Friday, July 09, 2004

Richard Clarke's not-so-secret agent

By Douglas McDaniel

When Richard Clarke testified before Congress last spring on his inside take on the events leading up to 9/11 and the White House's response to the disaster, an attendant chorus of attacks began in the media to undermine his message.

Here was this guy, this practical traitor, just another government exile, just another White House official turned into an opportunist. Look at this, some said: It's just all to sell a book.

In fact, it did sell. Mr. Clarke's best-selling book, "Against All Enemies," was released just before his apperance before Congress. And as a nation attempted to gauge his sincerity by reading the lines on his forehead and the eveness of his voice, the doubt was planted: This guy was making more money by promoting himself in a way that Al Franken and Rush Limbaugh could scarcely dream.

But the man who helped to put the deal together for Simon-Schuster, a counter-terrorism expert and author named Len Sherman, said that scenario was just another false story intended to undermine Clarke's message: That the administration botched the intelligence job before 9/11, and then took advantage of the opportunity to pursue the long-held goal of removing Saddam Hussein from power.

"I am not a full-time literary agent, I am a counter-terrorism writer," Scottsdale resident Sherman said over the crackling connection of a cell phone as he vacationed on a beach on the Atlantic. "I new him (Clarke) after a trip to Afghanistan before 9/11, and then I met with him after I had visited al Qaeda prisoners captured by the Northern Alliance. I gave Richard Clarke the intelligence (from the trip). I went to the White House and physically handed it to him.

"That was the start of our relationship," Mr. Sherman said. "That was when I told him you should write the book."

Mr. Clarke, according to Mr. Sherman, wasn't thinking about a book that would give the administation a month-long PR migraine. He was thinking about another fascinating, breaking plague upon the new century: Cybercrime. Infowar. Cyberterror.

Now the book, sent into motion by Free Press, a subordinate wing of Simon -Schuster began to turn it's economic wheel. As Mr. Clarke told Congress, in a rather funny moment during a dark time, the plan was to divulge all of this discord just in time for Christmas. A typical desire for a first-time author, and just as typical, Mr. Clarke told Congress he was actually frustrated with how long it took for the book to come out, missing the Christmas rush.

"At first they wanted to bring it out in December and parley it for the bottom line," Mr. Sherman said. But then Simon-Schuster slowed down the process, and Mr. Sherman, trying to put that frustrating period into words as the book stewed at the publishing house: "I think they were being ... we can hold this, so, we will."

In the meantime, Mr. Sherman said, the administration public response team gathered force.

"This administration is particularly spiteful and revengeful of its enemies," he said. "Simon-Schuster found out about the hearings and moved the release up a week. And then, of course, it just clicked. But of the conspiratorial views of this: None of it is true."