Why didn't they then?
Well, that's a very short question with a very long answer. The Central
Intelligence Agency simply isn't structured to conduct operations against any
type of Islamic terrorism. The Agency still operates with more or less the
same structure as when it came into being in 1947 ...
There are essentially two types of officers in the clandestine service, whom...
you would call 'operatives'. There are those who are 'inside officers' and
those are individuals who serve with official cover, be it diplomatic or
military or something else. They represent the vast majority of officers
inside of the clandestine service.
Then you have those who are 'non official officers', which are known under the
acronym of NOCs. They tend to be, again they are an outgrowth of the Cold War,
and they tend to serve in positions that would seem appropriate if you were in
Europe_false businessmen, that type of thing. [But] none of these individuals
are likely to run into people who would be a part of the Al Qaeda network,
either in the Middle East and certainly not in Afghanistan. ...
If you are operating outside of a U.S. official facility, an embassy or a
consulate, everybody's going to know who you are right away. ... [But] I think
it is possible for Americans to work against Al Qaeda, Americans who look like
white, Anglo-Saxon Protestants. John Walker Lindh is a good example. The
institution should have tried it a long time ago. It should have tried to send
a variety of folks into Al Qaeda. People tend to forget that Al Qaeda is, by
definition, an ecumenical organization.
If you look at the individuals who have been arrested, the people we know who
were part of Al Qaeda, they don't match one particular ethnic group. They
don't come from the same family. They are not like the Iraqi or Iranian or
Syrian intelligence services or the Hezbollah, which are very closed systems.
Al Qaeda is, by definition, a very open one. Now that doesn't make it easy,
but at least it gives an intelligence service the possibility to insert people.
But you have to want to do it. You have to be cognizant and you're going to
have to try. You can't do these things quickly. In intelligence you really
can't be a quick study. It takes time, and you can't make up for lost time
They didn't have anybody working out there?
No, of course not. Not at all. The Agency in the field of counterterrorism,
and almost every other domain of intelligence, has never really thought about
that type of an offensive operation. It's very much a reactive institution.
... Recruitments are something that usually take place in a fairly civilized
setting, diplomatic cocktails, etc. The Agency has, to my knowledge, never
seriously tried in any area of counterterrorism, whether it's Al Qaeda, or the
Iranians or the Syrians or anyone else, it has never tried to develop
techniques and tactics of insertion....
The Central Intelligence Agency is no different from any other branch of the
American government, the American society as a whole. I think it is fair to
say that American society has become quite risk averse. The same society that
gives you sponge rubber on kids' playgrounds is also a society that gives you
defense and intelligence bureaucracies which are very hesitant to put people
into harm's way.
Let's talk about the assassination of Ahmed Shah Massoud. Do you want to
connect that, can you connect that to 9/11?
[At the time of his assassination Massoud was leading the Northern Alliance],
the only force left in Afghanistan that opposed the Taliban. He had repeatedly
defeated the Taliban's attempts to take the northeastern corner of Afghanistan,
in particular the
... Bin Laden's forces had been on the front line with the Taliban for at least
three or four years.
When I saw Massoud in 1999, we were having discussions on the contribution of
Osama bin Laden. He estimated that upwards of seven hundred men were coming
from bin Laden's organization, or at least were Arab-Afghans on the front line
against them. Now, that's a fairly significant number since a big battle in
Afghanistan between the Taliban and the Northern Alliance would be two thousand
men, so his contribution was not insignificant.
I think there was a fairly well organized plot and they planned that as a part
of the September 11th attack. The objective was to gut the internal opposition
to the Taliban, to eliminate it, perhaps in anticipation of an American
reaction or perhaps simply as a, what you might say a gift, to Mullah Omar, the
head of the Taliban.
The two events were thereby connected?
Oh, no doubt about it. No doubt about it. We know from the planning for the
assassination against Massoud that planning went on months in advance, the case
was the same for 9/11. So, it's very clear that Al Qaeda, that Osama bin
Laden, had the two together in his mind and were operating in conjunction.
How closely had America worked with Massoud?
Not much. There's a good deal of myth out there about that. The Agency has
given out a story before ... suggesting that there was a fairly aggressive plan
from 1988 forward. I've spoken to Afghans, I've spoken to Massoud and to
former colleagues who are still in the Agency, on what was really going on
there and very little was going on.
There was some increased contact but, for the most part, agency officers didn't
like going into Northern Afghanistan. They rarely went there. There were
certain joint programs that were beginning to happen, but for the most part the
Afghans themselves didn't take them very seriously. There was not a serious
exchange of weapons, there was no promise of serious support, there was some
technical assistance given. But for the most part, if one wanted to summarize
it, the Americans would fly on occasion into the
Panjshir Valley, say "Pretty pretty please, tell us everything you know about
Osama Bin Laden. Could you please do it in English? And could you please do it
quickly so we don't have to stay here overnight?" Then they'd fly out.
Why didn't they like going in?
It's uncomfortable; it's perhaps a little dangerous. They just didn't.
There's sensitivity in the U.S. government about having too much connection
with Massoud. The State Department had never met him inside of Afghanistan.
They did not want to send a signal that the United States was aligning itself
in any way, shape, or form with Massoud. There were contacts outside of
Afghanistan, Central Asia. Those contacts were always discreet. They never
wanted to make them public. ...
Right after 9/11, what was your understanding of what action was going on
and how that was planned?
Well, I can't really talk that much about the details of that plan, what really
came about. I think it is fair to say that the Agency operations in
Afghanistan after 9/11 took some time to develop. Certainly the Pentagon was
not terribly impressed with the paramilitary operations that the Agency was
engaging in, and that's not surprising.
The Agency paramilitary officers do not really train for serious military
coordination with the U.S. Armed Forces, which is why you see the proper
paramilitary forces of the Special Forces from the U.S. military very
quickly take a greater and greater role in coordinating targeting. They are
designed, they are trained, to do that. CIA paramilitary officers are not.
... There was an understanding in the beginning, I think on the part of the
Pentagon, that perhaps the Agency paramilitary forces would 'quote', "know the
terrain and know the people better." That wasn't true, and I think the
Pentagon discovered that the cultural knowledge, the on-the-ground knowledge,
on the part of the Agency forces was no better than their own.
You mentioned that [there was] some legal situation in the CIA and the
Pentagon, about the nature of [the Northern Alliance]. What was that?
There was a problem during the first stages of the war. Because the Northern
Alliance was not a recognized government, according to U.S. law, the Pentagon
cannot deliver military supplies directly to an unrecognized ... governing
sovereign authorities. The Agency can. So, you had a situation that was time
consuming, if not amusing, where Pentagon and Agency lawyers had to coordinate
on how to most effectively legally transfer hardware from the Pentagon to the
Agencies, so that material could be transferred to the Northern Alliance.
So, when the U.S. began to engage with forces there, was it an aggressive
engagement right away? Or how did it develop?
I think it developed fairly slowly. I'm not sure if you go back and look at
it, I think it is fairly clear the U.S. government really didn't have a precise
strategy on how it was going to proceed. If you go back and listen to the
spokesman from the Pentagon, they're talking about the campaign going on in the
winter. Concerning Kabul, [linkto chron] there's great resistance on
whether they want the Northern Alliance to take it. The supplies are coming in
very slowly. Part of that has to do with the logistical issues that I just
mentioned between the Agency and the Pentagon. But part of it unquestionably
also had to do with America's military policy and, larger than that, its
strategic policy in Afghanistan. It really didn't come into shape from the
very beginning. Our Afghan war was a work in progress. And that's
When the U.S. did engage in [partnering with] different Afghan factional
leaders, how did they decide who to work with?
In the beginning it was fairly easy, in that, the only people to work with were
the Northern Alliance, who are preeminently, primarily Tajiks, not exclusively
so, but overwhelmingly so ... As the war moved on and it became possible to
deal with others. I mean Karzai is one of them you could start working
with. Pashtuns were the majority ethnic group in Afghanistan, Uzbeks, and
others. But for the most part, in the beginning, it was strictly with the
Northern Alliance, with the Tajiks because no one really likes to say these
things, but the Pashtuns were the Taliban. So it was very difficult to work
with effective Pashtun forces because most of them were siding with the
Taliban. Once it became clear how serious the United States was, and people
inside of Afghanistan could see clearly, the Taliban were numbered and people
started changing sides. It became much easier to find Pashtuns with whom to
Hamid Karzai was he on the radar screen before 9/11.
I know the United States government was aware of him ... but I don't think the
attention to him was in any way terribly serious. I don't think, before 9/11,
that the American attention to Afghanistan was really terribly energetic. ... I
think there's a certain retrospective embellishment of what the United States
government was doing in Afghanistan before 9/11. This is certainly true with
the Central Intelligence Agency. It wants to give the impression, quite
understandably, that it was energetically engaged in trying to build up
opposition to the Taliban and trying to find ways to get to bin Laden and
trying to find ways to develop intelligence on him. But again, I think the
truth be told that until 9/11 the U.S. government was not spending much of its
time, much of its energies, on trying to be serious about countering the
Taliban and countering the inside of the country.
So jump forward, after 9/11, when the engagement began. You know we've all
heard the incredible stories about the Special Forces guys and all that. Can
you tell us in general terms, these guys usually (or always) have C.I.A.
military operatives with them, but can you give a fuller picture of what was
... Well, there were unquestionably C.I.A. paramilitary forces there. We know
that without a shadow of a fact. The Afghans would talk about it; they have no
hesitation of talking about it. Their primary mission there is two-fold. It's
to coordinate and it's to gather intelligence. Tactical military intelligence.
That is the same role, to a great extent, of the Special Forces there too.
It's natural you would have both because the Pentagon, which did not believe
that the Agency effort in the beginning was as good as it should have been, and
wanted to put more of its own to the ground. But that still wouldn't in any
way prevent cooperation and coordination between the two of them.
And why didn't they think that the Agency as could as it could have been at
The initial view was, from what I gather, that the Pentagon folks had hoped,
were encouraged, to believe that the Agency paramilitary officers would have
more on the ground knowledge. That they would be more culturally adept, or
linguistically adept, etc. I believe that the Pentagon discovered that that was
not true. That's not to say the Agency paramilitary officers weren't
competent, but they did not have that operational edge that made them better
than the Pentagon Special Forces who, by their very nature and training, knew a
hell of a lot more about tactical coordination, with American air units and
And as the war was happening very quickly, who was sort of taking the lead
on the ground, Special Forces units or the Agency guys?
It's my understanding that on the ground the military force was always the
Pentagon. When war starts it is always the Pentagon that has control over such
operations. Now the Agency had its own independent existence, and with the use
of Predator aircraft, it had also some independence. But as the war developed,
I think it's beyond a shadow of a doubt that the Pentagon was the overwhelming
player on the ground. ...
You said that in the early days engagement began more slowly, then suddenly
it sped up very quickly. What happened? Was that part of the plan? Or it
just kind of happened? It was overtaken by events?
I think that the pivotal event was that U.S. airpower began to effectively
coordinate with the Northern Alliance. Once the airpower was applied
effectively, the Taliban's lines crashed. That was a foregone conclusion. I
don't know why anyone thought the Taliban were going to hold out for any length
of time whatsoever. They were hardly a disciplined military force. ...
[Do you think there should have been] a lot more U.S. troops on the ground
[in Afghanistan] from the beginning?
Yeah, I think there was a conscious decision on the part of the Pentagon to
keep the numbers of U.S. armed forces down. I think the military brass really
didn't want to put that many American men into harm's way. ... We should have
had armed forces in Kandahar within a week after we decided to go to war. We
could have militarily handled it. It was an open plain to the south. You
could establish a beachhead there, as we did fairly simply. Helicopter, gun
ships, and aircraft should have, could have, guaranteed security. You could
have reigned the town.
The objective was to bring down the Taliban as quickly as possible, to stop
Mullah Omar from getting out, and to find as many people as possible, and kill
as many people as possible, within the Taliban and
Al Qaeda's inner circles. As we've seen, a lot of the people have been able to
flee, either into Pakistan, Kashmir, or Iran. There's no guarantee that we
could have stopped that. But if we'd had more American armed forces on the
ground. If we had not relied on Afghan surrogates as much as we did, [it did
not] prove as nearly as effective as I think the Pentagon actually thought they
might be. We could have caught more people and perhaps, who knows, have caught
the major fish_or killed him.
Balancing that was part of the concern that you want to let the Afghans do
it themselves, or appear to be doing it themselves.
No, I think the real concern with the U.S military is that they were trying to
keep the number of armed forces down and make it a Special Forces campaign.
Again, tactically one can understand why they did that. Strategically I think
it's a bad idea. I think that there should have been more forces engaged
earlier, and you would have had a better chance of catching, or killing, the
people that we wanted.
But that would have meant more U.S. casualties.
Sure. I think would have meant more U.S. casualties.
And, so, playing the devil's advocate, it worked. Al Qaeda was dismantled,
so we hear, in Afghanistan.
I think one of the reasons you need, casualties should not in any way have
deterred us. That part of the problem with bin Laden isn't really what this is
about, and what fighting bin Ladenism is about. It is reversing the perception
in the Middle East, that bin Laden underscored with great eloquence, that since
a bombing in Beirut in 1983, the United States has been running.
It's scared to fight, scared to fight in Beirut, scared to fight in Mogadishu,
and scared of fighting in Iraq. U.S. government needs to ensure that under all
circumstances, that perception is eliminated. One of the ways you do that, the
most effective way you do that, is to strengthen, to demonstrate that we will
put our armed forces in harm's way. ...
Was that perception correct?
Oh yes. I think bin Laden's analysis of U.S. resolve was correct. We ran. ...
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