Self-serving Dishonesty: John Prendergast on Sudan and counter-terrorism

In a February 2006 ‘Los Angeles Times’ article, former Clinton Administration Africa analyst John Prendergast and the Hollywood actor Don Cheadle criticized counter-terrorism cooperation between the United States and Sudan in the international war on terrorism, focusing in particular on General Salah Abdallah Gosh, the head of Sudanese intelligence, and the fact that General Gosh was flown to the United States in 2005 in the course of this cooperation.[1] Given that Prendergast’s previous record in relation to counter-terrorism issues would be farcical if it had not had such tragic consequences, for him to pontificate on current counter-terrorism issues is nothing short of astounding.

It is also surprising that Prendergast continues to tout himself as an Africa expert let alone someone qualified to comment on Sudan and counter-terrorism. His track record on all these issues is abysmal. Prendergast served as director of African affairs at the National Security Council during the Clinton Administration and then as special advisor to the American assistant secretary of state for African affairs, Susan Rice. Prendergast’s current comments relating to Sudan should be assessed in the light of his record on Sudan and Africa during his time within the Clinton Administration. Prendergast was intimately associated with all of the Clinton Administration’s disastrous Africa policies –” policies which caused and built upon deadly conflict almost wherever they touched the continent.[2] It was an African-American Democratic Congresswoman, Cynthia McKinney, a member of the House of Representatives Committee on International Relations and Committee on National Security, who summed up the Clinton Administration’s Africa policy during Prendergast’s watch in a 1999 letter to President Clinton:

“I feel compelled to report to you that crimes against humanity are being committed … throughout Africa, seemingly with the help and support of your administration. I would suggest to you that U.S. policy in the Democratic Republic of Congo has failed and it is another example of our policy failures across the continent. One only has to point to diplomatic duality in Ethiopia and Eritrea, indecisiveness and ambivalence in Angola, indifference in Democratic Republic of Congo, the destruction of democracy in Sierra Leone, and inflexibility elsewhere on the continent. The result is an Africa policy in disarray, a continent on fire, and U.S. complicity in crimes against humanity … your Africa policy has not only NOT helped to usher in the so-called ‘African Renaissance,’ but has contributed to the continued pain and suffering of the African peoples.”[3]

Congresswoman McKinney was one amongst many such critics. The American periodical, ‘The New Republic’, also observed: “The Clinton administration’s Africa policy will probably go down as the strangest of the postcolonial age; it may also go down as the most grotesque … Indeed, confronted with several stark moral challenges, the Clinton administration has abandoned Africa every time: it fled from Somalia, it watched American stepchild Liberia descend into chaos, it blocked intervention in Rwanda … Clinton’s soaring rhetoric has posed a problem that his predecessors did not face –” the problem of rank hypocrisy … the Clintonites have developed a policy of coercive dishonesty.” The New Republic pointed out that Capitol Hill Africa specialists described the Clinton Administration’s dishonesty on Africa as “positively Orwellian”. [4] John Prendergast was at the heart of this flawed analysis, policy failure and dishonesty.

There is no clearer example of flawed analysis, policy failure and dishonesty than the Clinton Administration’s Sudan policy, policy drafted by Prendergast.[5] More specifically, with regard to Sudan and counter-terrorism issues, it was on his watch that almost unbelievable mistakes were made. Unsurprisingly, Prendergast’s ‘Los Angeles Times’ article glosses over these failures during his years in the Clinton Administration. A brief review of this period would be useful.

The degree of American intelligence and counter-terrorism failure regarding Sudan during Prendergast’s watch was staggering. It was revealed in part in 1998, with the admission that at least one hundred CIA reports on Sudan and terrorism were scrapped as unreliable or having been fabricated. [6] The withdrawal of over one hundred such reports can only be described as massive systemic intelligence failure. The CIA had realised that the reports in question had been fabricated, probably by political opponents of the government or other anti-Sudanese forces or simply for financial gain. It is clear that the American intelligence agencies were either unable or disinclined to check the accuracy of their sources, and were all too eager to rely on information of dubious quality because it supported the sorts of preconceived ideas with regard to Sudan peddled by Prendergast.

In what could pass for a snapshot of the accuracy of Clinton Administration claims about Sudan and terrorism in general during Prendergast’s time as the Sudan expert, the ‘New York Times’ stated that: “the Central Intelligence Agency … concluded that reports that had appeared to document a clear link between the Sudanese Government and terrorist activities were fabricated and unreliable … In the case of the Sudan, Washington has conspicuously failed to prove its case.” [7]

This did not dent the wishful thinking and continuing policy failure regarding Sudan by “analysts” such as Prendergast –” failure which subsequently resulted in the disastrously inept American cruise missile attack on the al-Shifa medicine factory in Khartoum in 1998. The Clinton Administration claimed, amongst other things, that the factory was involved in the production of weapons of mass destruction and that it was linked to Osama bin-Laden. Every single American claim about the al-Shifa factory was proven –” largely by the American media itself –” to have been false.[8] The observations of U.S. Senator Pat Roberts regarding the al-Shifa fiasco bear repeating: “[T]he strike in regards to the Khartoum chemical plant cannot be justified”. [9]

The Clinton Administration’s woeful record on Sudan and counter-terrorism during Prendergast’s watch was further exposed by articles published in the wake of the September 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States. The American magazine ‘Vanity Fair’, and ‘The Financial Times’ and ‘The Observer’ newspapers in Britain reported that Sudan had attempted to actively cooperate with the Clinton Administration with regard to al-Qaeda and Osama bin-Laden for several years and had been repeatedly rebuffed by people such as Prendergast before being acted upon in part by Washington in May 2000. [10] Moreover, in a November 2001 article, ‘The Washington Post’ also publicly revealed that Sudan offered to hand Osama bin-Laden over to the Clinton Administration, just as Khartoum had extradited Ilich Ramirez Sanchez, “Carlos the Jackal”, to France in 1994. Amazingly, the offer was declined. [11] It was also revealed that in the wake of the 1998 bombings of American embassies in east Africa, Sudanese security authorities arrested two key al-Qaeda organisers implicated in those attacks soon after they entered Sudan on false passports from Nairobi, and offered to hand them over to the FBI, the lead agency investigating the attacks. The FBI jumped at the offer but Clinton Administration officials blocked the extradition: the terrorists were subsequently deported to Pakistan, and vanished. Perhaps Prendergast can explain what role he may have played in how these offers were handled –” and whether thousands of lives might have been saved had any of these offers been accepted. The former US ambassador to Sudan at the time, Tim Carney, described the bungling of all these offers as “worse than a crime”.[12]

Prendergast’s self-serving dishonesty on Sudan and counter-terrorism is clear. In his ‘Los Angeles Times’ article he claims, for example, that the Sudanese government intensified its cooperation on counter-terrorism only when there was a credible threat of U.S. military action against the Khartoum regime following the attacks on 9/11. This is a self-evident lie. In May 2000, Sudan’s repeated requests for counter-terrorist cooperation and intelligence sharing were finally accepted and joint CIA, FBI and State Department counter-terrorism and intelligence teams established a permanent office in Sudan –” almost eighteen months before the attacks on 11 September 2001. [13] (They have been there continuously, at Khartoum’s request, ever since.) ‘The Observer’ confirmed that in May 2001 these teams had given Sudan “a clean bill of health” with regard to allegations of terrorism. In August 2001 Bush Administration officials further confirmed that the Sudanese-American cooperation on counter-terrorism had been positive. (14) This American-Sudanese intelligence cooperation was said to have “covered everything”. [15] All this was well before the 9/11 attacks. The then U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Walter Kansteiner confirmed that Sudan had been cooperating with the United States for some time before the World Trade Center attacks, and that this cooperation had reached new levels since 11 September: “We appreciate Khartoum’s relationship with us.”[16]

At the heart of the Clinton Administration’s systemic intelligence failure was a tendency to play Capitol Hill politics with regard to Sudan, pandering to anti-Islamic constituencies. In his article, which seeks to downplay the importance and value of Sudanese involvement in the war on terrorism, Prendergast continues to play the role of a dilettante clearly out of his depth. He refers to the current cooperation as “snippets of … information” –” just as ten years ago the administration he advised downplayed Sudanese offers to share intelligence on what was to emerge as, and subsequently metasize into, al-Qaeda and turned down Khartoum’s offer to extradite Osama bin-Laden to Washington –” passing up on pivotal and strategic counter-terrorism opportunities.

In his address to the joint session of Congress and the American people in the week following the murderous terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001, President George Bush declared that the war on terrorism would be the single most important struggle facing the United States and its allies. [17] Intelligence is at the heart of any counter-terrorism policy. That Sudan has played and continues to play a pivotal role in the war on terrorism is largely unrecognised and unreported. Glimpses of Sudan’s importance in this war have emerged from time-to-time. [18] In April 2005, for example, ‘The Los Angeles’ Times reported that the Bush Administration has “forged a close intelligence partnership” with Sudan, a partnership which included sharing intelligence and providing access to terrorism suspects. The Administration noted that Sudan’s assistance is “important, functional and current” and that the Sudanese intelligence service could become a “top tier” partner of the CIA. [19] One month prior to Prendergast’s article, the ‘Daily Telegraph’ newspaper in London reported that a US intelligence official stated that he rated Sudan’s cooperation in the war on terrorism as “ten out of ten”. [20]

It is a matter of record that the powerful anti-Sudan lobbies within the United States have significantly impeded the effective prosecution of the war on terrorism, both before and after the horrific events of 9/11. Indeed, the horrific events of 11 September 2001 may well never have happened had the Clinton Administration accepted Sudanese offers to extradite Osama bin-Laden (or repeated subsequent offers to share intelligence and cooperate in counter-terrorism measures). The administration’s reluctance to do so was clearly heavily influenced not only by flawed policy but also by these lobbies within Washington –” lobbies which continue to find spokesmen in the shape of dilettantes such as John Prendergast.

The dangers of taking Prendergast seriously in any of his views, whether they are on Sudan, counter-terrorism or Africa, are self-evident.


[1]. John Prendergast and Don Cheadle, “Our Friend, An Architect Of The Genocide In Darfur”, ‘The Los Angeles Times’, 14 February 2006.

[2]. For an examination of Prendergast’s shortcomings as a Sudan analyst, see, for example, “No Lesson Learned: A Review of John Prendergast’s ‘God, Oil and Country: Changing the Logic of War in Sudan”, The European-Sudanese Public Affairs Council, London, 20 February 2002 available at

[3]. Letter from Hon. Cynthia McKinney to U.S. President William Jefferson Clinton, 31 August 1999, available at

[4]. “Sierra Leone, the last Clinton betrayal: Where Angels Fear to Tread”, ‘The New Republic’, 24 July 2000.

[5]. See David Hoile, ‘Farce Majeure: The Clinton Administration’s Sudan Policy 1993-2000’, The European-Sudanese Public Affairs Council, London, 2000, available at See also articles such as “Sierra Leone, the Last Clinton Betrayal: Where Angels Fear to Tread”, ‘The New Republic’, 24 July 2000; Michael Kelly, “U.S. Handiwork in Sierra Leone”, ‘The Washington Post’, 19 July 2000.

[6]. See, “Decision to Strike Factory in Sudan Based Partly on Surmise”, ‘The Washington Post’, 21 September 1998; and “Sudan Attack Blamed on US Blunders”, ‘The Times’ (London), 22 September 1998.

[7]. “Dubious Decisions on the Sudan”, Editorial, ‘The New York Times’, 23 September 1998.

[8]. See, “More Doubts Rise Over Claims for U.S. Attack”, ‘The Wall Street Journal’ (New York), August 28, 1998; “Sudan to Allow U.N. to Investigate Any Alleged Chemical-Arm Site”, ‘The Wall Street Journal’ (New York), October 16, 1998; “U.S. Should Admit Its Mistake in Sudan Bombing”, ‘The Wall Street Journal’ (New York), May 20, 1999.

[9]. “Roberts Calls US Missile Attack on Sudan Unjustified”, ‘The Wichita Eagle’, 28 October 1998. Senator Roberts is a member of both the Senate Intelligence and Armed Forces Committees.

[10]. David Rose, “The Secret Bin Laden Files: The Al-Qaeda Intelligence the U.S. Ignored”, ‘Vanity Fair’, New York, January 2002, p.50; and “Resentful West Spurned Sudan’s Key Terror Files”, ‘The Observer’ (London), 30 September 2001.

[11]. “Sudan Offered Up bin Laden in ’96”, ‘The Washington Post’, 3 October 2001.

[12]. David Rose, “The Secret Bin Laden Files: The Al-Qaeda Intelligence the U.S. Ignored”, ‘Vanity Fair’, New York, January 2002.

[13]. See, for example, “US Sees Good Progress in Terrorism Talks with Sudan”, News Article by Reuters on 25 September 2001.

[14]. “Powell Mulls U.N. Action on Sudan After Report African Government is Moving in right Direction on Terrorism”, News Article by Associated Press on 22 August 2001 and “Sudan Provides Intelligence to U.S.”, News Article by Reuters, 29 September 2001.

[15]. “Foreign Minister says Sudan has been Cooperating with the United States in the Fight against Terrorism for More Than a Year”, New Article by Associated Press on 25 September 2001.

[16]. “U.S. Official Accuses Somalia of Harboring Terrorists”, News Article by Xinhua, 12 December 2001.

[17]. “Address to a Joint Session of Congress and the American People”, United States Capitol, Office of the Press Secretary, Washington-DC, 20 September 2001.

[18]. See, for example, “Official Pariah Sudan Valuable to America’s War on Terrorism. Despite Once Harboring Bin Laden, Khartoum Regime Has Supplied Key Intelligence, Officials Say”, ‘The Los Angeles Times’, 29 April 2005.

[19]. “Official Pariah Sudan Valuable to America’s War on Terrorism. Despite Once Harboring Bin Laden, Khartoum Regime Has Supplied Key Intelligence, Officials Say”, ‘The Los Angeles Times’, 29 April 2005.

[20]. “Friends like these…”, ‘The Daily Telegraph’, London, 24 January 2006.

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