Hank Crumpton, a former CIA officer and top counterterrorism official, said in a recent interview that President Bill Clinton's White House missed a golden opportunity to take out terrorist leader Osama bin Laden in 1999.
Bin Laden was in Afghanistan in 1999, Crumpton told CBS's "60 Minutes" in a segment that aired on Sunday. His convoy had been clearly identified by an early edition Predator drone, which at the time didn't have weapons capabilities.
"We saw a security detail, a convoy, and we saw bin Laden exit the vehicle, clearly," Crumpton told CBS's Lara Logan, describing aerial images captured by a drone flying somewhere outside of Kandahar. "The optics were spot in, it was beaming back to us, CIA headquarters. We immediately alerted the White House, and the Clinton administration’s response was, ‘Well, it will take several hours for the TLAMs, the cruise missiles launched from submarines, to reach that objective. So, you need to tell us where bin Laden will be five or six hours from now.' The frustration was enormous."
The administration also denied the CIA's request to engage their on-ground forces, Crumpton said, which could have acted more quickly. The missed opportunity led the CIA to speed the process of arming the unmanned drones with Hellfire missiles, so that they could act more swiftly if they found bin Laden again. U.S. forces have since come to rely heavily on unmanned aerial vehicles to carry out strikes on targets in hostile territory, much to the disapproval of some human rights groups.
Clinton has been criticized for a supposed failure to seize opportunities to kill bin Laden on multiple occasions. A 9/11 commission report, which brought the original release of the drone footage that Crumpton is referring to, led to accusations from Clinton's opponents that he had neglected to act despite a wealth of convincing intelligence.
Crumpton's interview comes as his book, "The Art of Intelligence: Lessons from a Life in the CIA's Clandestine Service," hits the bookshelves. It focuses on the CIA's response to 9/11 and the rapid implementation of covert operations on the ground in Afghanistan. Read advance excerpts at the Daily Beast.