McCaslin's Beltway Beat

Posted: Oct 19, 2001 12:00 AM
AS CLINTON SLEPT? Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is blasting former President Bill Clinton for all but ignoring, during his two presidential terms, hideous terrorist attacks believed to have been orchestrated against the United States by Saudi millionaire Osama bin Laden. "You had the World Trade Center attack in 1993, the Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia in 1996, you had the U.S. Embassy bombings in (Kenya and Tanzania) Africa in 1998, and the attack against the USS Cole in 2000. So we had been at war for seven years," Gingrich tells this column. "And yet the Clinton administration insisted on treating this as a criminal justice operation, insisted on not funding the CIA adequately, not creating human intelligence capabilities, so we were crippled." Bin Laden was put on the FBI's 10 Most Wanted list in 1999, with a $5 million reward for his capture. Meanwhile, Gingrich says he cannot confirm a report this week that Sudan also had offered, during the Clinton years, to capture and turn bin Laden over to the United States, which reportedly declined the gesture for legal reasons. "If true, that is phenomenal," said the former speaker. "Here we have a president who defended perjury, had the meaning of the word 'is' changed to fit his own definition, yet he couldn't find a lawyer to find a way to take out bin Laden? "Instead, we fire 66 missiles in one day with no follow-up campaign, which weakened our prestige in the Middle East. It was a public relations agony," says Gingrich, who now heads the Gingrich Group in Washington. "When I look at what the Clinton administration said - and did - it was astounding. I felt very sad when the planes hit the (World Trade Center) towers and the Pentagon, because it was possible to hunt these people down over eight years." Gingrich's guidance as the United States continues its five-week assault against terrorism? "We now have to include (Iraqi President) Saddam Hussein (on our list of targets)," he says. "And I don't think this will be a one-way fight. We can expect to get hit, but we are now committed to winning." SEPTEMBER 11 The calendar date of Sept. 11 has been designated a national day of mourning and remembrance, according to a resolution introduced by Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle and Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott. "We ask that each year on Sept. 11 the flags be lowered to half-mast, and that America observe a moment of silence," says Daschle. "It is yet another guarantee that as years pass, and wounds heal, that we will never forget what happened on that day." And what should Americans call this day of mourning? "Every description has fallen short," says the majority leader. "And so we simply refer to the day: Sept. 11." NOT SO FUN FACTS It's a frightening fact, but the number of illegal aliens living in the United States is somewhere between 7 million and 13 million. "Six out of 10 of these aliens crossed a U.S. border illegally, and therefore, were not subject to background checks by the INS (Immigration and Naturalization Service) or the State Department to determine if they had a terrorist or criminal history," we're told by former Senate Majority Leader Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va. "In fact, exit/entry records are so incomplete that the INS has no record of six of the 19 suspected hijackers entering the United States," he says. GIVE A LITTLE MORE Promoters of this Sunday's (Oct. 21) all-star benefit "United We Stand" concert in Washington, to aid victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, have contacted several area hotels strongly urging free rooms for all the performers. "Not unusual, necessarily, for a charitable fund-raiser," says our hotel insider who was among those approached, "but put it in context: The hospitality industry in this town is being pummeled, it's this area's biggest business, and nearly one-quarter of its workers have been laid off or fired since Sept. 11. The industry is still losing millions of dollars a day. "Now here comes this (promotion company) practically demanding that we and other hotels give free rooms to performers who are each worth millions and millions of dollars. Why not ask each of the (performers) to pay for their hotel rooms? It would be completely tax-deductible, and they'd be helping their nation's capital recover, as well as raising money for the charities." Among the bands performing at RFK Stadium are 'NSync, Backstreet Boys, Michael Jackson, Aerosmith, Aaron Carter, Ricky Martin, James Brown and Al Green. BUSH'S FIRST CASUALTY When President Bush stepped up the U.S. war on terrorism by naming retired Gen. Wayne A. Downing as the new deputy national security adviser for combating terrorism, Downing wasted no time selecting CIA veteran Duane Clarridge as his deputy. After all, Downing knew, when it came to combating terrorism there is nobody more experienced in this country than Clarridge. He founded the CIA counterterrorism center, and before that ran agency anti-terrorism posts in Turkey (he was chief of Arab Operations, battling the Abu Nidal, among other emerging Middle-Eastern terrorist groups), Italy (he handled the Red Brigades and Achille Lauro terrorist incidents, among others), South America (Peru's Shining Path) and Latin America (Nicaraguan and Salvadoran wars). "We intend to exert unrelenting pressure on global terrorism," Gen. Downing pledged at the White House, "and on nations and the groups that support global terrorism wherever we can find them, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year." Unfortunately for the general, Clarridge won't be at his side. This column has learned that as the retired CIA officer prepared to fly from his home in San Diego to Washington this week to personally receive the blessings of National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, his selection as the nation's anti-terrorism deputy was abruptly nixed by the White House. One source tells us senior presidential adviser Karen Hughes was the first to raise a red flag after discovering that Clarridge, following his testimony before the Iran-Contra committee in the 1980s, was indicted for failing to disclose all he knew (he was a CIA spook, after all) to Congress. He pleaded not guilty to lying and was later pardoned by former President Bush. Reached Tuesday in California, Clarridge said he was disappointed in the decision by the White House. He cited one other former Reagan official indicted in the Iran-Contra affair - who, unlike him, pleaded guilty - who holds a high-level security position in government. "I had no great desire to commute between here and Washington," Clarridge acknowledged, "but I felt it was my duty to go and do it." FINDING SOME HUMOR "Get him a phone book!" -- Reporter to a Senate press aide, after the latter advised broadcasters to lower their microphones or they wouldn't be able to see 5-foot-6-inch Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle at Wednesday's press conference on anthrax.