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Profile: Michael Sheehan
Michael Sheehan was a participant or observer in the following events:
State Department Coordinator for Counterterrorism Michael Sheehan writes a memo calling for a new approach in containing bin Laden. He urges a series of actions the US could take toward Pakistan, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Yemen to persuade them to help isolate al-Qaeda. He calls Pakistan the key country and urges that terrorism be made the central issue with them. He advises the US to work with all these countries to curb money laundering. However, a former official says Sheehan’s plan lands “with a resounding thud.” Pakistan continues to “feign cooperation but [does] little” about its support for the Taliban. [New York Times, 10/29/2001]
The US warns the Taliban that the US will punish them for any attacks ordered by bin Laden, who is living in Afghanistan under Taliban protection. On this day, Ahmed Ressam is arrested trying to enter the US to conduct a bombing there (see December 14, 1999). In response, that evening, the State Department’s counterterrorism chief Michael Sheehan calls Taliban foreign minister Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil. Sheehan later recalls saying bin Laden “is like a criminal who lives in your basement. It is no longer possible for you to act as if he’s not your responsibility. He is your responsibility.” The implied threat is that the US will punish the Taliban, possibly with military force, in response to further bin Laden attack. Muttawakil says he understands and urges the US to use restraint. [Wall Street Journal, 3/8/2000]
Karl Inderfurth. [Source: Harikrishna Katragadda Mint]Assistant Secretary of State Karl Inderfurth, accompanied by State Department counterterrorism expert Michael Sheehan, visits Pakistan, shortly after Pervez Musharraf took power in a coup (see October 12, 1999). Inderfurth meets with Musharraf, and is disappointed with Musharraf’s reluctance to take any action against al-Qaeda or the Taliban. Al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida is living openly in the Pakistani town of Peshawar, and the previous month was implicated in an attempted bomb plot in Jordan (see November 30, 1999). A number of intelligence agencies are monitoring Zubaida’s communications (see October 1998 and After), and one of his top aides, Khalil Deek, appears to be a Jordanian intelligence mole (see Shortly After December 11, 1999). There are allegations that the Pakistani ISI intelligence agency has been protecting Zubaida (see 1998-2001). Musharraf indicates to Inderfurth that he is unwilling to act on US intelligence about Zubaida. [Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 295] US ambassador to Pakistan William Milam will later say: “The Pakistanis told us they could not find him, even though everyone knew where he was. The ISI just turned a blind eye to his activities.” In fact, there is evidence Zubaida was working with the ISI, helping them vet and train militants to later fight in the disputed region of Kashmir (see 1998-2001). [Rashid, 2008, pp. 48] Musharraf also tells Inderfurth that he is unwilling to support any program to capture Osama bin Laden, as his predecessor, Nawaz Sharif, had been willing to do (see October 1999). And asked to pressure the Taliban, Musharraf sends ISI Director Lieutenant General Mahmood Ahmed to meet Taliban leader Mullah Omar. Mahmood is well known to be a supporter of the Taliban, so his visit is considered an empty gesture. [Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 295] Robert Einhorn, a specialist on the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons in the Clinton administration, does not go on the trip. Inderfurth will later say Einhorn’s absence showed a lack of interest by the administration in non-proliferation: “The fact that Mike [Sheehan] was included and Bob left out showed our priorities at that time. Our agenda was counterterrorism, al-Qaeda, and democracy. We had somehow divorced these from the nuclear threat and A. Q. Khan.” [Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 292]
Michael Sheehan. [Source: Center on Law and Security]In the wake of the USS Cole bombing (see October 12, 2000), Clinton administration officials hold a high level meeting to discuss what the US response should be. The meeting attendees include: Counterterrorism “Tsar” Richard Clarke, Defense Secretary William Cohen, CIA Director George Tenet, Attorney General Janet Reno, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Deputy National Security Adviser Jim Steinberg, and State Department Coordinator for Counterterrorism Michael Sheehan.
Clarke suggests that al-Qaeda was behind the attacks. There is no hard evidence of this yet but he argues that the attack matches their profile and capabilities. He presents a detailed plan, which he’d been working on before the bombing, to level all the al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan as well as key Taliban buildings in such towns as Kandahar and Kabul.
Reno argues there’s no clear evidence yet who was behind the bombing. If there is such evidence, any US actions should not be for retaliation but only for self-protection against future attacks.
Tenet says that he suspects al-Qaeda is behind the bombing but also wants to wait until an investigation determines that before acting.
Cohen is against any counterattack. Clarke will later recall Cohen saying at the meeting that the Cole bombing “was not sufficient provocation.” Sheehan will later say that the “entire Pentagon” was generally against a counterattack.
Albright is against a counterattack for diplomatic reasons. The Clinton administration is involved in trying to create a peace settlement between the Israelis and Palestinians and bombing Afghanistan could ruin such talks.
Many also argue that if Afghanistan is attacked and bin Laden is not killed, he could emerge a greater hero in the Muslim world, just as he did after a 1998 US missile strike (see Late 1998). Clarke argues that the continual creation of new trained militants in Afghanistan needs to stop, and if bin Laden is killed, that would merely be a “bonus.” At the end of the meeting, the highest-ranking officials cast votes, and seven vote against Clarke’s counterstrike plan, while only Clarke votes in favor of it. After the meeting, Sheehan will meet with Clarke and express frustration with the outcome, saying, “What’s it going to take to get them to hit al-Qaeda in Afghanistan? Does al-Qaeda have to hit the Pentagon?” [Miniter, 2003, pp. 222-227]
Michael Sheehan (left), Raymond W. Kelly and David Cohen [Source: Alan Chin/New York Times (Feb. 15, 2004)] (click image to enlarge)The New York Police Department (NYPD) appoints CIA veteran David Cohen to the newly-created post of deputy commissioner of intelligence. [New York City, 1/24/2002] Cohen headed the CIA’s Directorate of Operations (DO) from 1995 to 1997. After leaving the agency, he joined AIG, the world’s largest insurance company, in November 2000. [National Underwriter Property and Casualty, 1/15/2001] He also apparently headed the CIA’s office in New York, which was located in WTC7 before its collapse, at some point. The press release announcing his hiring says that “he also served as the senior CIA official in the New York area,” but provides no additional details. “Asked if he ever worked in the CIA’s office in the World Trade Center, he laughed and said, ‘You’re going to have to ask the CIA where their offices were,’” reports the New York Times. [New York Times, 1/25/2002] NYPD also created a new post of deputy commissioner of counterterrorism, which will be filled by Michael Sheehan from 2003 to 2006. Cohen and Sheehan’s appointments are part of a huge expansion of NYPD’s intelligence-gathering and counterterrorism efforts, which will be the subject of numerous press reports. [New York Times, 1/15/2004; New Yorker, 7/25/2005]
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