In his apology to the families of the victims of 9/11, Richard Clarke said, “Your government failed you. Those entrusted with protecting you failed you, and I failed you.”
The 9/11 Commission’s report shows that last statement, “I failed you,” to be truer than we knew.
I encourage every American to read the section in the 9/11 Commission Report titled, “The Desert Camp, February 1999,” which can be found beginning on page 137, in chapter four.
The section discusses a plan by the Clinton administration to target Osama bin Laden while he was at a desert hunting camp in the Afghan desert south of Kandahar. The camp was a favorite of officials from the United Arab Emirates and bin Laden would often visit from his adjacent camp.
The plan was to hit the camp with cruise missiles when bin Laden was there. However, because of concerns that an Emirati prince or other senior official might be killed in the strike as well, it was never launched.
This is where the story gets interesting, and I’ll let the report speak for itself.
Even after Bin Ladin’s departure from the area, CIA officers hoped he might return, seeing the camp as a magnet that could draw him for as long as it was still set up. The military maintained readiness for another strike opportunity. On March 7, 1999, Clarke called a UAE official to express his concerns about possible associations between Emirati officials and Bin Ladin. Clarke later wrote in a memorandum of this conversation that the call had been approved at an interagency meeting and cleared with the CIA. When the former Bin Ladin unit chief found out about Clarke’s call, he questioned CIA officials, who denied having given such a clearance. Imagery confirmed that less than a week after Clarke’s phone call the camp was hurriedly dismantled, and the site was deserted. CIA officers, including Deputy Director for Operations Pavitt, were irate. ‘Mike’ (the CIA’s Bin Ladin unit chief) thought the dismantling of the camp erased a possible site for targeting Bin Ladin.
Clarke’s phone call was the equivalent of sending bin Laden a telegram saying, “We know all about the camp and we’re watching it.” It may have cost us a chance to eliminate bin Laden before 9/11, which could have disrupted al Qaeda’s plans and forestalled the attack.
Richard Clarke has condemned the Bush administration for not taking the war on terror seriously. Is tipping off the Emiratis about the hunting camp and their association with bin Laden taking terrorism seriously? After this devastating revelation, hopefully we’ll hear no more from Mr. Clarke.
However, I do see a future for him as a Kerry foreign-policy adviser. Let’s see: Joe Wilson the fabricator. Sandy Berger the inadvertent thief. Richard Clarke the tipster.
Looks like he’d fit right in.
–The Honorable J. D. Hayworth is a Republican congressman from Arizona’s 5th district.