National Security Veteran Issues Urgent Warning About Terror Attack Readiness Under Trump ⋆ Epeak . Independent news and blogs
Richard Clarke Sounds The Alarm On Trump’s National ‘Security’ Council
After losing embarrassingly in court, Donald Trump said, “if something happens blame [Judge James Robart]” after the federal judge denied the administration’s efforts to block a restraining order against his travel ban for seven predominantly Muslim countries. Now, one longtime veteran of US national security is saying that if something happens, we’ll have to blame Trump. Richard A. Clarke said he’s “never seen anything quite like” the chaos consuming Trump’s National Security Council, in an interview with The Atlantic‘s Uri Friedman, published Monday.
Related: Watch The Excruciating Moment Trump’s Argument For Muslim Ban Falls Apart In Court (VIDEO)
Clarke served in military, diplomatic and national security roles in the US government for 30 years. In 1985, Ronald Reagan assigned him Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Intelligence. In the George H. W. Bush administration, he served as Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs, and led efforts to organize the coalition during the Persian Gulf War. President Bill Clinton assigned him as counter-terrorism coordinator for the National Security Council. He stayed in that role under George W. Bush, until he resigned in 2003 in protest to the Bush administration’s “fixing” of the intelligence and invasion of Iraq.
With this august, bipartisan career in national security behind him, Clarke, who has always stood on principle, no matter the cost, said,
“In terms of a major terrorist attack in the United States or on U.S. facilities, I think we’re significantly less ready than we were on January 19,” said Richard Clarke, who served on the National Security Council in the George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush administrations. “I think our readiness is extremely low and dangerously low. Certainly [government] agencies at a professional level will respond [to an attack], but having a coordinated interagency response is unlikely given the current cast of characters [in the administration] and their experience.”
Clarke criticized the ongoing staffing failures in key positions. National Security Adviser Michael Flynn resigned after less than a month on the job, after the Washington Post reported that 9 witnesses said that Flynn contacted the Russian ambassador to reassure him as the Barack Obama administration slapped sanctions against Russia for meddling in the 2016 election. Trump’s choice to replace Flynn, retired Vice Admiral Bob Harward, refused to take the job, reportedly calling the offer a “shit sandwich” because the White House refused to allow Harward to replace the inexperienced ideologues that Flynn had appointed. Trump fired Craig Deare, the National Security Council’s senior director for Western Hemisphere Affairs, after Deare criticized Trump as well as chief strategist Stephen Bannon, Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, and the dysfunction they are causing, including failing to fill key positions and filtering all messages from senior advisers to the president.
Clarke said that this failure to staff key positions has led to an unprecedented management vacuum in the National Security Council,
“I don’t know that there’s a single person [on Trump’s National Security Council] who’s ever had a senior position managing a national-security crisis out of Washington,”
Clarke described training scenarios that incoming National Security teams in a new administration would undergo. The outgoing administration sets up a situation like an ongoing terrorist attack, or report of a weapon of mass distraction being smuggled into the United States. The team is then bombarded with conflicting news reports, confusion on the ground, requests for guidance from embassies, statements coming from Congress, difficult policy choices with no time for review, all to simulate the fog of war in an ongoing crisis. Clarke said that a successful National Security Council is like an orchestra, with a strong management team that has prepared and planned for any contingency, and issues clear orders and statements, to have the entire bureaucracy working to contain and resolve a crisis as quickly and smoothly as possible. Clarke said he worries that the current National Security Council would be totally incapable of doing that in the event of a crisis.
Citing Trump’s insistence on hiring generals for civilian administration positions, Clarke said,
“There appears to be a tendency in this administration to think of [the council] as an extension of the military. And it’s not. National security is a very broad spectrum of capabilities of civilian, military, and intelligence agencies.”
Clarke concluded that the worst problem in Trump’s National Security team is that the prevailing ideology in the White House is leading the team to imagine problems that don’t exist while willfully blinding themselves to real problems,
Trump officials appear to “begin with an assumption that they know what the problems are, and very often it doesn’t seem like the problems that they’re trying to address on a priority basis actually exist. They just think they do. They think there are Mexicans pouring across the border when, in fact, the traffic is in the opposite direction. They think there’s a problem with refugees from [the banned] seven countries coming into the United States and staging terrorist attacks when that’s never happened.”
“It’s important to do the analysis, not in a completely value-free way, but in an open-minded way that … gathers data and shows empirically what the problem is and then designs options to deal with real problems,” Clarke said. What he’s observed of the Trump administration over the last month is rather different than open-minded: a “blind stumbling into things” is how he described it.
Trump’s White House is failing on two fronts: staffing key positions and evaluating threats honestly and analytically. It is hostage to its own extremist ideology. And yet, as that ideology leads Trump down legal blind alleys that have gotten the White House repeatedly embarrassed in court, Trump has sought to blame the media and the courts, two pillars of democracy. Trump has been making up terror attacks out of thin air, the “Bowling Green massacre” and a supposed event in Sweden inspired by hyperventilating exaggerations on Fox “News.” Trump has blatantly telegraphed a willingness and intention to use this toxic stew of misinformation and paranoia to execute a massive power grab in the event of an attack on the United States. According to Clarke, it is Trump himself, and the ongoing failure of his National Security Council, that is making the United States more vulnerable to a terror attack.
Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images
Marc Belisle is the Reverb Press World Affairs Editor. He is a writer, activist and teacher. He has a Master’s degree in International Conflict Analysis from the Brussels School of International Studies. READ MORE BY MARC.