At the March 23, 2004, hearings of the September 11 Commission, the Commission's executive director, Dr. Philip Zelikow, presented a staff statement which included the following:
The Desert Camp, February 1999. During the winter of 1998-99, intelligence reported that Bin Ladin frequently visited a camp in the desert, adjacent to a larger hunting camp in Helmand Province of Afghanistan, used by visitors from a Gulf state. Public sources have stated that these visitors were from the United Arab Emirates. At the beginning of February, Bin Ladin was reportedly located there, and apparently remained for more than a week. This was not in an urban area, so the risk of collateral damage was minimal. Intelligence provided a detailed description of the camps. National technical intelligence confirmed the description of the larger camp, and showed the nearby presence of an official aircraft of the UAE. The CIA received reports that Bin Ladin regularly went from his adjacent camp to the larger camp where he visited with Emiratis. The location of this larger camp was confirmed by February 9, but the location of Bin Ladin's quarters could not be pinned down so precisely.The indispensible Middle East Media Research Institute reported in a two-part series in 2003 on the Zayed International Centre for Coordination and Follow-up, a UAE think tank whose patron was the second son of the President of the UAE, and which was a source of vile anti-American, pro-Hitler, anti-Jewish propaganda. The introduction to the MEMRI report explains that UAE officials privately acknowledged that the government-funded Zayed Center was a problem, but reining it in was difficult. The think tank was later closed.
Preparations were made for a possible strike, against the larger camp, perhaps to target Bin Ladin during one of his visits. No strike was launched.
According to CIA officials, policymakers were concerned about the danger that a strike might kill an Emirati prince or other senior officials who might be with Bin Ladin or close by. The lead CIA official in the field felt the intelligence reporting in this case was very reliable. The UBL unit chief at the time agrees. The field official believes today that this was a lost opportunity to kill Bin Ladin before 9/11.
Clarke told us the strike was called off because the intelligence was dubious, and it seemed to him as if the CIA was presenting an option to attack America's best counterterrorism ally in the Gulf. Documentary evidence at the time shows that on February 10th Clarke detailed to Deputy National Security Advisor Donald Kerrick the intelligence placing UBL in the camp, informed him that DOD might be in a position to fire the next morning, and added that General Shelton was looking at other options that might be ready the following week. Clarke had just returned from a visit to the UAE, working on counterterrorism cooperation and following up on a May 1998 UAE agreement to buy F-16 aircraft from the United States.
On February 10th, Clarke reported that a top UAE official had vehemently denied that high-level UAE officials were in Afghanistan. Evidence subsequently confirmed that high-level UAE officials had been there.
Although many of the leaders of the UAE dictatorship may indeed support the U.S. in the war on terror, it seems clear that, at the least, there is a notable portion of the UAE, including some powerful and/or influential people, who do not. As James Lileks points out (in an article which Eugene linked to earlier today), the risks of a bin Laden sympathizer from the UAE supplying critical US port information to terrorists seems unacceptably high.
One of the talking points raised by defenders of the Bush decision on Dubai Ports has been to point out that many ports in the Los Angeles area are run by the Chinese. During the 2d Clinton term, Congress blocked Administration efforts to give the former Long Beach Naval Station to COSCO (Chinese Ocean Shipping Company), a front for the Chinese military. The COSCO issue garned almost no attention in the traditional media, but public opposition grew overwhelming as a result of New Media attention to the issue.
But, obviously, the temporary victory at Long Beach did not prevent the Chinese dictatorship from taking control of many California ports.
Congressional opposition to the Dubai Ports deal currently appears to far exceed the margin necessary to over-ride a presidential veto. Congress could improve American national security, and also scuttle claims that opposition to Dubai Ports is based on prejudice against Arabs or Muslims, by using the Dubai Ports prevention bill to also provide for the termination of Chinese control of American ports. As a general rule, it would make sense to prohibit operation of any U.S. port, or other critical national infrastructure, by a company which is not from a democratic nation or from a nation with a formal alliance requiring the nation to defend the U.S. if the U.S. is attacked.
More narrowly, Congress could forbid U.S. port operation by companies (including government-controlled companies) of any nation which: 1. Has nuclear missiles aimed at the United States, or 2. Has provided nuclear technology to any nation on the U.S. State Department list of state sponsors of terrorism.