Top White House Anti-Terror Boss Resigns
By P. Mitchell Prothero
Wednesday 19 March 2003
The top National Security Council official in the war on terror resigned this week for what a NSC spokesman said were personal reasons, but intelligence sources say the move reflects concern that the looming war with Iraq is hurting the fight against terrorism.
Rand Beers would not comment for this article, but he and several sources close to him are emphatic that the resignation was not a protest against an invasion of Iraq. But the same sources, and other current and former intelligence officials, described a broad consensus in the anti-terrorism and intelligence community that an invasion of Iraq would divert critical resources from the war on terror.
Beers has served as the NSC's senior director for counter-terrorism only since August. The White House said Wednesday that he officially remains on the job and has yet to set a departure date.
"Hardly a surprise," said one former intelligence official. "We have sacrificed a war on terror for a war with Iraq. I don't blame Randy at all. This just reflects the widespread thought that the war on terror is being set aside for the war with Iraq at the expense of our military and intel resources and the relationships with our allies."
A Senate Intelligence Committee staffer familiar with the resignation agreed that it was not a protest against the war against Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein but confirmed that frustration is widespread in the anti-terror establishment and played a part in Beers' decision.
"Randy said that he was 'just tired' and did not have an interest in adding the stress that would come with a war with Iraq," the source said.
The source said that the concern by the administration about low morale in the intelligence community led national security adviser Condoleezza Rice to ask Beers twice during an exit interview whether the resignation was a protest against the war with Iraq. The source said that although Beers insisted it was not, the tone of the interview concerned Rice enough that she felt she had to ask the question twice.
"This is a very intriguing decision (by Beers)," said author and intelligence expert James Bamford. "There is a predominant belief in the intelligence community that an invasion of Iraq will cause more terrorism than it will prevent. There is also a tremendous amount of embarrassment by intelligence professionals that there have been so many lies out of the administration -- by the president, (Vice President Dick) Cheney and (Secretary of State Colin) Powell -- over Iraq."
Bamford cited a recent address by President Bush that cited documents, which allegedly proved Iraq was continuing to pursue a nuclear program, that were later shown to be forgeries.
"It is absurd that the president of the United States mentioned in a speech before the world information from phony documents and no one got fired," Bamford said. "That alone has offended intelligence professionals throughout the services."
But some involved in the fight on terror said that it was dangerous to look too far into one resignation -- particularly from an official who has not blamed the war on Iraq.
"I found his resignation shocking," said one official closely involved in the domestic fight on terror. "And it might reflect a certain frustration over the allocation of resources. But I'm not positive that there's a consensus (among intelligence services) that deposing Saddam's regime is a bad idea for fighting terror. I think that there are serious concerns about resources and alienating allies, but some of us see an upside."
But others point out that the CIA warned Congress last year that an invasion might lead to a rise in terrorism. This, they say, is evidence there's more than just ambivalence about the war among the spy community.
"If it was your job to prevent terror attacks, would you be happy about an action that many see as unnecessary, that is almost guaranteed to cause more terror in the short-term?" said one official. "I know I'm not (happy)."
Beers joined the NSC in August after heading the State Department's International Narcotics and Law Enforcement branch, where he ran the Plan Colombia program to fight narco-traffickers in that country. Beers served both Bush administrations as well as serving in similar capacities with both the Clinton and Reagan administrations.
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