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Michael Smerconish Headshot

The UAE? Read pg. 138!

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By now we've all heard that two of the 9-11 hijackers were citizens of the United Arab Emirates and that the vast majority of money from the attacks flowed through Dubai, but the past role of the UAE in fostering terrorism is even more direct than currently being discussed.

A simple consultation of the Index of the 665-page 9/11 Commission Report yields six references to the UAE, most of which can be found on page 138. An entry in that portion of the book suggests that but for the cooperation of the UAE, we would have killed Bin Ladin two years in advance of September 11.

First, some context. In February of 1988, the then 40-year old Bin Ladin published a Fatwa claiming that America had declared war against God and his messenger, calling for the murder of any American, anywhere on earth as the "individual duty for any Muslim who can do it in any country in which it is possible to do it."

With that in mind, now consider the following, beginning on pg. 137 of The 9/11 Commission Report.

"Early in 1999, the CIA received reporting that Bin Ladin was spending much of his time at one of the several camps in the Afghan desert south of Kandahar. At the beginning of February, Bin Ladin was reportedly located in the vicinity of the Sheikh Ali camp, a desert hunting camp being used by visitors from a Gulf state. Public sources have stated that these visitors were from the United Arab Emirates.

Reporting from the CIA's assets provided a detailed description of the hunting camp, including its size, location, resources and security, as well as of Bin Ladin's smaller, adjacent camp. Because this was not in an urban area, missiles launched against it would have less risk of collateral damage. On February 8, the military began to ready itself for a possible strike. The next day, national technical intelligence confirmed the location and description of the larger camp and showed the nearby presence of an official aircraft of the United Arab Emirates. But the location of Bin Ladin's quarters could not be pinned down so precisely. The CIA did its best to answer a host of questions about the larger camp and its residents and about Bin Ladin's daily schedule and routines to support military contingency planning. According to reporting from the tribals, Bin Ladin regularly went from his adjacent camp to the larger camp where he visited the Emiratis; the tribals expected him to be at the hunting camp for such a visit at least until midmorning on February 11. Clarke wrote to Berger's deputy on February 10 that the military was then doing targeting work to hit the main camp with cruise missiles and should be in a position to strike before the following morning. Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert appears to have been briefed on the situation.

No strike was launched. By February 12 Bin Ladin had apparently moved on and the immediate strike plans became moot. According to CIA and Defense officials, policymakers were concerned about the danger that a strike would kill an Emirati prince or other senior officials who might be with Bin Ladin or close by. Clarke told us the strike was called off after consultation with Director Tenet because the intelligence was dubious and it seemed to Clarke as if the CIA was presenting an option to attack America's best counterterrorism ally in the Gulf. The lead CIA official in the field, Gary Schroen, felt that the intelligence reporting in this case was very reliable; the Bin Ladin unit chief "Mike," agreed. Schroen believes today that this was a lost opportunity to kill Bin Ladin before 9/11.

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 hurriedly dismantled, and the site was deserted. CIA officers, including Deputy Director for Operations Pavitt, were irate. "Mike" thought the dismantling of the camp erased a possible site for targeting Bin Ladin.

The United Arab Emirates was becoming both a valued counterterrorism ally of the United States and a persistent counterterrorism problem. From 1999 through early 2001, the United States and President Clinton personally, pressed the UAE, one of the Taliban's only travel and financial outlets to the outside world to break off its ties and enforce sanctions, especially those relating to flights to and from Afghanistan. These efforts achieved little before 9/11."

In the footnotes for the above referenced information, there is the report that at the time the United States was considering striking Bin Ladin's hunting camp, Richard Clarke had high-level meetings with UAE military and the ruler of Dubai. They denied that high-level UAE officials were in Afghanistan. Subsequent reporting, however, suggested that Clarke had been misled. Additionally, the footnotes indicate that concurrently with the UAE being tipped off to the CIA's knowledge of the camp, one of the tribal networks major sub-sources, within Bin Ladin's Taliban security detail, was dispatched to the North, further handicapping reporting efforts.

So there you have it. A year after Bin Ladin served formal notice of his intention to kill Americans anyhow, anywhere, the CIA appropriately tracked his whereabouts and was prepared to take him out, but was denied the opportunity because of the presence of high-level UAE officials who were socializing with the head of Al Qaeda. Worse, when the United States alerted the UAE of their displeasure with these contacts, the UAE's response was to tip off Bin Ladin and further thwart our efforts to kill him.

The country we're now entrusting to manage the gateways to our nation is the same leadership that denied us a key opportunity to kill Bin Ladin two years before September 11.

Bigotry? No. Just good old-fashioned American street smarts.