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But even by Washington standards, the degree of Clarke's "spin" was aggressive. He is not just a career bureaucrat. He is also a political player--just as political as his critics. And he is cocky. His resignation--and book--came after he was passed over for a high-level position at the new Department of Homeland Security. "Dick's flaw is that his ego is boundless," says Winston Wiley, a recently retired senior CIA official who worked closely with Clarke from 1992 to '97. "I believe he's fundamentally honest. But he acts as if the world revolves around him, and it doesn't." Clarke seemed to have only one ominous note, and he played it again and again. Back in February 1999, Clarke said this about cyberterrorism, the New York Times reported: "You black out a city, people die. Black out lots of cities, lots of people die. It's as bad as being attacked by bombs."
In smaller ways too, Clarke has sounded rather enchanted with his role. Two years ago, in a cyberterrorism speech at Portland (Ore.) State University, he compared his foresight to Winston Churchill's. In his book, he describes sitting on his stoop, contemplating his unappreciated talents with a "bottle of Pinot Noir from a small winery I had found along the Russian River." It's clear Clarke has long viewed himself as the resident Cassandra.
But here's the point: Clarke was right. A week before 9/11, according to a report released last week by the commission, he sent National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice a note imploring policymakers "to imagine a day after a terrorist attack, with hundreds of Americans dead at home and abroad, and ask themselves what they could have done better." It was classic Clarke: plaintive and melodramatic. Just the kind of message Administration officials had become numb to, just the kind of grating dissent powerful organizations most need to hear. --By Amanda Ripley. Reported by Timothy J. Burger, Massimo Calabresi and John F. Dickerson/Washington and Nathan Thornburgh/Portland