The Plan - 1999-2001
In the spring of 1999, CIA did a baseline review of the operational strategy against Bin Ladin and a new strategic plan. The Counterterrorist Center produced a new comprehensive operational plan of attack against the Bin Ladin and al-Qa'ida target inside and outside Afghanistan. The Center previewed this new strategy to senior CIA management at the end of July 1999. By mid-September, it had been briefed to CIA operational level personnel and to NSA and FBI. CIA then began to put in place the elements of this operational strategy that structured the Agency's counterterrorist activity for the intervening years leading up to the events of September 11.
This strategy took on the name, The Plan. It evolved in conjunction with increased covert action authorities and built on what the Counterterrorist Center was recognized as doing well -- collection, quick reaction to operational opportunities, renditions and disruptions, and analysis. The Plan emphasized in its multifaceted program the priority of capturing and rendering to justice Bin Ladin and his principal lieutenants.
This central undertaking, which involved a range of operational initiatives, recognized that the first priority was to acquire intelligence about Bin Ladin by penetrating his organization. Without this effort, the United States could not mount a successful covert action program to stop him or his operations. The Plan thus included a strong and focused foreign intelligence collection program. We needed to be able to gather the intelligence that would let us track and act against Bin Ladin and his associates in terrorist sanctuaries including Sudan, Lebanon, Yemen, and most importantly Afghanistan. The Plan comprised an aggressive human source collection effort -- both unilateral and joint with liaison partners -- and a vigorous development of technical collection within Afghanistan.
To execute The Plan, the Counterterrorist Center developed a program to select and train officers and put them where the terrorists are located. The Center launched a nationwide officers recruitment program using the CIA's Career Training Program resources to identify, vet, and hire qualified personnel for counterterrorist assignments in hostile environments. We sought native fluency in Arabic and other terrorist-associated languages, as well as police, military experience and appropriate ethnic background. In addition, the Center established an eight-week advanced Counterterrorist Operations Course to teach CIA's hard won lessons learned and counterterrorism operational methodology.
The cost of the post-Cold War "peace dividend" was that during the 1990s our intelligence community funding declined in real terms, reducing our buying power by tens of billions of dollars over the decade. The loss of manpower was devastating, particularly in two of the most manpower intensive activities: all-source analysis and human source collection. By the mid-1990s, recruitment of new CIA analysts and case officers had come to a virtual halt. NSA was hiring no new technologists during the greatest information technology change in memory. CIA's budget declined 18 percent in real terms during the decade of the 1990s, and the Agency suffered a loss of 16 percent of personnel (this is slightly less of a cut than the 1 in 4 for the Intelligence Community as a whole).
Yet in the midst of that stark resource picture, CIA's funding level for counterterrorism just prior to 9/11 was more than 50 percent above our FY 1997 level. In the FY 2002 CIA budget request submitted prior to 9/11, counterterrorism activities constituted almost 10 percent of the budget request. In CIA alone, the equivalent of 700 officers were working counterterrorism in August 2001 at both headquarters and in the field. That number does not include the people who were working to penetrate either technically or through human sources a multitude of threat targets from which CIA could derive intelligence on terrorists. Nor does it include friendly liaison services and coalition partners.
As part of their joint inquiry into the performance of intelligence agencies with respect to the terrorist attacks of 9/11, the committees explored the use ofcovert action by the Clinton and Bush administrations against Usama bin Ladin and al-Qa'ida both before and after the attacks. Although the heavily redacted report was generally critical of the size and aggressiveness of the Intelligence Community's operational activities against al-Qa'ida before 9/11, covert action was not singled out for particular criticism, at least in the part of the joint report that was made public. Nor did the committees question in the public part of their report the adequacy of the notice provided them during this period. While suggesting that most had been "gang of eight" notifications, there had not, apparently, been an absence of notice.
In the report of the 9/11 Commission, released 17 months after the congressional report, the efforts of the Agency to capture or kill bin Ladin prior to and after the 9/11 attacks - redacted in the congressional report - were describedin detail. While the commission's narrative confirms that appropriate findings and memorandums of notification were prepared to authorize the activities being contemplated at the time, there is no indication in its report that either intelligence committee ever intervened to raise questions about theobjectives of the operations or how they would be carried out.
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