The CIA Inspector General released a report last week detailing the intelligence failures leading up to the September 11 terrorist attacks, reserving its harshest criticisms for former CIA Director George Tenet, who, according to the report lacked a “documented, comprehensive” approach to Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda.
Tenet should certainly be held accountable for whatever role he played in the lack of U.S. preparedness with respect to terrorism. However, as New York Times editorial page correctly noted, warnings were issued, and ignored, by Tenet’s first boss, President Bill Clinton:
“The C.I.A. inspector general’s report on the agency’s failures before Sept. 11 was devastating — but not because it showed that America’s spies missed the rise of Al Qaeda. George Tenet, then the director of central intelligence, rang the Qaeda alarm. He sent a memo to the entire intelligence community saying that he wanted no effort spared in the ‘war’ with Osama bin Laden. He took on the president’s closest advisers to agitate for a strike on a Qaeda base in Afghanistan. The disturbing thing was that this all happened under President Bill Clinton.”
This certainly squares with a Judicial Watch investigation into the September 11 attacks. Update readers may recall that in 2005, Judicial Watch obtained a declassified document, dated August 19, 1996, that very clearly articulated the threat bin Laden posed to the United States.
According to the report, provocatively entitled, “Usama bin Laden: Who’s Chasing Whom?” at the time, bin Laden’s many passports and his private plane allowed him considerable freedom to travel “with little fear of being intercepted or tracked.” The report also warns that bin Laden’s prolonged stay in Afghanistan “could prove more dangerous to U.S. interests in the long run than his three-year liaison with Khartoum.”
It goes on... “[Bin Laden’s] informal and transnational network of businesses and associates remains resilient…[He] can retain the capability to support individuals and groups who have the motive and wherewithal to attack U.S. interests almost worldwide.”
There is plenty of bipartisan blame to go around for the federal government’s pre-9/11 failure to protect the American people from the threat of terrorism, in general, and Osama bin Laden, in particular. However, the first and most obvious mistakes were made by Bill Clinton and his national security team. Had they acted aggressively, September 11 may never have happened. And no amount of revisionist history can change that fact.