The man who headed the Central Intelligence Agency’s Osama bin Laden desk said he recognized al-Qaida’s single-minded efforts to secure nuclear weapons for use against the U.S. nearly a decade ago, but multiple efforts to have the terror leader captured before Sept. 11, 2001, went unheeded.
“We had found that he and al-Qaida were involved in an extraordinarily sophisticated and professional effort to acquire weapons of mass destruction,” Michael Scheuer told CBS News. “In this case, nuclear material, so by the end of 1996, it was clear that this was an organization unlike any other one we had ever seen.”
Scheuer was one of the CIA’s foremost authorities on bin Laden. He was the senior intelligence analyst who created and then advised a secret CIA unit for tracking and eliminating bin Laden beginning in 1996.
Scheuer said his bosses at the CIA were skeptical of the information about bin Laden’s nuclear ambitions and ability.
In a letter to the House and Senate Intelligence Committees earlier this year, Scheuer says his agents provided U.S. government officials with about 10 opportunities to capture bin Laden. All of them were rejected.
One of the last proposals, which he described to the 9-11 Commission in a closed-door session, involved a cruise missile attack against a remote hunting camp in the Afghan desert, where bin Laden was believed to be socializing with members of the royal family from the United Arab Emirates.
Scheuer told CBS News he wanted to level the entire camp.
“If those princes were out there eating goat with Osama bin Laden, then maybe they were there for nefarious reasons,” he said. “But nonetheless, they would have been the price of battle.”
By 1999, Scheuer was in trouble at the CIA because of his persistence about getting bin Laden.
“I think I became too insistent that we were not pursuing this target with enough vigor and with enough risk-taking – an unwillingness to take risks,” said Scheuer. “I got relieved of the position I was in. I had a lovely sojourn in the library and then had other sojourns since.”
His exile ended shortly after the attacks of Sept. 11, when he was brought back to the bin Laden unit as a special adviser. Now, he says, the problems are greatly complicated. He also says he fully anticipates bigger attacks on the U.S. – including the probability of a nuclear terrorist attack.
“One of the great intellectual failures of the American intelligence community, and especially the counterterrorism community, is to assume if someone hasn’t attacked us, it’s because he can’t or because we’ve defeated him,” said Scheuer. “Bin Laden has consistently shown himself to be immune to outside pressure. When he wants to do something, he does it on his own schedule.”
About the the prospects of a nuclear terrorist strike on the U.S. by al-Qaida, he says: “I don’t believe in inevitability. But I think it’s pretty close to being inevitable. … Yes, I think it’s probably a near thing.”
Scheuer points out that bin Laden has announced his intentions.
“He secured from a Saudi sheik named Hamid bin Fahd a rather long treatise on the possibility of using nuclear weapons against the Americans,” he said. “Specifically, nuclear weapons. And the treatise found that he was perfectly within his rights to use them. Muslims argue that the United States is responsible for millions of dead Muslims around the world, so reciprocity would mean you could kill millions of Americans.”
Scheuer says the fatwa was issued in May 2003, “and that’s another thing that doesn’t come to the attention of the American people.”
He blames Sept. 11 on poor leadership from people like former CIA Director George Tenet, his chief deputy, Jim Pavitt, and former White House counterterrorism czar Richard Clarke.
Scheuer also says the U.S. makes a mistake in not respecting the capabilities of bin Laden.
“I think our leaders over the last decade have done the American people a disservice in continuing to characterize Osama bin Laden as a thug, as a gangster, as a degenerate personality, as some kind of abhorrent individual,” said Scheuer. “He surely does reprehensible activities, and we should surely take care of that by killing him as soon as we can. But he’s not an irrational man. He’s a very worthy enemy. He’s an enemy to worry about.”
As WND has reported, for more than 10 years, bin Laden has planned to use nuclear weapons in a terrorist attack on the U.S. The plan is dubbed “American Hiroshima.” In fact, as first reported in Joseph Farah’s G2 Bulletin, captured al-Qaida operatives and documents suggest the weapons have already been smuggled into the country.
For continuing and complete coverage of Osama bin Laden’s “American Hiroshima” plans, subscribe to Joseph Farah’s G2 Bulletin, the premium, online, intelligence newsletter published by the founder of WND.