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Early February 1999: $8 Billion Weapons Deal Allegedly Influences US Decision Not to Strike at Bin Laden

In early February 1999, US intelligence gains good information that Osama bin Laden is bird hunting with members of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) royal family in an uninhabited region of Afghanistan (see February 11, 1999). A later book by Daniel Benjamin and Stephen Simon, both officials in the Clinton administration, will note, “At the moment the Tomahawks [US missiles] were being readied, the United States was in the final stages of negotiations to sell eighty Block 60 F-16s, America’s most sophisticated export fighter jets,” to the UAE government. “America’s relationship with the [UAE] was the best it had in the [Persian] Gulf, and the [Clinton] administration had devotedly cultivated Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the UAE’s president and the leader of the country’s royal clans.” [Benjamin and Simon, 2002, pp. 281] The F-16 fighter deal is worth about $8 billion. Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke is particularly close to the UAE royal family, having negotiated arms deals and US military basing agreements with them for several years. He has a hand in negotiating the F-16 deal in 1998. In fact, just days before the US learned of bin Laden’s presence in the hunting camp, Clarke was in the UAE working on the fighter deal. [Coll, 2004, pp. 486; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 128] Journalist Steve Coll will later say: “If the United States bombed the camp and killed a few princes, it could potentially put [business deals like that] in jeopardy—even if bin Laden were killed at the same time. Hardly anyone in the Persian Gulf saw bin Laden as a threat serious enough to warrant the deaths of their own royalty.” Clarke is one who votes not to strike the camp, and others within the US government will speculate that his UAE ties had a role in his decision. [Coll, 2004, pp. 447-450] Michael Scheuer, head of the CIA’s bin Laden unit at the time, will later comment: “Why did President Clinton fail to attack? Because making money was more important than protecting Americans.” [Scheuer, 2008] The missile strike does not take place and the fighter deal is successfully completed. Some US officials, including Scheuer, will be very irate and vocally complain later this month (see Shortly After February 11, 1999).

Entity Tags: Michael Scheuer, Clinton administration, Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, Richard A. Clarke

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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