Berger and "Path to 9/11" - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
Berger and “Path to 9/11”

One of the most controversial scenes in the ABC minseries involves Sandy Berger. The Clinton letter says:

The drama leads viewers to believe that National Security Advisor Sandy Berger told the CIA that he would not authorize them to take a shot at bin Laden. This is complete fiction and the event portrayed never happened. First of all, the 9/11 Commission Report makes clear that CIA Director George Tenet had been directed by President Clinton and Mr. Berger to get bin Laden (p. 199 & 508-509). Secondly, Roger Cressy, National Security Council senior director for counterterrorism from 1999-2001, has said, on more than one occasion, “Mr. Clinton approved every request made of him by the CIA and the U.S. military involving using force against bin Laden and al-Qaeda.”

The truth is a little more complicated. For dramatic purposes the movie sets up a scenario in which CIA operatives backed up by the Northern Alliance led by Ahmed Shah Masood are literally surrounding the Tarnak Farms terrorist facility, ready to strike, and Sandy Berger refuses to give the order. There's no evidence in the 9/11 Commission Report that things were that dramatic in real life, and the report only says that the CIA was cooperating with "tribals," and doesn't mention Masood being there. But the Clinton letter is also misleading by suggesting that there's no basis on which to say that Berger hesitated to approve the plan and it's also post-9/11 spin to suggest capturing and killing bin Laden was a priority for Clinton.

Much of the debate that was crammed into once sequence in the film, actually played out over the course of several months while there were many rehearsals for the Tarnak Farms raid. It's debatable who ultimately rejected the plan, but Berger was clearly hesitant.

The 9/11 report reads:

In Washington, Berger expressed doubt about the dependability of the tribals. In his meeting with Tenet, Berger focused most, however, on the question of what was to be done with Bin Ladin if he were actually captured. He worried that the hard evidence against Bin Ladin was still skimpy and that there was a danger of snatching him and bringing him to the United States only to see him acquitted.

Ultimately, the plan was called off on May, 29, 1998, according to the report. It continues:

Impressions vary as to who actually decided not to proceed with the operation. Clarke told us that the CSG saw the plan as flawed. He was said to have described it to a colleague on the NSC staff as "half-assed" and predicted that the principals would not approve it. "Jeff " thought the decision had been made at the cabinet level. Pavitt thought that it was Berger's doing, though perhaps on Tenet's advice. Tenet told us that given the recommendation of his chief operations officers, he alone had decided to "turn off" the operation. He had simply informed Berger, who had not pushed back. Berger's recollection was similar. He said the plan was never presented to the White House for a decision.

 So, the CIA's James Pavitt testified that Berger called it off. Both Tenet and Berger say that Tenet rejected it.

 Even if you pin the decision on Tenet, that doesn't change the fact that Berger did not object. And while the Clinton letter makes it seem as though Clinton was deeply committed to getting bin Laden, Berger told the 9/11 Commission that the plan was not even presented to the White House. Keep in mind that this could have been the best chance we had to get bin Laden, and as the 9/11 Commission noted, "No capture plan before 9/11 ever again attained the same level of detail and preparation."  Perhaps the Clinton administration was interested in getting bin Laden, but they certainly weren't willing to do whatever it took.  

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