The United States raised concerns with the United Arab Emirates seven years ago about possible ties between officials in that country and Osama bin Laden, according to a section of the Sept. 11 commission’s report that details a possible missed opportunity to kill the al-Qaida leader.
Republicans and Democrats alike are raising concerns this week about the Bush administration’s decision to let a U.A.E.-operated company take over operations at six American ports, in part citing ties the Sept. 11 hijackers had to the Persian Gulf country.
President Bush has called the U.A.E. a close partner on the war on terror since Sept. 11, and his aides have listed numerous examples of the country’s help.
The Sept. 11 commission’s report released last year also raised concerns U.A.E. officials were directly associating with bin Laden as recently as 1999.
Hunting camp cited
The report states U.S. intelligence believed that bin Laden was visiting an area in the Afghan desert in February 1999 near a hunting camp used by U.A.E. officials, and that the U.S. military planned a missile strike.
Intelligence from local tribal sources indicated “bin Laden regularly went from his adjacent camp to the larger camp where he visited the Emirates,” the report said.
“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 Laden’s quarters could not be pinned down so precisely,” the report said.
The missile attack was never launched, and bin Laden moved on, the report said.
A month later, top White House counterterrorism official Richard Clarke “called a U.A.E. official to express his concerns about possible associations between Emirati officials and bin Laden,” the report said.
Anger at CIA
CIA officials hoped to continue staking out the Afghan camp in hopes bin Laden would return and a possible strike could be launched.
But “imagery confirmed that less than a week after Clarke’s phone call, the camp was hurriedly dismantled and the site was deserted,” the report said.
CIA officials were “irate” and “thought the dismantling of the camp erased a possible site for targeting bin Laden, the report said.
At a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee Thursday, Sen. Carl Levin, the ranking Democrat, asked Deputy Treasury Secretary Robert Kimmitt if he was aware of the 9-11 commission’s assertion that the United Arab Emirates represents “a persistent counterterrorism problem” for the United States.
Kimmitt replied that administration figures involved in the decision to approve the deal “looked very carefully” at information from the intelligence community.
“Any time a foreign-government controlled company comes in,” Kimmitt said, “the intelligence assessment is of both the country and the company.”
“Just raise your hand if anybody talked to the 9-11 commission,” Levin told the administration representatives at the witness table. Nobody raised a hand.