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Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Judicial Watch Used FOIA to Produce a Smoking Gun on Clinton Failures Against Terrorism

It took four years of persistence but Judicial Watch used the federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to force public disclosure of State Department documents that demonstrate the Clinton administration was warned in 1996 that Osama Bin Laden's move of his terrorist operation to Afghanistan represented a serious threat to U.S. security. The New York Times broke the story about the documents yesterday.

The documents provide the clearest evidence yet of the warnings given the Clinton administration during his first term about the terrorist threat. It is hard not to apply the "smoking gun" label to these documents, considering how the former chief executive and his senior national security advisors have claimed the evidence on Bin Laden was never conclusive.

If there was any further doubt in the Clinton White House in 1996 following the State Department memos, Bin Laden provided abundant proof of his intentions and capabilities in the succeeding years by blowing up two U.S. embassies in Africa and killing 17 U.S. sailors with a suicide bombing of the U.S.S. Cole.

These State Department documents should be read in conjunction with the Able Danger revelations - also in The New York Times and elsewhere - showing U.S. intelligence operations were prevented by Clinton legal policies from telling the FBI that they had identified Mohammed Atta and several of his 9/11 attack co-conspirators more than a year before the attack. And the Marjorie White memo (requires registration) exposed by the New York Post's Deborah Orin. And Captain Ed's Weekly Standard column describing the arrests of two Iraqi spys in Germany in February 2001 during the 9/11 planning stages.

My guess is the next few weeks are going to be marked by more explosive revelations about what some will plausibly argue looks increasingly like criminal incompetence in the Clinton White House. The present and coming revelations could shed new light on:

- Why Clinton's National Security Advisor Sandy Berger was so determined to steal documents from the National Security Archive.
- The real extent of damage inflicted on U.S. national security by the Gorelick memo and the related Clinton administration policies that hamstrung coordinated anti-terrorist intelligence and intediction in the U.S. and abroad.
- Whether the Bush administration has aided efforts to prevent the full truth of Clinton's incompetence from being made public.

There are some hard decisions ahead for a lot of people presently and formerly in government, as well as the American people.

In the meantime, let us note the critical role of the FOIA (and an independent media) in these matters. Regular readers of Tapscott's Copy Desk and my regular columns that appear on Townhall.com and as part of the Knight-Ridder-Tribune FOI Series (collected here on The Heritage Foundation web site) know that I've been preaching the vital importance of the Freedom of Information Act for a long time.

Transparency is Big Government's worst enemy but I have often had the feeling that hardly anybody on the Right cares much about FOIA, especially considering the paucity of conservative advocacy groups getting involved in efforts to improve administration of the FOIA and other transparency measures. But that situation is changing, dramatically, for the better.

Eight major conservative movement leaders have signed a letter of encouragement to Sen. John Cornyn, R-TX, in the FOIA reform effort embodied in his proposed Open Government Act of 2005. Cornyn's bill is co-sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-VT, and in the House by Rep. Lamar Smith, R-TX.

The Cornyn measure would significantly strengthen the FOIA by among much else establishing for the first time concrete penalties for individual federal employees and agencies for violating the FOIA.

The eight conservative leaders include: David Keene, Chairman of the American Conservative Union, Mark Levin, President of Landmark Legal Foundation and former Chief of Staff to Attorney General Edwin Meese during the Reagan administration, Brent Bozell, President of the Media Research Center, Amy Ridenour, President of the National Center for Public Policy Research, Terence Scanlon, Chairman of the Capital Research Center and head of the Consumer Product Safety Commission during the Reagan years, Mike Krempasky, Founding Director of RedState.org, John Berthoud, President of the National Taxpayers Union and Alex Mooney, Executive Director of the National Journalism Center.

Let us hope these eight are the first of a growing legion of folks on the Right who stand up for the public's right to know the truth about what is - and is not - being done in their name by their leaders, representatives and public servants.