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Jewish World Review Dec. 13, 2001 / 28 Kislev, 5762

Diana West

Diana West
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Lost files, lost presidency -- GOOD NEWS, sort of, for Bill Clinton and Madeline Albright. Having persisted in telling tales at cross-purposes to explain why the Clinton administration didn't do too much about Osama bin Laden and the Al Qaeda network for all those Clinton years, these two erstwhile officeholders may now read from the same page -- literally -- and discover in the January issue of Vanity Fair what went wrong on their watch.

With the publication of "The Osama Files" by David Rose, the former president and former secretary of state get a second chance to see the letters and secret memoranda that they, along with their top aides at the White House and the State Department, once ignored or failed to act upon. The rest of us, meanwhile, get a first look at a paper trail documenting the futile efforts by Sudan, of all places, to alert the United States to the workings, the identities and the movements of the Al Qaeda network, including Osama bin Laden.

Sudan, of course, is no land of milk and honey. Indeed, it is a pit of violence, persecution, and even slavery of Christians and animists. But, amazingly, there is a "but"-- beginning in 1996, Sudan made a series of diplomatic overtures to the Clinton administration.

Hoping to see its terrorism sanctions lifted, Sudan initiated a campaign to establish anti-terrorism credentials based on its apparently extensive files on the Al Qaeda network. In the leisure of political retirement, Clinton and Albright may now reconsider the wisdom of having rejected Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir's written offer to open his country to American investigators in 1997.

They may now look back on the repeated efforts Sudan made to share its dossiers on known terrorists with the United States and reflect on whether it was really such a brilliant idea, for example, for the State Department to have nixed even a meeting between the FBI and Sudanese intelligence in 1998. As Janet McElligott, a lobbyist who served in the first Bush administration, said at the time when urging the Clinton administration to examine Sudan's info-trove, "You do realize bin Laden lived there [Sudan] and they have files on his main people?"

The Vanity Fair article -- a dramatic expansion of a piece David Rose wrote for a British newspaper in late September -- reports that Sudan began trying to open the books on bin Laden in February 1996, well in advance of the terrorist attacks that would make the Saudi-born terrorist infamous. That means that for more than four years the Clinton administration refused even to consider intelligence that might have prevented the bombing of the Khobar Towers (June 1996), the destruction of the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania (August 1998), the attack on the USS Cole (October 2000), and, of course, Sept. 11.

No wonder Mansoor Ijaz, a wealthy Pakistani-American Muslim and Clinton supporter who participated in a series of failed back-channel efforts to persuade Clinton officials to study Sudan's files, wrote last week in the Los Angeles Times that this blindfolded American approach "represents one of the most serious foreign policy failures in American history." But why was such potentially vital information not only ignored, but never even evaluated?

"The simple answer is that the Clinton administration had accused Sudan of sponsoring terrorism, and refused to believe that anything it did to prove its bona fides could be genuine," Vanity Fair reports. No doubt this is true. But there could be more to this scandalous foul-up than the politicization of intelligence.

Just ask what mattered more to Clintonites in June of 1996: the news on June 25 that a truck bomb had exploded at Khobar Towers in Dharan, Saudi Arabia, or the Supreme Court's decision of the day before to hear Jones v. Clinton after the 1996 re-election campaign? Or compare another strange confluence of events. What more likely pre-occupied Bill Clinton and his advisers in August of 1998: the embassy bombings in Africa on Aug. 7, or Clinton's appearance before a grand jury in connection with the Lewinsky matter 10 days later?

Given the permanent reconfiguration of the Clinton White House into a scandal-busting spin machine, the answers to such questions are obvious, if distasteful. They may help explain, for example, why Sudan's offer to extradite two suspected bombers (and Al Qaeda members), made in the days between the 1998 embassy bombing and Clinton's grand jury appearance, was met with silence -- except, of course, for the sound of American bombs falling on what was reportedly a medicine factory in Khartoum. Scandal-riddled, the Clinton administration simply failed to function. That, surely, is the biggest scandal of all.

JWR contributor Diana West is a columnist and editorial writer for the Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.


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02/12/01: If only ...

© 2001, Diana West