State Dept. Warned About Bin Laden in 1996

According to this Washington Post story (via Bryan Preston) the State Department warned the Clinton Administration in 1996 about the danger of Bin Laden’s move from Sudan to Afghanistan.

WASHINGTON, Aug. 16 – State Department analysts warned the Clinton administration in July 1996 that Osama bin Laden’s move to Afghanistan would give him an even more dangerous haven as he sought to expand radical Islam “well beyond the Middle East,” but the government chose not to deter the move, newly declassified documents show.

In what would prove a prescient warning, the State Department intelligence analysts said in a top-secret assessment on Mr. bin Laden that summer that “his prolonged stay in Afghanistan – where hundreds of ‘Arab mujahedeen’ receive terrorist training and key extremist leaders often congregate – could prove more dangerous to U.S. interests in the long run than his three-year liaison with Khartoum,” in Sudan.


Two years after the State Department’s warning, with Mr. bin Laden firmly entrenched in Afghanistan and overseeing terrorist training and financing operations, Al Qaeda struck two American embassies in East Africa, leading to failed military attempts by the Clinton administration to capture or kill him in Afghanistan. Three years later, on Sept. 11, 2001, Al Qaeda struck the World Trade Center and the Pentagon in an operation overseen from the base in Afghanistan.

Critics of the Clinton administration have accused it of ignoring the threat posed by Mr. bin Laden in the mid-1990’s while he was still in Sudan, and they point to claims by some Sudanese officials that they offered to turn him over to the Americans before ultimately expelling him in 1996 under international pressure. But Clinton administration diplomats have adamantly denied that they received such an offer, and the Sept. 11 commission concluded in one of its staff reports that it had “not found any reliable evidence to support the Sudanese claim.”

Oh boy, I’m thinking this issue of finger pointing is going to flare up again big time. Especially with this other article (also via Bryan Preston) about Able Danger.

WASHINGTON, Aug. 16 – A military intelligence team repeatedly contacted the F.B.I. in 2000 to warn about the existence of an American-based terrorist cell that included the ringleader of the Sept. 11 attacks, according to a veteran Army intelligence officer who said he had now decided to risk his career by discussing the information publicly. The officer, Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer, said military lawyers later blocked the team from sharing any of its information with the F.B.I.

Colonel Shaffer said in an interview that the small, highly classified intelligence program known as Able Danger had identified by name the terrorist ringleader, Mohammed Atta, as well three of the other future hijackers by mid-2000, and had tried to arrange a meeting that summer with agents of the F.B.I.’s Washington field office to share the information.

I don’t think, “Ooops, we missed that opportunity” is going to cover it.

FILED UNDER: Afghanistan War, Africa, Intelligence, Middle East, National Security, Terrorism, , , , , , , , ,
Steve Verdon
About Steve Verdon
Steve has a B.A. in Economics from the University of California, Los Angeles and attended graduate school at The George Washington University, leaving school shortly before staring work on his dissertation when his first child was born. He works in the energy industry and prior to that worked at the Bureau of Labor Statistics in the Division of Price Index and Number Research. He joined the staff at OTB in November 2004.


  1. Jim Henley says:

    We should basically toss everybody in the intelligence community out on their ear except INR.

  2. Anderson says:

    Come now, Mr. Henley—are you suggesting that intel reports should be composed by people who have spent their careers studying the regions and peoples in question? I mean, these guys are practically natives!

    Much better to have straight-shootin’ cowboys come in and call ’em as they see ’em.

  3. ICallMasICM says:

    ‘Much better to have straight-shootin’ cowboys come in and call ‘em as they see ‘em.’


  4. Anderson says:

    Note to self: cut irony output.

  5. Steve Verdon says:

    … intel reports should be composed by people who have spent their careers studying the regions and peoples in question?

    I actually question that this is the case. Our intel community focussed so much on sigint and elint that humint has suffered…at least that is what I’ve read (i.e. I may be wrong). If the above is not true, then maybe the cowboy who calls ’em as he sees ’em may not be any worse and maybe even better.

  6. Anderson says:

    Steve, my possibly mistaken point is that, given the cuts you describe, State has been the last best resource for the kind of humint that’s been so lacking … often not even based on having agents on the scene, but just in actually knowing something about the country, etc. That’s why State has done relatively well in the guessing-game.

  7. Ken Taylor says:

    Once again all I am hearing concerning the, “Able Danger ” intel is the Pentagon, The State Department and The FBI. Where is the investigation about the Clinton White House putting the brakes on this intel because of fear about political fall out after the Waco debacle. In addition how about Jamie Gorelick and the memo that prevented the passing of this intel in the first place. This was a huge conflict of interest with her involvement on the 9/11 commission. She should have been asked the questions and not asking them !

  8. Anderson says:

    Ken, do you really think Gorelick invented this policy?

    If so, then you haven’t tried very hard to get informed on the subject.

    If not, then what is the big deal?

    (For that matter, if not for the supposed Gorelick scandal, how many of us would’ve even paid attention to this whole “wall” thing?)