SIXTH COLUMN

"History is philosophy teaching by example." (Lord Bolingbroke)

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Friday, February 24, 2006

Did UAE Save Bin Laden?

Troubling, very troubling:

Before President Bush gets anywhere near casting his first veto to ensure that the government of the United Arab Emirates can manage elements of six U.S. ports, someone ought to put before him pages 137-139 of “The 9/11 Commission Report.”

If Bush doesn’t then cancel the UAE port deal, Congress must demand testimony from every person named in those pages and the footnotes. That includes former Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet; former CIA Deputy Director for Operations James Pavitt; former National Security Adviser Sandy Berger; Gen. Hugh Shelton, who was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Maj. Gen. John Maher, Shelton’s vice director of operations; Gary Schroen, the CIA field officer tracking Bin Laden; “Mike,” the pseudonym the 9/11 Commission gave the U.S.’s Osama bin Laden unit chief; and, most importantly, Richard Clarke, Berger’s assistant for counter-terrorism.
Tipped Off

The story the commission tells is that Clarke made a call to a high-ranking UAE official that may have inadvertently saved bin Laden from a U.S. missile strike. The commission’s reporting strongly suggests someone in the UAE government tipped off someone in Afghanistan, protecting bin Laden.

In early 1999, the Clinton Administration wanted to fire missiles at bin Laden without risking civilian casualties. Bin Laden played into our hands. Intelligence reports from Afghan “tribals” indicated he was frequenting a small hunting camp adjacent to a larger camp outside Kandahar, Afghanistan. Here U.S. missiles could score a clean kill.
But then officials from the UAE got in the way. The commission said:

“On February 8, the military began to ready itself for a possible strike. The next day, national technical intelligence confirmed the location and description of the larger camp and showed the nearby presence of an official aircraft of the United Arab Emirates. But the location of Bin Laden’s quarters could not be pinned down so precisely. … According to reporting from the tribals, bin Laden regularly went from his adjacent camp to the larger camp where he visited the Emiratis. The tribals expected him to be at the hunting camp for such a visit at least until midmorning on February 11. Clarke wrote to Berger’s deputy on February 10 that the military was then doing targeting work to hit the main camp with cruise missiles and should be in position to strike the following morning. Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert appears to have been briefed on the situation.

“No strike was launched. By February 12 bin Laden had apparently moved on, and the immediate strike plans became moot. According to CIA and Defense officials, policymakers were concerned about the danger that a strike would kill an Emirati prince or other senior officials who might be with bin Laden or close by. Clarke told us the strike was called off after consultations with Director Tenet because the intelligence was dubious, and it seemed to Clarke as if the CIA was presenting an option to attack America’s best counterterrorism ally in the Gulf. The lead CIA official in the field, Gary Schroen, felt that the intelligence reporting in this case was very reliable. The bin Laden unit chief, ‘Mike,’ agreed. Schroen believes today that this was a lost opportunity to kill bin Laden before 9/11.

“Even after bin Laden’s departure from the area, CIA officers hoped he might return, seeing the camp as a magnet that could draw him for as long as it was still set up. The military maintained readiness for another strike opportunity. On March 7, 1999, Clarke called a UAE official to express his concerns about possible associations between Emirati officials and bin Laden. Clarke later wrote in a memorandum of this conversation that the call had been approved at an interagency meeting and cleared with the CIA. When the former bin Laden unit chief found out about Clarke’s call, he questioned CIA officials, who denied having given such a clearance. Imagery confirmed that less than a week after Clarke’s phone call the camp was hurriedly dismantled, and the site was deserted. CIA officers, including Deputy Director for Operations Pavitt, were irate. ‘Mike’ thought the dismantling of the camp erased a possible site for targeting bin Laden.”

Then Clarke visited the UAE.

Read the rest...

Loose lips sink ship and all that. For this reason we need to keep sensitive information close to vest. The adage is true. A secret ceases to be a secret if more than one person knows. Sensitive information should be disseminated to as few as possible. Which brings me to another troubling item: why are 90% of our nation's port terminals owned by foreigners? This might mean that sensitive port information is impossible to keep secret.

Troubling, very, very troubling

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