CIA's Tracks Lead in Disastrous Circleby Robert Scheer

So, we've come full circle. The CIA, which originally helped train Osama bin Laden and many of the other terrorists who have turned against us, now will have its powers expanded to do more of the same.

Of course, the CIA did not traffic with Islamic fanatics on its own initiative but was following a policy proclaimed by President Reagan of support for "the valiant and courageous Afghan freedom fighters."

There's something absurd in the sentiment of congressional leaders, who the New York Times reported Sunday "have concluded that American spy agencies should be allowed to combat terrorism with more aggressive tactics, including the hiring of unsavory foreign agents." When did the CIA stop hiring "unsavory" agents? Like Bin Laden, the CIA recruited "freedom fighters" from throughout the Islamic world to overthrow the secular government in Kabul that was backed by the Soviets.

Bin Laden was no minor recruit to the cause but, given his wealthy father's close ties to the Saudi royal family, was received by the Afghans and Pakistanis on the highest levels and embraced by them up to the days preceding the disastrous attack on the U.S.

Bin Laden turned against the U.S. as a consequence of the Gulf War, when the Saudi leadership rejected his advice to rely on native fighters and instead turned over the country's defense to the U.S. military, which overwhelmed that underpopulated desert kingdom with the bravado of more than half a million troops. The much-proclaimed success of former President Bush's Gulf War, despite the enormous civilian "collateral damage"—a horror never acknowledged in this country—did not topple Saddam Hussein but left a bitter trail of anti-U.S. fervor. When Bin Laden returned to Afghanistan, he found many willing Muslim recruits. Like Bin Laden, those identified as the perpetrators of the recent debacle were raised in the bosom of indulgent Arab oil states that financed their education abroad, including years of flight school for at least one of the Saudi pilots who smashed into the World Trade Center. They're far more skilled than the terrorists of the past.

But it's nonsense to suggest that the CIA has been hamstrung in going after Bin Laden, when President Clinton specifically empowered it to do so three years ago. As Bob Woodward and Vernon Loeb reported in the Washington Post last week : "The CIA has been authorized since 1998 to use covert means to disrupt and preempt terrorist operations planned abroad by Saudi extremist Osama bin Laden under a directive signed by President Bill Clinton and reaffirmed by President Bush this year, according to government sources."

Bin Laden's operation has been under constant surveillance; Clinton ordered the blasting of his training camps in response to a previous terrorist attack. If Bin Laden was responsible for this most recent attack, it represents nothing less than a startling failure of U.S. intelligence.

Ironically, under our new president, U.S. policy even had tilted toward the view that we could work with the Taliban thugs who have harbored Bin Laden, as evidenced last May when U.S. drug enforcement officials visited the country and celebrated that regime's success in limiting opium production. "Taliban's Ban on Poppy a Success, U.S. Aides Say" was the New York Times headline, with glowing endorsements from U.S. officials. The story reported, "The sudden turnaround by the Taliban, a move that left international drug experts stunned ... opens the way for American aid to the Afghan farmers who have stopped planting poppies. On [May 17], Secretary of State Colin L. Powell announced a $43-million grant to Afghanistan in additional emergency aid to cope with the effects of a prolonged drought. The United States has become the biggest donor to help Afghanistan in the drought." Powell issued a statement that the U.S. would "continue to look for ways to provide more assistance to the Afghans."

This is typical of the mixed signals we've been sending. Call it what you will, even humanitarian aid, and funnel it through the United Nations, but the effect is the same: to send to the Taliban a signal that its support of Bin Laden has been somehow acceptable.

From the beginning, over the last 20 years, our entire Afghan policy has provided a reminder of the dangers of "blowback," a phrase used to describe the turning of the machinations of U.S. intelligence agencies against our own nation. Yet, in the desperation of the moment, Congress now wants to empower the CIA to do more of the same.


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