The terrorists came within a matter of yards of killing me.
But I don't blame the Bush or Clinton administrations for that. I blame the terrorists.
Could we have stopped them? Only with some damned lucky breaks. We can't make believe that any system would have guaranteed catching them before the act. For we have to remember that these are pathologically insane and evil beasts and it's impossible to guess how low they will stoop.
If we were lucky enough to have intelligence inside their devil's cult, then, yes, we might have foiled their plot. But that's obviously hard to do.
If we were lucky enough to have stopped one of them for speeding and locked them up, then might have foiled their plot. But that's like counting on a lottery ticket.
What matters now is learning the lessons we can learn -- and to that extent, the hearings are valuable -- to protect us as best we can.
But I find the blame game going on now unseemly and divisive and unproductive and distracting and just a little bit tasteless.
UPDATE: Clarke claims that Condi Rice had never heard of Al Qaeda when he briefed her as she took office. But here's what she said in the interview referenced above, which took place before the election:
During an interview on Detroit radio station WJR the year before the Clarke briefing, Rice mentioned bin Laden by name, then recommended: "You really have to get the intelligence agencies better organized to deal with the terrorist threat to the United States itself. One of the problems that we have is a kind of split responsibility, of course, between the CIA and foreign intelligence and the FBI and domestic intelligence."
Then, in a chillingly prescient comment, Rice named bin Laden a second time, warning, "There needs to be better cooperation because we don't want to wake up one day and find out that Osama bin Laden has been successful on our own territory."
Sounds like a pretty good diagnosis of the problems with Clarke's anti-terrorism operation to me. Compare that statement from 2000 with this postmortem from George Tenet at the 9/11 hearings:
He said the problem in part was operational and in part systemic. "We didn't integrate all the data we had properly, and probably we had a lot of data that we didn't know about that, if everybody had known about, maybe we would have had a chance," Tenet said.
He also pointed to the "wall that was in place between the criminal side and the intelligence side" of law enforcement domestically and internationally as an impediment. "Even people in the Criminal Division and the Intelligence Divisions of the FBI couldn't talk to each other, let alone talk to us or us talk to them," Tenet explained.
Sounds like Condi was on top of things back then, not clueless as Clarke is claiming now. To add to Jeff Jarvis's take: distracting, tasteless -- and dishonest.