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Profile: Roger Cressey
Roger Cressey was a participant or observer in the following events:
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]
From the White House Situation Room, counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke gives the instruction for fighter jets to establish patrols over all major US cities. Clarke has been talking with the FAA over the White House video conference, and his deputy, Roger Cressey, has just announced that a plane hit the Pentagon. According to his own recollection, Clarke responds: “I can still see [Defense Secretary Donald] Rumsfeld on the screen [for the Pentagon], so the whole building didn’t get hit. No emotion in here. We are going to stay focused.” He orders Cressey: “Find out where the fighter planes are. I want combat air patrol over every major city in this country. Now.” [Clarke, 2004, pp. 7-8; Australian, 3/27/2004] A combat air patrol (CAP) is an aircraft patrol over a particular area, with the purpose of intercepting and destroying any hostile aircraft before they reach their targets. [US Department of Defense, 4/12/2001] It is unclear how long it takes for CAPs to be formed over all major cities, as Clarke requests. At 9:49, NORAD Commander Ralph Eberhart will direct all the US’s air sovereignty aircraft to battle stations (see 9:49 a.m. September 11, 2001), but bases have reportedly been calling into NORAD and asking for permission to send up fighters since after the second WTC crash (see (After 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 6/3/2002; 9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004 ] At around 11:00 a.m. Eberhart will implement a plan called SCATANA, which clears the skies and gives the military control over US airspace (see (11:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004]
Roger Cressey. [Source: Publicity photo]Roger Cressey, the deputy for counterterrorism on the National Security Council, suggests activating the Emergency Alert System (EAS) to address the nation, but no one with him knows what could be said to calm the public. [Graff, 2017, pp. 341] Cressey is one of about a dozen people who remained in the White House Situation Room after most staffers evacuated from the White House (see (Shortly After 9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Clarke, 2004, pp. 10; Daily Telegraph, 9/10/2010] Apparently sometime shortly after Ralph Seigler, the Situation Room deputy director, reported that the Secret Service was saying a hostile aircraft was approaching Washington, DC (see (After 10:06 a.m.) September 11, 2001), Cressey proposes to his colleagues that they activate the EAS to give a message to the American public. However, Richard Clarke, the White House counterterrorism chief, promptly rejects his suggestion. “And have them say what?” Clarke asks. [Clarke, 2004, pp. 9]
Alert System Is Not Used in Response to Today's Attacks - The EAS, known as the Emergency Broadcast System until the 1990s, was created in 1951 as part of America’s response to the threat of nuclear attack. It serves as a tool for the president and others to warn the American public about emergency situations. However, it is not activated at any point today in response to the terrorist attacks. Richard Rudman, chairman of the EAS National Advisory Committee, will later justify this, explaining that the EAS is intended to alert the public to the danger before an incident occurs, not afterward. “Some events really do serve as their own alerts and warnings,” he will comment. Referring to today’s attacks, he will say, “With the immediate live media coverage, the need for an EAS warning was lessened.” One broadcast engineer will say that activating the EAS after the first hijacked plane crashed into the World Trade Center (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001) might have caused more harm than good. “At that point, it could have stirred up even more panic,” the engineer will say. [Radio World, 9/26/2001; Moore, 8/13/2004, pp. 1 ]
US intelligence concludes that Islamist militant leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is planning to use ricin in attacks on civilians in Europe. Several months earlier, the US had determined the location of his main training camp and chemical weapons lab, located in a part of northern Iraq controlled by Kurdish rebels, and decided against attacking it with cruise missiles (see June 2002). [MSNBC, 3/2/2004] By this time, al-Zarqawi is known to have masterminded the assassination of a senior American diplomat in Jordan the month before. Al-Zarqawi had his group had fled the camp several months before, but new intelligence indicates that he has reoccupied it. At the time, he is using a satellite telephone, and intercepts of his communications show that he is frequently calling from within the camp. [Wall Street Journal, 10/25/2004] In light of the new intelligence, the US military draws up a second attack plan on the camp, but the White House again decides against it. Former National Security Council member Roger Cressey will later claim, “People were more obsessed with developing the coalition to overthrow Saddam than to execute the president’s policy of preemption against terrorists.” [MSNBC, 3/2/2004]
On the second day of a US invasion of Iraq, the US military conducts an airstrike against the training camp in Northern Iraq controlled by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. The camp is territory controlled by Kurdish rebels and it is believed that a chemical weapons lab is there. Prior to the start of the war, the US drew up three separate plans to attack the camp with air strikes, but each time the plans were rejected by the White House. [MSNBC, 3/2/2004] More than 40 cruise missiles hit the camp near the town of Khurmal, destroying what Gen. Tommy Franks calls a “massive terrorist facility.” But Saddam Hussein had been given an ultimatum before the start of the war, which meant the timing of the start of the war had been announced several days in advance. Not surprisingly, by the time the camp is hit, al-Zarqawi and many of his followers had already left it. One of al-Zarqawi’s top lieutenants, Abdul Hadi Daghlas, a.k.a. Abu Taisir, is killed. Al-Zarqawi will release an audio message several months later lamenting his death. [Wall Street Journal, 2/10/2004] Former National Security Council member Roger Cressey will later claim, “Here’s a case where they waited, they waited too long and now we’re suffering as a result inside Iraq.” [MSNBC, 3/2/2004]
A front-page Washington Post story reveals that, eight years after al-Qaeda bombed the USS Cole just off the coast of Yemen and killed 17 US soldiers (see October 12, 2000), “all the defendants convicted in the attack have escaped from prison or been freed by Yemeni officials.”
Two Key Suspects Keep Slipping from Yemeni Prisons - For instance, Jamal al-Badawi, a Yemeni and key organizer of the bombing, broke out of Yemeni prisons twice and then was secretly released in 2007 (see April 11, 2003-March 2004, February 3, 2006 and October 17-29, 2007). The Yemeni government jailed him again after the US threatened to cut aid to the country, but apparently he continues to freely come and go from his prison cell. US officials have demanded the right to perform random inspections to make sure he stays jailed. Another key Cole suspect, Fahad al-Quso, also escaped from a Yemeni prison and then was secretly released in 2007 (see May 2007). Yemen has refused to extradite al-Badawi and al-Quso to the US, where they have been indicted for the Cole bombing. FBI Director Robert Mueller flew to Yemen in April 2008 to personally appeal to Yemeni President Ali Abdallah Saleh to extradite the two men. However, Saleh has refused, citing a constitutional ban on extraditing its citizens. Other Cole suspects have been freed after short prison terms in Yemen, and at least two went on to commit suicide attacks in Iraq.
US Unwilling to Try Two Suspects in Its Custody - Two more key suspects, Khallad bin Attash and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, were captured by US forces and have been transferred to the US-run Guantanamo prison. Al-Nashiri is considered the mastermind of the Cole bombing, but the US made the decision not to indict either of them because pending criminal charges could have forced the CIA or the Pentagon to give up custody of the men. Al-Quso, bin Attash, and al-Nashiri all attended a key 2000 al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia where the 9/11 attacks were discussed (see January 5-8, 2000).
'The Forgotten Attack' - A week after the Cole bombing, President Bill Clinton vowed to hunt down the plotters and promised, “Justice will prevail.” But less than a month after the bombing, George W. Bush was elected president. Roger Cressey, a former counterterrorism official in the Clinton and Bush administrations who helped oversee the White House’s response to the Cole bombing, says, “During the first part of the Bush administration, no one was willing to take ownership of this. It didn’t happen on their watch. It was the forgotten attack.”
'Back to Square One' - Former FBI agent Ali Soufan, a lead investigator into the bombing, complains,
“After we worked day and night to bring justice to the victims and prove that these Qaeda operatives were responsible, we’re back to square one. Do they have laws over there or not? It’s really frustrating what’s happening.” The Post comments, “Basic questions remain about which individuals and countries played a role in the assault on the Cole.”
Possible Government Complicity - One anonymous senior Yemeni official tells the Post that al-Badawi and other al-Qaeda members have had a long relationship with Yemen’s intelligence agencies and have targeted political opponents in the past. For instance, in 2006, an al-Qaeda suicide attack in Yemen came just days before elections there, and Saleh tried to link one of the figures involved to the opposition party, helping Saleh win reelection (see September 15, 2006). Furthermore, there is evidence that figures within the Yemeni government were involved in the Cole bombing (see After October 12, 2000), and that the government also protected key bombers such as al-Nashiri in the months before and after the bombings (see April 2000 and Shortly After October 12, 2000).
Bush Unwilling to Meet with Victims' Relatives - Relatives of the soldiers killed in the bombing have attempted to meet with President Bush to press for more action, to no avail. John P. Clodtfelter Jr., whose son died on the Cole, says, “I was just flat told that he wouldn’t meet with us. Before him, President Clinton promised we’d go out and get these people, and of course we never did. I’m sorry, but it’s just like the lives of American servicemen aren’t that important.” [Washington Post, 5/4/2008]
Entity Tags: John P. Clodtfelter Jr., Ali Soufan, Ali Abdallah Saleh, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, Fahad al-Quso, Jamal al-Badawi, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Yemen, Khallad bin Attash, Roger Cressey, Robert S. Mueller III, George W. Bush
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline
Al-Qaeda’s latest alleged number three leader, Mustafa Abu al-Yazid, is apparently killed in a CIA drone strike in Pakistan’s tribal region. Media reports say nine others are killed in the village of Boya near Miran Shah, North Waziristan. A statement posted on an al-Qaeda website will later confirm al-Yazid’s death along with that of his wife, three daughters, and others. Al-Yazid, an Egyptian also often called Sheik Saiid al-Masri, was one of the founding members of al-Qaeda, and a member of the group’s Shura Council ever since then. He was al-Qaeda’s chief financial officer while living with Osama bin Laden in Sudan and then Afghanistan in the 1990s. In 2007, he emerged after years of hiding and revealed in a released video that he was in charge of al-Qaeda’s operations in Afghanistan. A US official says he was “the group’s chief operating officer, with a hand in everything from finances to operational planning. He was also the organization’s prime conduit to Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri. He was key to al-Qaeda’s command and control.” Former National Security Council counterterrorism official Roger Cressey even says: “In some respects, [his] death is more important for al-Qaeda operations than if bin Laden or al-Zawahiri was killed. Any al-Qaeda operation of any consequence would run through him.” [MSNBC, 6/1/2010]
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