The Hunt for Bin Laden Zeroes Out

by Alexander Cockburn And Jeffrey St. Clair


The world’s most wanted man, now magnified in the US press to mythic reach and wealth, has been the target of some hilariously inept US missions, Patrick Cockburn reports from Moscow.

“Russians are astonished by the US intelligence failure that allowed as many as 50 people to plot and train for their attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon for 18 months. But the efforts of the US consulate in Peshawar, in the northwest province of Pakistan on the Afghan border, to trace and capture Osama bin Laden suggest an operation of extraordinary amateurism. In a bid to find him, the consulate last year distributed free matchboxes with a picture of Mr. bin Laden on the front and a message in Urdu offering $500,000 for information leading to his capture. It also promised confidentiality and asylum in the US for anybody who supplied the information.

“The chances of the matchbox ploy producing results was never high and may have been further reduced by a serious misprint: the consulate had intended to offer potential informants $5mbut the printer accidentally omitted a zero, reducing the reward by a factor of ten.

“At the same time as the matchboxes were distributed, shopkeepers in Peshawar were surprised to discover that hundreds of 100-rupee notes written in the Pashto and Dari languages were also in circulation, overprinted with a message offering a reward for bin Laden. The US consulate denies having distributed the notes.”

Is “Surprise” Ever Truly Surprising? There’s now plenty of evidence, some of it initially surfaced by CounterPunch, that before the September 11 attacks, US intelligence and security services knew something was in the offing.

A quick look at some other notorious surprises confirms the fact that almost always there’s some foreknowledge on the part of the target nation, but the information is shelved for a variety of reasons, some of them malign.

Take the most famous surprise in American history: Pearl Harbor. Even leaving possible foreknowledge by President Roosevelt aside, it is beyond dispute now that US Naval Intelligence was well aware of Japanese plans for an attack. For example, the US ambassador in Tokyo, Joseph Grew, was told by a Peruvian diplomat that an attack was imminent.

The so-called “winds intercept” refers to a radio message from the Japanese carrier force in the North Pacific, indicating that Japan was about to implement its attack plan. Again, there is no question that US Naval Intelligence intercepted this message. Added to other testimony we have CounterPunch’s own direct knowledge of a woman who, in World War Two, supervised the US Navy’s most secure and secret files in a Pentagon basement. Among super-sensitive documents in one safe was a copy of the Winds intercept, which she read. In the closing months of the war the Winds intercept disappeared from the file.

Another supposed surprise to America was China’s sudden, devastating intervention in the Korean War. In fact a top level Chinese Communist, Chou En Lai, summoned the Indian ambassador before the attack and gave clear warning of what the Chinese would do if America continued its drive north. Frantic warnings were sent to General Douglas McArthur, directing UN forces in Korea. The warnings were disregarded.

Nor was the Tet offensive, so devastating to US morale in the Vietnam war, a surprise to US intelligence officers, who sent both President Lyndon Johnson and General Westmoreland briefings on the impending attacks, only to be told to rewrite the reports, which contradicted rosy assumptions of the weakness of the Vietnamese NVA and NLF.

A CIA analyst called Fred Fear accurately predicted Yom Kippur war, Egyptian leader Anwar Sadat’s stunning attack on Israeli forces across the Suez Canal in 1973. Months earlier Fear noted heavy purchases of bridging equipment by the Egyptians. From the orders, he deduced the size of the Egyptian force and the number and whereabouts of the bridges. He also drew a map. His report was filed and forgotten. When the attack came on October 6, 1973, his superiors pulled his report out of the files, tore out his map and sent it to the White House, relabeled as “current intelligence”.

The arrival of the Muslim suicide truck driver who blew up the Marine barracks outside Beirut in 1983, killing over 200 was preceded by plenty of warnings. And as for Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990, as the world later learned, US envoy April Glaspie had earlier told Saddam that possible border adjustments between Iraq and Kuwait were not a concern of the United States. CP

Alexander Cockburn’s Guillotined! and A Colossal Wreck are available from CounterPunch. Jeffrey St. Clair is editor of CounterPunch. His new book is Killing Trayvons: an Anthology of American Violence (with JoAnn Wypijewski and Kevin Alexander Gray). He can be reached at: sitka@comcast.net.

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