Jewish World Review Nov. 7, 2001 / 21 Mar-Cheshvan, 5762
http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com -- IT'S time for a pause, but not in the bombing. Great Britain's Tony Blair has just urged one and all never to forget "why we are doing this" -- namely, fighting Islamist terrorism. But is it possible to forget? The prime minister seems to believe that the shock of Sept. 11 is receding for some, settling into the past as a neatly repressible memory. That such callousness might exist is something to ponder as the grim pageant of memorial services continues, day after day, for victims who died in the attack.
Now might also be an appropriate time to pause and consider why we find ourselves in the historical position of having to be "doing this" in the first place -- particularly considering that some people, as recently retired CIA veteran Anne Allen told The Washington Times, "don't even have the grace to keep their mouths shut." Allen, a 37-year-veteran of the intelligence agency, was responding to what former Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright had to say this week about why the Clinton administration allowed Osama bin Laden and his network to terrorize and kill Americans during the past decade, and live on to terrorize and kill Americans in this one.
While Bill Clinton likes to talk up near misses on Osama bin Laden with the relish of a fisherman fooling about the "one that got away," Albright tells a different story. According to the former secretary of state, the poor Clinton administration never received the intelligence information needed to link bin Laden's group to attacks on the two U.S. embassies in Africa or the USS Cole. The administration, she adds, never had the public support required to take on Al Qaeda, either. In other words, her hands -- her boss' hands -- were completely tied. Given this handicap, it's a wonder that either of them ever managed to pass the buck at all.
What Albright doesn't mention, of course, is Clinton's disastrous move to bar intelligence contacts with anyone even teetering on the edge of eligibility for the Eagle Scouts. This decision effectively cut the flow of intelligence information off at its, frankly, often tainted source. And there's no word from the former secretary of state on the sundry measures short of military action the administration could and should have taken. These possibilities include, as the former CIA employee noted, securing our borders, matching intelligence information with visa applications, linking FBI lists with airline manifests, and stockpiling assorted vaccines against the bioterrorist threat.
Albright seems similarly untroubled by second thoughts about the unconscionable Clinton policy of treating terrorism against Americans, from the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center to the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole, as criminal matters to be investigated by the FBI and dealt with by the courts -- not terrorist attacks requiring national action. And she shows little awareness of the opportunity her administration missed by not trying -- ever -- to muster public support for a campaign against terrorism. Guess everyone was too busy trying to muster public support to stay in office. "We cannot alter the past," Albright said, a tad on the defensive side. That, of course, doesn't mean that we shouldn't face up to it in an attempt to understand it.
But try understanding this: The Washington Post reports that the FBI hesitated "for years" to investigate radical Islamic clerics in this country "despite evidence that their mosques had been used to recruit and fund suspected terrorists." Using the hair-raising example of the thankfully incarcerated Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman -- "the blind cleric" whose enduring links to Al Qaeda and to those guilty of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings make him a central figure in the Islamist terror network -- the newspaper reveals that not only was Rahman's investigation stalled for five months after the first Trade Center bombing (three years after the bureau began receiving intelligence reports pointing to the man's terrorist past), the bureau never brought Rahman before a grand jury, bugged his offices, subpoenaed his mosque's records or wiretapped his phones.
Turns out the FBI considered possible charges of "religious persecution" to pose a greater threat to the national interest than possible acts of terrorism. "A change in thinking may be taking place today," a senior FBI official rather feebly told the Post.
May be taking place? While preserving the memory of why we fight, it's important to consider why we have to fight. We can't, as Albright has said, alter the past. But we can deepen our understanding and learn from it. No doubt our future depends on doing exactly
JWR contributor Diana West is a columnist and editorial writer for the Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.