Too awful to check: CIA passed on bin Laden hit in 1999?

According to a new book released this summer from a former member of Polish intelligence and reported by McClatchy today, an anti-Taliban guerilla group offered the CIA a perfect opportunity to end the threat of al-Qaeda’s inspirational leader, Osama bin Laden, in 1999 — after the Khobar Towers attack in 1996 that killed 19 Air Force personnel, and after the twin embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 that killed 12 Americans and more than 200 people overall.  All the CIA had to do was green-light an assassination mission by the group run by Ahmed Shah Massoud, as they already had the route and locations bin Laden planned to use in his journey to Kandahar, and assure them that the group would get the $5 million reward if they succeeded.  The CIA flat-out refused, citing existing American law, and said that either OBL was to be captured alive or not at all, according to the intelligence officer involved in the negotiations:

“They gave us the exact location of the houses where bin Laden would be staying in Kandahar, the route he would be taking between his living quarters, his meeting place, and what kind of transportation he would be using,” Makowski told McClatchy in a recent interview, referring to the city in southern Afghanistan that was the Taliban’s seat of power. The Afghans planned to use car bombs to kill the Saudi-born leader of al Qaida.

But on Oct. 14, 1999, a CIA officer whom Makowski identified as “Jim” flew to Warsaw with a response. “I would like everyone here to be absolutely clear on one thing: We do not have a license to kill,” “Jim” told top officials at the headquarters of Polish intelligence. Makowski, at the time a businessman, said he was at the meeting.

“We have to capture bin Laden safe and sound so that he can stand trial and be sentenced legally,” Makowski quotes the officer as saying. “Any other solution is out of the question. CIA operates within the American legal order.”

According to Makowski, the intelligence proved accurate: Bin Laden arrived in Kandahar as planned and stayed in the house as had been predicted. Could the Afghans have killed him? “I have no doubt,” he said.

As if that were not bad enough, Makowski’s sources in Polish intelligence say that they already had intelligence that bin Laden planned to attack US Navy warships, and had warned the CIA about the plans.  A year later, bin Laden and al-Qaeda would successfully conduct a terrorist attack on the USS Cole in Aden, killing 17 American sailors.  They even knew who the commander of the mission would be.  The CIA dismissed the intel:

“Beginning in 1999, for almost a year, we started giving information that bin Laden had made a decision to prepare an operation to attack U.S. warships in the Gulf,” Makowski told McClatchy.

“We started supplying details. There was a 27-person team, the command was divided and it was based in Dubai. We told them who its leader was, his passport number, his Dubai identity card and that they were preparing to attack a U.S. warship,” he said.

At first the CIA asked for more information. But after seven or eight months of reporting, the agency wrote back that the information is interesting “but they think such an attack is impossible,” Makowski said. Three months later, the Cole was attacked as it was in port in Yemen.

The book also claims that the CIA and the Clinton administration sided with the Taliban over Massoud’s opposition in 1996, when the Taliban took Kabul and seized power.  That would make some sense, as the US at the time wanted to strengthen ties with Pakistan, which actively backed the Pashtun Taliban in Afghanistan over its tribal rivals.  In the pre-existing narrative, most recently reinforced by the film Charlie Wilson’s War, the rise of the Taliban has been depicted as a malignant side effect of American intervention against the Soviet Union and then neglect after the collapse of the communist empire.  But that’s at least a six-year span between one and the other, as long as significant American intervention, a period glossed over by the film.

Until now, we presumed that the only opportunities we had to get bin Laden was in 1996 when he moved AQ to Afghanistan and in a botched missile attack later in 1998 — a year previous to this opportunity.  Why not let Massoud kill bin Laden after an obvious attempt to kill rather than detain the terrorist leader?  That’s a question that needs to be answered, one which the vaunted 9/11 Commission never knew existed.

That’s not the only Osama bin Laden issue in the news today, either.  According to a new book written by one of the commandos on the raid that killed the al-Qaeda leader, bin Laden had already been shot when they reached him.  Not only did OBL not stand and fight, his weapons were empty:

“We were less than five steps from getting to the top when I heard suppressed shots. BOP. BOP,” writes Owen. “I couldn’t tell from my position if the rounds hit the target or not. The man disappeared into the dark room.”

Team members took their time entering the room, where they saw the women wailing over Bin Laden, who wore a white sleeveless T-shirt, loose tan pants and a tan tunic, according to the book.

Despite numerous reports that bin Laden had a weapon and resisted when Navy SEALs entered the room, he was unarmed, writes Owen. He had been fatally wounded before they had entered the room. …

The shots fired inside the room appear to contradict the mission they were given. During a meeting with top commanders, a lawyer from either the Pentagon or the White House “made it clear that this wasn’t an assassination,” writes Owen, who recounted the instructions: “I am not going to tell you how to do your job. What we’re saying is if he does not pose a threat, you will detain him.”

Searching bin Laden’s neatly organized room, Owen found two guns -– an AK-47 and a Makarov pistol -– with empty chambers. “He hadn’t even prepared a defense. He had no intention of fighting. He asked his followers for decades to wear suicide vests or fly planes into buildings, but didn’t even pick up his weapon. In all of my deployments, we routinely saw this phenomenon. The higher up the food chain the targeted individual was, the bigger a pussy he was.”

The initial reports of a firefight were similarly fanciful, Owen writes.  There was no firefight at the gate, and according to the account in the book, the only firefight was between bin Laden and whoever killed him before the commandos reached his room — either himself or presumably one of his wives.  The book also relates the predictions of the raid’s participants that Barack Obama would try to make the raid all about himself.  But at least they respected Obama for giving them the green light; as for Joe Biden, well …

After listening to Obama’s speech and enduring Biden’s “lame jokes that no one got (He seemed like a nice guy, but he reminded me of someone’s drunken uncle at Christmas dinner)” the president invited the team to return to his residence later for a beer.

But Owen writes a few weeks later: “We never got the call to have a beer at the White House.” Joking with a fellow SEAL, “Hey, did you ever hear anything about that beer?” Walt cracks: “ You believed that shit. I bet you voted for change too, sucker.”