(MintPress) – The recent release of 120 CIA documents by the National Security Archives (NSA) reveals new details about Osama Bin Laden, al-Qaida and the terrorist attacks of 9/11, which clearly show that the CIA had been tracking Bin Laden a full year before the devastating terrorist attacks, but the Bush administration suspended funding for the search.
The documents suggest that the Bush administration could have assassinated or continued monitoring Bin Laden, but chose to cut funding to the CIA operations. The findings also indicate that the CIA had spotted Bin Laden on two separate occasions but did not receive the proper support to investigate the sightings. The elusive Bin Laden evaded U.S. forces for a decade following 9/11 until he was killed last year during a raid on his compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan.
Bin Laden and 9/11
The CIA documents were released following a Freedom of Information Act request by the NSA, which make an inquiry into several classified documents cited in the official 9/11 commission report. The findings have raised serious questions about the Bush administration’s unwillingness to act on credible intelligence that could have led to Bin Laden’s arrest, or killing, before the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
Bin Laden emerged as a credible threat against the U.S. when the al-Qaida organization attacked the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998. Later, an attack on the USS Cole in Aden, Yemen was traced to Bin Laden as well.
The cache of CIA emails, raw intelligence cables, analytical summaries, high-level briefing materials and comprehensive counterterrorism reports released do not bode well for the former president. Barbara Elias-Sanborn, the NSA fellow who edited the material, commented on the release saying:
“I don’t think the Bush administration would want to see these released, because they paint a picture of the CIA knowing something would happen before 9/11, but they didn’t get the institutional support they needed.”
Extensive surveillance dating back as early as 2000 reveal that the administration had prior knowledge of Bin Laden’s whereabouts.
Early drone campaigns
In early 2000, the U.S. government began unmanned drone surveillance of tribal areas in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The secret missions were designed as intelligence gathering missions and were not used as offensive attacks on threatening targets.
According to the documents, drones observed a man on two separate missions who was “most likely Bin Laden”, according to CIA reports. However without authorization, no further action was taken to confirm the identity of the suspect, nor was authorization given to apprehend or attack the target.
While the use of predator drones has received harsh criticism of late, former National Security Advisor Condolezza Rice believes it was a positive development in America’s national security policy, saying in 2006, “Things like working to get an armed Predator that actually turned out to be extraordinarily important, working to get a strategy that would allow us to get better cooperation from Pakistan and from the Central Asians.”
However, Rice prefaces these statements by saying that Bush continued using ineffective counterterrorism policies developed under former President Bill Clinton, strategies that allowed al-Qaida to organize and gather strength while in Afghanistan. Continuing, Rice adds, “We were not left a comprehensive strategy to fight al-Qaida.”
President Obama expanded the use of predator drones in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, using targeted strikes to take out top al-Qaida leaders Anwar Awlaki in 2011 and Abu Yahya al-Libi in 2012. The attacks, while praised by some, have been widely criticised by human rights organizations for their indiscriminate killing of innocent civilians.
The lead-up to 9/11
Perhaps the most serious blow against the Bush administration comes in the release of the August 2001 Intelligence brief titled, “Bin Laden Determined to Strike the U.S.”
Although the document delivers a frank warning against the increasing threat posed by al-Qaida, Bush neglected to respond to the warning for a full month. The dire warning echoes what seven senior CIA intelligence officers had been saying since June 2001, “Al-Qaida members, including some U.S. citizens, have resided in or travelled to the U.S. for years, and the group apparently maintains a support structure here.”
However President Bush did not address the issue until September 4, 2001 because he decided to take an extended, one month vacation at his ranch in Texas. While away from Washington D.C., Bush reportedly maintained only sporadic, lax communication with his cabinet.
The unpreparedness of the Bush administration is summarized by Jordan Michael Smith, a Salon reporter. Smith writes a scathing criticism of the miscalculation, saying, “Many of the documents publicize for the first time what was first made clear in the 9/11 Commission: The White House received a truly remarkable amount of warnings that al-Qaeda was trying to attack the United States. From June to September 2001, a full seven CIA Senior Intelligence Briefs detailed that attacks were imminent, an incredible amount of information from one intelligence agency.”
The evidence may be damning, but the documents lend little credibility to claims made by “truthers,” that is, people who believe that the Bush administration was actively involved in a cabal or conspiracy to organize and carry out the attacks of 9/11. Additionally, some subscribing to this theory say that the administration actively worked with terrorists and carried out the attacks as a pretext for the subsequent 2003 invasion of Iraq.
However, the declassified documents confirm what many within the United States have believed since 9/11: that the Bush administration knew of the credible terrorist threat against the U.S. but failed to properly act on intelligence warnings. Indeed, a 2006 CNN opinion poll found that 45 percent of Americans place a “great deal of blame” or “moderate blame” on President Bush. The same poll found a similar number, 41 percent of respondents, placed “a great deal” or “moderate” blame on President Bill Clinton as well.
Public opinion outside the United States follows a similar trend. In 2008, World Public Opinion, a collaborative project of research centers, conducted a poll with the help of the University of Maryland, College Park. Of the 16,063 people polled in 17 countries, 46 percent believed al-Qaida was behind the attacks, while 15 percent said the U.S. government was to blame. Around 7 percent said Israel was responsible, while another 7 percent said some other perpetrator was to blame. While a plurality blame al-Qaida, significant minorities still believe other perpetrators, including the United States, Israel or some other entity, was behind the attacks.