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Broad Effort Launched After '98 Attacks

By Barton Gellman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 19, 2001; Page A01

First of two articles

Two years ago, Director of Central Intelligence George J. Tenet phoned the White House.
The agency had a lead, he said, on Osama bin Laden.

Reports linked the al Qaeda leader to a temporary encampment in southern Afghanistan.

Overhead photographs showed a well-equipped caravan of the sort used by hunters, a
commanding figure at its center, and an entourage of escorts bearing arms.

National security adviser Samuel R. "Sandy" Berger canvassed the Small Group, as they
had come to call themselves, of Cabinet-rank decision-makers on the most sensitive
terrorist matters. President Bill Clinton gave the go-ahead to begin preparations for cruise
missiles to launch.

Amid the urgent engagement of the White House came an unwelcome status call from
U.S. Central Command. One of two submarines designated to fire the missiles, if so
ordered, had left its Arabian Sea cruising grounds. "Well, get it back in the box!" urged a
duty officer, according to a person who was present.

Clinton, said people familiar with the episode, waited impatiently as the CIA searched for
confirmation. Finally, Tenet called back. The camp was not bin Laden's, he said. It was a
falconing expedition of a wealthy sheik from the United Arab Emirates -- and bin Laden
had never been part of it.

Thus dissolved another moment of hope in a covert war of long shots and near misses
that most Americans did not yet know their country was fighting. Unfolding in the last
two years of his presidency, long before the events of Sept. 11, Clinton's war was marked
by caution against an enemy that the president and his advisers knew to be ruthless and
bold. Reluctant to risk lives, failure or the wrath of brittle allies in the Islamic world,
Clinton confined planning for lethal force within two significant limits. American troops
would use weapons aimed from a distance, and their enemy would be defined as
individual terrorists, not the providers of sanctuary for attacks against the United States.

Within those boundaries, there was much more to the war than has reached the public
record. Beginning on Aug. 7, 1998, the day that al Qaeda destroyed the U.S. embassies in
Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, Clinton directed a campaign of increasing scope
and lethality against bin Laden's network that carried through his final days in office. IDecl 8?language=printer 5/6/2003 Struggles Inside the Government Defined Campaign Page 1 of 12

Struggles Inside the Government Defined Campaign

By Barton Gellman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 20, 2001; Page A01

Second of two articles

In his last year as CIA station chief in Sudan, Paul Quaglia lived no more than a mile
from Osama bin Laden.

It was 1995. The al Qaeda leader's residence was not on the way to the U.S. Embassy, but
Quaglia preferred to vary his daily commute. Sometimes he drove right past the three-
story brick and stucco home, sport utility vehicles standing sentry outside. When the two
men crossed paths at the airport, Quaglia gazed with frank curiosity at the tall Saudi
Arabian in the VIP lounge, "surrounded by security guys, openly armed, wearing those
long white flowing robes."

The face of international terror had begun a dangerous transformation in the early 1990s,
and the U.S. government knew but little of bin Laden's part in it yet. Terrorism was still,
by presidential directive, a third-tier national security issue.

President Bill Clinton and his advisers reached a pivot point in their grasp of the terrorist
threat by the end of 1995. In his second term, the president reshaped his government in
response. By degrees the national security establishment shifted its view of terrorism
from tactical nuisance to strategic challenge, sharpening its focus on bin Laden after the
1998 embassy bombings in East Africa.

By any measure available, Clinton left office having given greater priority to terrorism
than any president before him. His government doubled counterterrorist spending across
40 departments and agencies. The FBI and CIA allocated still larger increases in their
budgets and personnel assignments. Clinton devoted some of his highest-profile foreign
policy speeches to terrorism, including two at the U.N. General Assembly. An
interagency panel, the Counterterrorism Strategy Group, took on new weight in policy
disputes from the Justice Department to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
And the foreign policy cabinet, by the time it left office, had been convening every two to
three weeks to shape a covert and overt campaign against al Qaeda.

But neither Clinton nor his administration treated terrorism as their top concern, because
it was not. Without the overriding impetus provided by Sept. 11, the war on terror in the
1990s lost as many struggles inside government as it won. Steps to manage risk moved
forward readily. Some of the harder initiatives, hurried through these past three months Dec 19?language=printer 5/6/2003