Someone passed NBC Nightly News a copy of secret, and quite remarkable, CIA camera footage of a man thought to be Osama bin Laden, taken over Afghanistan by a Predator drone in the fall of 2000.
The tape shows a tall man (Bin Laden is 6-foot-5) in white robes surrounded by aides at a known al-Qaida training camp in Afghanistan where Bin Laden was thought to be living at the time.
When the footage was shot, Predators were used only for reconnaissance and had not yet been armed with the Hellfire missiles they commonly carry today. Nor did the Clinton administration strike with cruise missiles or manned aircraft. That clearly was a missed opportunity.
After George Bush won the presidency, the outgoing Clinton team made sure the new administration was aware of the Bin Laden tape and the plan, not yet implemented, to arm the Predator to take advantage of any such future opportunities. Getting armed Predators into the sky over Afghanistan proved time-consuming, however, in part due to infighting between the Pentagon and the CIA over who should pay for the missions – and who would take the blame if something went wrong. The result: armed Predators weren’t deployed until after 9/11, just about a year after the original tapes were shot. It’s unknowable, of course, whether a second opportunity to get Bin Laden would have presented itself before 9/11 if we’d had our equipment in place. But the nature of the tape obtained by NBC sure makes it seem possible.
The NBC segments are viewable at the MSNBC Web site:
Part I: Clinton
Part II: Bush
A third segment is scheduled to air tonight.