or successfully. Though al Qaeda still exists and is growing stronger, there are new risks in cyberspace and from climate change. What is wrong that we cannot become sufficiently motivated and agreed as a nation to address known threats before they become disasters? Why do we accept costly chronic problems whose cumulative effects are far greater than those of the well-known disasters?

This book is my attempt to understand what happened after 9/11 and answer the larger question of why the U.S. government, despite all of its resources, performs so poorly at national security. The problems lie in how we as a nation have decided to conduct the process of national security, from problem identification and analysis, through policy development and implementation, to oversight and accountability. We have allowed the role of partisan politics to expand and that of professional public sector management to atrophy. As a result, we repeatedly misdiagnose the problems we face and prescribe the wrong cures. In this volume, to attempt to diagnose the problems accurately, we will sometimes go back in history before 9/11. We will sometimes go forward to see what effects changing technologies and continuing policies will have. I will attempt to suggest what we might do differently to address the unique and cross-cutting problems in a set of related and vital national security disciplines:

  • The conduct of sustained, large-scale, complex operations, such as Iraq
  • The collection and analysis of national security information by the "intelligence community"
  • Dealing with violent Islamist extremism, or "the global war on terrorism"
  • Domestic security risk management, or "homeland security"
  • Global climate change and national energy policy including the security effects
  • The migration of control systems and records into the unsafe environment of networked systems, or "cyberspace security"

This book is, as was Against All Enemies, a personal story, one told by reference to my experiences as I remember them and to the many personalities I have encountered along the way as a Pentagon analyst, a State Department manager, a White House national security official, and now as a private citizen. In the weeks before we invaded Iraq, I left government after thirty years in national security under five Republican and two Democratic presidents. I have since been teaching, writing, and traveling about the country and around the world consulting on security issues. My time in government and since provides me with a special perspective and, no doubt, distinct prejudices. One of those prejudices, which you will soon detect, is that I think that on issues of national security our government can and must work well. Before we begin this analysis of the systemic problems of U.S. national security management, perhaps I should reveal how that belief was shaped and formed.