Sunday, January 26, 2003

Aid and comfort to the enemy

Speaking of the Rev. Moon's operations, here's a question worth pondering:

Did The Washington Times help cause 9/11?

With evidence now in hand, there's little doubt now that the Moonie-owned newspaper's flagrant irresponsibility in fact cost the United States its best shot at taking out Osama bin Laden before his infamous attack on America.

This is an excerpt from The Age of Sacred Terror, the marvelous study of fundamentalist-inspired terrorism by Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon, who both were leading counterterrorism officials in the National Security Council. It comes amid a description (pp. 260-261) on the Clinton administration's bombing of six Al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan and a poison-gas plant at al-Shifa near Khartoum, Sudan, in 1998:

For a brief moment, the operation appeared to be a qualified success. Al-Shifa was destroyed. Six terrorist camps were hit and about sixty people were killed, many of them Pakistani militants training for action in Kashmir. The Tomahawks missed bin Laden and the other senior al-Qaeda leaders by a couple of hours. This in itself was not a great surprise: no one involved has any illusions about the chances of hitting the target at exactly the right time. The White House recognized that the strike would not stop any attacks that were in the pipeline, but it might forestall the initiation of new operations as the organization's leaders went to ground.

The months that followed, however, were a nightmare. The press picked apart the administration's case for striking al-Shifa, and controversy erupted over whether Clinton was trying to "wag the dog," that is, distract the public from the Monica Lewinsky scandal.
The Washington Times -- the capital's unabashed right-wing newspaper, which consistently has the best sources in the intelligence world and the least compunction about leaking -- ran a story mentioning that bin Laden "keeps in touch with the world via computers and satellite phones." Bin Laden stopped using the satellite phone instantly. The al-Qaeda leader was not eager to court the fate of Djokar Dudayev, the Chechen insurgent leader who was killed by a Russian air defense suppression missile that homed in on its target using his satellite phone signal. When bin Laden stopped using the phone and let his aides do the calling, the United States lost its best chance to find him.

[A later Washington Post story confirmed that in fact the Times story was "a major intelligence setback."]

Way to go, Washington Times! Um, whose side did you say you were on?

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