ABC’s path to 9/11 - some history Posted by: McQ
on Monday, September 11, 2006
I Tivoed it, but haven't had a chance to watch it yet. But since it claims to be based on the 9/11 report, I thought a blast from the past might be appropriate. This is part of a post I did in March of 2004 on that report as it concerns, well, the path to 9/11. Excerpts are from the report itself. Read and compare it to what you saw last night.
The CIA plays a dual role in counterterrorism. Like other members of the Intelligence Community, the CIA is an intelligence producer: it collects and analyzes foreign intelligence and provides this information to policymakers. When directed by the president, the CIA is also responsible for executing policy through the conduct of covert action.
This is a part of the Commission staff’s portion which they call ‘Framing the Issue’. Above you see them defining the role of the CIA in counter terrorism. It’s a two-fold role, one, produce intelligence and two, execute policy through covert action. Nowhere does its counter terrorism role provide for “rendition”.
In case you’re wondering, “rendition” is thus defined for us by the Commission.
We will first discuss the CIA’s support with renditions. In other words, if a terrorist suspect is outside of the United States, the CIA helps to catch and send him to the United States or a third country.
In ordinary criminal cases, the foreign government makes an arrest. The Justice Department and the FBI seeks to extradite the suspect. The State Department facilitates the process.
The world of counter terrorism rarely follows these usual procedures. Overseas officials of CIA, the FBI, and the State Department may locate the person, perhaps using their own sources. If possible, they seek help from a foreign government. Though the FBI is often part of the process, the CIA is usually the major player, building and defining the relationships with the foreign government intelligence agencies and internal security services.
The CIA often plays an active role, sometimes calling upon the support of other agencies for logistical or transportation assistance.Proper role for the CIA? Again, review its counter-terrorism functions. Rendition is a “law enforcement” function. It is not a counter-terrorism function.
So how did the CIA become a “law enforcement” agency?
Under the presidential directives in the Clinton administration, PDD-39 and PDD-62, the CIA had two main operational responsibilities for combating terrorism—rendition and disruption.
Disruption is consistent with a counter-terrorism role for the CIA. But rendition is clearly outside its charter and capabilities. It is a function for which the CIA is not designed or trained. Yet that, per the two PDDs was its job under the Clinton administration.
Treating this as a law enforcement issue had terrible drawbacks, as the CIA experienced.
In countries where the CIA did not have cooperative relationships with local security services, the rendition strategy often failed. In at least two such cases when the CIA decided to seek the assistance of the host country, the target may have been tipped off and escaped. In the case of Bin Ladin, the United States had no diplomatic or intelligence officers living and working in Afghanistan. Nor was the Taliban regime inclined to cooperate. The CIA would have to look for other ways to bring Bin Ladin to justice.
As for disruptions, the following was the charge in that regard:
Under the relevant directive of the Clinton administration, foreign terrorists who posed a credible threat to the United States were subject to “preemption and disruption” abroad, consistent with U.S. laws. The CIA had the lead. Where terrorists could not be brought to justice in the United States or a third country, the CIA could try to disrupt their operations, attacking the cells of al Qaeda operatives or affiliated groups.
It would appear all bases are covered, or at least that was the plan. And limited though it was by the focus on the law enforcement aspect of it all, there were some significant successes in the area of disruption during the Clinton years. But again ... that's a proper function of the CIA.
The prime target, however, remained Bin Laden. And getting to Bin Laden would require a different approach ... a covert approach in a hostile nation. So a plan was put together to go after Bin Laden.
In 1997 CIA headquarters authorized U.S. officials to begin developing a network of agents to gather intelligence inside Afghanistan about Bin Ladin and his organization and prepare a plan to capture him. By 1998 DCI Tenet was giving considerable personal attention to the UBL threat.
Since its inception, the UBL Station had been working on a covert action plan to capture Bin Ladin and bring him to justice. The plan had been elaborately developed by the spring of 1998.
Its final variant in this period used Afghan tribal fighters recruited by the CIA to assault a terrorist compound where Bin Ladin might be found, capture him if possible, and take him to a location where he could be picked up and transported to the United States. Though the plan had dedicated proponents in the UBL unit and was discussed for months among top policymakers, all of CIA’s leadership, and a key official in the field, agreed that the odds of failure were too high.
They did not recommend it for approval by the White House.
Once again, those with feet of clay talked it to death, but actually did NOTHING. Another plan but no more. Because of the risk of failure, it was abandoned.
After the embassy bombings in Africa, Clinton signed a series of authorizations which gave the CIA the power to undertake offensive operations in Afghanistan against Bin Laden. To be perfectly clear, these authorizations were for COVERT operations to get Bin Laden. Well within the counter terrorism function of the CIA. Per the commission report, it was understood that people on both sides would be or could be killed in these actions.
In accordance with these authorities, the CIA developed successive covert action programs using particular indigenous groups, or proxies, who might be able to operate in different parts of Afghanistan. These proxies would also try to provide intelligence on Bin Ladin and his organization, with an eye to finding Bin Ladin and then ambushing him if the opportunity arose.
The CIA’s Afghan assets reported on about half a dozen occasions before 9/11 that they had considered attacking Bin Ladin, usually as he traveled in his convoy along the rough Afghan roads. Each time, the operation was reportedly aborted. Several times the Afghans said that Bin Ladin had taken a different route than expected. On one occasion security was said to be too tight to capture him. Another time they heard women and children’s voices from inside the convoy and abandoned the assault for fear of killing innocents, in accordance with CIA guidelines.
Once again, the same result ... a whole lot of talk, a whole lot of planning, zero action.
The next step. Change people and change strategy. Oh ... and more plans.
In the summer of 1999 new leaders arrived at the CTC [the CIA’s Counter Terrorism Center] and the UBL unit. The new director of CTC was Cofer Black. He and his aides worked on a new operational strategy for going after al Qaeda. The focus was on getting better intelligence. They proposed a shift from reliance on the Afghan proxies alone to an effort to create the CIA’s own sources. They called the new strategy simply, “The Plan.”
CTC devised a program for hiring and training better officers with counterterrorism skills, recruiting more assets, and trying to penetrate al Qaeda directly. The Plan also aimed to close up gaps in intelligence collection within Afghanistan, by enhancing technical collection and recruiting forces capable of tracking and capturing Bin Ladin wherever he might travel. The Plan also proposed increasing contacts between the CIA and the Northern Alliance rebels fighting the Taliban.
The result? According to the Commission report, “the Plan resulted in increased reporting on al Qaeda.”. Regardless, there wasn’t much change.
Still, going into the year 2000, the CIA had never laid American eyes on Bin Ladin in Afghanistan.
But Mr. Clarke is now sure, had we not been distracted by Iraq, the man he hadn’t yet seen in Afghanistan (OBL) was probably there and we probably could have killed him.
Back to the history as recorded by the Commission. Clinton wanted some action, which led to the “Predator” strategy.
President Clinton prodded his advisers to do better. NSC Counterterrorism Coordinator Richard Clarke helped Assistant DCI for Collection Charles Allen and Vice Admiral Scott Fry of the Joint Staff work together on the military’s ongoing efforts to develop new collection capabilities inside Afghanistan.
With the NSC staff’s backing, the CTC and the military came up with a proposal to fly an unmanned drone called the Predator over Afghanistan to survey the territory below and relay video footage. That information, the White House hoped, could either boost U.S. knowledge of al Qaeda or be used to kill Bin Ladin with a cruise missile. The Predator had performed well in the recent Kosovo conflict, where it spotted Serb troop concentrations. The aircraft is slow and small, but it is hard to see and intercept.
Surely NOW they’d spot their elusive prey.
Well, yes and no.
Drones were flown successfully over Afghanistan 16 times in fall 2000. At least twice the Predator saw a security detail around a tall man in a white robe whom some analysts determined was probably Bin Ladin. The Predator was spotted by Taliban forces. They were unable to intercept it, but the Afghan press service publicized the discovery of a strange aircraft that it speculated might be looking for Bin Ladin. When winter weather prevented the Predator from flying during the remainder of 2000, the CTC looked forward to resuming flights in 2001.
The result? The usual zero. To this point, Richard Clarke and the Clinton administration are 0 for 8 years. In fact, Clarke is 0 for 10 years.
The USS Cole was then bombed which shifted the focus away from Afghanistan, although not al Qaeda, for a period of time. CTC then engaged in its usual “action”. It began writing ANOTHER plan.
So, given this general outline of the Clinton administration's activities leading up to 9/11, in your opinion was the "Path to 9/11" a fair treatment or not?
The LAT has printed what I presume is the standard leftie response to “The Path”: It is tough to produce such a program without slipping into partisan propaganda, and this baby is rightwing propaganda. They then go on to claim that the program is sexist (women are portrayed as hysterical or incompetent) racist (Arabs are shown in a bad light) factually inaccurate (every word is not a verbatim transcript of what actually occurred). All the code words are in their sluff-off. For instance, in the lead-off paragraph the producer is identified as a known conservative. I could go on, but the gist is that the program is everything the left has been saying that it is and that it should therefore be disregarded. I was shocked several times during my viewing of the program by dialogue that clearly contained a rightwing spin. This is not your daddy’s MSM. Think of a daily trip across a high, narrow bridge with a constant 30 mph pushing you to the left. You adjust your senses and get so you lean a little and walk straight across. Then one day, without warning, the wind is 30 mph pushing to the right. It is very hard to maintain one’s balance. I am so used to adjusting for leftwing spin in my TV viewing that it was uncomfortable to watch “The Path”. My second impression was, during several key scenes, how badly the left had erred in describing those scenes. The crazy Afghan firing bullets into the movie screen showing President Clinton speaking made perfect sense. Leftists had described this scene as a depiction of the attempted assassination of the President. Perhaps they were as deranged by the spin in the program as I was. Also, I can understand their general outrage at the right using their medium. Recall how the Swiftboaters were never “newsworthy” and the lengths they had to go to in order to get their story told. No wonder Senator Reid was appalled. We simply cannot let these rightwingers have equal access to the airwaves. Finally, the harm that this program will do to the left (and the real reason that it is so objectionable to them) is not in the details of any past failings it depicts by government. The harm is that the program vividly brings to life the fact that the terrorist threat is real and not just the Liberal Narrative figment dreamed up by Republicans to appeal to the bed-wetters. As the minutes drag by (despite the quick cuts and hand-held camera sequences) one begins to think: ‘You know, there really have been a lot of incidents of terrorism. Much too many for there not to be a really serious threat out there. And these guys are not going to negotiate anything. They are out to kill us. Hmmmm, maybe we should get serious about this GWOT.’
Anyone else think we’d be better off firing every last one of them and starting from scratch?
Yeah, sure, right, terminate every covert operation around the world, have all the plants mysteriously dissapear with new ones mysteriously reappearing, put rookies in charge of everything that can be continued..
Obviously, we didn’t get Bin Laden and he later killed thousands of Americans, so you could call that a failure... but we’ve five years on from *after* Bin Laden killed thousands of Americans, and we haven’t bagged him.. but I hear all the time how I better not dare suggest that the BushAdmin has somehow failed in this aspect of the GWOT because of that...
Frankly, though, I give Clinton a pass. When people say "9/11 changed everything", they ought not to go backwards and look at the pre-change era and nitpick it to death. Before 9/11, Bin Laden was a threat - and he was obviously treated as one - but the norms about how aggressive the US could be covertly were different, and everyone accepted that. When Syria and Hizballah bombed the Marine barracks in Lebanon, we weighed the costs and benefits, and just packed up and left. When Qaddafi blew up a jet, Reagan dropped some targeted missiles on him, a lot like Clinton’s plans and attempts.
I think it can be argued that the CIA was too cautious, but I also think it’s easy to make that call now. And I don’t think that the scenario you describe is an indictment of the Clinton Admin. Your script indicates that Clinton was pushing for action. The intel people - under the rules and limitations they’d been told to play, that had been in place since the 70’s at least - couldn’t put it together.
I don’t think that it’s a devastating indictment of the intel people, either. It’s not good enough anymore, though.
And if Clinton had gotten Bin Laden from the Sudan, the whole thing might have been moot. Clinton is 0 for 8 years. When those numbers match, then you MIGHT have something. But at least Bush TRIED to go after him. Clinton didn’t appear to do that much.
As Lileks and Reynolds said (in essence; I’m paraphrasing heavily): you can decide to give both administrations a pass, because very few people took Islamo-fascism seriously before 9/11/01. In fact, rather than this being a failure of Clinton or Bush, it’s a failure of bureaucracy.
But after 9/11, it all changes. You can no longer plead ignorance. And have the Dems or GOP been more serious about going after terrorists? Which party has taken the most action to stop the terrorists, and which party has taken the most action to protect the terrorists ("...I just don’t trust this administration with the power to ______________")?
As someone also said: if the Clinton administration had worked as hard to protect the nation from terrorist attack as it has to protect its legacy/reputation, terrorism would have been a dead issue before Bush took office.
You seem to be faulting Clinton for doing too little, basing your opinion on a movie, for heaven’s sake, and now that we’ve had years to mull it over, perhaps that’s right. Then we got Bush, who certainly did something - the wrong thing. Now we are in a mess in Iraq, losing ground in Afghanistan, and we are hated or, at least distrusted, around the globe. Sometimes doing too little is better than doing the wrong thing. Sad, but true.
Knowing as we do that invading Afghanistan, commiting thousands of special forces, cozying up to repressive dictatorship Uzbekistan and allying with nuke selling rogue state Pakistan doesn’t actually "get" Bin Laden. This movie suggests that a failure to use a small unit, third party, force of mercenary tribesmen under the auspices of the famously incompetent CIA to assassinate Bin Laden was the "golden opportunity" missed.
Unahop: The only trouble with capturing Bin Laden by any force at all, according to the commission report - not the movie- is that they could never get in a position where this was possible. I know some CIA guy wrote a book about having bin-Laden cornered, but consiering the open terrain of the mountains, it would take a mega army to corner anybody. Certainly it would take a miracle for a small unit to do so. There is also the little problem of crossing the Pakistan border into territory only too eager to hide bin Laden. Among the things neither Clinton nor Bush did was the impossible.
Max Blumenthal, the Clintonista of Clintonistas, is so irate that rightwingers have had the audacity to try to operate in Hollywood that he compares their efforts to terrorism:
...Besieged in his lush office, Iger [Robert Iger, CEO of ABC’s corporate parent, the Walt Disney Company] privately agonizes that he was complacent about an attack on his network’s reputation by a band of political terrorists. But when faced with his own version of the Taliban, he appeased them.