The Road to 9-11
During the 1990’s, the Clinton administration received sufficient warnings that Osama bin Laden’s terrorist organization, al-Qaeda, intended to continue to carry out attacks upon U. S. citizens and their property, by enlisting suicide bombers.
From bin Laden’s cave complex in Tora Bora, a mountainous region in northeast Afghanistan, he recruited and trained individuals from across the globe to engage in terrorist operations. He was at war with the United States, and few inside the Federal government were awake to his malevolent intentions.
A first attack occurred on December 29, 1992, at a hotel in Aden, in the country of Yemen. U.S. troops had stayed in the hotel on their way to Somalia, but had departed before the bomb exploded.
Another attack occurred weeks later, on February 26, 1993, in New York City at the World Trade Center, when Ramzi Yousef, who had trained in al-Qaeda’s camps, drove a car carrying a bomb into an underground garage. The bomb detonated, six people were killed, and another 1500 were injured.
On November 13, 1995, a car bomb exploded in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, killing five Americans.
Then, on August 7, 1998, al-Qaeda bombed two U.S. embassies at the same time, one in Nairobi, Kenya, and the other in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, killing 224 people, including twelve Americans.
On October 12, 2000, two al-Qaeda suicide bombers boarded a skiff carrying 400 to 700 pounds of explosives, and steered it next to the USS Cole, a navy warship, then refueling in Aden’s harbor, in Yemen. The blast killed 17 American sailers, injured 35, and cut a gash in the side of the vessel.
This list of suicide bombings should have forewarned U.S. government officials of Osama bin Laden’s lethal ambitions, but it was difficult for many to believe that Afghan Arabs could plan, devise, organize, and then execute these diabolical operations.
Two CIA agents who did recognize bin Laden’s danger were Cindy Storer and Michael Scheuer.
In Peter Bergen’s biography of bin Laden, he notes that, “Cindy Storer used Excel spreadsheets to chart the connections between militants linked to al-Qaeda. She began to notice that all roads led back to Peshawar, where bin Laden had lived during the late 1980’s.
“She concluded that al-Qaeda was a hierarchical organization with bin Laden at the top. Contrary to the conventional wisdom at the time that a ‘ragtag’ bunch of Arabs from different countries wouldn’t work together, Storer found that they were cooperating.” They gave their lives to Osama bin Laden.
In January of 1996, the CIA created a new office that focused solely upon bin Laden, and named Michael Scheuer to oversee it. His mantra was that someday, “This guy’s going to kill several thousand Americans.” About that, he was proven right.
Scheuer pushed again and again for a missile strike upon bin Laden, and was apoplectic when his superiors would call it off a variety of reasons. We shall call those officials’ decision “a missed window of opportunity” to throttle a potential mass murderer.
Eleven months and one day after al-Qaeda bombed the USS Cole, on September 11, 2001, al-Qaeda’s terrorists struck the United States.
On that day, bin Laden’s suicide bombers commandeered four jet aircraft, and flew two of them into the twin towers in New York City, and a third into the Pentagon in Washington D.C.
A fourth crashed in a field outside Shanksville, Pennsylvania, after passengers stormed the cabin and thwarted the terrorist’s intended target, either the White House or the Capitol.
Osama bin Laden believed the United States weak, that its officials would do little if attacked, and that its citizens lacked the will to fight hard. He soon saw a different response.
In a recent book, Reign of Terror, the journalist Spencer Ackerman argues that after 9-11, “George W. Bush’s White House could have quickly dismantled Osama bin Laden’s terrorist network.” But, instead the President and his officials chose a far more expansive, costly, and deadly course.
The Bush administration chose, Ackerman writes, a “global crusade against an ill-defined enemy and used the high stakes to justify torture, secret prisons, two foreign wars, drone assassinations, and a vast state surveillance system,” as well as attempting “nation building” in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Their action was a hot, over-the-top reaction.
In The Week, one author writes, “Back in 2001, the initial goals of the U.S. invasion—toppling the Taliban and routing al Qaeda—were accomplished within months, but then the mission morphed into a neocon fantasy of transforming a tribal, poor, illiterate, and religious society into another country.”
It was destined not to happen in Afghanistan.
After twenty years, what do we have? A series of missed chances to recognize bin Laden, a failure to cut him off when given a chance, and a series of unnecessary reactions when he struck on 9-11.