Declassified Documents Shed Light on Scramble to ‘Hit’ Bin Laden Before 9/11 Security Clearance Blogs
Declassified documents shed light on scramble to ‘hit’ bin Laden before 9/11
by Tim Lister, CNN
On December 20, 1998, an internal CIA memo was sent by a field agent about a missed opportunity to “hit” Osama bin Laden while he was reportedly visiting a mosque near Kandahar, Afghanistan. “I said hit him tonight; we may not get another chance,” CIA agent Gary Schoen wrote. “We may well come to regret the decision not to go ahead.”
The memo was sent to to Michael Scheuer, then head of the CIA’s Osama bin Laden “station,” and is one of more than 100 documents declassified and published by the National Security Archive this week. Although some have been previously cited or quoted in the Report of the 9/11 Commission, the raw documents themselves illustrate the frustrations and missteps in the hunt for Osama bin Laden and alarm among some at the CIA about al Qaeda’s growing sophistication and its plans for attacking U.S. interests.
Scheuer replies to Schoen the following day. “This is the third time you and your officers have put UBL in this government’s sights and they have balked each time at doing the job. … They spent a good deal of time yesterday worrying that some stray shapnel might hit the Habash mosque and ‘offend’ Muslims.”
The documents have been heavily redacted before publication. But they give a sense of the aggravation, the guesswork and a never-ending sense of crisis in the intelligence community’s pursuit of the al Qaeda leader before his eventual discovery and killing in May 2011. They also show that co-operation between different agencies was improving before 9/11 but that gaps and different priorities hampered counter-terrorism efforts.