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9/11 commission findings

/ Source: The Associated Press

Preliminary findings about U.S. diplomatic and military efforts regarding terrorism before Sept. 11, 2001, contained in statements issued Tuesday and Wednesday by the staff of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States:

  • From spring 1997 to September 2001, the U.S. government tried to persuade the Taliban to expel Osama bin Laden from Afghanistan to a country where he could face criminal charges and that would not be a sanctuary for his organization. The government used inducements, warnings and sanctions. All failed.
  • The U.S. government also pressed two successive Pakistani governments to demand that the Taliban stop providing a sanctuary for bin Laden and his organization and, failing that, to cut off their support for the Taliban. Before Sept. 11 the United States could not find a mix of incentives or pressure that would persuade Pakistan to reconsider its fundamental relationship with the Taliban.
  • From 1999 through early 2001, the United States pressed the United Arab Emirates, one of the Taliban’s only travel and financial outlets to the outside world, to break off ties and enforce sanctions, especially related to air travel to Afghanistan. These efforts achieved little before Sept. 11.
  • The government of Saudi Arabia worked closely with top U.S. officials in major initiatives to solve the bin Laden problem with diplomacy. On the other hand, before Sept. 11 the Saudi and U.S. governments did not fully share important intelligence information or develop an adequate joint effort to track and disrupt the finances of the al-Qaida organization.
  • In response to the request of policymakers, the military prepared an array of options for striking bin Laden and his organization from May 1998 onward. When they briefed policymakers, the military presented the pros and cons of those strike options.
  • Following the unsuccessful Aug. 20, 1998, missile strikes against bin Laden and other al-Qaida leaders, senior military officials and policymakers placed great emphasis on “actionable intelligence” as the key factor in recommending or deciding to launch military action against bin Laden and his organization.
  • Policymakers and military officials expressed frustration with the lack of actionable intelligence.
  • Some officials inside the Pentagon, including those in the special forces and the counterterrorism policy office, expressed frustration with the lack of military action.
  • Both civilian and military officials of the Defense Department said that neither Congress nor the American public would have supported large-scale military operations in Afghanistan before Sept. 11, 2001.
  • Before Sept. 11 no agency did more to attack al-Qaida, working day and night, than did the CIA. But there were limits to what the CIA was able to achieve by disrupting terrorist activities abroad and using proxies to try to capture Osama bin Laden and his lieutenants in Afghanistan. CIA officers were aware of these limitations. One officer recognized as early as mid-1997 that the CIA alone was not going to solve the bin Laden problem. In a memo to his supervisor he wrote, “All we’re doing is holding the ring until the cavalry gets here.” Deputy Director for Operations Jim Pavitt told commission staff that “doing stuff on the margins” was not the way to get this job done. If the United States was serious about eliminating the al-Qaida threat, it required robust, offensive engagement across the entire U.S. government.
  • CIA Director George Tenet also understood the CIA’s limitations. He told staff that the CIA’s odds of success in Afghanistan before Sept. 11 were between 10 and 20 percent. This was not because the CIA lacked the capabilities to attack the target, he said, but because the mission was extremely challenging. Covert action was not “a silver bullet,” but it was important to engage proxies and to build various capabilities so that if an opportunity presented itself, the CIA could act on it. “You could get really lucky on any given day,” Tenet said.
  • Indeed, serendipity had led to some of the CIA’s past successes against al-Qaida. But absent a more dependable government strategy, CIA senior management relied on proxy forces to “get lucky” for over three years, through both the late Clinton and early Bush administrations. There was growing frustration within the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center and in the National Security Council staff with this lack of results. The development of the Predator and the push to aid the Northern Alliance were certainly products of this frustration.
  • The commission has heard numerous accounts of the tireless activity of officers within the CTC and the bin Laden unit trying to tackle al-Qaida before Sept. 11. Tenet also was clearly committed to fighting the terrorist threat. But if officers at all levels questioned the effectiveness of the most active strategy the policy-makers were employing to defeat the terrorist enemy, the commission needs to ask why that strategy remained largely unchanged throughout the period leading up to Sept. 11.