But what troubles me most is Tenet's handling of the opportunities that CIA officers gave the Clinton administration to capture or kill bin Laden between May 1998 and May 1999. Each time we had intelligence about bin Laden's whereabouts, Tenet was briefed by senior CIA officers at Langley and by operatives in the field. He would nod and assure his anxious subordinates that he would stress to Clinton and his national security team that the chances of capturing bin Laden were solid and that the intelligence was not going to get better. Later, he would insist that he had kept up his end of the bargain, but that the NSC had decided not to strike.
Since 2001, however, several key Clinton counterterrorism insiders (including NSC staffers Richard A. Clarke, Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon) have reported that Tenet consistently denigrated the targeting data on bin Laden, causing the president and his team to lose confidence in the hard-won intelligence. "We could never get over the critical hurdle of being able to corroborate Bin Ladin's whereabouts," Tenet now writes. That of course is untrue, but it spared him from ever having to explain the awkward fallout if an attempt to get bin Laden failed. None of this excuses Clinton's disinterest in protecting Americans, but it does show Tenet's easy willingness to play for patsies the CIA officers who risked their lives to garner intelligence and then to undercut their work to avoid censure if an attack went wrong.
To be fair, Tenet and I had differences about how best to act against bin Laden. (In the book, he plays down my recommendations as those of "an analyst not trained in conducting paramilitary operations.") The hard fact remains that each time we acquired actionable intelligence about bin Laden's whereabouts, I argued for preemptive action. By May 1998, after all, al-Qaeda had hit or helped to hit five U.S. targets, and bin Laden had twice declared war on America. I did not -- and do not -- care about collateral casualties in such situations, as most of the nearby civilians would be the families that bin Laden's men had brought to a war zone. But Tenet did care. "You can't kill everyone," he would say. That's an admirable humanitarian concern in the abstract, but it does nothing to protect the United States. Indeed, thousands of American families would not be mourning today had there been more ferocity and less sentimentality among the Clinton team.
Tags: Osama bin laden, Clinton, failed, capture, kill, terrorists, alqaeda, Tenet, richard, clarke, Bill, truth, movement, denied, facts, Michael Scheuer, Cia, Fatwa, 1993 wtc, Bojinka, Ramsey, yousef
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