Former National Security Adviser Sandy Berger blocked four separate plans of action against the al-Qaida terrorist network from 1998 to 2000, according to the newly released 9-11 commission report.
The report cites a 1998 meeting in which then-director of the Central Intelligence Agency George Tenet presented a plan to capture Osama bin Laden, notes the New York Sun.
“In his meeting with Tenet, Berger focused, however, on the question of what was to be done with Bin Ladin if he were actually captured,” the report says, citing a May 1, 1998, CIA memo. “He worried that the hard evidence against Bin Ladin was still skimpy and that there was a danger of snatching him and bringing him to the United States only to see him acquitted.”
Berger, who served in the Clinton administration, is facing a Justice Department investigation for allegedly smuggling secret files out of the National Archives prior to the 9-11 commission hearings.
After news of the probe broke Monday, Berger stepped down from his informal position as security adviser to Democratic Sen. John Kerry’s presidential campaign.
The 9-11 commission report presents three other opportunities given to Berger to take action against bin Laden:
- June 1999: The potential target was an al-Qaida terrorist camp in Afghanistan known as Tarnak Farms. But the commission cites Berger’s handwritten notes on the meeting paper, which referred to “the presence of 7 to 11 families in the Tarnak Farms facility, which could mean 60-65 casualties.” The Berger notes said, “if he responds, we’re blamed.”
- Dec. 4, 1999: National Security Council counterterrorism coordinator Richard Clarke sent Berger a memo suggesting a strike against al-Qaida camps in Afghanistan. According to the commission, however, in the “margin next to Clarke’s suggestion to attack Al Qaeda facilities in the week before January 1, 2000, Berger wrote, ‘no.'”
- August 2000: Berger was presented with a plan to attack bin Laden based on aerial surveillance from a “Predator” drone. “In the memo’s margin,” the commission said, “Berger wrote that before considering action, ‘I will want more than verified location: we will need, at least, data on pattern of movements to provide some assurance he will remain in place.'”
The New York paper, in an editorial asks why Berger made these critical decisions rather than the president. The commission report notes the decisions “were made by the Clinton administration under extremely difficult domestic political circumstances. Opponents were seeking the president’s impeachment.”
The Sun opines, had Berger “been a little less reluctant to act, a little more open to taking pre-emptive action, maybe the 2,973 killed in the September 11, 2001, attacks would be alive today.”