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Context of 'September 4, 2001: Debate Heats Up Over Using Armed Predator Drone Against Bin Laden; Decision Again Delayed'

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The first Predator flight over Afghanistan on September 7, 2000 captures bin Laden circled by security in his Tarnak Farms complex.The first Predator flight over Afghanistan on September 7, 2000 captures bin Laden circled by security in his Tarnak Farms complex. [Source: CBC]An unmanned spy plane called the Predator begins flying over Afghanistan, showing incomparably detailed real-time video and photographs of the movements of what appears to be bin Laden and his aides. It flies successfully over Afghanistan 16 times. [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004] President Clinton is impressed by a two-minute video of bin Laden crossing a street heading toward a mosque inside his Tarnak Farms complex. Bin Laden is surrounded by a team of a dozen armed men creating a professional forward security perimeter as he moves. The Predator has been used since 1996, in the Balkans and Iraq. One Predator crashes on takeoff and another is chased by a fighter, but it apparently identifies bin Laden on three occasions. Its use is stopped in Afghanistan after a few trials, mostly because seasonal winds are picking up. It is agreed to resume the flights in the spring, but the Predator fails to fly over Afghanistan again until after 9/11. [Washington Post, 12/19/2001; Clarke, 2004, pp. 220-21] On September 15, 2001, CIA Director Tenet apparently inaccurately tells President Bush, “The unmanned Predator surveillance aircraft that was now armed with Hellfire missiles had been operating for more than a year out of Uzbekistan to provide real-time video of Afghanistan.” [Washington Post, 1/29/2002]

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, George J. Tenet, Central Intelligence Agency, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

CIA Director Tenet and other top CIA officials brief President-elect Bush, Vice President-elect Cheney, future National Security Adviser Rice, and other incoming national security officials on al-Qaeda and covert action programs in Afghanistan. Deputy Director for Operations James Pavitt recalls conveying that bin Laden is one of the gravest threats to the country. Bush asks whether killing bin Laden would end the problem. Pavitt says he answers that killing bin Laden would have an impact but not stop the threat. The CIA recommends the most important action to combat al-Qaeda is to arm the Predator drone and use it over Afghanistan. [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004; Reuters, 3/24/2004] However, while the drone is soon armed, Bush never gives the order to use it in Afghanistan until after 9/11 (see September 4, 2001).

Entity Tags: George J. Tenet, Central Intelligence Agency, George W. Bush, Condoleezza Rice, Al-Qaeda, James Pavitt, Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The Predator drone.The Predator drone. [Source: US military] (click image to enlarge)Even before President Bush’s official inauguration, Clinton holdover counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke pushes National Security Adviser Rice and other incoming Bush officials to resume Predator drone flights over Afghanistan (originally carried out in September and October 2000) in an attempt to find and assassinate bin Laden. [Washington Post, 1/20/2002; CBS News, 6/25/2003] On January 10, Rice is shown a video clip of bin Laden filmed by a Predator drone the year before. [Washington Post, 1/20/2002] Aware of an Air Force plan to arm the Predator, when Clarke outlines a series of steps to take against al-Qaeda on January 25 (see January 25, 2001), one suggestion is to go forward with new Predator drone reconnaissance missions in the spring and use an armed version when it is ready. [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004] The original Air Force development plan calls for three years of Predator testing, but Clarke pushes so hard that a Hellfire missile is successfully test fired from a Predator on February 16, 2001. The armed Predator will be fully ready by early June 2001 (see Early June-September 10, 2001). [CBS News, 6/25/2003; New Yorker, 7/28/2003] However, Rice apparently approves the use of the Predator but only as part of a broader strategy against al-Qaeda. Since that strategy will still not be ready before 9/11, the Predator will not be put into use before 9/11. [Associated Press, 6/22/2003]

Entity Tags: Stephen J. Hadley, Richard A. Clarke, Condoleezza Rice, George W. Bush, Central Intelligence Agency, Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

A Predator drone firing a Hellfire missile.A Predator drone firing a Hellfire missile. [Source: US Air Force]An armed version of the Predator drone successfully passes a test showing it is ready for use in Afghanistan. The Predator had been used successfully in 2000 to spot bin Laden (see September 7-October 2000), but it was not used in early 2001 while an armed version was prepared (see January 10-25, 2001). A Hellfire missile was successfully test fired from a Predator on February 16, 2001. [CBS News, 6/25/2003] In early June 2001, a duplicate of the brick house where bin Laden is believed to be living in Kandahar, Afghanistan, is built in Nevada, and destroyed by a Predator missile. The test shows that the missile fired from miles away would have killed anyone in the building, and one participant calls this the long sought after “holy grail” that could kill bin Laden within minutes of finding him. [Washington Post, 1/20/2002] But National Security Adviser Rice reportedly wants to use the Predator only after an overall strategy for confronting al-Qaeda is worked out, and no such plan is close to being ready. [Associated Press, 6/22/2003] She and her deputy Steve Hadley decide to delay reconnaissance flights until all the arrangements for using the armed version can be worked out. In July 2001, Hadley directs the military to have armed Predators ready to deploy no later than September 1. [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004] The main hold up seems to be bureaucratic. Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke repeatedly advocates using the Predator, armed or unarmed. However, infighting between the CIA and the Air Force over who would pay for it and take responsibility delays its use. Clarke later says, “Every time we were ready to use it, the CIA would change its mind.” [New Yorker, 7/28/2003] The issue comes to a head in early September 2001, but even then, a decision to use the Predator is delayed (see September 4, 2001). [New Yorker, 7/28/2003] The armed Predator will finally be used in Afghanistan just days after 9/11. [Associated Press, 6/25/2003]

Entity Tags: Richard A. Clarke, Osama bin Laden, Bush administration (43), Condoleezza Rice, National Security Council

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

The US denounces Israel’s use of targeted killing against Palestinian terrorists. Martin Indyk, the US ambassador to Israel, says: “The United States government is very clearly on record as against targeted assassinations.… They are extrajudicial killings and we do not support that.” [New Yorker, 10/26/2009] Around the same time, the US military is working on arming the Predator drone to enable remote, targeted assassinations of terrorists like Osama bin Laden (see Early June-September 10, 2001). The US will begin frequently using targeted assassinations shortly after the 9/11 attacks two months later (see September 18-October 7, 2001). In 2009, Gary Solis, former head of the law program at the US Military Academy, will comment, “The things we were complaining about from Israel a few years ago we now embrace.” [New Yorker, 10/26/2009]

Entity Tags: Gary Solis, Martin Indyk

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, US International Relations

Attendees to an important cabinet-level meeting on terrorism have a heated debate over what to do with the armed Predator drone, which has been ready for use over Afghanistan since June 2001 (see Early June-September 10, 2001). Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke has been repeatedly pushing for the use of the Predator over Afghanistan (in either armed or unarmed versions), and he again argues for its immediate use. Everyone agrees that the armed Predator capability is needed, but there are disputes over who will manage and/or pay for it. CIA Director Tenet says his agency will operate the armed Predator “over my dead body.” [Washington Post, 10/2/2002] Clarke recalls, “The Air Force said it wasn’t their job to fly planes to collect intelligence. No one around the table seemed to have a can-do attitude. Everyone seemed to have an excuse.” [New Yorker, 7/28/2003] National Security Adviser Rice concludes that the armed Predator is not ready (even though it had been proven in tests during the summer), but she also presses Tenet to reconsider his opposition to immediately resume reconnaissance flights, suspended since September the year before. After the meeting, Tenet agrees to proceed with such flights. [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004; 9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004] The armed Predator is activated just days after 9/11, showing that it was ready to be used after all. [Associated Press, 6/25/2003]

Entity Tags: Richard A. Clarke, George J. Tenet, Condoleezza Rice

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

Donald Cook.Donald Cook. [Source: US Air Force]Lieutenant General Donald Cook, acting commander of the Air Combat Command (ACC), receives a call in which he is told the White House wants to know how quickly the Predator drone, a remotely controlled, unmanned plane, can be deployed over Afghanistan. Cook, who is currently at ACC headquarters at Langley Air Force Base, Virginia, receives the call “less than one hour after” the first hijacked plane crashed into the World Trade Center (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001), according to journalist and author Richard Whittle, which means the call is made before around 9:45 a.m. The caller, Whittle will write, says that the “White House [wants] to know how soon the Air Force could get three Predators over Afghanistan—with missiles under their wings.” The identity of the caller is unstated. Later this morning, Cook will talk to Colonel Ed Boyle, director of intelligence for the ACC, who is away in Arizona, and pass on this information to him (see (After 10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Whittle, 2014, pp. 236; Air and Space Magazine, 3/2015] The first Predator mission over Afghanistan will take place on September 18 and on October 7, the first day of the war in Afghanistan, the first armed Predator mission will be flown (see September 18-October 7, 2001 and October 7, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004 pdf file; Grimes, 2014, pp. 335]

Entity Tags: Donald G. Cook

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Rich Gibaldi.Rich Gibaldi. [Source: Rich Gibaldi]Colonel Ed Boyle, director of intelligence for the Air Combat Command (ACC), and Colonel Rich Gibaldi, another senior Air Force intelligence officer, are ordered to return to Langley Air Force Base in Virginia to get the Predator drone, a remotely controlled, unmanned plane, ready to deploy over Afghanistan. Boyle spent part of the summer organizing an expanded “expeditionary intelligence squadron” to fly Predators over Afghanistan for the CIA, beginning on September 25, but he has recently had time for some other business. He and Gibaldi flew to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona, where, yesterday, they attended some meetings.
Officers Learned of the Attacks While Driving to an Army Base - The two officers learned of the attacks on the World Trade Center this morning as they were driving from there to Fort Huachuca, an Army base in southern Arizona, where they were going to attend a change of command ceremony. They heard of the crashes on the car radio. After hearing about the second one, Boyle told his colleague, “We’ve got a problem.” The officers arrived at Fort Huachuca within half an hour.
Officer Was Told to Return to Langley Air Force Base - While they were at the gate, Boyle’s cell phone rang. On the other end of the line was Lieutenant General Donald Cook, acting commander of the ACC, calling from ACC headquarters at Langley Air Force Base. After Boyle said where he and Gibaldi were, Cook told him to get back to Langley Air Force Base as soon as possible and ordered him to call back from a secure phone. Boyle was unable to use a secure phone at Fort Huachuca. But with the ceremony there canceled in response to the terrorist attacks, he and Gibaldi apparently left the base promptly to head back to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base.
Commander Asks about Getting Drones Airborne - Now, as they are driving to Davis-Monthan, Boyle calls Cook and explains that it will be some time before he can call from a secure phone. Cook then tells him he will need to get Predator drones ready for use as soon as possible. “You need to get your butt back here,” he says. He adds that General John Jumper, the Air Force chief of staff, “wants to know when you can be operational and flying.”
Officer Is Told the White House Wants Drones over Afghanistan - After Boyle and Gibaldi arrive back at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Boyle finds a secure phone and calls Cook. [Whittle, 2014, pp. 232-233, 236] Cook received a call earlier this morning in which he was told the White House wanted to know when Predators could be deployed (see (Before 9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Air and Space Magazine, 3/2015] He now tells Boyle about this call, saying the White House wants to know how soon the Air Force can get three Predators, armed with Hellfire missiles, over Afghanistan. Boyle and Gibaldi will subsequently have to drive the long distance from Davis-Monthan Air Force Base to Langley Air Force Base, and will arrive at Langley early on the morning of September 14. [Whittle, 2014, pp. 236, 238-239] The first Predator mission over Afghanistan will take place on September 18 and on October 7, the first day of the war in Afghanistan, the first armed Predator mission will be flown (see September 18-October 7, 2001 and October 7, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004 pdf file; Grimes, 2014, pp. 335]

Entity Tags: Rich Gibaldi, Ed Boyle, John P. Jumper, Donald G. Cook

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

A C-17.A C-17. [Source: Jeff Fisher / US Air Force]A C-17 cargo plane flies three Predator drones, along with the personnel and equipment needed to operate them, from California to Andrews Air Force Base, just outside Washington, DC, where they will be ready to be deployed over Afghanistan. [Whittle, 2011, pp. 25 pdf file; Grimes, 2014, pp. 334-335; Whittle, 2014, pp. 239-242] Around the time of the attack on the Pentagon on September 11, Colonel Bill Grimes, director of a highly secretive Air Force program called Big Safari, was called by an officer at Air Force headquarters and asked what had to be done to get three Predators ready for use in the airspace over Afghanistan (see (Shortly Before 9:37 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Whittle, 2014, pp. 235] After that call, Grimes phoned members of his team in California and told them to prepare to deploy. [Whittle, 2011, pp. 25 pdf file; Grimes, 2014, pp. 334] Meanwhile, James Clark, a retired colonel who now works as a civilian for the Air Force, arranged, with some assistance from the CIA, for a C-17 to carry three Predators across the US while the nation’s airspace is shut down in response to the 9/11 attacks. [Whittle, 2014, pp. 240]
Cargo Plane Starts Its Journey within 24 Hours of the Attacks - The C-17 begins its journey to Andrews Air Force Base at Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake in California. After being called by Grimes on the morning of September 11, Major Mark Mattoon, who had been running flight tests with the Predator at China Lake, talked to the commanding admiral at the base and requested permission for a C-17 to land. He said the aircraft would be arriving at China Lake in five hours, which means it would have landed there early that afternoon. [Grimes, 2014, pp. 334; Whittle, 2014, pp. 235] However, the C-17 only leaves the base on the morning of September 12. It begins its journey across America “barely 24 hours after the attacks of 9/11,” according to journalist and author Richard Whittle.
Plane Stops Off at Several Bases - The plane stops off at an airfield in Palmdale, California, where additional equipment and personnel get on board. It stops again at Redstone Arsenal, an Army base in Alabama. There, about a dozen AGM-114 Hellfire missiles are loaded onto it. The plane stops once more at Charleston Air Force Base in South Carolina. It arrives there at 4:00 a.m. on the morning of September 13 and remains on the ground for 20 hours. While at the base, it undergoes inspection, maintenance, and refueling.
Plane Arrives near Washington on September 14 - The plane’s next stop is Andrews Air Force Base, about 10 miles from Washington. It arrives there at 1:30 a.m. on the morning of September 14. On board, apart from the Hellfire missiles, are three disassembled Predators, along with a flight control console and a portable C-band radio antenna, which a small team could use to get the drones in and out of the air from almost any airfield in the world. A small number of experts who are needed to operate the Predators also travel from California to Andrews Air Force Base on the C-17. [Grimes, 2014, pp. 334-335; Whittle, 2014, pp. 239-242] The first Predator mission over Afghanistan will take place on September 18 and on October 7, the first day of the war in Afghanistan, the first armed Predator mission will be flown (see September 18-October 7, 2001 and October 7, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004 pdf file; Grimes, 2014, pp. 335]

Entity Tags: Mark Mattoon, Bill Grimes, James Clark

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

In the days just after the 9/11 attacks, top US officials give approval to use the Predator drone in Afghanistan. The first Predator drones and missiles reached the Afghanistan theater on September 16. Two days later, the Predator is first used, flying over Kabul and Kandahar, but without carrying weapons. On October 7, the unnamed nearby country hosting the drones grants approval for armed Predators to be used. The first armed mission is flown later the same day. The CIA is in charge of most Predator flights in the region. [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004 pdf file] The speed in which the Predator is deployed in Afghanistan is noticeable, considering that just one week before 9/11, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice concluded that the armed Predator was not ready to be used there (see September 4, 2001).

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

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