Robert “Buzz” Patterson wrote:
OKAY gang, for those of you who still don’t get it. Here’s the PREFACE for my first book, Dereliction of Duty, originally released in 2003. This very insightful forward was written by Al Santoli, a Vietnam Vet who fought on the front lines. He’s an inspiration and a beautiful writer:
Lieutenant Colonel Robert “Buzz” Patterson is among the handful of United States military officers with the unique distinction of having served at the side of the President, -carrying the suitcase containing the nation’s nuclear launch codes, also called the nuclear button. In Dereliction of Duty, he offers an invaluable eyewitness account of the inner workings of the White House with respect to national security during the pivotal years of the “co-presidency” of William Jefferson and Hillary Rodham Clinton. True to his oath as a military officer—to serve his country with honesty, courage, and integrity—he did not write this book as a personal attack on the Clintons.
Lieutenant Colonel Patterson provides something far more valuable to our democratic process: a compelling insight into the people who were entrusted with the highest national authority at a time when America had arrived at the pinnacle of the world’s superpower status. In the most vivid human terms, he describes only those events and decisions having a direct impact on our nation’s defense capabilities that he witnessed or of which he had firsthand knowledge.
As a career Air Force pilot and squadron commander, before his retirement in 2001, Lieutenant Colonel Patterson served under four U.S. presidents. He received his commission during the dispiriting era following the Vietnam War, and rose up through the ranks during the revitalization of our military’s strength during the Reagan presidency. Aside from his White House duty, he participated in air operations and educating young officers before the “9/ 11” terror attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
Lieutenant Colonel Patterson shares with his readers his military background leading to his White House tour of duty, describing his numerous military missions flying into areas of conflict—at times under fire. Serving during a historical period that rekindled America’s greatness, he participated in the restoration of the morale and competence of the U.S. military. As a young lieutenant he earned his wings in the Grenada rescue mission under the orders of President Reagan. He later served in the headquarters of U.S. Military Airlift Command during the invasion of Panama and later in Operation Desert Storm under President George H. W Bush.
As he rose in rank in the Clinton administration’s early years, Lieutenant Colonel Patterson further developed the skills and responsibilities of command during the Somalia humanitarian mission—before and after the ambush portrayed in the book and movie Black Hawk Down—and by ferrying peacekeeping troops into Haiti. During the gruesome civil war in Bosnia, he was assigned by the Air Force to build and lead a team of skilled aviators to deliver humanitarian supplies into the besieged Sarajevo airport. While the Clinton administration’s deconstruction of America’s military power was gaining momentum, in late 1995 Lieutenant Colonel Patterson was selected, much to his surprise, to be a member of the elite presidential military aides. From this privileged vantage point, he was able to witness history, controversy, and deceit at the highest levels.
In mid-2002, I was invited by publisher Al Regnery and editor Harry Crocker to work with Lieutenant Colonel Patterson on the format of this book. My own experiences as a combat infantry veteran of the Vietnam War, an author of military history, and a congressional advisor and investigator—part of my thirty-five years of service in foreign policy and defense issues—allowed me to understand Lieutenant Colonel Patterson as a true patriot and an unselfish warrior.
While Lieutenant Colonel Patterson was witnessing the degradation of our national security from the cockpit of U.S. Air Force C-141 aircraft and in the halls of the White House, I was engaged in broader field investigations and participating in legislative counterattacks as an advisor to subcommittee chairmen of the U.S. House of Representatives who served on the Armed Services, Intelligence, Science, and International Relations Committees.
In early 1995, I took a sabbatical from my role for more than a decade as a contributing editor at Parade magazine in New York to work in the U.S. Congress. The deciding factor in my becoming part of the government “system” was an investigative report I wrote for Parade in 1994–1995, just three years after America’s spectacular victory in the Gulf War. At a time when America was enjoying unprecedented prosperity, our finest young men and women, active-duty members of the United States military and their families, were surviving on food stamps and other forms of welfare. Bill Clinton’s self-professed loathing of the military had manifested itself in a rapid manner.
In less than three years as commander in chief, Clinton and his subordinates, while increasing the number of overseas deployments, reduced the total active-duty force from 2.1 million to 1.6 million men and women. The Army was reduced from eighteen full-strength light and mechanized divisions to a vulnerable twelve (ten fortified divisions had been used in the Gulf War alone). The Navy was reduced from 546 to 380 ships, toward a targeted reduction of 300—the smallest naval force since the pre–World War II period. And the Air Force was reduced from seventy-six flight squadrons down to fifty.
The net sum of the Clinton years is global insecurity: conflict between the West and transnational terrorists, conventional and unconventional conflicts on four continents, and the threat of nuclear war on the Indian subcontinent and Korean peninsula, and possibly in the Middle East. The Clinton era is bracketed by the 1993 and 2001 terrorist attacks on New York’s World Trade Center. The Clinton administration’s reckless disregard for America’s internal security safeguards led to our country’s vulnerability to the unthinkable—attacks on our most prominent landmarks and institutions, on our own soil.
Throughout this period, most military experts questioned the Pentagon’s assertion that the United States could effectively fight and win “two and a half” regional conflicts simultaneously. Capabilities were further hamstrung by the rapid elimination of 232 strategic bombers and 2,000 Air Force and Navy combat aircraft—as well as the entire fleet of battleships, essential tools of American military and political power projection. Beginning in 1994, members of the U.S. House and Senate Armed Services Committees repeatedly warned that the “erosion in our forces’ ability to fight” had put the military on “a slippery slope.”
In a political sleight of hand, Vice President Al Gore’s “reinvention of government” removed 305,000 people from the federal payroll. But 286,000 of those cut, or 90 percent, came from the Department of Defense. Not only were the “drawdown” of the force structure and the severe budget cuts harming the living conditions of the troops, but record-breaking numbers of overseas deployments and poorly planned peacekeeping missions were also wearing down our radically reduced air, land, and sea forces to the point of exhaustion.
Unfortunately, the billions of tax dollars and untold military man-hours spent, and the exhaustion of the U.S. military in places like Somalia, Haiti, Rwanda, and Cambodia, showed little, if anything, gained in terms of democracy and the development of civil society in these countries. And in other places—like Bosnia, Kosovo, Colombia, and the patrolling of Iraq’s air space—the missions became open-ended drains on our military.
In the July 29, 1994, edition of the Washington Post, at the outset of the haphazard relief mission to Rwanda, reporter Bradley Graham observed, “While proud to help save the starving and shelter the homeless around the world, Defense Department officials cringe at the notion of becoming a kind of super, muscle-bound Red Cross or Salvation Army…. Such humanitarian missions are fine now and then, Pentagon officials say. But these operations sap the time and attention of senior officials, cut into combat training exercises, tie up equipment and personnel, and take increasingly scarce defense dollars away from other operations focused on the Pentagon’s primary mission of making sure U.S. armed forces remain strong enough to win two regional wars nearly simultaneously.”
During that same period, in a warning that might remain as true today as it was in mid-1994, the commander of U.S. forces in Korea, Army General Gary Luck, stated that if a war broke out in Korea at the same time a major battle was occurring somewhere else, such as the Middle East, Seoul and its defending American forces could be overrun before reinforcements could arrive. This concern was echoed by a Clinton supporter, Democratic senator John Glenn: “The idea that we could win in Korea and have our forces [engaged in a conflict] someplace else is very, very optimistic.” This security shortfall has not been lost on the ruthless North Korean dictator and his generals, who have more than one million soldiers stationed on—and inside the tunnels under—the demilitarized zone, as well as nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons.
While the U.S. military was attempting to help destitute and war-ravaged peoples in far corners of the earth, a humanitarian crisis was developing on U.S. military bases right here at home. The all-volunteer force had morphed from a largely unmarried martial community that relied on the draft during the decades of the Cold War into a 65 percent married or single-parent all-volunteer force for whom overseas deployments were a familial strain. Making matters worse, in addition to Bill and Hillary Clinton’s attempts to turn the military into a gender-neutral social laboratory, morale was further eroded by a military pay freeze, resulting in 80 percent of the total military force earning an annual salary of less than $ 30,000. The results were devastating.
Thousands of young families, in all branches of the services, applied for food stamps and other forms of welfare—and reenlistment rates declined to perilous levels, especially in critically needed technical occupation specialties. There were also breakdowns in training and a growing difficulty in maintaining high-tech ships and airplanes, and other vital high-tech equipment and weapons systems.
The legacy of the Clinton White House that Lieutenant Colonel Patterson witnessed and reveals in these pages is the degradation of our national security into a state of serious danger. The United States and our democratic allies now face a world where terror and the threat of weapons of mass destruction loom large. The carefree “saxophone, dark sunglasses, and boogie-down anything-goes” attitude of the Clinton administration and the irresponsible arrogance of the co-presidents’ cronies and subordinates led to the decimation of America’s security forces and our defense and intelligence capabilities. We are now reaping what those years of irresponsibility sowed.
As this book goes to press, nuclear brinksmanship by the North Koreans has become a primary security threat. The origins of the crisis are the diplomatic and security folly of the Clinton administration, especially its disingenuous approach to international arms proliferation and its politicizing of the Pentagon and the intelligence community. The administration’s blatant disregard for professional defense and intelligence standards caused the dismissal or resignation of many quality intelligence professionals and the appointment and promotion of bureaucrats all too willing to accommodate the Clintons’ political illusions. Equally devastating was a growing lack of respect for the administration—an administration riddled with moral and political weakness and corruption—by unrepentant tyrants in places like Beijing, Baghdad, Teheran, Havana, Hanoi, and Pyongyang.
In 1994, when North Korea threatened to turn South Korea into a “sea of fire,” the Clinton administration sent Jimmy Carter to practice his “smile” diplomacy with the churlish “Dear Leader” Kim Jong Il. The resulting framework agreement was a fraud; North Korea did not agree to any substantial verification process to monitor its ongoing nuclear activities. Instead, through the agreement, the North Koreans became the largest recipient of American foreign aid in Asia—among other things, unlimited food aid for a dictatorship whose militant Stalinist policies were causing the death by starvation of two million of its own citizens.
And the United States, South Korea, and Japan agreed to build two nuclear power plants in North Korea at a price of $ 4 billion. Undeterred by Pyongyang’s history of lying and cheating, Clinton trumpeted, “This agreement will help achieve a vital and long-standing American objective, an end to the threat of nuclear proliferation on the Korean peninsula.”
For the next six years, the Clinton administration ignored North Korea’s role in nuclear and other missile-related activities in China, Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, and Libya. The administration’s lack of resolve helped to escalate programs of weapons of mass destruction in all these regimes.
China’s missile buildup along the Taiwan Strait and in the Himalayas adjacent to India, as well as a threat of a nuclear strike on Los Angeles by a senior Chinese general, had little impact on the administration.
Instead, Beijing was rewarded with repeated presidential waivers, including satellite-launching agreements with U.S. aerospace companies that resulted in the perfection of China’s People’s Liberation Army’s intercontinental ballistic missiles. “Friends of Bill” and his commerce secretary, Ron Brown, were rewarded with permission to sell previously restricted military-related technologies to Chinese companies with direct ties to the military. In addition, Chinese companies and middlemen were granted bargain-basement sales on supercomputers, despite the objections of the Department of Defense and other agencies.
Former administration officials successfully lobbied for the lifting of restrictions on sales of powerful American-made communications encryption software. This has enabled the Chinese military to operate its weapons-development projects and conduct military exercises at higher levels of secrecy.
In the ultimate coup de grace, the administration transferred the responsibility for licensing sensitive military technologies from a cautious State Department to an accommodating Department of Commerce, which appeared to act as a fundraising arm of the Democratic National Committee.
While the Clintons could favorably impress a substantial portion of the American public, with the assistance of friends in Hollywood, despots around the world took advantage of their self-centered weaknesses. The president’s personal scandals and his weakening of the nation’s internal and external security capabilities resulted in the loss of trust by America’s allies, while earning the contempt of our adversaries.
Among many demeaning episodes by the administration that diminished America’s international stature, one incident in particular comes to mind. During the second Clinton term of office, following a period of high tension over the Taiwan Strait, the administration’s shamelessness was flaunted before key Asian leaders. It occurred at a gala banquet during the annual Regional Forum of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, also attended by China, Japan, Russia, and Korea. America’s highest-ranking civilian Pentagon official responsible for Asia appeared in a drag costume impersonating Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, wearing her trademark cowgirl hat. He sang a parody of a cowboy song, which included the remarkable line “We don’t worry about North Korean missiles because they are called No Dong.”
This humiliating performance occurred at a time when regional leaders knew that North Korea was violating the nuclear framework agreement, in partnership with Beijing. Even more remarkable, the administration was spending hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to North Korea, rather than stepping up the development and deployment of effective national and regional missile defense systems.
The nuclear threat goes beyond missile programs; a significant new threat developed during the Clinton years because of the breakdown in internal and external security at America’s nuclear development, production, and storage facilities. In 1998, the New York Times revealed U.S. intelligence reports saying that China had gained access to highly classified secrets on the most advanced thermonuclear warheads from the nation’s national laboratories run by the Department of Energy (DOE). A subsequent investigation by the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board concluded, “The Department of Energy, when faced with a profound public responsibility, has failed.”
The failure included the 1998 sale at Sandia Nuclear Laboratory of a $ 9 million supercomputer configured to undertake national security missions. The buyer was a Chinese national who specialized in exporting advanced U.S. technologies to Beijing. He bought the supercomputer for a fire-sale price of $ 30,000. According to declassified DOE documents, some department officials belatedly considered the sale a “significant national security concern.” Congressman Curt Weldon wrote to DOE secretary Bill Richardson:
“Ironically, at the very time the Cox Committee was investigating the transfer of sensitive technology to China, your employees were selling some of our most sophisticated systems to them at bargain-basement prices.”
The breakdown of security at the DOE was initiated right after Bill Clinton entered the Oval Office with his commitment to “de-nuclearization.” His first energy secretary, Hazel O‘Leary, declared an “openness” policy at the laboratories that was, in essence, a dismantling of most long-standing security practices. For example, O’Leary banished the wearing of colored security badges at the national laboratories and DOE headquarters that revealed who had clearances to enter sensitive areas, under the rationale that such practice was “discriminatory.”
Secretary O’Leary also terminated the standard practice of restricting visits by foreign nationals from sensitive countries—such as China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea—to unclassified areas of the labs. As part of the new policy, no background checks were conducted on most of the thousands of foreign visitors to America’s most important nuclear laboratories.
Under the president’s declassification orders, voluminous information on the laboratories and other nuclear facilities was transferred from classified to unclassified computer systems, which could be read on the Internet by anyone in the world. Several laboratories complained that providing Internet protection, such as firewalls and passwords, was unnecessarily expensive and a hindrance to operations—and they received a sympathetic ear from the administration.
When DOE security professionals protested the resulting security breakdowns, they were ignored or fired. For example, a January 27, 1997, memorandum from Edward McCallum, director of the DOE Office of Safeguards and Security, reflected the urgent warnings in the office’s last three annual reports. The memorandum stated, “During the past year disturbing trends continued that resulted in additional budget restrictions, further diminishing technical resources, reducing mission training and undermining our ability to protect nuclear weapons, special nuclear materials and other critical assets. This is occurring at a time of increased responsibilities resulting from the international transfer of nuclear materials and the dismantling of U.S. nuclear weapons…. It is becoming increasingly difficult to protect our nation’s nuclear stockpile.”
McCallum’s concern about the vulnerability of America’s nuclear stockpile to sabotage or theft by terrorists—and his frustration at O‘Leary and her staff’s dismissal of such reports—led to his cooperation with a commission led by former senator Warren Rudman that was initiated by the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board. He also testified before the U.S. Congress. As a result of his candor and dedication to America’s national security, McCallum, an Army Special Forces combat veteran, was summarily dismissed from his job by O’Leary’s “de-nuclear” DOE executives.
While veteran security officials such as Ed McCallum were conducting heroic back-channel efforts to maintain America’s homeland security, a gathering storm of international terrorism was emerging overseas. In this book, Lieutenant Colonel Patterson gives a chilling account in Chapter Seven, “The War on Terrorism,” describing an incident in the White House Situation Room in the fall of 1998.
America’s counterterror network had Osama bin Laden in its gun sights and was begging the White House for permission to strike. But President Clinton had “disappeared” and could not be found to give the order. When he finally responded, he painstakingly procrastinated until the opportunity was lost.
This tragic abdication of responsibility by President Clinton—when action might have prevented the attacks three years later, on September 11, 2001—would not surprise the handful of members of Congress and their national security advisors who followed the rise of the Taliban and the transformation of Afghanistan, beginning in 1993–1994, from one of the battlefields most responsible for the West’s victory in the Cold War into the nerve center of the “clash of civilizations” that we now face.
The Clinton administration repeatedly rejected pleas by members of Congress to assist moderate Afghan groups resisting the extremist Taliban and their al-Qaeda allies. Instead, millions of dollars of U.S. humanitarian aid was sent into areas controlled by the Taliban, while the resistance communities—who later became the backbone of the U.S. military campaign against the Taliban—were ignored and their communities forced to accept Taliban control or perish.
Against all odds, in the spring of 1998, the Afghan Northern Alliance had gained the battlefield edge and the al-Qaeda/ Taliban forces faced possible defeat. At that time, Northern Alliance commander Ahmad Shah Massoud offered to find and eliminate Osama bin Laden, who had headquarters near Massoud’s territory. (Congressman Dana Rohrabacher of California and I discussed this issue with Commander Massoud and his deputies on a number of occasions between 1997 and 2001.) Instead of responding affirmatively, the Clinton administration sent then–United Nations ambassador Bill Richardson to Afghanistan to ask the Northern Alliance leaders to conduct a cease-fire and to stop receiving new arms shipments (from friendly countries like India, Turkey, and Russia).
Tragically, the Northern Alliance trusted Richardson. While the Northern Alliance waited for “peace talks,” offered by Richardson and Pakistan, the Pakistani government increased weapons shipments to the Taliban and al-Qaeda. In the subsequent Taliban offensive, aided by Pakistani air strikes and soldiers, the Clinton administration sat idly by and watched as the Northern Alliance was routed. This gave the al-Qaeda/ Taliban alliance new life, setting the stage for the 9/ 11 attack on the United States. Just one week before the World Trade Center was destroyed, al-Qaeda agents assassinated Commander Massoud, the man bin Laden feared most.
Through this book, Lieutenant Colonel Buzz Patterson has performed a heroic and essential service to his country. The reader should remember that the detailed account in these pages is the experience of one man, a professional warrior, tested in combat, who seeks no personal glory and would never intentionally malign any person.
The “Roaring ’90s” are over. We are faced with devastating new international challenges that threaten our very survival. To my knowledge, there is no other memoir that conveys such deep professional insight into the unfathomable breakdown in America’s security as Lieutenant Colonel Patterson’s Dereliction of Duty.
The lessons within these pages remind us not only of the consequences but also of the essential responsibilities of leadership to which all commanders in chief should be held accountable.
Above all, that mandate is a sacred trust between elected leaders and the American people that should never again be violated or forgotten.