The path to 9/11
By Michael F. Scheuer
August 24, 2007
This week's release of the CIAs inspector general's (IG) report on agency operations before September 11 is important. Because of the report, the CIA now stands as not only the U.S. government's most successful counterterrorism entity, but also its most honest.
The report rightfully indicts former CIA director George Tenet for what can be described as a lack of "manliness." The report makes clear that nothing heroic was expected or even needed from Mr. Tenet. If Mr. Tenet simply had had the moral courage to use the statutory powers vested in him by Congress to compel the intelligence community to operate optimally, he would have been respected and remembered as one of the best DCIs. He did not have the courage, and all Americans have suffered as a result. That said, I suspect that over the long run no one will suffer, in quiet moments, more than Mr. Tenet.
Noticeably lacking from the CIA IG's report, however, was the other half of the IG's assigned task: recognition and praise for those CIA officers who worked, endured, risked and succeeded against al Qaeda during a time when, like the British Army in the Great War, they were "lions led by asses." I had the honor to lead many of these men and women from several posts for a decade, and I believe the IG is derelict in not listing their achievements against al-Qaeda between 1995 and today.
Many of these accomplishments cannot be fully explained in public because of the requirement to protect sources and methods, but a simple factual listing ought to give Americans a sense of the vital importance of CIA operations to their country's security, and offer them great hope for what can be accomplished henceforth now that men like Mr. Tenet, James Pavitt, Cofer Black and John Brennan have been replaced by such fine officers and honest men as CIA Director Michael Hayden and CIA Deputy Director Stephen Kappes:
1. By the end of 1996, CIA operations had determined that Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda represented a greater threat to U.S. national security than any other terrorist group America had encountered.
2. By early 1997, the CIA had acquired information definitively showing that al Qaeda was trying to acquire — through development, theft, or purchase — weapons of mass destruction, and that it already had tried to purchase weapons-grade uranium.
3. Between 1996 and 1998, CIA operations conducted unilaterally and with Arab allies all but destroyed Ayman al-Zawahiri's Egyptian Islamic Jihad organization. When Zawahiri joined al Qaeda in February 1998, he had no other choice in if he and what was left of his group was to survive.
4. Between May 1998, and May 1999, CIA operations officers provided the U.S. government with two chances to capture Osama bin Laden, using agency assets, and eight chances to kill him using U.S. military forces.
5. Between 1997 and 2000, CIA operators and their foreign allies destroyed al Qaeda cells in the Balkans, East Africa and the Caucasus.
6. Since 1995, the CIA has operated a rendition program, ordered by presidents of both parties and authorized by both of Congress's intelligence committees, that has captured most of the first generation of al Qaeda's leaders, all of the team that ran the September 11 attacks, and several figures from the new generation of al Qaeda leaders.
7. In 2001, only the CIA was prepared and able to deploy operational teams inside Afghanistan immediately after the United States was attacked. It was CIA officers and their assets who provided the indispensable basis for the U.S. military operations that later overthrew the Taliban and took the Afghan cities.
8. Since 2001, the CIA's armed UAV has attacked and killed important al Qaeda leaders, including its military commander Mohammad Atef and its Yemeni chief, Abu Ali al-Harithi, and gathered intelligence facilitating U.S. military operations.
9. CIA officers located bin Laden at Tora Bora in December, 2001, and advised U.S. military leaders not to trust the Afghan surrogates they intended to hire to capture bin Laden. The advice was unheeded and bin Laden escaped.
10. Since 2003, CIA operations have captured several senior al Qaeda leaders in or on their way to Iraq, and have supported the U.S. military in its successful operations to do the same.
The foregoing CIA operations rank among the major accomplishments in America's war against al Qaeda and its allies. CIA operations, of course, cannot win this war by themselves, but neither can the war be won without an effective CIA. The IG report shows how much Mr. Tenet and his team hamstrung the CIA and the Intelligence Community as a whole.
The list above shows that CIA officers nonetheless succeeded in doing vital things, despite the disastrous leadership of that gang of fools. It is only appropriate that the CIA's IG now recognize, and help Americans as a whole to recognize, those accomplishments and the debt that is owed to the men and women of the clandestine service.
Michael F. Scheuer, a 22-year CIA veteran, created and served as the chief of the agency's Osama bin Laden unit at the Counterterrorist Center.