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Context of 'Late June 2001: CIA Holds Exercises to Consider Killing Bin Laden Using an Armed Drone'

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President Harry Truman signs the National Security Act of 1947, reorganizing the military and overhauling the government’s foreign policy-making bureaucracy. The act gives birth to three major organizations: the Department of Defense (DOD), the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the National Security Council (NSC). The DOD unifies the three branches of the military—the Army, Navy and Air Force—into a single department overseen by a secretary of defense. The act establishes a separate agency, the CIA, to oversee all overt and covert intelligence operations. The act forms the NSC to directly advise the President on all matters of defense and foreign policy. In addition, the act establishes the National Security Resources Board (NSRB) to advise the President “concerning the coordination of military, industrial, and civilian mobilization” in times of war. Should the nation come under attack, the NSRB will be in charge of allocating essential resources and overseeing “the strategic relocation of industries, services, government, and economic activities, the continuous operation of which is essential to the Nation’s security.” [US Congress. House. Senate., 7/26/1947; Trager, 11/1977]

Entity Tags: National Security Act of 1947, Harry S. Truman, National Security Council, US Department of Defense, ageqixocuyu, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

John ‘Soup’ Campbell.John ‘Soup’ Campbell. [Source: US Air Force]Air Force Lieutenant General John “Soup” Campbell, associate director of central intelligence for military support, holds two exercises at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, to consider the issues around killing Osama bin Laden with an armed drone aircraft. With fears about an attack by al-Qaeda increasing, the CIA is now discussing the details of how a mission to kill the terrorist group’s leader with an armed drone might be carried out. Campbell holds the two exercises as part of this effort.
Officials from Several Agencies Attend the First Exercise - The first exercise, held in a windowless conference room at CIA headquarters, is attended by around 40 officials, action officers, and experts. About 20 of them sit around the conference table. These officials include Charlie Allen, assistant director of central intelligence for collection; Roger Cressey, deputy for counterterrorism on the National Security Council staff; and a number of lawyers from the CIA, Department of Defense, and National Security Council. The other 20 or so participants sit around the walls. They include officials from the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center, Air Force officers, and various “subject matter experts.”
Participants Agree to Kill Bin Laden in One Scenario - For about the first hour, a former Army officer who now works for the Counterterrorist Center presents what the CIA has learned about bin Laden from other sources since September 27, 2000, when a man believed to be the al-Qaeda leader was recorded on video by a Predator drone. The former Army officer then puts forward a specific scenario. Exercise participants are to imagine that human intelligence sources have informed the CIA that bin Laden is going to be at Tarnak Farms, an al-Qaeda base near Kandahar, Afghanistan, and so the decision has been made to launch an armed Predator while he is there. Campbell then plays the video of bin Laden recorded on September 27, 2000, which many in the room have never seen before. He asks who would be prepared to have the Predator fire a Hellfire missile at the man in the video and who thinks doing so might be a mistake, and why. Everyone in the room says they would support a decision to fire a missile at the man. They all feel certain that the total intelligence picture indicates he is bin Laden, the men around him must also be extremists, and there are no women or children nearby who would be at risk of injury when the missile struck.
Scenario Involving Weaker Evidence Is Considered - The former Army officer then asks those in the room to imagine a second scenario. In this situation, they have no information from human intelligence sources or other supplementary intelligence to base their decision on. All they have is another video captured by the Predator’s camera while the drone flew over a suspected al-Qaeda training camp the previous year. A tall man in white robes appears on the video walking along the wall outside the training compound, with some men surrounding him as if they are his security cordon. The appearance of the tall man and the behavior of those around him suggest he is bin Laden, but there is room for doubt and there is no intelligence from CIA agents or tribal allies to confirm this is the case.
Participants Disagree over Whether to Fire a Missile - Campbell asks those in the room who among them would be prepared to have a missile fired at the man and who would be unprepared to do so. This time, people disagree over what should be done. Some think the video alone is adequate evidence for firing a missile at the man, since if he was indeed bin Laden his death might eliminate a major threat to America. At the very least, the strike would eradicate some al-Qaeda terrorists. Others feel there is too much room for error without further evidence that the man in the video is bin Laden. Campbell feels encouraged to find those in the room disagreeing, since if an armed drone ever goes into use, he wants those handling it to be discerning about when to take action.
Aftermath of Killing Bin Laden Is Discussed - The exercise ends with Campbell leading a discussion of other, related issues. Participants are asked to consider what rules should be adopted to avoid collateral damage, especially the killing or injuring of women and children. They are also asked how the CIA and the rest of the US government should deal with the aftermath of a drone strike that killed bin Laden.
Second Exercise Is Attended by Senior Officials - Campbell and the former Army officer then hold their second tabletop exercise. This exercise, which takes place in the director’s conference room on the seventh floor of CIA headquarters, is smaller and attended by more senior CIA officials, including Director George Tenet. During it, there is more disagreement among participants than there was in the first exercise. Tenet is sure the CIA lacks the legal authority to kill someone by firing a missile from a drone at them, despite the existence of secret presidential orders, findings, and other directives relating to bin Laden and al-Qaeda. Other participants share his unease. Some of the officials express concern about what might happen if the CIA’s role in a drone strike became known. [Whittle, 2014, pp. 206-208]

Entity Tags: National Security Council, Central Intelligence Agency, Charles E. Allen, John H. Campbell, US Department of the Air Force, George J. Tenet, Osama bin Laden, US Department of Defense, Roger Cressey

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

A. B. “Buzzy” Krongard, executive director of the CIA, holds a briefing during which he plays a video taken by a drone aircraft that shows a man who appears to be al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and asks delegates if they think the US should try to assassinate the man based on this evidence. The briefing apparently takes place at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, and is attended by representatives from various agencies.
'Tall Man with the Cane' Is Bin Laden - On a large screen on the wall, Krongard shows his audience the video. He freezes it at a certain point. “You can see the tall man with the cane—that’s Osama bin Laden,” he says. “You can’t make out his facial features, but there’s little doubt that we’ve isolated him, right there, out in the open in the field,” he adds. A CIA analyst then explains that the recording was made by a Predator drone in Afghanistan three weeks ago, in June 2001, after the CIA received intelligence that bin Laden would be meeting his people at the location shown in the video. He points out what he says are bin Laden’s security detail and the al-Qaeda leader’s SUV. As the video is moved forward a few frames at a time, the analyst explains that the overall scene led to a determination that the man shown was indeed bin Laden.
Audience Is Asked if This Evidence Is Sufficient to Kill Bin Laden - “Our evidence isn’t going to get any better than this,” Krongard interjects. He says: “The question is, what are we willing to do? Is the evidence sufficiently compelling? Is it good enough to kill Osama bin Laden the next time we have him in our crosshairs?” No one says anything in response. Krongard explains that the US Air Force has developed a missile called the Hellfire that can be mounted on a drone, thereby giving the drone the capability to kill. Air Force Lieutenant General John “Soup” Campbell then takes over the briefing to elaborate. [Mowatt-Larssen, 2020] Campbell is the associate director of central intelligence for military support. In this role, he is the principal adviser to CIA Director George Tenet on military issues. [US Air Force, 11/1/2003] He provides the audience with details of the Hellfire, describes test results, and says the missile is now ready for deployment on the Predator drone, which was previously only used for reconnaissance missions.
Decision Whether to Fire Lies with the President - In light of the information that has been presented, Krongard poses a question to the audience. He says: “This might be our only chance to take out the al-Qaeda leadership before they launch another attack on the US. I want a show of hands. If we get another film like this, should we fire at the tall man with a cane?” Many hands are raised by audience members who agree that they should try to kill the man. When Krongard asks if anyone disagrees, just a few hands are raised. Krongard then reassures the interagency representatives at the briefing that the decision whether to fire would not be theirs to make and instead would lie with the president. “Only the president can authorize the use of an armed drone,” he explains, adding, “It requires a covert action finding.” He says their job is simply to define the rules of engagement, meaning they have to determine “[u]nder what circumstances should the president’s authority to fire a drone be delegated, and to whom?”
Audience Discusses Issues around Using Armed Drones - The audience members then get into a lively discussion about the issues that have been raised during the briefing. Some of them assert that the president should personally approve any drone strikes. While the time taken to obtain presidential approval might result in missed opportunities, they believe that since drone strikes are new, the implications and consequences of their use are uncertain. But most of them take a more aggressive stance. They believe al-Qaeda’s escalating series of attacks against the US has shaken the nation’s confidence and there is a sense that more attacks are imminent. They feel that armed drones represent a potential breakthrough, providing the capability to neutralize terrorist threats before they evolve into attacks on the US.
Requirements for Executive Action Are Discussed - Further discussion ensues in which the requirements for taking executive action are fleshed out. Conditions are considered regarding how to limit civilian casualties, and prohibit strikes on mosques and holy sites. It is decided that the target of a drone strike must be clearly identifiable and on a carefully vetted targets list. The briefing’s attendees decide that a comprehensive set of recommendations should be composed for the CIA director to take to the president. If the president decided to proceed with the drone strikes, the CIA would work out modalities with the Air Force and the Department of Defense. After the briefing ends, some CIA officials who attended it will get together and discuss further whether the agency should carry out assassinations, and during the meeting Richard Blee, head of the CIA’s bin Laden unit, will emphasize the threat bin Laden poses and the benefits of killing him (see (July 2001)). [Mowatt-Larssen, 2020]

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Central Intelligence Agency, John H. Campbell, A.B. (“Buzzy”) Krongard

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline


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