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Commission Sensitive

Interview of

President William J. Clinton

Thursday, April 8,2004

I Pre-1998

The Threat
• How big an issue was terrorism at the start of your administration?
o Kansi attacks at CIA (Jan. 25, 1993)
o WTC bombing (Feb. 26, 1993) and foiled NYC Landmarks plot—who did you
think was responsible? Was al Qaeda already on your scope?
o Oklahoma City bombing (April 19, 1995)
o Tokyo subway gas attack (March 20,1995)

• Do you recall the first time you heard the name Usama bin Ladin being used?
—Were you aware of his August 1996 fatwa against U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia?

• Do you recall the first time you heard the term al Qaeda being used?

» When did you first start getting briefed on UBL and his organization by the CIA? What were
you being told?

• How did this change over time (before 1998)? At what point did you recognize that Bin
Ladin was more than just a terrorist financier? At what point did you recognize that al Qaeda
was an international terror network?

• Were you aware of the attempt to render Khalid Sheikh Mohammed from Qatar in 1996?
Please tell us what you know of this incident.

• What difference might it have made to your being informed about the threat that you did not
meet personally with the DCI for your daily briefing (as does President Bush)?

• When did you first become concerned about the WMD terrorist threat?—and when was this
linked in your mind with al Qaeda and Bin Ladin?

• How worried were you personally about this threat?

• What did you do to actively address this threat?

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Organizing the USG for Counterterrorism

PDD-35: On March 2, 1995, you signed PDD-35, which listed terrorism as a priority issue.

PDD-39: On June 21, 1995, you signed PDD-39, by which terrorism was regarded "as a potential
threat to national security as well as a criminal act."

• What did you mean by a "threat to national security"?

• Did this redefine terrorism as a threat that should be handled differently than it had been
before, i.e. by some means other than law enforcement? If not, why not?

" PDD-39 also makes preventing terrorist groups from acquiring WMD our highest priority.
Were you envisioning a WMD attack on the homeland?

• PDD-39 also directs that the DC1 and Director of the FBI shall personally ensure that their
agencies achieve maximum cooperation regarding terrorism, and that they are to share
terrorist-related intelligence and law-enforcement information expeditiously and efficiently.
—To what extent were you aware that cooperation and information sharing between the CIA
and FBI was a problem at this point?
—What mechanisms were put in place to ensure that progress would be made on CIA-FBI
cooperation and intelligence sharing?
—How successfully was PDD-39 in coordinating CIA-FBI CT efforts?

PDD-62andPDD-63: On May 22, 1998, you signed PDD-62 (on coordination) and PDD-62 (on
critical infrastructure protection).
• PDD-62 was designed to integrate U.S. CT efforts. It created a national CT coordinator. Did
it achieve its objectives?

Homeland defenses
• Did you personally believe the homeland was threatened by international terrorism? -By al
Qaeda/UBL in particular? If so, at what point?

• Do you recall the first time you were briefed on the domestic threat from UBL/al Qaeda? By
whom? What did they say?

• Were you ever briefed by the FBI on the threat of international terrorism in America, and/or
UBL/al Qaeda in particular? If not, why not?

• What did you actively do to address the domestic terrorist threat?

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Khobar Towers (June 1996)

• Was it Iran?

• Did you suspect al Qaeda/UBL involvement in the attack?

• Was the U.S. response adequate?

—What message was sent to Bin Ladin by the lack of a visible military response?

In February 2002, you gave a speech to the Long Island Association in which you said:
there was a period "when the Sudanese wanted America to start dealing with them again.
They released him [UBLJ. At the time, 1996, he had committed no crime against America so
I did not bring him here because we had no basis on which to hold him, though we knew he
wanted to commit crimes against America. So I pleaded with the Saudis to take him 'cause
they could have. But they thought it was a hot potato and they didn 't and that's how he
wound up in Afghanistan"

• Did the Sudanese ever make an offer to the USG to expel Bin Ladin?

• How and when did you approach the Saudis on this? How did you try to induce them to take
Bin Ladin?

• You acknowledged in your 2002 speech that while we did not have an indictment yet we
knew Bin Ladin wanted to kill Americans. Wasn't it irresponsible to let Bin Ladin go?
—Did you consider preemptive action during the spring of 1996 when Bin Ladin was
rumored to be leaving Sudan?

In January 2002, London's Sunday Times wrote: "Clinton is reported to have admitted how
things went wrong in Sudan at a private dinner at a Manhattan restaurant shortly after 9/11 last
year. According to a witness, Clinton told a dinner companion that the decision to let bin Ladin
go was probably 'the biggest mistake of my presidency'."

• Did you make such a statement? If not, do you agree that this was the biggest mistake of
your presidency?

By Summer 1998
• Were you aware of Bin Ladin's February 1998 fatwa calling for any Muslim to kill any
American, military or civilian, anywhere in the world?

• If so, did you consider this a declaration of war upon the U.S.? Why didn't the U.S. respond

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• Were you briefed on a CIA plan to use Afghan tribals to capture and render Bin Ladin in
spring 1998? If so, do you know why was it cancelled?

• Were you aware of the sealed indictment of Bin Ladin in June 1998? Did this make a
difference to how you wanted to deal with the Bin Ladin problem?

" How big a network did you think Bin Ladin had by summer 1998?

• Where was the USG in its overall counterterrorism strategy by the summer of 1998?

Views on Dick Clarke

• How much interaction did you personally have with Dick Clarke? Do you recall any specific
meetings when he was present?

• How would you describe Clarke's role?

• Can you speak to his effectiveness within the interagency?

• Were you aware of the any of the principals or senior NSC staff having problems with

II East Africa Embassy Bombings and Aftermath

Operation Infinite Reach

• Were you surprised by the bombings? Did you personally suspect al Qaeda/Bin Ladin's
involvement (even without input from your intelligence advisers)?

• Please walk us through your decision-making process for responding to the embassy
bombings with Operation Infinite Reach.

—How quickly did you decide to do military strikes?

—How did you choose your targets?

o Did the military have targets to offer?
o How and when did you make the final decision on striking al-Shifa?
o Why did you ultimately decide not to strike the tannery in Sudan?
o Were there any other targets that were under serious consideration?

—Were there any legal issues involved in the response?

—What were the objectives of Operation Infinite Reach?

—Did you consult your political advisers as to political fall-out?

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Did the political climate have any affect on your decision-making?

—Did you discuss potential "wag the dog" allegations, and with whom?

Did you achieve the objectives of Operation Infinite Reach?

What do you think was the effect of the al-Shifa fall-out? Were there lasting consequences?

After the August 1998 strikes, you called President Sharif of Pakistan: what was your
message about the strikes, and what was Sharif s reaction?

Operation Infinite Resolve and follow-on strike options

• Did you initiate the planning order issued on August 20 for the preparation of follow-on

• What were the objectives of this follow-on military planning? Were they considered urgent?

• Were you inclined to launch further strikes sooner rather than later (as Clarke informed other
senior officials a few days after the missile strikes)?

• Do you recall being briefed by your military advisers on available targets for follow-on
o How were these presented to you by Secretary of Defense Cohen?
o How were these presented to you by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs? (Zinni?)

• Why was Operation Infinite Resolve never carried out? Why was there no urgency about
reducing the threat militarily?

• Were you aware of, or ever briefed on, Clarke's "Plan Delenda"?

• If individual targets didn't have much value, why not go ahead with a campaign of regular,
small strikes, occurring from time to time whenever target information was ripe?
—Would it have shut down the pipeline?

• What's the end state to which you wanted to reduce UBL and al Qaeda?

Ill Covert Action

Some questions in this section are classified. Unclassified questions are listed below.

• Both Sandy Berger and Dick Clarke have told the Commission that you wanted Bin Ladin
dead. Is this accurate?

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~ Hw did you convey this intent to Clarke and/or Berger? —Did you ever convey this intent
directly to DCI Tenet?

Did DCI Tenet, or anyone else, ever complain to you that covert action authorities were
insufficient for going after bin Ladin?

Did DCI Tenet, or anyone else, ever explain to you that the CIA did not have the authority to
directly kill Bin Ladin?

Did DCI Tenet, or anyone else, ever explain to you that the CIA did not have the capability
to capture Bin Ladin? —to kill Bin Ladin?

Why did your counterterrorism efforts in Afghanistan depend almost entirely on the efforts
of proxy forces rather than U.S. personnel?
—Did the DCI ever discuss with you the problems involved in relying on proxies?
—Did you and the DCI ever discuss the possibility of putting CIA personnel on the ground in
—Did the DCI ever discuss with you his concerns about the limited capabilities of the CIA's
assets in Afghanistan to act against Bin Ladin?

IV December 1998-May 1999, SOF and TLAM Opportunities against Bin Ladin

• Beginning in December 1998, the military began to draw up plans for using Special
Operations Forces and strike aircraft against al Qaeda leaders and infrastructure in
Afghanistan. Did you initiate these planning orders?

• Were these plans, and/or their updates, briefed to you? When and by whom? Were these
plans briefed to you as viable military options?

• Why were these plans never executed?

• Was it ever your impression that the military was unwilling to tackle the Bin Ladin and al
Qaeda problem?

• Were you involved in the decision-making surrounding any of the occasions when Bin Ladin
may have been sighted in Afghanistan and a decision had to be made whether to launch a
missile strike? Please walk us through any such episodes that you recall.
o Why didn't we take the shots? -collateral damage? Weak intelligence?
o Were these missed opportunities?

• Was using cruise missiles really the most effective way to solve the Bin Ladin problem?

• Did your military advisers ever discuss with you the problem of actionable intelligence?

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V The Millennium Threat

• How concerned were you about possible terrorist attacks surrounding the Millennium
celebrations, given the threat briefings you were getting?

• How often did you meet with your terrorism and intelligence advisers during this period?
Approximately how many briefings do you think you had on the threat during December
1999? Were you getting briefed by the FBI?

• In your opinion, how did the USG perform during this high threat period?
--The CIA?
--The FBI?

• What lessons did you draw regarding al Qaeda's intent from this experience?
—How about the possibility of domestic attacks?
—Was this a watershed in your thinking about the terrorist threat, both at home and abroad?

• If so, how did counterterrorism strategy change after the Millennium?

• To what extent was there increased focus on the possibility of a domestic terrorist threat?
—How were you kept up to speed on this new focus?
—Did you get FBI briefings? If not, why not?
—Did you ever discuss reform of the FBI? Or whether it was capable of carrying out its
domestic counterterrorism role?

• Do you recall a November 1999 memo from NSC staffer Lisa Gordon-Hagerty memo to you
about al Qaeda and nuclear weapons?
—If so, what was your reaction? How did you act on it?

VI Diplomatic Efforts: 1998-2000

• What was our diplomatic approach to al Qaeda after 1998? What were the main obstacles for
our diplomacy?

• In September 1998, Crown Prince Abullah visited Washington and briefed you (and the VP)
on developments regarding diplomatic efforts with the Taliban. Please discuss this briefing.
—How much faith did you put in Saudi efforts to put pressure on the Taliban?

• How about UAE efforts to put pressure on the Taliban?

• From September 1998 through to the summer of 1999, you had a number of meetings and
communications with Pakistan's President Sharif. What was your message to
Sharif regarding Bin Ladin and the Taliban? How did he respond?
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—How much faith did you have in Pakistani efforts to help with the Bin Ladin problem, given
Islamabad's Afghan agenda?
—How tough did you think you could be with Sharif without risking negative consequences
or complicating other concerns, such as nuclear proliferation?

Some have said that the USG's Pakistan policy was "stick heavy" and that we could not
provide many carrots to Islamabad because of congressional sanctions. Did you ever
recommend going to Congress and seeking a waiver or removal of the sanctions? If not, why

During a July 1999 meeting with Sharif in Washington, you told him that "our patience is
wearing thin" on Bin Ladin. What did you threaten if Pakistan still did not produce results?

What was your reaction to Musharraf s takeover in October 1999?

What accounts for all the new diplomatic activity with Pakistan during the early part of
2000? Was Musharraf a better interlocutor on CT than Sharif?
—In your opinion, why didn't the meeting produce results?

What new carrots and sticks were being offered to Pakistan? Without new
incentives/disincentives, how likely were you to get increased cooperation from Pakistan?

Your stopover in Pakistan on March 25, 2000: What was covered in your discussion
—How high a priority was UBL/al Qaeda/the Taliban on the trip agenda?
—What was discussed in your "one-on-one" with Musharraf?
—Was it a mistake to go to Pakistan?

VII Military Options

• Why did you never use force after August 1998 on al Qaeda in Afghanistan?
—How hard did you press the military to come up with serious, viable options?
—Was this a problem of military reluctance to support U.S. counterterrorism goals? Or a
failure of leadership on the part of the commander-in-chief and the principals?

• Was there discussion on hitting Taliban targets as well as al Qaeda targets? Why was this
option not pursued?

• Open sources have recounted a discussion you had with General Shelton pressing him on
using "black ninja" in Afghanistan.
—Is this discussion accurate?
-If so, when did it occur? (April/May 2000?)
—Who else was present?
—Did you ask for planning for such an action?
—What happened?
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Did past experiences with use of force—such as Operation Desert Fox, "Black Hawk Down",
the Kosovo campaign, and the blow-back from the al-Shifa strike—condition future possible
use of force against al Qaeda?
—To what extent did worries about the U.S. being labeled as "bomb-happy" (after the
Kosovo campaign, Operation Desert Fox) cause you to be more reserved about use offeree
in Afghanistan?
—To what extent do you think the military was more averse to using force after experiences
in Somalia?

A number of senior officials, including Secretary Cohen and former National Security
Adviser Berger, have told us that the U.S. and the international community were not ready
for an invasion of Afghanistan before 9/11.
—Do you agree? Could the U.S. have put boots on the ground in Afghanistan before 9-11?
—Would it have been possible to shape public, Congressional and international opinion—as
you had done for U.S. military campaigns in Haiti and the Balkans—so as to prepare the
ground for an invasion of Afghanistan?

As early as 1996 you said that terrorism was the challenge of our generation.
—If you truly believed in the severity of the terrorist threat, wasn't it your responsibility to
shape public opinion so as to support military action? Isn't this what leadership is all about?
—Did you push hard enough here, or were you the prisoner of domestic constraints?

VIII The Predator

• Do you recall a March 2000 memo updating you on CT efforts on which you wrote in the
margin, "We have to do better"? —What did you have in mind?

• When were you first briefed on using the Predator over Afghanistan?

• What capability did you think it provided?

• Did you ever consider other ways to attack UBL once you'd spotted him, such as helicopter
gunships rather than TL AMs?

• Were you aware of the CIA's reluctance to redeploy the reconnaissance Predator in 2001 ?

IX USS Attack on the U.S.S. Cole, October 2000

• Did you ever doubt that al-Qaida was responsible for the attack on the Cole?
—Were there any other plausible candidates?

• What intelligence were you given about who was behind the Cole bombing before you left
office—by Berger? DCI Tenet? The FBI?
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—How would you characterize the evidence that you were given: "tentative"? "preliminary"?
—Did you prod the FBI or CIA to give you a more definitive response? If not, why not?

Why didn't you respond to the attack?

—What were you waiting for?
—Did you consider the affect that your non-response would have on the Taliban and al
Qaeda, given that you had already told the Taliban the U.S. would hold the regime
responsible for further al Qaeda attacks?

Did the drawn-out election results have an affect on your decision as to whether or how to
respond to the Cole?
—Were you concerned about saddling the new administration with a fight in Afghanistan?

Impact of al-Aqsa intifada on Cole response?

X Transition

• Did you give president-elect Bush, or any other members of the new administration, any
advice about the national security challenges they would face?
—Did you mention al Qaeda or Bin Ladin?
—Did you mention the Cole? Predator? The Northern Alliance?

• Was it your sense that President-elect Bush and his national security team took the al Qaeda
threat seriously?

XI Others Issues

• Did you ever establish a link between Iraq and al Qaeda? How much intelligence did you see
on this? What was your assessment?

• Your CT policy relied to a large extent on disruptions and renditions to deal with the
international terrorist threat. How did you expect this piecemeal approach to stop the flow of
thousands of jihadis through terrorist training camps?

• Was the FBI up to the job of being lead agency on terrorism?

—If not, did you try to fix it?
—Did you ever make a sustained push to compel the FBI to share information more formally
with the CIA and the White House?

» What did you do to ensure the CT fight was properly funded?

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Overall Assessment
• What worked well? What could we have done better?

• What was your CT strategy trying to do to al-Qaida? What was the strategic goal?
—Were we on a course likely to lead to success?

• With the benefit of hindsight, what more should you have done?

We are considering a range of topics for making recommendations to fight the war on terrorism.
We are interested in hearing your suggestions on these topics including:
• defining our national strategy;
• using the instruments of policy more effectively;
• organizing our government; and
• living in a world of risk.

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