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    Sandy Berger aborted a mission that could have captured Osama bin Laden


    CIA director George Tenet called off a 1998 mission to capture bin Laden

    This bit of fiction actually originated in a 2006 ABC miniseries called The Path to 9/11. It included a fabricated scene that shows Clinton administration officials declining to authorize the CIA to capture bin Laden after they sighted him at a compound in Afghanistan known as Tarnak Farms in 1998. This depiction is contradicted by the 9-11 Commission report, which was supposedly one of the sources for the miniseries.

    The report actually describes then-CIA director George Tenet as having aborted the mission weeks before the target date of June 23 and says that both intelligence and military officials had serious doubts about its probability of success:

    On May 20, Director Tenet discussed the high risk of the operation with Berger and his deputies, warning that people might be killed, including Bin Ladin. Success was to be defined as the exfiltration of Bin Ladin out of Afghanistan. A meeting of principals was scheduled for May 29 to decide whether the operation should go ahead.

    The principals did not meet. On May 29, "Jeff" informed "Mike" that he had just met with Tenet, Pavitt, and the chief of the Directorate's Near Eastern Division. The decision was made not to go ahead with the operation. "Mike" cabled the field that he had been directed to "stand down on the operation for the time being." He had been told, he wrote, that cabinet-level officials thought the risk of civilian casualties -- "collateral damage" -- was too high. They were concerned about the tribals' safety, and had worried that "the purpose and nature of the operation would be subject to unavoidable misinterpretation and misrepresentation-and probably recriminations-in the event that Bin Ladin, despite our best intentions and efforts, did not survive."


    Tenet told us that given the recommendation of his chief operations officers, he alone had decided to "turn off" the operation. He had simply informed Berger, who had not pushed back. Berger's recollection was similar. He said the plan was never presented to the White House for a decision.

    The CIA's senior management clearly did not think the plan would work. Tenet's deputy director of operations wrote to Berger a few weeks later that the CIA assessed the tribals' ability to capture Bin Ladin and deliver him to U.S. officials as low.