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Context of 'Mid-August 1998-2000: US Submarines Ready to Attack Bin Laden'

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Within days of the US African embassy bombings, the US permanently stations two submarines, reportedly in the Indian Ocean, ready to hit al-Qaeda with cruise missiles on short notice. Missiles are fired from these subs later in the month in a failed attempt to assassinate bin Laden. Six to ten hours’ advance warning is now needed to review the decision, program the cruise missiles, and have them reach their target. However, in every rare opportunity when the possibility of attacking bin Laden occurs, CIA Director Tenet says the information is not reliable enough and the attack cannot go forward. [Washington Post, 12/19/2001; New York Times, 12/30/2001] At some point in 2000, the submarines are withdrawn, apparently because the Navy wants to use them for other purposes. Therefore, when the unmanned Predator spy plane flies over Afghanistan in late 2000 and identifies bin Laden, there is no way to capitalize on that opportunity. [Clarke, 2004, pp. 220-21] The Bush administration fails to resume the submarine patrol. Lacking any means to attack bin Laden, military plans to strike at him are no longer updated after March 2001. [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004]

Entity Tags: George J. Tenet, Bush administration (43), Al-Qaeda, Clinton administration, Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Following the attack on the USS Cole in Yemen (see October 12, 2000), the Clinton administration discusses what standard of evidence it needs to launch a counter-strike against al-Qaeda, which it suspects of the bombing. Following the bombing of the US embassies in East Africa (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998), the administration fired a number of cruise missiles at suspected al-Qaeda targets (see August 20, 1998). However, the administration decides it must have evidence that bin Laden and al-Qaeda’s leadership has authority, direction, and control of the attack before initiating a response. CIA Director George Tenet will comment: “This is a high threshold to cross.” Tenet will also say that this threshold was not set by the CIA, but by “policy makers.” [Tenet, 2007, pp. 128] Although the bombing is tied to three known leading al-Qaeda operatives, Khallad bin Attash (see November 11, 2000), Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri (see November-December 2000), and Ahmed al-Hada (see November 2000 or After), early on in the investigation, no counterstrike is initiated (see Shortly After October 12, 2000 and Late October 2000). Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke will express his frustration with the inaction: “[I]n Washington neither CIA nor FBI would state the obvious: al-Qaeda did it. We knew there was a large al-Qaeda cell in Yemen There was also a large cell of Egyptian Islamic Jihad, but that group had now announced its complete merger into al-Qaeda, so what difference did it make which group did the attack? [Counterterrorism staff] had worked around the clock piecing together the evidence and had made a very credible case against al-Qaeda. CIA would agree only months later.” [Clarke, 2004, pp. 223] The authors of the 2002 book The Cell will later write: “The links to bin Laden were everywhere. Each of the suspects being held in Yemen had admitted training in the Afghan camps run by bin Laden… neither the FBI nor the CIA was ever able to tell the president that they had direct proof that the Cole was a bin Laden-ordered job, though now, in retrospect, it seems terribly obvious. In any case, even if there had been compelling proof that bin Laden was behind the Cole bombing, there was little chance that the Clinton administration would have launched an attack on any Islamic country while he was trying to get the Israelis and Palestinians to the peace table.” [Miller, Stone, and Mitchell, 2002, pp. 238]

Entity Tags: George J. Tenet, Richard A. Clarke, Clinton administration

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The Bush administration invites two dozen senators from both parties to the Pentagon to discuss Iraqi policy with Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and CIA Director George Tenet. [New York Times, 9/7/2002]

Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, George J. Tenet, George W. Bush, Donald Rumsfeld

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Citing personal reasons, CIA Director George Tenet announces he will be stepping down in the next month. President Bush praises Tenet’s service, but there is widespread agreement that significant intelligence failures occurred during his tenure, most strikingly 9/11 itself. Sources also suggest that Tenet, originally a Clinton appointee, has been made a convenient scapegoat for Bush administration intelligence failures in Iraq and elsewhere. [CNN, 6/4/2004; Independent, 6/4/2004] Tenet and the Bush administration are expecting harsh criticism from several reports expected to find serious failures in intelligence gathering and analysis related to the 9/11 attacks. Most damaging is an upcoming Senate Intelligence Committee report expected to single out the CIA for errors in its judgments before the Iraq war (see June-November 2004). Committee chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS) has warned the administration that the report will be so harsh that questions will be raised as to whether senior CIA officials should be held accountable. Tenet will be replaced by Deputy Director John McLaughlin until a replacement is named, and will eventually be replaced by Porter Goss (see September 24, 2004). A friend of Tenet’s, former Deputy Director Richard Kerr, says that Tenet “may have believed that he was hurting the president. He’s an honorable person, and he may have had that as a consideration.” Former Democratic senator David Boren, a close friend and mentor of Tenet’s, says Tenet is not leaving because of criticisms likely to be leveled at either him or the agency: “If criticism either actual or anticipated was a factor, he would have left a long time ago. It’s been months of his desiring to leave.” Bush has asked Tenet to remain in the job several times over the past few months. When Tenet told Bush of his intentions to leave on June 2, Bush asked him to stay through the end of the year. Tenet replied that summer is a natural break point and a good time for him to depart. All the camaraderie and mutual praise between the two men aside, many believe that Tenet is departing in part because he is seen as a possible political liability for Bush. Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL) says, “I don’t think there are any tears over there” in the White House over Tenet’s departure. Former Senator Bob Graham (D-FL) believes that Tenet was in some way pushed to leave. “This president has been enamored of George Tenet, and has been reluctant to hold him or anyone else accountable, and that failure was becoming a bigger and bigger liability,” he says. According to Graham, Bush announces Tenet’s resignation for his own political well-being, “under circumstances where he is at the crime scene as short as possible.” Apparently, senior White House officials such as Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of State Colin Powell learn of Tenet’s resignation just a few moments before it is announced to the press. Two Congressmen who knew last night of the resignation were Goss (R-FL) and John Warner (R-VA), the chairmen of the House Intelligence and Senate Armed Services Committees, respectively. [New York Times, 6/4/2004]

Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Senate Intelligence Committee, Richard Shelby, Pat Roberts, Richard Kerr, Porter J. Goss, John E. McLaughlin, George W. Bush, John W. Warner, Bush administration (43), Central Intelligence Agency, Daniel Robert (“Bob”) Graham, David Boren, Colin Powell, George J. Tenet

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Iraq under US Occupation

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