Other advisers have echoed this concern. Some of Secretary Albright’s advisers warned her at the time to be sure the evidence conclusively linked Bin Ladin to the Cole before considering any response, especially a military one, because such action might inflame the Islamic world and increase support for the Taliban. Defense Secretary Cohen told us it would not have been prudent to risk killing civilians based only on an assumption that al Qaeda was responsible. General Shelton added that there was an outstanding question as to who was responsible and what the targets were.
Clarke recalled that while the Pentagon and the State Department had reservations about retaliation, the issue never came to a head because the FBI and the CIA never reached a firm conclusion. He thought they were “holding back.” He said he did not know why, but his impression was that Tenet and Reno possibly thought the White House “didn’t really want to know,” since the principals’ discussions by November suggested that there was not much White House interest in conducting further military operations against Afghanistan in the administration’s last weeks. He thought that, instead, President Clinton, Berger, and Secretary Albright were concentrating on a last minute push for a peace agreement between the Palestinians and the Israelis.
Some of Clarke’s fellow counterterrorism officials, such as the State Department’s Sheehan and the FBI’s Watson, shared his disappointment that no military response occurred at the time. Clarke recently recalled that an angry Sheehan asked rhetorically of Defense officials: “Does al Qaeda have to attack the Pentagon to get their attention?”
On the question of evidence, Tenet told us he was surprised to hear that the White House was awaiting a conclusion from him on responsibility for the Cole attack before taking action against al Qaeda. He did not recall Berger or anyone else telling him that they were waiting for the magic words from the CIA and the FBI. Nor did he remember having any discussions with Berger or the President about retaliation. Tenet told us he believed that it was up to him to present the case. Then it was up to the principals to decide if the case was good enough to justify using force. He believed he laid out what was knowable relatively early in the investigation, and that this evidence never really changed until after 9/11.
A CIA official told us that the CIA’s analysts chose the term “preliminary judgment” because of their notion of how an intelligence standard of proof differed from a legal standard. Because the attack was the subject of a criminal investigation, they told us, the term preliminary was used to avoid locking the government in with statements that might later be obtained by defense lawyers in a future court case. At the time, Clarke was aware of the problem of distinguishing between an intelligence case and a law enforcement case. Asking U.S. law enforcement officials to concur with an intelligence-based case before their investigation had been concluded “could give rise to charges that the administration had acted before final culpability had been determined.”
There was no interagency consideration of just what military action might have looked like in practice—either the Pentagon’s new “phased campaign” concept or a prolonged air campaign in Afghanistan. Defense officials, such as Under Secretary Walter Slocombe and Vice Admiral Fry, told us the military response options were still limited. Bin Ladin continued to be elusive.They felt, just as they had for the past two years, that hitting inexpensive and rudimentary training camps with costly missiles would not do much good and might even help al Qaeda if the strikes failed to kill Bin Ladin.
In late 2000, the CIA and the NSC staff began thinking about the counterterrorism policy agenda they would present to the new administration. The Counterterrorist Center put down its best ideas for the future, assuming it was free of any prior policy or financial constraints.The paper was therefore informally referred to as the “Blue Sky” memo; it was sent to Clarke on December
29.The memo proposed
• A major effort to support the Northern Alliance through intelligence sharing and increased funding so that it could stave off the Taliban army and tie down al Qaeda fighters. This effort was not intended to remove the Taliban from power, a goal that was judged impractical and
too expensive for the CIA alone to attain.
• Increased support to the Uzbeks to strengthen their ability to fight terrorism and assist the United States in doing so.
• Assistance to anti-Taliban groups and proxies who might be encouraged to passively resist the Taliban.
The CIA memo noted that there was “no single ‘silver bullet’ available to deal with the growing problems in Afghanistan.” A multifaceted strategy would be needed to produce change.
No action was taken on these ideas in the few remaining weeks of the Clinton administration. Berger did not recall seeing or being briefed on the Blue Sky memo. Nor was the memo discussed during the transition with incoming top Bush administration officials. Tenet and his deputy told us they pressed these ideas as options after the new team took office.
As the Clinton administration drew to a close, Clarke and his staff developed a policy paper of their own, the first such comprehensive effort since the Delenda plan of 1998.The resulting paper, entitled “Strategy for Eliminating the Threat from the Jihadist Networks of al Qida: Status and Prospects,” reviewed the threat and the record to date, incorporated the CIA’s new ideas from the Blue Sky memo, and posed several near-term policy options. Clarke and his staff proposed a goal to “roll back” al Qaeda over a period of three to five years. Over time, the policy should try to weaken and eliminate the network’s infrastructure in order to reduce it to a “rump group” like other formerly feared but now largely defunct terrorist organizations of the 1980s. “Continued anti-al Qida operations at the current level will prevent some attacks,” Clarke’s office wrote, “but will not seriously attrit their ability to plan and conduct attacks.” The paper backed covert aid to the Northern Alliance, covert aid to Uzbekistan, and renewed Predator flights in March 2001. A sentence called for military action to destroy al Qaeda command-and control targets and infrastructure and Taliban military and command assets. The paper also expressed concern about the presence of al Qaeda operatives in the United States.
I’m still reading this, its some 300 pages in length, but I would advise you all to read it.