On May 16, 2007, Richard Clarke’s driver pulled up to a shabby block of Massachusetts Avenue, in Northeast DC. Clarke got out of the car, looked around, and wondered if he was in the right place. Two days earlier he’d spoken to Susan Rice, a democratic foreign policy mandarin and a top adviser in Barack Obama’s nascent presidential campaign. The two had worked together in the Clinton White House, and Rice was now looking to put together a team to advise Obama on counterterrorism. Clarke seemed perfect. He was a veteran of the terror wars, having worked for four presidents stretching back to Ronald Reagan. Moreover, he had seen George W. Bush’s war on terror go awry from the inside. When the country was attacked on September 11, 2001, Clarke was Bush’s principal counterterrorism adviser, but he broke with Bush over the decision to invade Iraq, testifying in dramatic public fashion at televised hearings of the 9/11 Commission and publishing a scathingly critical book about the administration’s conduct of the war on terror, in 2004.
Rice had arranged for Clarke to meet Obama at a rundown apartment the Illinois senator had rented for discreet policy sessions and to plan his presidential campaign. The scruffy building, which housed a Subway sandwich shop, reminded Clarke of the tenement where he’d grown up in Boston. It hardly looked like a presidential launching ground for the young, charismatic politician who’d taken Washington by storm three years before.