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Great read on OBL and 9/11

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  • Great read on OBL and 9/11

    Undone by Destiny
    An Afghan rebel may have been able to stop Osama—and 9/11
    By Steve Coll
    Newsweek March 1 issue -

    By summer 1999, only one proven guerrilla leader in Afghanistan was waging war and collecting intelligence against Osama bin Laden. This was the legendary Ahmed Shah Massoud. There were doubts inside Clinton's cabinet about drug-trafficking and human-rights violations among Massoud's Northern Alliance forces. But the CIA knew one thing for certain: Massoud was the enemy of their enemy.

    A team of CIA operatives flew to Tajikistan in October 1999. The officers told Massoud the United States would not provide money, arms or intelligence to support his war against the Taliban. Instead, U.S. policy focused on capturing bin Laden and a few top aides. If Massoud helped, perhaps it would lead to broader support in the future.

    A few months later, the CIA picked up intelligence that bin Laden had arrived in Derunta Camp, near Jalalabad. It was a typical bin Laden facility: crude, mainly dirt and rocks, with a few modest buildings. The CIA's Counterterrorist Center relayed its report to Massoud. Massoud ordered a mission.

    He rounded up "a bunch of mules," as a U.S. official involved put it, loaded them with Soviet-designed Katyusha rockets and dispatched a team toward the hills above Derunta. The CIA's lawyers convulsed in alarm. The agency had, in effect, provided intelligence for a rocket attack. The center shot a message: you've got to recall the mission. Massoud's aides replied, as the official recalled it: "What do you think this is, the 82d Airborne? They're gone."

    Langley's officers waited nervously. Massoud's aides eventually reported that they had shelled Derunta. But the CIA could pick up no independent confirmation, and the incident passed, unpublicized.

    By summer 2000, the CIA's liaison with Massoud was fraying. Massoud's aides were badgered repeatedly about mounting a "Hollywood operation," as one put it, to capture bin Laden. After the terrorist bombing of the USS Cole in October 2000, the CIA tried to supply Massoud with more extensive and more lethal aid. They drew up a list: the covert supplies would cost between $50 million and $150 million, depending on how aggressive the White House wanted to be. But the November presidential election had deadlocked; Clinton's aides were enduring the strangest postelection transition in a century. There would be no new covert action program.

    As the Bush administration took office, Massoud told a press conference, "If President Bush doesn't help us, then these terrorists will damage the United States and Europe very soon—and it will be too late."

    Early in September 2001, Massoud's intelligence service transmitted a report to the CIA about two Arab television journalists who had crossed Northern Alliance lines. It did not seem of exceptional interest.

    The Bush cabinet met on Sept. 4. The national-security team had not begun to focus on Al Qaeda until three months after taking office. They did not forge a policy approach until July. Then they took yet more weeks to schedule a meeting to ratify their plans. The draft document revived the CIA plan to aid Massoud that had been forwarded to the lame-duck Clinton White House. The CIA was told that it could at least start the paperwork for a new covert policy—the first in a decade that sought to influence the course of the Afghan war.

    In the early hours of Sept. 9, Massoud read Persian poetry in his bungalow. Later that morning he decided to grant an interview to the two Arab journalists.

    As one set up a television camera, the other read out questions he intended to ask. The bomb secretly packed in the television equipment ripped the cameraman's body apart. It smashed windows, seared the walls in flame and tore Massoud's chest with shrapnel.

    Hours later, his intelligence aide Amrullah Saleh called the Counterterrorist Center. Saleh was sobbing and heaving between sentences.

    "Where's Massoud?" the CIA officer asked.

    "He's in the refrigerator," said Saleh, searching for the English word for morgue.

    On the morning of Sept. 10, 2001, the CIA's daily classified briefings to President Bush, his cabinet and other policymakers reported on Massoud's death and analyzed the consequences. The Counterterrorist Center called frantically around Washington to find a way to aid the Northern Alliance before it was eliminated.

    Hamid Karzai, the Pashtun rebel leader and former Afghan deputy foreign minister, was in Pakistan when his brother called. Karzai had spoken to Massoud a few days earlier. Karzai was considering his own plan to open an armed rebellion against the Taliban—with or without American support. Karzai's brother said it was confirmed: Massoud was dead.

    Hamid Karzai reacted in a single, brief sentence: "What an unlucky country."

    From "Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001," by Steve Coll. To be published by Penguin Press. © 2004 by Steve Coll.

    © 2004 Newsweek, Inc.
    The Dude abides.