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Friday, July 23, 2004
Berger, bin Laden and Lessons on Anti-Terrorism Policy

By Steven Taylor @ 12:58 pm

InstaPundit notes a New York Sun column that details some of Sandy Berger’s involvement in US anti-terrorism policy vis-a-vis bin Laden. The column concludes:

according to the commission report, Mr. Berger was presented with plans to take action against the threat of Al Qaeda four separate times — Spring 1998, June 1999, December 1999, and August 2000. Each time, Mr. Berger was an obstacle to action. Had he been a little less reluctant to act, a little more open to taking pre-emptive action, maybe the 2,973 killed in the September 11, 2001, attacks would be alive today.

I would not lay those bumbers at Mr. Berger’s feet-that isn’t the point. The point is: a passive, overly cautious, wait-and-see approach is a potentially quite deadly one when it comes to anti-terrorism policy.

I personally looked up some of the references from the column in the 9/11 Commission Report and found the following:

  • Tenet apparently walked National Security Advisor Sandy Berger through the basic plan on February 13. One group of tribals would subdue the guards, enter Tarnak Farms stealthily, grab Bin Ladin, take him to a desert site outside Kandahar, and turn him over to a second group.This second group of tribals would take him to a desert landing zone already tested in the 1997 Kansi capture. From there, a CIA plane would take him to New York, an Arab capital, or wherever he was to be arraigned. Briefing papers prepared by the Counterterrorist Center acknowledged
    that hitches might develop. People might be killed, and Bin Ladin’s supporters might retaliate,perhaps taking U.S. citizens in Kandahar hostage.But the briefing papers also noted that there was risk in not acting. “Sooner or later,”
    they said, “Bin Ladin will attack U.S. interests, perhaps using WMD [weapons of mass destruction].” (112)

  • In Washington, Berger expressed doubt about the dependability of the tribals. In his meeting with Tenet, Berger focused most, however, on the question of what was to be done with Bin Ladin if he were actually captured. He worried that the hard evidence against Bin Ladin was still skimpy and that there was a danger of snatching him and bringing him to the United States only to see him acquitted. (113)
  • By late June [1999], U.S. and other intelligence services had concluded that al Qaeda was in pre-attack mode, perhaps again involving Abu Hafs the Mauritanian. On June 25, at Clarke’s request, Berger convened the Small Group in his office to discuss the alert, Bin Ladin’s WMD programs, and his location. “Should we pre-empt by attacking UBL facilities?” Clarke urged Berger to ask his colleagues.

    In his handwritten notes on the meeting paper, Berger jotted down the presence of 7 to 11 families in the Tarnak Farms facility, which could mean 60-65 casualties. Berger noted the possible “slight impact” on Bin Ladin and added,
    “if he responds, we’re blamed."183 The NSC staff raised the option of waiting until after a terrorist attack, and then retaliating, including possible strikes on the Taliban. But Clarke observed that Bin Ladin would probably empty his camps after an attack (141).

  • NSC note, Clarke to Berger, Dec. 4, 1999; Richard Clarke interview (Jan. 12, 2004). In the margin next to
    Clarke’s suggestion to attack al Qaeda facilities in the week before January 1, 2000, Berger wrote “no.” (footnote 11 for Chapter 6).

In short: we see a combo of the law enforcment paradigm and a general tentativeness in Mr. Berger’s approach to anti-terrorism policy. And as a result we see policy failure.

  • InTheBullpen.com linked with Berger Hides Appeasement Down his Pants

Click here to go to the main page.

1 Comment

  1. A post so nice you have to make it twice… ;-)

    Comment by Christopher Cross — Friday, July 23, 2004 @ 1:40 pm

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