Nancy Soderberg, a former Ambassador to the United Nations and Foreign Policy Advisor under the Clinton administration, repeated the often-heard myth that President Clinton prevented Millennium attacks on the United States. Soderberg made the debunked claim as a guest on tonight's episode of The O'Reilly Factor (Thursday, February 9, 2006).
Soderberg's claim would refer to the arrest of terrorist Ahmed Ressam at the U.S-Canada border on December 14, 1999. It was later learned that Ressam planned to bomb Los Angeles International Airport on or around New Year's Day 2000. Clinton defenders have often falsely cited this incident as evidence that Clinton proactively and successfully defended the United States against terrorism.
The truth? Although the federal government may have been on alert as the Millennium approached, the arrest of Ressam was simply the result of "sheer luck" and "gut instincts" of an alert U.S. Customs inspector named Diana Dean. Dean was responsible for halting Ressam at the border, at which time he was discovered to be carrying bomb materials.
An April 2004 NBC Nightly News segment (link with video) reported (emphasis mine),
"[Dean] says no one had told her anything about being on alert for terrorists.
"'I don’t recall any specific threats,' she added. 'I don’t recall anybody saying watch for terrorists.'
"Customs officials confirm that no alert had gone out to the field …
"[T]here’s simply no evidence that meetings in Washington stopped the planned attack on American soil.
"In fact, senior counterterror officials attribute catching Ressam to good training and sheer luck."
Also, the 9/11 Commission Report concluded about the incident,
"It appears that the heightened sense of alert at the national level played no role in Ressam’s detention." [p. 179, emphasis mine, link (pdf)]
"As one of [CTC Richard] Clarke’s staff noted, only a ‘chance discovery’ by U.S. Customs had prevented a possible attack." [p. 182, link (pdf)]
In other words, the Clinton administration did nothing that led to the arrest of Ressam and foiling a Millennium attack on the United States. As that NBC segment reported, any claim to the contrary would be "revisionist history."
(By the way, Al Franken repeated this same myth in his most recent book, (ironically titled) The Truth … Also, similar fallacies about this incident were made by Richard Clarke in Against All Enemies.)
TRANSCRIPT (O'Reilly and Soderberg are discussing Clinton vs. Bush on terrorism) (audiotape on file, emphasis mine):
O'REILLY: "Here's my point, and I'll give you the last word. It seems to me that the Clinton administration wasn't effective, even though everybody loved him abroad, in stopping these people [the terrorists]. It seems to me, and I could be wrong, that four-and-a-half years, the Bush administration has blunted their attacks on the U.S.A. Go."
SODERBERG: "Actually, you forget that President Clinton actually prevented direct attacks in the United States for the Millennium, and we had al Qaeda in our crosshairs and were trying to get him (sic) (bin Laden?). President Bush and President Clinton together have been trying to defeat this threat that remains out there …"