World - Reuters

Ex-Advisor Says Bush Eyed Bombing of Iraq on 9/11

Date: Fri Mar 19, 7:20 PM ET

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A former White House anti-terrorism advisor says the Bush administration considered bombing Iraq (news - web sites) in retaliation after Sept. 11, 2001 even though it was clear al Qaeda had carried out the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon (news - web sites).

Richard Clarke, who headed a cybersecurity board that gleaned intelligence from the Internet, told CBS "60 Minutes" in an interview to be aired on Sunday he was surprised administration officials turned immediately toward Iraq instead of al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden (news - web sites).

"They were talking about Iraq on 9/11. They were talking about it on 9/12," Clarke says.

Clarke said he was briefing President Bush (news - web sites) and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld among other top officials in the aftermath of the devastating attacks.

"Rumsfeld was saying we needed to bomb Iraq. ... We all said, 'but no, no. Al Qaeda is in Afghanistan (news - web sites)," recounts Clarke, "and Rumsfeld said, 'There aren't any good targets in Afghanistan and there are lots of good targets in Iraq."'

Clarke, an advisor to four presidents, left his position in February 2003 after the White House transferred functions of the cybersecurity board to Homeland Security.

Clarke's comments are the latest to raise the question of the Bush administration's focus on overthrowing Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein (news - web sites).

Former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill, fired in a shake-up of Bush's economic team in December 2002, told "60 Minutes" in an interview aired in January he never saw any evidence Iraq had weapons of mass destruction -- Bush's main justification for going to war.

O'Neill also charged that Bush entered office intent on invading Iraq and ousting its leader, Saddam Hussein.

"I think they wanted to believe that there was a connection" between Iraq and al Qaeda, Clarke tells "60 Minutes."

"But the CIA (news - web sites) was sitting there, the FBI (news - web sites) was sitting there, I was sitting there, saying, 'We've looked at this issue for years. For years we've looked and there's just no connection,"' says Clarke.

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