Those who wonder why President Bush has kept George Tenet on as director of Central Intelligence have been given reason to question Tenet’s suitability for that position in addition to his failure to pay attention to the advance warning that Osama bin Laden was thinking about crashing planes into American buildings. The Drudge Report has provided a preview of an article by David Rose in the next issue of Vanity Fair that charges that our government refused to accept information about Osama bin Laden and his terrorist network that the Sudanese intelligence agency, Mukhabarat, was trying to give us for five years, right up to a few weeks before September 11.
Rose’s article puts a lot of the blame for this on the State Department and the CIA. He says that senior FBI officials wanted to accept the Mukhabarat offers to share their files with us, but they were prevented from doing so. He quotes Amb. Timothy M. Carney, a career foreign service officer who was our ambassador to Sudan in 1995-97, the period when the offer was first made, as saying, “The fact is they were opening the doors, and we weren’t taking them up on it. The U.S. failed to reciprocate Sudan’s willingness to engage us on some serious questions of terrorism. We can speculate that this failure had serious implications?at least for what happened to the U.S. embassies in 1998. In any case, the U.S. lost access to a mine of material on bin Laden and his organization.”
The Sudanese were in a good position to know. Osama bin Laden made Sudan his base until 1996, when his military mole in the U.S., Ali Mohamed, helped move him and his entourage to Afghanistan. Carney attributed the refusal to accept the Sudanese files to the “politicization” of U.S. intelligence. Since Sudan’s information didn’t fit the conventional wisdom at the State Department and the CIA, it was not accepted. The Vanity Fair article says that conventional wisdom was influenced by CIA reports that were “wildly inaccurate.”
George Tenet, who succeeded John Deutch as director of Central Intelligence in 1997, must bear much of the responsibility for what Amb. Carney describes as “worse than a crime.”
He came to the CIA from the Clinton White House. Prior to that he had served as a majority staffer on the Senate Intelligence Committee. He is famous at the CIA for having introduced the sewing of “diversity quilts” and celebrating “Gay Pride Day.” But what probably gives him his lock on his job is his role in naming the CIA headquarters building after President George Herbert Walker Bush.
Just as the FBI and CIA filed and forgot the 1995 plan of Ramzi Yousef and Abdul Murad, two of bin Laden’s followers, to crash planes into buildings, their holdover heads Louis Freeh and George Tenet did not insist on getting Sudan’s files on bin Laden. Rose notes that after a joint FBI-CIA team had conducted a lengthy investigation in Sudan and decided that they were not harboring terrorists, a request for the files was made last summer. He doesn’t say if there was time to analyze those files before the attacks on the WTC and the Pentagon.
Rose discusses information that we might have acquired if George Tenet and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright had been willing to allow our intelligence analysts to see what Sudan had to offer. The files identified individuals who played important roles in the bombing of our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998. They probably included Ali Mohamed, the Egyptian Jihad member who had been a U.S. Army sergeant. Besides helping move Osama bin Laden to Afghanistan, he helped case our embassy in Kenya for the bombing. Lt. Col. Robert Anderson, who knew him at Ft. Bragg, had tried unsuccessfully to have him investigated, court-martialed and deported, but the FBI was under the illusion that Ali Mohamed was working for them. He is now awaiting sentencing for his role in the embassy bombings.
After Sept. 11, we heard a lot about how the CIA and the FBI had been hampered in their efforts to combat terrorism because legislation had made it hard for them to hire informants with unsavory records. Nothing was heard about the rejection of Sudan’s offer to provide detailed information about the al Qaeda network?who they were, where they were and what they were doing. Hat’s off to David Rose for getting the story and to Vanity Fair for publishing it.