08 Sep 2006

Did the Clinton Administration Fail to Kill Bin Laden?

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There have been loud denunciations of the forthcoming ABC docudrama for falsifying history from a variety of officials of the Clinton Administration, including, in particular, former Clinton Administration National Security Advisor and convicted National Archives records purloiner/destroyer Sandy Berger. A Republican in San Francisco compares Berger’s current statements to the 9/11 Commission Report.

Berger says:

In no instance did President Clinton or I ever fail to support a request from the CIA or US military to authorize an operation against bin Laden or al Qaeda.

The 9/11 Commission says (Chapter 4 – footnote numbers are left below to assist locating quotation):

On May 20, (CIA) Director Tenet discussed the high risk of the operation with Berger and his deputies, warning that people might be killed, including Bin Ladin. Success was to be defined as the exfiltration of Bin Ladin out of Afghanistan.28 A meeting of principals was scheduled for May 29 to decide whether the operation should go ahead.

The principals did not meet. On May 29, “Jeff” (chief of the Counterterrorist Center) informed “Mike” (chief of the Bin Ladin station) that he had just met with Tenet, Pavitt, and the chief of the Directorate’s Near Eastern Division. The decision was made not to go ahead with the operation. “Mike” cabled the field that he had been directed to “stand down on the operation for the time being.” He had been told, he wrote, that cabinet-level officials thought the risk of civilian casualties-“collateral damage”-was too high. They were concerned about the tribals’ safety, and had worried that “the purpose and nature of the operation would be subject to unavoidable misinterpretation and misrepresentation-and probably recriminations-in the event that Bin Ladin, despite our best intentions and efforts, did not survive.”29

Impressions vary as to who actually decided not to proceed with the operation. Clarke told us that the CSG (Richard Clarke’s interagency Counterterrorism Security Group) saw the plan as flawed. He was said to have described it to a colleague on the NSC (National Security Council ) staff as “half-assed” and predicted that the principals would not approve it. “Jeff ” thought the decision had been made at the cabinet level. Pavitt thought that it was Berger’s doing, though perhaps on Tenet’s advice. Tenet told us that given the recommendation of his chief operations officers, he alone had decided to “turn off” the operation. He had simply informed Berger, who had not pushed back. Berger’s recollection was similar. He said the plan was never presented to the White House for a decision.30

Hat tip to LGF.

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