Sunday, July 20, 2014

Clinton to Berger on bin Laden

Gotta watch the stuff trickling out of the Bubba R Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock.  On a Friday doc dump the library released a handwritten note from the first black president to Sandy 'socks' Berger, his national security advisor at the time, expressing doubt about some intelligence on bin Laden.

The note was written several months after Clinton bombed some tents in Khost Afghanistan and an aspirin factory in the Sudan (1998), which prompted charges he was 'wagging the dog' to remove attention from Monicagate. 

For those who've forgotten, Clinton bombed the plant based on CIA evidence of traces of EMPTA in the ground outside the plant, a substance related to the processing of VX nerve gas.  What most of the mainstream press reports are conveniently ignoring is that the Clinton crew thought Saddam's WMD scientists were involved in helping bin Laden produce this chemical.

So here's the note:

What does it suggest?  And why were they unafraid to release it?  At the same time, they were afraid to release any part of the internal communications between Berger and colleagues Dan Benjamin and Richard Clarke in response--national security.

Well, since Clinton was referencing a NY Times article in 1999 it's useful to understand what Times writer Tim Weiner was saying:
The interviews also raise questions about key assertions that have been made by the Government about Mr. bin Laden. Senior intelligence officials concede that their knowledge of him is sketchy. ''We can't say for sure what was going on'' with him from 1991 to 1996 -- most of the years covered in the indictment -- one senior official said.
His Affluence Seems Overstated Present and former American officials and former business associates of Mr. bin Laden say he appears to control only a fraction of the $250 million fortune that the American Government says he possesses. ''Clearly, his money's running out,'' said Frank Anderson, a former senior Central Intelligence Agency official who maintains close Middle Eastern contacts.
Larry Johnson, the State Department deputy counterterrorism director from 1988 to 1993, said Administration officials had ''tended to make Osama bin Laden sort of a Superman in Muslim garb -- he's 10 feet tall, he's everywhere, he knows everything, he's got lots of money and he can't be challenged.''
Milton Bearden, a retired senior C.I.A. official who ran the agency's war in Afghanistan and retired in 1995, said the Government had ''created a North Star'' in Mr. bin Laden. ''He is public enemy No. 1,'' Mr. Bearden said. ''We've got a $5 million reward out for his head. And now we have, with I'm not sure what evidence, linked him to all of the terrorist acts of this year -- of this decade, perhaps.''
In other words, anonymous CIA and Justice people were telling the Times the legal case against UBL wasn't solid while former high profile intelligence people were downplaying his role.  At the same time Vince Cannistraro, another former intel guy, was telling ABC News that bin Laden might be teaming up with Saddam, while also allegedly telling lawyer Stephen Jones of Oklahoma City bombing fame that the government didn't want any foreign suspects in that case.  Richard Clarke, who was part of the communication with Berger on this event, once famously said UBL might 'boogie to Baghdad' if they missed getting him in Afghanistan.  No wonder Slick was confused.

The key phrase is obviously, "..the CIA sure overstated its case to me..".  So what 'case' does he suspect was being overstated?  This was after a PDB in December 1998 warning of al Qaeda hijacking an airplane to secure the release of members of the 1993 WTC attack and after the embassy attacks, so it's not like terrorism itself was being overstated, just the role of the players involved.

Reporters are assuming he meant CIA was overstating the importance of bin Laden but it's valid to wonder whether Clinton might have been asking a broader question--if UBL is not the 'north star' the CIA claims, who is?   It's hard to imagine how one New York Times article could prompt doubt about terrorism in general, Clinton seemed to be confused on the role of one guy in the nexus--bin Laden.

And that goes directly to the response, which was completely redacted. Keep in mind Clarke and Benjamin have never come off the intelligence that led them to recommend bombing al-Shifa and few if any in the press have grilled them about it.  Returning to Tom Joscelyn's link above..
"The consistent stream of intelligence at that time said it wasn't just al-Shifa. There were three different structures in the Sudan. There was the hiring of Iraqis. There was no question that the Iraqis were there. Some of the Clinton people seem to forget that they did make the Iraqi connection."
So Clinton was questioning the CIA's assessment of UBL, at least in private, while his own team was indicting UBL and making links between him and Saddam Hussein.  As late as 1999. 

Yet when Clinton gave Fox an interview in 2006 (where he wagged his finger at Chris Matthews), he seemed to be saying he did more than anyone to stop bin Laden:
CLINTON: All I'm saying is, you falsely accused me of giving aid and comfort to bin Laden because of what happened in Somalia. No one knew Al Qaeda existed then. And ...
WALLACE: But did they know in 1996 when he declared war on the U.S.? Did they know in 1998 ...
CLINTON: Absolutely, they did.
WALLACE: ... when he bombed the two embassies?
CLINTON: And who talked about ...
WALLACE: Did they know in 2000 when he hit the Cole?
CLINTON: What did I do? What did I do? I worked hard to try to kill him. I authorized a finding for the CIA to kill him. We contracted with people to kill him. I got closer to killing him than anybody has gotten since. And if I were still president, we'd have more than 20,000 troops there trying to kill him.
Now, I've never criticized President Bush, and I don't think this is useful. But you know we do have a government that thinks Afghanistan is only one-seventh as important as Iraq.
Pretty feisty, but he admits his counterterrorism team knew about the threat from bin Laden in 1996, three years prior to the note.  Evidently he was still wavering in 1999.

But in the same interview he also told Wallace that neither the CIA nor FBI would 'cerfify' that UBL was behind the attacks, which supports the wishy-washy narrative and provides him some cover despite the CIA setting up a special office in 1996 to track UBL headed by Michael Scheuer (who has been very critical of the Clinton team on apprehending or killing bin Laden in the late 90s).  

It also ignores the aforementioned indictment of UBL in 1998 (mentioning a tie to Iraq then updated to remove ties) and KSM.  Yet here's Slick still questioning the CIA's assessment of UBL's role in global terror in 1999.  Strange.

Could it impact Hillary! 2016?  Only if anyone asks.  Clintonistas might reply that it shows Bill was solidly focused on terrorism but wasn't sure about the intelligence on UBL due to some wishy-washyness at the CIA. Here's a comedic example of how an international news site handled it:
In one file referencing bin Laden, Clinton urgently asked his top national security aide whether the CIA overstated the involvement of the terrorist leader in the August 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.
Yes that's it, an 'urgent' Clinton was seeking 'extra' information in his quest for the terror leader. By the way, the indictment was in 1998 as indicated above in this post, not after April 1999 as in the story.  Now here's a biased domestic site:
Wait, there's very little coverage in the mainstream press other than a stock AP story.   Which by the way is the one quoted above in the international news site.  The Washington Post ran that stock AP story.  The New York Times, itself mentioned in the release, ran an in-house version of the story that said less than AP.  Did the AP intentionally report the indictment as after the note?   Moving it makes it appear Slick was more engaged or even indicted UBL based on the redacted reply from Berger.  Reality makes him look confused and less engaged.  Josh Gerstein explains as well.   

Aides, if anyone asks, may also argue the note explains his cruise missile flop in 1998, ie, it wasn't wagging the dog, it was the CIA overstating the case--or in other words, he was wondering if he was on the right target or whether someone else was running the terror show.   Those goofballs at CIA!   They could then claim that the response from Berger to Clinton, which nobody in public is allowed to see but they know, but can only summarize in general, was that no, the CIA did not overstate the status of UBL, he was still the top dog.  And Clinton, with his question answered, strapped on his cape and pressed forward in his relentless war against bin Laden, unlike Bush who "ignored" his own August 2001 PDB (heavily covered by the press for some reason) that led to 9/11.  They always have a ready answer that satisfies the baby bird press.

Perhaps more interesting than all the finger pointing and blame shifting is the reminder in the 1999 Times story of anniversaries.  The African embassy bombings of 1998 occurred exactly 8 years to the day after US forces entered Saudi Arabia to begin Operation Desert Shield to protect that country from Saddam's forces in Kuwait.  Add to that, in February 1993 the World Trade Center was bombed on the anniversary of the day celebrated in Kuwait as 'liberation day' (2/26/91) from Saddam's forces, and September 11, 1990 was the day when president George HW Bush first called for a "New World Order" in a speech declaring that Saddam's invasion of Kuwait would not stand.  Even this past week the shoot-down of MH17 occurred on the 18th anniversary of TWA800, although the CIA said there was "not a missile" involved in that one. Terrorists do love their anniversaries.   And yes, this post is too long. Nobody cares anymore. 


Debbie said...

No the post is not too long and people do care, just not the right people apparently.

Good job.

Yes the terrorists love anniversary dates. I'm not sure the MH17 was one of those attacks though. Just Russians confusing passenger plane for something it was not.

Right Truth

A.C. McCloud said...

Yeah, on MH17 I'd agree. Sounds like more of a bizarre coincidence. If it WAS on purpose then it might suggest Putin knows something about flight 800, but that's too far out for even me.

Interesting the Russians are saying there was a Ukrainian fighter jet following MH17. People keep waiting for the cockpit voice recorder, which will be important here, but where are the recorded conversations between MH17 and Eurocontrol or Ukrainian ATC? Nobody is even mentioning them.