In the fall of 2000, in Afghanistan, unmanned, unarmed spy planes called Predators flew over known al-Qaida training camps. The pictures that were transmitted live to CIA headquarters show al-Qaida terrorists firing at targets, conducting military drills and then scattering on cue through the desert.
Also, that fall, the Predator captured even more extraordinary pictures — a tall figure in flowing white robes. Many intelligence analysts believed then and now it is bin Laden.
While the tape proves that the Clinton administration was engaged in pursuing Bin Laden, it also points to a flaw in their approach.
A Democratic member of the 9/11 commission says there was a larger issue: The Clinton administration treated bin Laden as a law enforcement problem.
Bob Kerry, a former senator and current 9/11 commission member, said, “The most important thing the Clinton administration could have done would have been for the president, either himself or by going to Congress, asking for a congressional declaration to declare war on al-Qaida, a military-political organization that had declared war on us.”
It's worth remembering that this is exactly the kind of method that Sen. Kerry has proposed he would follow. As far as those in the Clinton administration?
NBC News contacted the three top Clinton national security officials. None would do an on-camera interview. However, they vigorously defend their record and say they disrupted terrorist cells and made al-Qaida a top national security priority.
“We used military force, we used covert operations, we used all of the tools available to us because we realized what a serious threat this was,” said President Clinton’s former national security adviser James Steinberg.
One Clinton Cabinet official said, looking back, the military should have been more involved, “We did a lot, but we did not see the gathering storm that was out there.”
Hm. I guess so.