Jonah Goldberg

From the day George W. Bush was elected president, he reinstituted the policy of having daily meetings with the head of the CIA, a tradition Bill Clinton canceled. Indeed, Clinton never met privately at all with his first CIA Director James Woolsey after the initial job interview. When a plane crashed on the White House lawn in 1994, the joke in Washington was that it was Woolsey trying to get an appointment.

According to a New Yorker article, FBI Director Louis Freeh considered Clinton's national security adviser, Sandy Berger, to be a "public relations hack, interested in how something would play in the press."

Meanwhile, Bill Clinton despised Freeh and could barely stomach talking to him. Whoever was to blame for the sour relationship is irrelevant. Clinton was to blame for letting a spat get in the way of national security.

As we've heard from so many witnesses, throughout the 1990s the CIA, FBI and Justice Department were actively - not passively - impaired in their work to a scandalous extent. The CIA was told that it couldn't work with individuals with dubious "human rights" records. Unfortunately, people with ties to terrorists are not captains of their Mormon bowling leagues.

And, of course, there was Clinton's string of underwhelming, ineffectual and largely counterproductive responses to a string of attacks on America, starting with the first World Trade Center bombing.

The one recurring theme in the 9/11 hearings is the unanimous agreement that the "wall" between intelligence gathering and criminal prosecutions was too high and too thick, and that this was the single most obvious explanation for our failure to stop the 9/11 attacks.

Well, as we learned from John Ashcroft's testimony, the Clinton Administration took its trowel and cemented a new layer of bricks to that wall of separation. In 1995, the FBI was instructed that intelligence and criminal investigations had to be separated even further than "what is legally required" to avoid "the unwarranted appearance" that our intelligence operatives were - shriek! - sharing their information with prosecutors, and vice versa.

The author of this directive? Clinton's Deputy Attorney General (and Al Gore confidant) Jamie Gorelick, who now sits in self-righteous judgment on the 9/11 commission - when she should be called before it to explain herself.

The Bush team may not have done everything it could have prior to 9/11. But, for the previous team, not doing everything they could was policy.


Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the forthcoming book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
 
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