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Myths Debunked:
Clinton Didn't Fight Terrorism



Myth: Clinton Did Nothing To Fight Terrorism

PBS Frontline

Several days after the millennium celebrations, President Clinton's national security adviser, Sandy Berger, announced that in the weeks before the New Year, law enforcement had disrupted terrorist cells "in eight countries and attacks were almost certainly prevented." He didn't give details, but FRONTLINE has compiled the following list from intelligence sources and press reports…  Click here for more.

The Center for Democracy and Technology

Clinton Administration Counter Terrorism Initiative

Washington Post

The Covert Hunt for bin Laden
Broad Effort Launched After '98 Attacks

By Barton Gellman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 19, 2001; Page A01

Beginning on Aug. 7, 1998, the day that al Qaeda destroyed the U.S. embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, Clinton directed a campaign of increasing scope and lethality against bin Laden's network that carried through his final days in office.

• In addition to a secret "finding" to authorize covert action, which has been reported before, Clinton signed three highly classified Memoranda of Notification expanding the available tools. In succession, the president authorized killing instead of capturing bin Laden, then added several of al Qaeda's senior lieutenants, and finally approved the shooting down of private civilian aircraft on which they flew.

• The Clinton administration ordered the Navy to maintain two Los Angeles-class attack submarines on permanent station in the nearest available waters, enabling the U.S. military to place Tomahawk cruise missiles on any target in Afghanistan within about six hours of receiving the order.

• Three times after Aug. 20, 1998, when Clinton ordered the only missile strike of his presidency against bin Laden's organization, the CIA came close enough to pinpointing bin Laden that Clinton authorized final preparations to launch. In each case, doubts about the intelligence aborted the mission.

• The CIA's directorate of operations recruited, trained, paid or equipped surrogate forces in Pakistan, Uzbekistan and among tribal militias inside Afghanistan, with the common purpose of capturing or killing bin Laden. The Pakistani channel, disclosed previously in The Washington Post, and its Uzbek counterpart, which has not been reported before, never bore fruit. Inside Afghanistan, tribal allies twice reported to their CIA handlers that they fought skirmishes with bin Laden's forces, but they inflicted no verified damage.

• Operatives of the CIA's Special Activities Division made at least one clandestine entry into Afghanistan in 1999. They prepared a desert airstrip to extract bin Laden, if captured, or to evacuate U.S. tribal allies, if cornered. The Special Collection Service, a joint project of the CIA and the National Security Agency, also slipped into Afghanistan to place listening devices within range of al Qaeda's tactical radios.

The lines Clinton opted not to cross continued to define U.S. policy in his successor's first eight months. Clinton stopped short of using more decisive military instruments, including U.S. ground forces, and declined to expand the reach of the war to the Taliban regime that hosted bin Laden and his fighters after 1996.

Not until the catastrophe of Sept. 11 -- when terrorists used hijacked airliners to destroy the World Trade Center and damage the Pentagon -- did President Bush obliterate those boundaries…

Don't blame Clinton
Conservatives who once ridiculed and obstructed the former president's aggressive efforts to fight terrorism are now trying to pin Sept. 11 on him. They have a lot of nerve. Part 2 of a debate.

By Joe Conason

Jan. 15, 2002 | When terrorists first tried to take down the World Trade Center with a truck bomb in February 1993, there was no organized outcry of recrimination against George Herbert Walker Bush, who had left the Oval Office a scant six weeks earlier. Nobody sought political advantage by blaming Bush for the intelligence failures that had allowed the terrorist perpetrators to conspire undetected for more than three years…

Tribune Media Services

Don't blame it on Bill Clinton

October 18, 2001 Posted: 12:24 PM EDT (1624 GMT)

By Bill Press

Gingrich and company derail the president and the country for two whole years over a minor sex scandal in the White House -- magnifying one act of oral sex into a full time, $50 million Independent Counsel investigation, weeks of House Judiciary Committee hearings, impeachment by the House of Representatives and trial in the Senate -- and then they accuse Clinton of not staying focused on government business!

Have they no shame?

The truth, of course, is just the opposite. Given how distracted he was by the Lewinsky scandal, (which was of his own making, but blown out of proportion by his political enemies), it’s amazing Clinton was able to continue governing at all. And during that time, as The Washington Post reveals, he did a great deal to combat terrorism, much of it behind the scenes.

Clinton’s most public response, of course, were the cruise missile attacks of 1998, directed against Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan and the Sudan, following the terrorist bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

Operating on limited intelligence -- at that time, Pakistan, Uzbekistan and Tazikistan refused to share information on the terrorists whereabouts inside Afghanistan -- U. S. strikes missed bin Laden by only a couple of hours.

Even so, Clinton was accused of only firing missiles in order to divert media attention from the Lewinsky hearings. A longer campaign would have stirred up even more criticism.

So Clinton tried another tack. He sponsored legislation to freeze the financial assets of international organizations suspected of funneling money to bin Laden’s Al Qaeda network -- identical to orders given by President Bush this month -- but it was killed, on behalf of big banks, by Republican Senator Phil Gramm of Texas…

In 1998, Clinton also signed a secret agreement with Uzbekistan to begin joint covert operations against Osama bin Laden and Afghanistan’s Taliban regime. U.S. Special Forces have been training there ever since, which is why the Pentagon was immediately able to use Uzbekistan as a staging area for forays into Afghanistan…

Clinton targeted bin Laden even before he moved to Afghanistan. In 1996, his administration brokered an agreement with the government of Sudan to arrest the terrorist leader and turn him over to Saudi Arabia. For 10 weeks, Clinton tried to persuade the Saudis to accept the offer. They refused. With no cooperation from the Saudis, the deal fell apart.

Conclusion: Rohrbacher, Limbaugh, Gingrich are dead wrong when they blame Bill Clinton for September 11. Did Clinton get Osama bin Laden “dead or alive?” No, but he came close, several times -- long before tracking down terrorists became a national priority.

Myth: Clinton bombed an Aspirin Factory


U.S. claims more evidence linking Sudanese plant to chemical weapons

September 1, 1998


The destroyed Shifa Pharmaceutical facility


Web posted at: 7:01 p.m. EDT (2301 GMT)

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The United States had been suspicious of the Shifa Pharmaceutical facility in Sudan for two years, a State Department official said Tuesday, after a December 1996 report showed heavy security around the plant…

"We had previously collected samples from other suspected sites in Sudan," the official said, "but only the sample from the Shifa facility tested positively for chemical weapons precursors. We know of no other factors in the environment that could result in a positive EMPTA signature." [Emphasis added.]


U.S. warms to ‘rogue’ Sudan regime

By Bob Arnot

Feb. 4, 2002

In August 1998, just after the Kenya and Tanzania embassy bombings, the Clinton administration responded with Tomahawk missile strikes against alleged bin Laden training camps in Afghanistan, and a pharmaceutical plant outside Khartoum.

Image: Sudan-us-bombs-factory
U.S. missiles destroyed the al-Shifa pharmaceutical plant in Khartoum on
Aug. 20, 1998

Washington claimed that nerve gas precursors were found in soil samples taken there and the CIA stands by those claims. Sudan denied the charges and it emerged later that at least some of the U.S. evidence was very thin.  [“Thin” does NOT mean nonexistent.]

Myth: The Sudanese offered to turn bin Laden over to the U.S., and Clinton refused

Washington Post Service

In '96, Sudan Offered to Arrest bin Laden

Barton Gellman

Thursday, October 4, 2001

Saudis Balked at Accepting U.S. Plan

WASHINGTON The government of Sudan, using a back channel direct from its president to the Central Intelligence Agency in the United States, offered in the early spring of 1996 to arrest Osama bin Laden and place him in custody in Saudi Arabia, according to officials and former officials in all three countries.

The Clinton administration struggled to find a way to accept the offer in secret contacts that stretched from a meeting at hotel in Arlington, Virginia, on March 3, 1996, to a fax that closed the door on the effort 10 weeks later.

Unable to persuade the Saudis to accept Mr. bin Laden, and lacking a case to indict him in U.S. courts, the Clinton administration finally gave up on the capture…

The New York Times

Many Say U.S. Planned for Terror but Failed to Take Action

By THE NEW YORK TIMES                             December 30, 2001

Diplomacy and Politics
A Growing Effort Against bin Laden

As Mr. Clinton prepared his re-election bid in 1996, the administration made several crucial decisions. Recognizing the growing significance of Mr. bin Laden, the C.I.A. created a virtual station, code-named Alex, to track his activities around the world.

In the Middle East, American diplomats pressed the hard-line Islamic regime of Sudan to expel Mr. bin Laden, even if that pushed him back into Afghanistan.

To build support for this effort among Middle Eastern governments, the State Department circulated a dossier that accused Mr. bin Laden of financing radical Islamic causes around the world.

The document implicated him in several attacks on Americans, including the 1992 bombing of a hotel in Aden, Yemen, where American troops had stayed on their way to Somalia. It also said Mr. bin Laden's associates had trained the Somalis who killed 18 American servicemen in Mogadishu in 1993.

Sudanese officials met with their C.I.A. and State Department counterparts and signaled that they might turn Mr. bin Laden over to another country. Saudi Arabia and Egypt were possibilities.

State Department and C.I.A. officials urged both Egypt and Saudi Arabia to accept him, according to former Clinton officials. "But both were afraid of the domestic reaction and refused," one recalled.

Critics of the administration's effort said this was an early missed opportunity to destroy Al Qaeda. Mr. Clinton himself would have had to lean hard on the Saudi and Egyptian governments. The White House believed no amount of pressure would change the outcome, and Mr. Clinton risked spending valuable capital on a losing cause. "We were not about to have the president make a call and be told no," one official explained.

Sudan obliquely hinted that it might turn Mr. bin Laden over to the United States, a former official said. But the Justice Department reviewed the case and concluded in the spring of 1996 that it did not have enough evidence to charge him with the attacks on American troops in Yemen and Somalia.

This article was reported by Judith Miller, Jeff Gerth and Don Van Natta Jr. and written by Ms. Miller.

[Jeff Gerth broke the Whitewater story in 1992, after listening only to Clinton’s Arkansas political enemies.  He has never been a friend of Clinton, so it isn’t surprising how this article spins the Clinton administration’s inability to convince another government to take bin Laden.]

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Last changed: December 13, 2009