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Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Pre-9/11 CIA Obstruction: Mere Infighting?

Spy vs. Spy
From Ché (What You Call Your) Pasa
(Good blog, BTW)

My interest is peaked, and my sensibilities tweaked, by this recent article posted at by Paul Church and Ray Nowosielski, Ex-Army Officer Accuses CIA of Obstructing Pre-9/11 Intelligence-Gathering. Peaked:
Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer joins a growing list of government officials accusing former CIA director George Tenet of misleading federal bodies and sharing some degree of blame for the attacks. Shaffer also adds to a picture emerging of the CIA's Bin Laden unit as having actively prevented other areas of intelligence, law enforcement and defense from properly carrying out their counterterrorism functions in the run-up to September 2001...

In the wake of the devastating African embassy bombings of 1998, which left more than 200 dead, US Special Operations Command (SOCOM)... brought together specialists from the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA)... the team's advanced data-mining software found connections between known terrorists and subjects with matching profiles. This highly classified project was code-named Able Danger...

...the collecting of information about al-Qaeda's cell structures was only meant to be a first step in a larger action to be taken using the data... The Able Danger project... was in fact fully integrated into a larger military effort to target and disrupt al-Qaeda...
Following the embassy attacks, the White House became concerned about a deficit of access by CIA into al-Qaeda... [at Richard] Clarke's behest, [George] Tenet, CIA director between 1997 and 2005, removed Michael Scheuer, the founder of its Bin Laden unit - also known as Alec Station. [Wikipedia entry redirects to "Bin Laden Issue Station," and states its formation as beginning in 1996]...

...According to Shaffer, [CIA representative David] Rolph bluntly informed him the CIA would never cooperate with SOCOM on the matter, because if the military succeeded in prosecuting the options for going after the infrastructure of al-Qaeda, it would "steal the thunder" of Alec Station. Shaffer found the response peculiar, even for the notoriously turf-defensive agency.

"I spent a lot of time working in joint projects between Special Operations Command and CIA," Shaffer revealed. "So the fact that in this one area they would not cooperate was new, and it concerned me. But very often the CIA would just do things without regard to anyone else."
(I'm liberally excerpting, of course - go read the whole thing for any needed assurance of context.)

What if David Rolph, speaking on behalf of the agency's director when he met Shaffer in late 1999, had been more cooperative? What if Tenet had not pushed Congress to shut down the military's long-term asset with connections inside al-Qaeda? What if the CIA had worked with, instead of against, the military? We will never know.
I am "tweaked" by the questions of this final paragraph, which (to me) frames the article in a way that accepts, as granted, that this was a case of careerism and petulance. I have a hard time swallowing this for two reasons - one, we are talking about pretty high-echelon and presumably sophisticated and serious people, for whom it is reasonable to expect would set aside such motives in matters as serious as this, and two, the CIA's (and military intelligence's) reputation for obfuscation and deceit, for elaborate cover stories as to operations and motives, and for illegal and morally reprehensible activities*.

A brief recap of the timeline: In 1996 the CIA opened a unit on bin Laden, in 1998 military intelligence got involved. In October of 1999, the contretemps - the "turf war" - between the two factions began. In other words, the CIA had more than a two-and-a-half year "lead" on the matter before being approached by SOCOM. This is leaving aside our long history with bin Laden during the Soviet-Afghanistan war, declarations and discoveries beginning in 1990 of his counter-American "sentiments," his State Department-linked connection to the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993, etc.

In the prologue to Lawrence Wright's The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11, governmental interest in bin Laden is characterized as rather skeptical of his capabilities:
The most frightening [Ed. apparently to "lone" CIA investigator David Coleman] aspect of this new threat, however, was the fact that almost no one took it seriously. It was too bizarre, too primitive and exotic... the defiant gestures of bin Laden and his followers seemed absurd and even pathetic...
And yet, in this 1997 CNN report (video posted below),
[rough transcript] The State Department [read: CIA] links the 41-year-old bin Laden to Ramsey Yousef, alleged mastermind of the World Trade Center Bombing, New York; an attempted bombing of U.S. troops in 1992, Yemen; terrorist training camps in Sudan and Afghanistan; Islamic terrorist groups in Egypt and Algeria.
This is 1997, and this does not sound "pathetic" to me. Perhaps it is only 9/11 hindsight, but then again we are talking about people who should be intimately acquainted with the capabilities of a man, and his men, who were set upon the Soviet Union on Afghanistan terrain with presumably the best training our shadow government had to offer.

So, with all due respect to Messrs. Church and Nowosielski, who after all are journalists and have an obligation to reasonable circumspection, my "framing" question would be:

Why did the CIA spurn the assets and cooperation of military intelligence, and claim it would "steal the thunder" of their operation? Who gets away with such an excuse at this level of government, and why? What "sunshine" did they fear would be brought upon their own investigation (activities?) in this matter, from an intelligence branch that, after all, almost certainly was intimately involved with the Soviet-Afghanistan war mujahideen project?

This CIA - I do not trust it. It is often clownish and incompetent, but it has a dark legacy of un-American activities in its chartered pursuit of American dominance.

"But very often the CIA would just do things without regard to anyone else."

Osama bin Laden Interview with CNN Peter Bergen and Peter Arnett - 1997


*To this, reference Albarelli's A Terrible Mistake: The Murder of Frank Olson and the CIA's Secret Cold War Experiments and any number of authoritative books on Castro and the Kennedy assassination.

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