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20 years

alf of the National Commission on Terrorist Acts Upon The United States (i.e., the September 11 Commission) greeted former Bush Cyberterrorism Czar Richard A. Clarke like fans greeting a celebrity author. But, can we really trust the word of the guy who gave us Y2K? Can we assume Clarke is any more believable than...say...Chicken Little? When Clarke worked as Bill Clinton's Coordinator for Security, Infrastructure Protection and Counter-Terrorism he became known for the phrase that an electronic Pearl Harbor was about to befall mankind. Clarke was convinced America was going to face cyber-armageddon when the clock struck 12 on December 31, 1999. In 1995, Clarke and others like him managed to sell the Clinton Administration precisely that bill of goods—and it cost the taxpayers and consumers billions of dollars as business and industry was forced to fix a problem that never existed.

When Clarke was first noticed by the media in 1986 he was just a well-connected career bureaucrat with a considerable amount of political sway on Capitol Hill. He used his connections to wrangle the job of Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Intelligence in the Reagan Administration at a time when terrorism was just beginning to rear its ugly head in the world outside the Persian Gulf region. Prior to this appointment, Clarke served in administrative roles in the Pentagon and the State Department. Later, he served in the Bush-41 Administration as Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs. In that role, he became the coordinator of the information database on the diplomatic efforts of Bush-41 to gain support from America's allies during the 1990-91 Gulf War.

Contrary to the sterling image painted of him as a knowledgeable insider by the mainstream media, Clarke never was a first-string player in any of the four administrations in which he served.. You might say 1999the year of the Y2K fearswas "the year of the Clarke." For a very brief period, Clarke became a second tier player with a first string chorus—but only because it served the interests of the Clinton-Gore Administration to promote Clark's fantasies about cyber-armageddon. It helped Clinton and the liberals in Congress push through a legislative agenda that likely could never have been enacted without the Y2K fantasy fodder fed by Clarke. And Clarke enjoyed the limelight.

The total sum of Clarke's contribution to the War on Terrorism during the Reagan years was a scheme he concocted that Reagan actually contemplated using. Clarke theorized that if the American navy used jet fighters to produce sonic booms over Libya, accompanied by empty rafts washing up onto the beaches around Tripoli, Gadafaffi would believe that the United States had invaded his country. Clarke's plan was leaked to the media, causing embarrassment to the Reagan Administration. Clarke's invasion, needless to say, was abandoned. It is unclear what political or military advantage Clarke perceived the United States would gain, other than to perhaps scare Gadafaffi for the a few minutes. I guess that was Clarke's idea of "counter-terrorism."

As Clarke leapfrogged into successive presidential administrations he became fixated on cyberterrorism and an unshakable belief that cyberspace would be the battle ground of the future—and that, to protect America, cyberspace had to be the front effector of national security. As a high-ranking career bureaucrat who could not be fired, Clarke was demoted to the role of Special Assistant to the President for Global Affairs when he was passed, like second-hand goods, from Bush-41 to Clinton. This placed him under the thumb of Undersecretary of State for Global Affairs Timothy Wirth. Where Wirth, like Vice President Al Gore, was narrowly focused on what each thought was the threat of global warming, Clarke became blindly focused on cyberspace, cyberterrorism and a growing doomsday fear that a cyber-apocalypse was just around the corner when the computer clocks turned to "2000."

Clarke's focus was cyber-centered and, increasingly, his reports and his public remarks were pierced with warnings of impending doom from either cyberterrorism or the doomsday Y2K cyberclock. In 1995 Clarke convinced the Clinton management team that there was a real threat to the infrastructure based on existing cybertechnology that was available to anyone with malevolent intent—not just foreign terrorists. Clarke envisioned scenarios in which prankish hackers, domestic terrorists or common criminals as well as foreign terrorists and nations intent on stealing America's industrial secrets, would wage either economic or political warfare on the United States through the Internet. Throughout the latter half of the 9th decade, Y2K was woven into Clarke's cyber-nightmare until the millennial bug became the bogeyman the world feared most.

After the Oklahoma City bombing, Clarke got Clinton's ear—just as he got Reagan's ear after the Achille Lauro shipjacking in which wheelchair-bound Leon Klinghoffer was pushed overboard into the Mediterranean. Clarke became Clinton's expert on cyberterrorism and, at that moment, the threat from cyberterrorism became real in America.

As amateur hackers and cyber-pranksters began creating complicated computer viruses designed to cripple the hard drives of unsuspecting users for no reason other than to see who could create the most destructive cyberworms, Clinton responded with Executive Order 13010 on July 15, 1996. EO 13010 was followed by PDD-63 which established a system to assess the vulnerability of the cyber and physical infrastructure of the federal government and to protect the security of the national infrastructure from the growing threat of cyberterrorism. These plans were followed by another executive order in 1999 to fight cyberterrorism and still another one to protect the information databases of America's corporations. As Corporate America rushed to prevent Y2K, Clarke realized that programmers hired by those corporations to make their information databases Y2K compliant could easily slip viruses into the systems, compounding the Y2K dilemma when the clocks hit 12:00:01 a.m. on January 1, 2000. Clarke's warningor rather, his fearsappear not to have been based on evidence that third world computer programmers were third columnists, but rather they appear to have stemmed solely from the fact that Clarke realized that a great number of foreign computer programmers working in the United States came from areas of the world generally viewed as hostile to the economic and political objectives of the United States.

On Oct. 7, 1999, Clarke was quoted in an AP wire service story as saying: "...[programmers] hired to make a company's computer system Y2K compliant could easily slip a little trojan horse or malicious code into the system instead." Clarke insisted that it was possible that foreign programmersunder the cover of Y2Kcould actually be working to subvert the systems codes and collapse the delicately balanced critical infrastructure of the United States. "It is at least theoretically possible," he said, "that a nation could insert such [mechanisms], and then make demands of the United States under threat to our infrastructure... It doesn't merely have to be the use of a trapdoor to enter a system, seize control and destroy the system...Any combination of malicious viruses, denial of service, and trapdoor disruptions can create chaos." That same week, the Los Angeles Times did a cyberterrorism story in which they quoted Clarke. "An enemy," Clarke said, "could systematically disrupt banking, transportation, utilities, finance, government functions and defense...It's cheaper and easier than building a nuclear weapon." But Clarke's premiere Chicken Little disclosures were made to Signal Magazine in August, 1999. (Signal is published by the Armed Forces Computer and Electronics Association.) It was for Signal that Clarke coined the phrase "the electronic Pearl Harbor."

"You black out a city," he warned in the article, "people die. Block out lots of cities, lots of people die. [Cyberterrorism is] as bad as being attacked by bombs. Sadly," he concluded, "many of you are still in denial [about the threat of a digital Pearl Harbor.]"

The lights didn't go out, and people didn't die.

"Without computer-controlled networks," Clarke said, "there is no water coming out of your tap; there is no electricity lighting your room; there is no food being transported to your grocery store; there is no money coming out of your bank; there is no 911 system responding to emergencies; and there is no Army, Navy and Air Force defending the country...All of these functions, and many more, now can only happen if networks are secure and functional....Envision all these things happening simultaneouslyelectricity going out in several major cities; telephones failing in some regions; 911 service being down in several metropolitan areas."

On February 1, 2000 the New York Times published a Clintonesque profile of Clarke. "He is trying to raise the fear of terrorism in the United States to the right levelhigher, not too highas he girds the nation against the possibility of...what he calls 'an electronic Pearl Harbor." The New York Times quoted Clarke—who gladly reiterated his sober Signal warning for them as well: "I'm talking about people shutting down a city's electricity...shutting down 911 systems, shutting down telephone networks and transportation systems. You black out a city, people die. Black out a lot of cities, lots of people die. It's as bad as being attacked by bombs...imagine a few years from now: A president goes forth and orders troops to move. The lights go out. The phones don't ring. The trains don't move. That's what we mean by an electronic Pearl Harbor."

Chicken Little? You betcha.

Richard A. Clarke, the man who wanted to be the Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security very, very badly, is a man who cried wolf one too many times—even before he was called as an expert witness by the partisan Democrats on the September 11 Commission. When the Bush-43 Administration inherited him from Clinton, Clarke was known as the Y2K cybernut. But he was also supposed to be one of the many experienced counter-terrorism "experts" that Bush inherited from Clinton. He was also one of hundreds of carryovers from the Clinton Administration that would likely have been weeded out and reassigned to more harmless jobs if not for the threat from Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda. Because of al Qaeda, Clarke remained the National Coordinator for Security and Counter-Terrorism even though it didn't take the Bush team long to realize that Clarke was a second string player trying to compete on the A-team. Clarke was a perfunctory bureaucrat. But even worse, he was a Clinton bureaucrat with an office in the Bush Administration. Like many Reagan and Bush-41 executive branch career employees at the onset of the Clinton years, Clarke was relegated to the role of a senior-level bureaucratic information collector in the mundane process of governance. Once again, he became a faceless bureaucrat in a world of faceless civil servants. He coordinated virtually nothing and he advised virtually no one. He collected information and passed it on to his supervisor, Dr. Condoleeza Rice to analyze and convey to the President. Clarke's glory days were gone. But in his case, he was still basking in his former Y2K glory where the media sought his opinion.. In otherwords, Clarke still thought he was somebody.

Clarke continued to send memo after memo to the President, to the Vice President and to the National Security Director, but his phone still didn't ring, and no one invited him to attend the important meetings in the center ring. He was effectively out of the loop. Clarke told the September 11 Committee that the Bush people kept him so much out of the loop that he was not even told that two of the September 11 hijackers—Khalid Almidhar and Nawaf Hazmi had entered the United States. (Actually, nobody was in the loop on that one since no one knew that Almidhar and Hazmi were in the country to commit a terrorist act. There were no red flags waving over their heads. Nevertheless, the INS should have flagged them—and the remaining 9-11 terrorists as well—since most of them were in the country on expired student visas. They were not flagged by the INS because their visas were Saudi. But, that's another story. It was not a visa problem created by this president, even though it was a problem that this president was obligated to address when he restructured the INS under Homeland Security.)

Among the steady, never-ending stream of apocalyptic cyberterrorism memos that Clarke sent to his boss, Dr. Rice, was one he sent on September 4, 2001. That memo was singled out by the Democrats as an apocalyptic warning that proves Clarke was "on top" of the terrorist situation, and that his warnings were ignored by the Bush Administration. All that exchange proved was that the partisan Democrats on the September 11 Committee were given a synopsis of Clarke's book, Against All Enemies. The September 4 memo, they claim, proves that Bush's "top" counter-terrorism adviser warned that hundreds of people could die by a strike from al Qaeda, and that the Bush Administration did virtually nothing to combat the threat. And, they reiterated—that warning came only seven days before the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

The only problem was, that somber warning was just one of a hundred identical memos Clarke sent not only to his bosses in the Bush-43 Administration, but also in the Clinton, Bush-41 and Reagan Administrations as well. Clarke was not a man "on top of the situation." He was a man so consumed with the situation that, eventually, his Nostradamus doomsday propheciesor a facsimile of themhad to come true. In point of fact, Clarke's memo was a vague rambling not unlike hundreds of other vague, rambling memos that reached the desks of four presidents. Change the names and locations and the messages were virtually the same.

The biggest problem Clarke faces in the court of public opinion is not that he lives in a fantasy world where cyberterrorists are preparing to unleash cyber-armageddon on an unsuspecting worldeven though that is true. Clarke's biggest problem is that his own words from speeches and public remarks refute the allegations he has leveled against the Bush Administration. Clearly Richard A. Clarke is a man on a mission. And his mission appears to be twofold. Clarke appears determined to extract revenge against the man who denied him the job as Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security and against the woman, Condoleeza Rice, who demoted him from his role as National Coordinator for Security and Counter-Terrorism to that of Special Advisor for Cyberspace Security on October 9, 2001. But, that would be the plum in the pie as far as Clarke was concerned. His primary objective in addressing the September 11 Commission appears to be to sell books. Being the star witness at the September 11 hearings—where half the committee members and two-thirds of the TV journalists flash your book cover—is better than doing a hundred radio and TV talk shows.

I wonder if Clarke's Against All Enemies will outsell Michael Hyatt's The Millennium Bugor the thousands of other tomes and articles that fed off Clarke's fantasy by extolling the disaster that awaited mankind on January 1, 2000?


Just Say No
Copyright 2009 Jon Christian Ryter.
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