Richard Clarke, the former counterterrorism official promoting a book critical of the Bush administration, insists Saddam Hussein had no connection to al-Qaida, but in 1999 he defended President Clinton’s attack on a Sudanese pharmaceutical plant by revealing the U.S. was “sure” it manufactured chemical warfare materials produced by Iraqi experts in cooperation with Osama bin Laden.

Richard Clarke

Clarke told the Washington Post in a Jan. 23, 1999, story U.S. intelligence officials had obtained a soil sample from the El Shifa pharmaceutical plant in Khartoum, which was hit with Tomahawk cruise missiles in retaliation for bin Laden’s role in the Aug. 7, 1998, embassy bombings in Africa.

The sample contained a precursor of VX nerve gas, which Clarke said when mixed with bleach and water, would have become fully active VX nerve gas.

Clarke told the Post the U.S. did not know how much of the substance was produced at El Shifa or what happened to it.

“But he said that intelligence exists linking bin Laden to El Shifa’s current and past operators, the Iraqi nerve gas experts and the National Islamic Front in Sudan,” the paper reported.

However, Sunday night in an interview with Lesley Stahl on “60 Minutes,” Clarke denied Saddam had any connection to al-Qaida.

Stahl pressed Clarke further, asking, “Was Iraq supporting al-Qaida?”

Clarke replied: “There is absolutely no evidence that Iraq was supporting al-Qaida ever.”

Clarke, who served under the Clinton and Bush administrations, has accused President Bush of ignoring threats to al-Qaida prior to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and focusing on Saddam Hussein at the expense of the war on terror.

In an interview with Rush Limbaugh yesterday, Vice President Dick Cheney dismissed Clarke’s criticism as coming from an ineffective former official.

“He was the head of counterterrorism for several years there in the ’90s, and I didn’t notice that they had any great success dealing with the terrorist threat,” Cheney said.

National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice had a similar reply in an interview on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

“I really don’t know what Richard Clarke’s motivations are, but I’ll tell you this: Richard Clarke had plenty of opportunities to tell us in the administration that he thought the war on terrorism was moving in the wrong direction and he chose not to.”

Clarke, the author of “Against All Enemies,” is scheduled to testify tomorrow before the independent federal commission probing the 9-11 attacks.

The “60 Minutes” interview Sunday has raised ethical concerns for not disclosing the connection between Clarke’s book publisher, a subsidiary of Simon & Schuster, and CBS News. Both are owned by Viacom.

At the time of the 1999 Post interview, Clarke occupied the newly created post of national coordinator of counterterrorism and computer security programs under President Clinton.

The Post story concluded with Clarke affirming the U.S. strategy of fighting terror by legally prosecuting perpetrators of the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center in New York.

“The fact that we got seven out of the eight people from the World Trade Center [bombing], and we found them in five countries around the world and brought them back here, the fact we can demonstrate repeatedly that the slogan, ‘There’s nowhere to hide,’ is more than a slogan, the fact that we don’t forget, we’re persistent – we get them – has deterred terrorism,” he said.

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