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Predator Drones Sighted Osama Before 9/11
AP Yahoo ^ | 2 hours 47 minutes ago 6/24/03 | By TED BRIDIS and JOHN SOLOMON

Posted on 06/24/2003 7:41:47 PM PDT by chichipow

WASHINGTON - When President Bush took office in January 2001, the White House was told that Predator drones had recently spotted Osama bin Laden as many as three times and officials were urged to arm the unmanned planes with missiles to kill the al-Qaida leader. But the administration failed to get drones back into the Afghan skies until after the Sept. 11 attacks later that year, current and former U.S. officials say.

Top administration officials discussed the mission to kill bin Laden as late as one week before the suicide attacks on New York and Washington, but they had not yet resolved a debate over whether the CIA or Pentagon should operate the armed Predators and whether the missiles would be sufficiently lethal, officials told The Associated Press.

In the month before that meeting, the Pentagon and CIA successfully tested an armed Predator on at least three occasions — including once when it destroyed a mock-up home resembling an Afghan structure bin Laden supposedly used, the officials said.

The disappearance in 2001 of U.S. Predators from the skies over Afghanistan is discussed in classified sections of Congress' report into pre-Sept. 11 intelligence failures and is expected to be examined by an independent commission appointed by the president and Congress, officials said.

After the Sept. 11 attacks, the CIA put the armed drones into the sky within days — and they soon played an important role in one of the early successes of the war on terror.

In November 2001, a drone helped confirm a high-level al-Qaida meeting in Kabul, Afghanistan, and joined in an attack that killed bin Laden military chief Mohammed Atef, according to officials familiar with the attack.

Nearly a dozen current and former senior U.S. officials described to AP the extensive discussions in 2000 and 2001 inside the Clinton and Bush administrations about using an armed Predator to kill bin Laden. Most spoke only on condition of anonymity, citing the classified nature of the information. Two former national security aides also cite some of the discussion inside the Bush White House in a recent book they published on terrorism.

The officials said that within days of President Bush taking office in January 2001, his top terrorism expert on the National Security Council, Richard Clarke, urged National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice to resume the drone flights to track down bin Laden, citing the successes of late 2000.

The drones were one component of a broader plan that Clarke, a career government employee, had devised in the final days of the Clinton administration to go after al-Qaida after the October 2000 bombing of the USS Cole Clinton officials decided just before Christmas 2000 to forward the plan to the incoming Bush administration rather than implement it during Clinton's final days, the officials said.

Propeller-driven Predators first flew for the military in July 1995 over Bosnia, but early versions couldn't transmit high-quality live video. The Air Force gradually improved camera resolution and first successfully fired a Hellfire missile from a Predator on Feb. 16, 2001.

By summer 2001, the Predator was armed for another test in the Nevada desert that destroyed a mock-up of a home bin Laden was suspected of using in Afghanistan, Clarke told executives in a recent speech at a technology conference.

Some U.S. officials, however, worried that an anti-tank missile with just a 27-pound warhead might not be powerful enough to kill everyone inside a building, and the military worked to modify the warhead to be more lethal, officials said.

Cruise missile warheads, by comparison, weigh 1,000 pounds, and traditional bombs typically range from 500 to 2,000 pounds.

Hellfire missiles were attached to the drone after unarmed Predators flown by the CIA from Uzbekistan to Afghanistan spotted a man that several U.S. intelligence analysts believed was bin Laden, or his trademark Japanese truck, as many as three times in September and October 2000, the officials said.

"They were operating them before the United States military was involved ... and doing a good job," Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has said, explaining why CIA operated the armed drones in Afghanistan. "And so rather than changing that, we just left it."

During the fall 2000 sightings, the United States was unable to launch a strike with submarine-based cruise missiles in time to kill bin Laden, officials said.

With powerful winter winds over the mountains affecting the drones' flights, the Predators were taken out of action in Afghanistan after October 2000 and retrofitted with weapons. One was repaired after it crashed on landing, sparking debate whether CIA or the Pentagon would pay the damage. Officials said they planned to put the drones back into the air as early as March 2001 after the winds subsided.

Of 11 successful Predator flights sent across the mountains from Uzbekistan to Afghanistan in September and October 2000, three spotted a person that several U.S. intelligence analysts concluded was bin Laden.

"Different people came to different conclusions. You couldn't see facial characteristics. But there were several who concluded it was bin Laden," one senior U.S. official said, explaining those assessments were based on size, clothing, a beard and human intelligence.

The Predators, however, were not put back in the air before Sept. 11.

Officials said the delay was due in part to arming the Predator with enough lethal force and resolving the debate over which agency was legally and practically best equipped to carry out an attack.

Another official said the CIA was opposed in the interim to running too many unarmed Predator flights for fear that would lead Afghan and al-Qaida leaders to be on the lookout for the drones and to flee sites before bombs or missiles could be launched.

"The agency wanted to keep it under wraps and catch them by surprise once they were armed," the official explained.

That official noted that during one of the unarmed 2000 Predator flights, MiG jets were scrambled by Afghanistan's then-ruling Taliban government and they tried unsuccessfully to shoot down one of the drones. Another time, al-Qaida operatives spotted a drone and pointed to it, officials said.

A former administration official said U.S. officials watched some of the Predator missions live on a television screen inside CIA headquarters, including the one in which Taliban pilots roared past.

After Clarke's briefing in January, the drone plan was discussed again in late April by national security deputies and the test on the mock-up of bin Laden's home was conducted in July. A Bush administration official said Rice was generally supportive of the idea as part of a broader strategy.

At a White House meeting of Bush's national security principals on Sept. 4, 2001, senior officials discussed several ideas, including use of the drones, as they finalized a plan to accelerate efforts to go after al-Qaida amid signs of a growing threat of a domestic attack.

Among those present were Rice, CIA Director George Tenet, soon-to-be chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Richard Myers, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and Clarke, then Bush's anti-terrorism chief inside the White House.

Though CIA had operated the unmanned Predators in Afghanistan in 2000, Tenet expressed strong reservation about his agency running the armed drones for an attack mission, suggesting it was the purview of the military, according to officials who witnessed or were briefed about the meeting.

"Generally it was understood (inside CIA) that aircraft firing weapons is the province of the military. This was a discussion about what the appropriate agency was to carry out the mission, but it was not a matter of the technology," said one official familiar with Tenet's comments at the meeting.

Defense officials suggested they be given an objective — kill bin Laden — and be left to make their own decisions about whether to use a drone or other weapons like cruise missiles and B-1 bombers, officials said.

Targeting bin Laden was legally permitted under secret orders and presidential findings that Clinton had signed.

Officials at the Sept. 4 meeting put off recommending the armed drone as a solution. Instead, they finalized a series of other measures to rout al-Qaida from its base in Afghanistan, including re-arming the rebel Northern Alliance.

Those recommendations were being forwarded from Rice to Bush when the Sept. 11 hijackers struck, officials said.

TOPICS: Breaking News; Foreign Affairs; News/Current Events; War on Terror
KEYWORDS: alqaeda; bush; drones; dronesbinladen; dronesobl; obl; osama; predator; waronterror
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Do I hear the scribbling of Micheal Ruppert?
1 posted on 06/24/2003 7:41:47 PM PDT by chichipow
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To: chichipow
More swipes at the Administration by AP...
2 posted on 06/24/2003 7:44:52 PM PDT by mhking
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To: chichipow

You do. There is no "scandal" here, as the headline writers try to point out. There were tech problems with getting the Predator to carry a huge explosive warhead.

Jesus, the people at AP are whores for the Rats!

Be Seeing You,


3 posted on 06/24/2003 7:47:19 PM PDT by section9 (Major Motoko Kusanagi has returned! Tanned, rested, and ready.....)
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To: chichipow
It's Reagan's fault.
4 posted on 06/24/2003 7:49:29 PM PDT by Drango (A liberal's compassion is limited only by the size of someone else's wallet.)
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To: section9
Q: What's new?

A: Not this story.

I hate summer reruns.
5 posted on 06/24/2003 7:50:24 PM PDT by Hillarys Gate Cult ("Read Hillary's hips. I never had sex with that woman.")
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To: chichipow
So basically the Bush Administration was planning on killing him but the SOB got lucky. I might be a little this supposed to make Bush look bad?? Because in my opinion this makes him better.
6 posted on 06/24/2003 7:53:12 PM PDT by fiftymegaton
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To: section9
You do. There is no "scandal" here, as the headline writers try to point out.

I agree. It seems the Bush Admin was well on it's way to using the platform, but you know that Bush haters will use this as 'evidence' of complicity rather than a report chronicaling how close we were to pinching this guy before 9/11.
7 posted on 06/24/2003 7:55:45 PM PDT by chichipow
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To: fiftymegaton
Yea, we'd spotted them and made plans to smoke him. Who can argue against that?
8 posted on 06/24/2003 7:56:40 PM PDT by Bogey78O (check it out...
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To: section9
Yep, relevant points for when the Dems start yelping about Bush letting Bin Laden get away:

1) Bill Clinton decided not to act and put off using the drones(not taking action, passing the buck)

2) Bush was planning on how to attack Bin Laden Sept. 4, 2001(being proactive)
9 posted on 06/24/2003 7:57:04 PM PDT by Diddle E. Squat
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To: chichipow
AP plants another kiss on the buttocks of clintoon (gross thought) after talking lovey dovey on the telephone with a clintoon staffer. Rehabilitation anyone? Revisionist history? At least that is what it smells like. Big deal. What an asswipe clintoon is. What a huge, empty ego, too.
10 posted on 06/24/2003 7:59:18 PM PDT by Donna Lee Nardo
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To: Donna Lee Nardo
My first thought when I read this -- and the AP isn't going to point this out -- is... If we had hit Osama, would that have stopped 9/11 from happening? For that matter, if we find Osama Been Forgotten (Crazy Bob Graham's phrase) tomorrow, does it stop the Islamists dead in their tracks?

The answer, in short, is "no". If we had killed Osama on 9/4, the terrorists would have most assuredly continued their planning and preparation. It's the nature of terrorism. They are constantly planning, constantly seeking opportunity. Yes, getting bin Laden is important, but it's not going to win the war.

Unfortunately too many liberals in this country and abroad are unwilling to fight this war because it means giving up the feel good 90s. It means letting go of a world ruled by men and women who thought they could just massage problems away. The AP says, "if Bush had just acted, we could have stopped the war before it began!!"

11 posted on 06/24/2003 8:04:59 PM PDT by bobsacamano
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To: Diddle E. Squat
What I'd like to know is why did it take 9/11 for the full weight of the U.S. military to be thrown against Bin Laden?

Why wasn't the Cole attack used to justify an all-out assault on Bin Laden instead of waiting for something larger to happen? Bush should have made this priority #1 when he took office.
12 posted on 06/24/2003 8:05:44 PM PDT by stimpyone
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To: stimpyone
I agree that a war of retaliation against terrorism should have been started long ago.
13 posted on 06/24/2003 8:07:20 PM PDT by bobsacamano
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To: bobsacamano
I agree with you - hitting Osama right before 9/11 wouldn't have stopped 9/11.

14 posted on 06/24/2003 8:11:27 PM PDT by michaelt
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To: chichipow
ROFLMAO, I bet a "Preditor Drone" spotted lots of things before 9/11,.............. Mullah Omar, Musharraf, Kim Jong Il, Jacque Chirac, Saddam Hussein, Baghdad Bob, All 4 planes hijacked on 9/11 and maybe even Elvis.

WTF does this have to do with post 9/11.

These leftist have reached a level of desperation that I have never seen before. What's next? ...... Mohammed Attah was a guest on the Oprah Winfrey Show?

15 posted on 06/24/2003 8:20:51 PM PDT by MJY1288 (The Gifted One is Clueless)
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To: michaelt
Drones spotted OBL in a convoy soon after we counter attacked. As I recall a military legal officer stopped the launching of a Hellfire due some legal status.
I wonder what happened to that legal/JAG officer.
16 posted on 06/24/2003 8:22:57 PM PDT by earplug
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To: stimpyone
Get a grip my friend, can you imagine GWB issuing an order to kill a SUSPECTED terrorist before 9/11?

The RATS would be treating GWB like they did Slobo

17 posted on 06/24/2003 8:26:05 PM PDT by MJY1288 (The Gifted One is Clueless)
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To: mhking
heck most of this story is about before 911 and before Klinto left office. What a bunch of garbage.
18 posted on 06/24/2003 8:38:30 PM PDT by q_an_a
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To: chichipow
"A former administration official said U.S. officials watched some of the Predator missions live on a television screen inside CIA headquarters, including the one in which Taliban pilots roared past."

That must have been a 'kick in the butt' to watch.

19 posted on 06/24/2003 8:49:08 PM PDT by blam
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To: earplug
You are thinking of Mullah Omar aka "Vroom vroom"
20 posted on 06/24/2003 8:51:59 PM PDT by Hazzardgate
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