Clarke Bails Out Of Homeland Security Department - InformationWeek

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Clarke Bails Out Of Homeland Security Department

The president's blunt counterterrorism coordinator rejected a senior position in the department.

WASHINGTON (AP)--Richard A. Clarke, a blunt-spoken White House adviser who raised warnings about Islamic terrorism and biological weapons years before they became nightmare headlines, will resign from government soon, people familiar with his plans said.

Clarke, the president's counterterrorism coordinator at the time of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, was disinclined to accept a senior position in the new Homeland Security Department and planned to retire after three decades with the government, these people said. He has not yet solicited an outside job, they said.

These people, working both inside and outside government, spoke on condition of anonymity but said Clarke personally described his plans to them. Clarke did not return telephone calls from The Associated Press over three days.

Clarke, currently the nation's top cybersecurity adviser, is best known for his success in identifying emerging issues and outlasting his critics. He has focused most recently on preventing disruptions to important computer networks from Internet attacks. But he has tempered warnings about a "digital Pearl Harbor" after some industry experts mocked them as overblown.

With much of the White House evacuated for safety in the hours after the Sept. 11 attacks, Clarke worked in the situation room there with National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and Vice President Dick Cheney as stunned leaders planned what to do next. His supporters said Clarke played a central role in the unprecedented decision to quickly ground the nation's airliners.

Clarke previously led the government's secretive Counterterrorism and Security Group, made up of senior officials from the FBI, CIA, Justice Department and armed services, who met several times each week to discuss foreign threats.

"It was really the engine room of the anti-terrorism effort," said Sandy Berger, Clinton's former national security adviser and Clarke's former boss. "He's not an easy guy. He's very demanding. More than once people would come to me and complain, but that's why I wanted Dick in that job: He was pushing the bureaucracy."

Clarke also had the ear of President Clinton about the risks from a biological attack, years before anthrax poisoned the U.S. mail.

"Dick was the single most effective person I worked with in the federal government," said Jonathan M. Winer, a former deputy assistant secretary of state. "When he was given the authority, he would stay with something every day until it got done. He's efficient and tough-minded. I never saw anyone else as good."

Clarke is known for his aggressive--sometimes abrasive--personality and for his willingness to bypass bureaucratic channels. Under Clinton, he was known to contact Special Forces and other military commanders in the field directly, irritating the Joint Chiefs at the Pentagon.

Clarke was "a bulldog of a bureaucrat," wrote former national security adviser Anthony Lake in a book two years ago. He said Clarke has "a bluntness toward those at his level that has not earned him universal affection."

Some senior CIA officials under Clinton complained that Clarke pressed them to launch covert programs without adequate preparation or study, said Vincent Cannistraro, a former CIA counterterrorism chief.

"He gave the impression he was somewhat of a cowboy," Cannistraro said. "There was no love lost between Clarke and the CIA."

Clarke managed largely to avoid Washington's finger-pointing over failures to anticipate the Sept. 11 attacks, even though he was the top counterterrorism adviser and he was replaced by the White House in that role less than one month later.

"Dick in both the Clinton and Bush administrations was the voice pushing this forward, calling out about the dangers," said William Wechsler, a former director for transnational threats on the National Security Council.

"There's an easy reason why no one is pointing the finger at him."

The security council's director for counterterrorism under Clinton, Daniel Benjamin, described Clarke as "a visionary in terms of pushing hard to recognize the dangers of al Qaeda; certainly the new administration should have attended to his thoughts a little more."

Clarke already has submitted his resignation letter to the president, one person said. Clarke is among the country's longest-serving White House staffers, hired in 1992 from the State Department to deal with threats from terrorism and narcotics.

A spokeswoman, Tiffany Olson, said Clarke, who reports to Rice and Homeland Security chief Tom Ridge, hasn't told White House staff at the President's Critical Infrastructure Protection Board that he plans to leave.

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