60 Minutes Details Clinton Passing on Opportunity to Kill Bin Laden in 1999

As NewsBusters noted while the media celebrated Bill Clinton's involvement in an Obama campaign ad spiking the bin Laden's dead football, the former President should never have appeared in such a video given his administration having passed on numerous opportunities to kill or capture the al Qaeda leader before 9/11.

On Sunday, CBS's 60 Minutes detailed such an occurrence in late summer 1999 (video follows with transcript and commentary):


Lara Logan, CBS: That mission actually began five years before 9/11. That's when the CIA set up what became Hank Crumpton's special unit tasked with finding Osama bin Laden.

Hank Crumpton, Former Deputy Director of the CIA'S Counter-Terrorism Center: From '98, '99 all the way up to 2001, the warnings were there, the in--

Lara Logan: So through the Clinton administration, to the Bush administration?

Hank Crumpton: Yes, yes. We had extensive human networks in Afghanistan, Afghan sources that had been reporting on al Qaeda, on the presence of bin Laden.

But Crumpton says the Clinton White House didn't trust the CIA's Afghan sources alone and they wanted U.S. eyes on the target.

Hank Crumpton: So we were driven to look at various technical options. And we looked at a range of things. Long-range optics, they were too heavy, too cumbersome to get over the mountains. We looked at balloons. The prevailing winds would take those balloons to China. That would be a bad thing. We scrapped that. And then we stumbled across the UAVs, particularly the Predator. And sure enough, wasn't long before we had the Predator in theater over Afghanistan, the Predator unarmed at the time. And our human sources took us to a village-- far-- not far from Kandahar.

Lara Logan: And what did you see there?

Hank Crumpton: We saw a security detail, a convoy and we saw bin Laden exit the vehicle.

Lara Logan: Clearly?

Hank Crumpton: Clearly. And we had-- the optics were spot on. It was beaming back to us, CIA headquarters. We immediately alerted the White House. And the Clinton administration's response was, "Well, it will take several hours for the TLAMs, the cruise missiles launched from submarines, to reach that objective. So you need to tell us where bin Laden will be five or six hours from now." The frustration was enormous.

Lara Logan: So at that moment you wanted to kill him?

Hank Crumpton: Yes.

Lara Logan: But you couldn't get permission?

Hank Crumpton: Correct.

He couldn't get permission to do anything, including allowing the CIA's Afghan agents on the ground to attack bin Laden's compound. That missed opportunity in the late summer of 1999, led Crumpton and his CIA team to figure out how to arm the Predator drone with hellfire missiles.

Lara Logan: So the Predator drone strikes that take place in the tribal areas of Pakistan today are a direct result of what happened when you had Osama bin Laden in your sights in Afghanistan and no way to kill him yourselves?

Hank Crumpton: It was a response to the lack of response on the part of the administration or DOD. So the handful of CIA officers that we had, in great frustration, we began the discussion of, "Okay. We find him again we will have to engage ourselves. And we'll have to do it right then, right there."

Maybe all the media members that praised Clinton's appearance in this Obama campaign ad should issue a retraction in the coming days.

Don't hold your breath.

Noel Sheppard
Noel Sheppard
Noel Sheppard, Associate Editor of NewsBusters, passed away in March of 2014.