A new trove of Clinton and Bush-era documents from the CIA have been released to the National Security Archive, and they show that the CIA had a bead on Osama bin Laden a year before 9/11, but did not receive adequate funding from the Bush White House in the early months of his first term to pursue him. In fact, they had to stop monitoring him.
The CIA materials directly contradict the many claims of Bush officials that it was aggressively pursuing al-Qaida prior to 9/11, and that nobody could have predicted the attacks. “I don’t think the Bush administration would want to see these released, because they paint a picture of the CIA knowing something would happen before 9/11, but they didn’t get the institutional support they needed,” says Barbara Elias-Sanborn, the NSA fellow who edited the materials.
The CIA tracked bin Laden with unmanned aerial vehicles starting in September 2000. But funding concerns scrapped the program, as the strategy shifted to persuading allies among Afghan tribal leaders or the Northern Alliance to capture or kill bin Laden. The Air Force announced that they would charge the CIA for any drone they lost in an operation against bin Laden, causing the CIA to pull back.
The documents also show the level of early warnings about Al Qaeda operations in 2001:
From June to September 2001, a full seven CIA Senior Intelligence Briefs detailed that attacks were imminent, an incredible amount of information from one intelligence agency. One from June called “Bin-Ladin and Associates Making Near-Term Threats” writes that “[redacted] expects Usama Bin Laden to launch multiple attacks over the coming days.” The famous August brief called “Bin Ladin Determined to Strike the US” is included. “Al-Qai’da members, including some US citizens, have resided in or travelled to the US for years, and the group apparently maintains a support structure here,” it says. During the entire month of August, President Bush was on vacation at his ranch in Texas — which tied with one of Richard Nixon’s as the longest vacation ever taken by a president. CIA Director George Tenet has said he didn’t speak to Bush once that month, describing the president as being “on leave.”
The Clinton Administration doesn’t get off blameless either. A December 4, 1998, President’s Daily Brief describes a “test-run” for 9-11, where Al Qaeda members evade security restrictions at an airpot in New York. A January 2000 briefing memo predicts “weeks… months… but no more than one year” before an Al Qaeda attack.
The archive can be found here. The editors stress that the materials remain redacted, and that they only add up to 1/4 of the materials from the CIA in generating the 9/11 Commission Report. None of the 47 reports of CIA interrogation sessions with 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed are included, so aspects of torture do not factor in here.