History Commons Groups

September 30, 2008

New FOIA Request Filed: CIA Briefing on Responsibility for USS Cole Bombing

Filed under: Complete 911 Timeline — kevinfenton @ 2:44 am
Tags: , ,

I have filed a new FOIA request about the investigation of the bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen. The document is referred to in the 9/11 Commission Report as “CIA briefing materials, ‘Intelligence Assessment: The Attack on the USS Cole,’ Dec. 21, 2000.” It is mentioned in endnote 144 on page 508 of the 9/11 Commission Report.

The text of the 9/11 Commission Report, on page 195, provides a description on the document’s contents as follows:

Nearly a month later, on December 21, the CIA made another presentation to the Small Group of principals on the investigative team’s findings. The CIA’s briefing slides said that their “preliminary judgment” was that Bin Ladin’s al Qaeda group “supported the attack” on the Cole, based on strong circumstantial evidence tying key perpetrators of the attack to al Qaeda. The CIA listed the key suspects, including Nashiri. In addition, the CIA detailed the timeline of the operation, from the mid-1999 preparations, to the failed attack on the USS The Sullivans on January 3, 2000, through a meeting held by the operatives the day before the attack. 144

The slides said that so far the CIA had “no definitive answer on [the] crucial question of outside direction of the attack–how and by whom.” The CIA noted that the Yemenis claimed that Khallad helped direct the operation from Afghanistan or Pakistan, possibly as Bin Ladin’s intermediary, but that it had not seen the Yemeni evidence. However, the CIA knew from both human sources and signals intelligence that Khallad was tied to al Qaeda. The prepared briefing concluded that while some reporting about al Qaeda’s role might have merit, those reports offered few specifics. Intelligence gave some ambiguous indicators of al Qaeda direction of the attack. 145

One of the mysteries of the Cole bombing is how come the Clinton administration found itself unable to declare al-Qaeda responsible for the bombings and take some action against it—whether firing missiles at jungle gyms or something more sensible. At a relatively early stage in the investigation the attack was linked to three top al-Qaeda operatives Khallad bin Attash, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri and Ahmed al-Hada. The 1998 embassy bombings had been linked to al-Qaeda by the Clinton administration, which proceeded to fire missiles at a random chemical factory in Sudan and training camps run by the ISI in Pakistan. One of the ways this link was made was through these three operatives—one of the arrested bombers, Mohamed al-Owhali, named bin Attash, al-Hada and al-Nashiri (who he only knew under the alias Bilal) as people who had facilitated the attack (al-Nashiri got him a false passport, bin Attash helped him with his martyrdom video, and al-Hada was a key communications link between bin Laden in Afghanistan and the bombers in Africa).

The key question in this context clearly is: if the links to these three operatives were good enough for the Clinton administration to retaliate after the embassy bombings, why was it not good enough for retaliation after the USS Cole bombing? Having read through a bunch of sources, I cannot help but think that one or more high-ranking Clinton officials (not sure who, possibly Albright) deliberately set the bar too high (see also here and here) for retaliation, in order to ensure that the US intelligence community could not get over it and declare al-Qaeda responsible. If this were the case, the motivation might have been because heavy-handed retaliation may have derailed the Palestinian peace process, leading to another round of interminable conflict in the Middle East. What is notable, but perhaps unsurprising in all this, is that the nice people with sensitive antennae at CIA headquarters do not seem to have been too put out and were happy to go along with it—the name Clark Shannon springs to mind. For example, the assertion reported by the 9/11 Commission that the CIA was not sure Khallad was tied to the operation even by late December 2000 is pure 100% BS, they knew that damn well by this time.

In my opinion, this is wrong. I could not imagine a clearer case of fixing the intelligence to fit the policy. If the CIA and FBI had been allowed to get on with the job and then the cabinet had decided not to retaliate with missiles or in any other manner, then that would be one thing (and in any case there were plenty of reasons not to fire expensive missiles at low-value targets staffed only by a couple of bozos). But framing the question in such a way that the FBI and CIA can’t answer any way but the way you want, then having the finger pointed at the intelligence community after no action is taken, that’s wrong. And that’s why I’m interested in the way responsibility for the Cole bombing was handled.


  1. Dear Sir,

    There are numerous unresolved questions surrounding the attack on the Cole and the subsequent failed investigation, and no military response from either Clinton and or Bush. I know that we the parents were lied too many times. But we just recieved word from one our senators that Judiciary meetings will be held next year to answer some of my questions. We have been told that the committees have all been briefed by the CIA, FBI, and other agencies about President Saleh of Yemen, why nothing was done by no-one, why the planners were allowed to go free, why top members in Salehs government have told me and sent me documents that Saleh knew that the Cole was to be attacked, and did nothing. I hope these Yemenis will and other FBi agents will have the chance to appear in a congressional hearing.

    Thank-you for your continued work on the Cole.
    I will send your new info to my senators and the committee.

    Gary G. Swenchonis, Sr

    Comment by Gary Swenchonis — October 1, 2008 @ 12:28 pm | Reply

  2. Thanks, if Saleh knew the Cole was going to be attacked and did nothing then that would be huge news. However, I am slightly sceptical. He must have known that militants operate in Yemen and quite clearly did not take all the steps he could to restrict this, although there were occasional clashes with the security forces. AFAIKm al-Qaeda’s plan was to hit any US ship in Aden harbour and the decision to attack the Cole was only taken shortly beforehand when it showed up. Even if Saleh had known there was militant activity in Yemen by anti-US radicals, how would he know that the Cole was the specific target? I guess there are three answers:

    (1) The bombers asked for and received his approval before the attack.
    (2) He had an informer (or informers) within the group. He received information about the attack from the informer and declined to act on it (for example by passing on a warning to the US).
    (3) He learned there would be an attack through electronic surveillance (for example, of the bombers’ phones).

    My understanding is the US was monitoring some phones linked to the bombers and this seems to have been done in co-operation with the Yemenis. The Yemenis could certainly have learned something from this, so (3) is certainly plausible.

    If he had wanted US ships to stop refuelling in Yemen (for example, because they were annoying extremists, who were a semi-detached part of his “base”), he could have just said no to the US, don’t come here any more, perhaps citing threat reporting from internal security services as an excuse.

    So if he did have and withhold information about the bombing (which is plausible), why did he do it?

    Comment by kevinfenton — October 9, 2008 @ 4:03 pm | Reply

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: