TIMELINE: The Hunt For Osama Bin Laden

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1993

FEBRUARY 26, 1993: World Trade Center bombing.


1995

FEBRUARY 7, 1995: Mastermind of World Trade Center bombing, Ramzi Yousef, is captured. He is later linked to Osama Bin Laden. [MSNBC, 6/22/05; PBS]

JUNE 1995: Clinton issues first ever Presidential Decision Directive labeling terrorism “a national security issue.” All prior administrations dealt with terrorism simply as a law enforcement matter. [Presidential Decision Directive, 6/21/95]


1996

EARLY 1996: The CIA’s Counter Terrorism Center creates a special unit focusing specifically on bin Laden.

In early 1996, the CIA set up a special bin Laden unit, largely because of evidence linking him to the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center. At the time, he was living in Sudan, but he was expelled from that country in May 1996 after the CIA failed to persuade the Saudis to accept a Sudanese offer to turn him over.

[Washington Post, 10/3/01]

AUGUST 1996: A secret grand jury investigation begins against Osama bin Laden in New York. [PBS]


1997

EARLY 1997: U.S. Intelligence first identifies al Qaeda as a worldwide terrorist organization. [9/11 Commission Testimony, 3/24/04]


1998

MAY 1998: Clinton appoints “counter-terrorism czar” Richard Clarke. After bin Laden’s fatwa, Clinton appoints Richard Clarke to head a cross-agency Counter-terrorism Security Group, and gives him a seat at the Cabinet-level Principals Committee. [The 9/11 Commission Report. 7/22/04]

JUNE 8 1998: Grand Jury indicts Bin Laden. He’s charged with “conspiracy to attack defense utilities of the United States.” [PBS]

AUGUST 12, 1998: Two simultaneous explosions at US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

[PBS]

AUGUST 20 1998: Clinton orders missile attack in Sudan, narrowly misses Bin Laden.

“The most dramatic attempt to kill bin Laden occurred in August 1998, when Clinton ordered a Tomahawk cruise missile attack on bin Laden’s suspected training camps in Afghanistan in response to the bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania… Clinton approved the cruise missile attack recommended by his advisers, and on Aug. 20, 1998, 66 cruise missiles rained down on the training camps. An additional 13 missiles were fired at a pharmaceutical plant in Sudan that the Clinton administration believed was a chemical weapons factory associated with bin Laden.”

[Washington Post, 10/3/01]

LATE 1998: CIA beings secret effort with Pakistani intelligence to capture or kill Bin Laden in Afghanistan. The CIA trained and equipped 60 comandos from the Pakistani intelligence agency. [Washington Post, 10/3/01]

LATE 1998: Clinton authorizes covert action against Bin Laden and al Qaeda.

In addition to a secret “finding” to authorize covert action, which has been reported before, Clinton signed three highly classified Memoranda of Notification expanding the available tools. In succession, the president authorized killing instead of capturing bin Laden, then added several of al Qaeda’s senior lieutenants, and finally approved the shooting down of private civilian aircraft on which they flew.

…The Clinton administration ordered the Navy to maintain two Los Angeles-class attack submarines on permanent station in the nearest available waters, enabling the U.S. military to place Tomahawk cruise missiles on any target in Afghanistan within about six hours of receiving the order.

[Washington Post, 12/19/01]


1999

OCTOBER 12, 1999: Joint effort with Pakistani government to capture Bin Laden aborted with the overthrow of then-Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. [Washington Post, 10/3/01]


2000

2000: Sandy Berger tells his successor Condoleezza Rice “she’d be spending more time on terrorism and al Qaeda than any other issue.” [CNN, 5/14/04]

OCTOBER 12, 2000: U.S.S. Cole bombed.


2001

JANUARY 20, 2001: George W. Bush inaugurated.

JANUARY 29, 2001: Former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neil reports that 9 days after Bush was inaugurated “going after Saddam Huissein” was “Topic A.”

[CBS News, 1/11/04]

JANUARY 2001: Condoleezza Rice demotes terrorism czar Richard Clarke out of Cabinet access. [The 9/11 Commission Report. 7/22/04]

JANUARY 2001: During Bush’s first week in office, Richard Clarke requests cabinet level meeting on al Qaeda and Bin Laden. His request was denied.

During Bush’s first week in office, Clarke asked urgently for a Cabinet-level meeting on al Qaeda. He did not get it — or permission to brief the president directly on the threat — for nearly eight months.

[Washington Post, 3/22/04]

EARLY 2001: CIA and FBI finally certify that al Qaeda was responsible for Cole Bombings. [Bill Clinton, Fox News, 9/22/06]

APRIL 2001: Bush administration finally has deputy-level cabinet meeting on al Qeada.

When deputies to the Cabinet officials took up the subject in April, Clarke writes, the meeting “did not go well.”

Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz, Clarke wrote, scowled and asked, “why we are beginning by talking about this one man, bin Laden.” When Clarke told him no foe but al Qaeda “poses an immediate and serious threat to the United States,” Wolfowitz is said to have replied that Iraqi terrorism posed “at least as much” of a danger. FBI and CIA representatives backed Clarke in saying they had no such evidence.

[Washington Post, 3/22/04]

MAY 29 2001: Four Bin Laden followers found guilty of murder at trial.

Four followers of Osama bin Laden are found guilty of charges stemming from the 1998 US embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania. Mohamed Rashed Daoud Al-Owhali, Khalfan Khamis Mohamed, Mohammed Saddiq Odeh, and Wadih El Hage are convicted of charges including murder, conspiracy and perjury after a nine-week federal trial during which prosecutors called over 90 witnesses, including al Qaeda informants and survivors of the bombings. Owhali and Mohamed face the death penalty at their sentencing, while Odeh and El Hage face life in prison.

[PBS]

JUNE 2001: Bush give speech to NATO allies on top five defense issues, and the “only reference to extremists was in Macedonia.” [Washington Post, 4/1/04]

AUGUST 6, 2001: Bush receives Presidential Daiy Brief entitled “Bin Laden Determined to Strike U.S.”

According to the 9/11 Commission report:

“[President Bush] did not recall discussing the August 6 report with the Attorney General or whether Rice had done so…We have found no indication of any further discussion before September 11 among the President and his top advisers of the possibility of a threat of an al Qaeda attack in the United States.”

[9/11 Commission Report, p. 260-2]

SEPTEMBER 11 2001: Rice has speech scheduled on “the threats and problems of today and the day after.”

On Sept. 11, 2001, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice was scheduled to outline a Bush administration policy that would address “the threats and problems of today and the day after, not the world of yesterday” — but the focus was largely on missile defense, not terrorism from Islamic radicals.

The speech provides telling insight into the administration’s thinking on the very day that the United States suffered the most devastating attack since the 1941 bombing of Pearl Harbor. The address was designed to promote missile defense as the cornerstone of a new national security strategy, and contained no mention of al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden or Islamic extremist groups, according to former U.S. officials who have seen the text.

[Washington Post, 4/1/04]

SEPTEMBER 11 2001: Five hours after attacks, Rumsfeld asks aides to come up with plans for striking Iraq.

Rumsfeld made the request “even though there was no evidence linking Saddam Hussein to the attacks.”

[CBS News, 9/3/02]

SEPTEMBER 12, 2001: Bush to Richard Clarke “Go back over everything, everything. See if Saddam did this.”

Bush said this after Richard Clarke told him that al Qaeda was responsible for the attack.

[Washington Post, 3/22/04]

SEPTEMBER 16, 2001: Chairman of the Defense Policy Board Richard Perle says “we do know, for example, that Saddam Hussein has ties to Osama bin Laden.” [CNN, 4/30/07]

SEPTEMBER 17, 2001: Reporter to Bush: Do you want bin Laden dead?

“I want justice. And there’s an old poster out west, that I recall, that said, ‘Wanted, Dead or Alive.'”

[Bush Remarks, 9/17/01]

SEPTEMBER 20, 2001: George Bush asks Tony Blair to support war against Iraq. [The Observer, 4/4/04]

OCTOBER 7 2001: U.S. and Great Britian start Operation Enduring Freedom, invading Afghanistan after Taliban refuses to give up Bin Laden.

NOVEMBER 21 2001: 72 days after 9/11, Bush directed Rumsfeld to begin planning for war with Iraq.

“Let’s get started on this,” Bush recalled saying. “And get Tommy Franks looking at what it would take to protect America by removing Saddam Hussein if we have to.”

[Washington Post, 4/17/04]

DECEMBER 16, 2001: Bin Laden’s voice heard on radio in Tora Bora

“American intelligence agencies have positively identified the distinctive voice of Osama bin Laden giving orders to his troops in the mountains of Tora Bora.”

[Telegraph, 12/16/01]

EARLY DECEMBER 2001: Bin Laden escapes at Tora Bora.

The Bush administration has concluded that Osama bin Laden was present during the battle for Tora Bora late last year and that failure to commit U.S. ground troops to hunt him was its gravest error in the war against al Qaeda.

[Washington Post, 4/16/02]


2002

JANUARY 27 2002: Cheney: Bin Laden “isn’t that big a threat.”

CHENEY: And we want bin Laden, and I think we will get him, but I’m more concerned about disrupting all of these terrorist cells out there. Bin Laden by himself isn’t that big a threat. Bin Laden connected to this worldwide organization of terror is a threat. We’re going to go after him, but we’re also after the network.

[ABC News, 1/27/02]

FEBRUARY 2002: Military and intelligence resources diverted to Iraq.

Sen. Bob Graham (D-FL) “was told by Gen. Tommy Franks that despite ongoing operations in Afghanistan, “military and intelligence personnel are being redeployed to prepare for an action in Iraq.” Franks denied making the comment.”

[Knight-Ridder, 6/18/05]

MARCH 13 2002: Bush on Bin Laden “I really don’t spent that much time on him.”

Who knows if he’s hiding in some cave or not. We haven’t heard from him in a long time. The idea of focusing on one person really indicates to me people don’t understand the scope of the mission. Terror is bigger than one person. He’s just a person who’s been marginalized… I don’t know where he is. I really just don’t spend that much time on him, to be honest with you.

[President Bush Press Conference, 3/13/02]

LATE MARCH 2002: Covert commando team assigned to Bin Laden loses 2/3 of its strength as resources are diverted to Iraq. [Washington Post, 10/22/04]

APRIL 6 2002: General Richard Myers, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, says “the goal has never been to get bin Laden.” [CNN, 4/6/02]

OCTOBER 12, 2002: Bali terrorist attacks.

Islamic militant group al Qaeda has claimed responsibility for the bomb attack on a Bali nightclub in which more than 180 people died.

[CNN, 11/8/02]

NOVEMBER 12, 2002: Bin Laden video praises Bali attacks. [Guardian Unlimited, 9/13/02]

DECEMBER 18, 2002: Rumsfeld declares Taliban, al Qaeda “gone” from Afghanistan.

Q: What’s the current situation in Afghanistan?

RUMSFELD: It is encouraging. They have elected a government through the Loya Jirga process. The Taliban are gone. The al Qaeda are gone.

[CNN, 12/18/02]


2003

FEBRUARY 11 2003: Bin Laden audiotape calls upon Muslims to attack U.S. forces in Iraq. [Guardian Unlimited, 2/12/03]

MARCH 19 2003: Invasion of Iraq begins.

OCTOBER 18 2003: Bin Laden releases series of tapes in “unparalleled propoganda offensive” [Guardian Unlimited, 10/19/03]

NOVEMBER 9 2003: Riyadh terrorist attacks.

Terrorists stormed past security guards into an affluent, heavily secured residential neighborhood in the Saudi capital Saturday and set off three explosions, journalists and officials in Riyadh said. The attack, which Saudi officials said bore the hallmarks of al Qaeda, killed at least 17 people.

[BBC, 11/9/03]


2004

SEPTEMBER 9 2004: Jakarta terrorist attacks.

Osama Bin Laden’s Al-Qaeda network bankrolled the car bombing outside the Australian Embassy in Jakarta, killing at least nine and injuring more than 180.

[Reuters, 8/2/05]

OCTOBER 29 2004: New bin Laden videotape appeals to American voters.

“Your security is not in the hands of Kerry, Bush or al-Qaeda. Your security is in your own hands,” bin Laden said, referring to the president and his Democratic opponent. “Each state that does not mess with our security, has naturally guaranteed its own security.”

[AP, 10/29/04]


2005

2005: Even Bush shocked by how few resources are being dedicated to the hunt for Bin Laden.

“The Iraq War, meanwhile, has proved to be a black hole for the Americans, devouring men and materiel and absorbing the attention of the brass in Washington. In 2005, the CIA gave President Bush a secret slide show on the hunt for bin Laden. The president was taken aback by the small number of CIA case officers posted to Afghanistan and Pakistan. “Is that all there are?” the president asked, according to a former intelligence official, who declined to be identified discussing White House meetings.”

[Newsweek, 09/02/07]

JUNE 23, 2005: Cheney says he has “pretty good idea” where bin Laden is hiding.

Q Let’s talk about Porter Goss, the CIA Director. He says he has an excellent idea where Osama bin Laden is hiding out. Do you?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: We’ve got a pretty good idea of a general area that he’s in, but I — I don’t have the street address.

[CNN, 6/23/05]

LATE 2005: CIA closes unit focused on capture of bin Laden.

“The Central Intelligence Agency has closed a unit that for a decade had the mission of hunting Osama bin Laden and his top lieutenants. … Michael Scheuer, a former senior C.I.A. official who was the first head of the unit, said the move…’will clearly denigrate our operations against Al Qaeda.’”

[New York Times, 7/4/06]


2006

2006: CIA officers with experience in Islamic world drained from al Qaeda hunt to Iraq.

“According to two former intelligence officials directly involved in the Qaeda hunt, was that by 2006 the Iraq war had drained away most of the C.I.A. officers with field experience in the Islamic world. “You had a very finite number” of experienced officers, said one former senior intelligence official. “Those people all went to Iraq. We were all hurting because of Iraq.”

[New York Times, 6/30/08]

JANUARY 19 2006: Bin Laden warns of future attacks in audiotape.

“The mujahideen have been able, with the will of God, to overcome all security measures that the forces have taken, and the result of this is what you have seen in the explosions in major European capitals…And our delay on similar attacks in the US is not because we could not penetrate security measures. The operations are under preparation and you will see them in your houses as soon as they are completed.”

[Guardian Unlimited, 1/19/06]

MARCH 6, 2006: Report finds new intelligence czar spends hours each day at luxury spa.

“On many a workday lunchtime, the nominal boss of U.S. intelligence, John D. Negroponte, can be found at a private club in downtown Washington, getting a massage, taking a swim, and having lunch, followed by a good cigar and a perusal of the daily papers in the club’s library. ‘He spends three hours there [every] Monday through Friday,’ gripes a senior counterterrorism official.”

[CQ, 3/6/06]

SEPTEMBER 2006: Fred Barnes told by President Bush that the hunt for Bin Laden was “not a top priority use of American resources.”

HOST: Alright Fred, you and a few other journalists were in the Oval Office with the President, right? And he says catching Osama bin Laden is not job number one?

BARNES: Well, he said, look, you can send 100,000 special forces, that’s the figure he used, to the mountains of Pakistan and Afghanistan and hunt him down, but he just said that’s not a top priority use of American resources. His vision of a war on terror is one that involves intelligence to find out from people, to get tips, to follow them up and break up plots to kill Americans before they occur. That’s what happened recently in that case of the planes that were to be blown up by terrorists, we think coming from England, and that’s the top priority. He says, you know, getting Osama bin Laden is a low priority compared to that.

[Fox News 9/14/06]

SEPTEMBER 10, 2006: CIA officials report bin Laden trail has gone “stone cold.”

“The clandestine U.S. commandos whose job is to capture or kill Osama bin Laden have not received a credible lead in more than two years.”

SEPTEMBER 10, 2006: CIA officials report bin Laden trail has gone “stone cold.”

“The clandestine U.S. commandos whose job is to capture or kill Osama bin Laden have not received a credible lead in more than two years.”

[Washington Post, 9/10/06]


2008

JANUARY 24 2008: Bush says Bin Laden will be “gotten by a president,” but probably not him. [Fox, 1/24/08]

MARCH 19, 2008: Then-candidate Obama pledges aggressive effort to find Bin Laden in Pakistan.

Obama says “if we have actionable intelligence about high-level al Qaeda targets in Pakistan’s border region, we must act if Pakistan will not or cannot.”

[Washington Post, 3/19/08]

JUNE 2008: Bush makes last ditch effort with Britain to get Bin Laden.

Defence and intelligence sources in Washington and London confirmed that a renewed hunt was on for the leader of the September 11 attacks. “If he [Bush] can say he has killed Saddam Hussein and captured Bin Laden, he can claim to have left the world a safer place,” said a US intelligence source.

[Sunday Times, 6/15/08]

OCTOBER 7, 2008: Obama: “We will kill bin Laden. We will crush al Qaeda. That has to be our biggest national security priority.”

NOVEMBER 2, 2008: Obama: “I think capturing or killing bin Laden is a critical aspect of stamping out al Qaeda.”

“He is not just a symbol, he’s also the operational leader of an organization that is planning attacks against U.S. targets”

[11/2/08, 60 Minutes]


2009

January 23, 2009: Days after inauguration, Obama fires at al Qaeda targets inside Pakistan.

“U.S. Predator drones hit two suspected Al Qaeda dens in Pakistan with Hellfire missiles yesterday – the first cross-border strikes from Afghanistan on President Obama’s watch.”

[Daily News, 1/24/09]

2009: Obama authorizes more drone strikes against terrorist targets than during previous 5 years combined.

“In 2009, the CIA launched more than 50 drone strikes, according to a tally by ABC News. That’s more than the total drone attacks in the previous five years combined.”

[ABC News, 1/12/10]

MARCH 28 2009: Obama says Bin Laden is in Pakistan, presses for action.

“PRESIDENT OBAMA bluntly charged that Osama Bin Laden is alive and well and “almost certainly” hiding out in Pakistan – a nation that must do more to hunt down terrorists if it wants America’s aide.” “We will insist that action be taken – one way or another – when we have intelligence about high-level terrorist targets,” Obama said in a likely reference to the 40 U.S. drone strikes inside Pakistan that have killed at least eight rising Al Qaeda leaders.”

[Daily News, 3/28/09]

MAY 11 2009: Obama replaces top general in Afghanistan as part of larger effort to step up hunt for Bin Laden.

“Barack Obama replaced his top general in Afghanistan yesterday in an attempt to turn round a war that has been going badly for the US and to step up the hunt for Osama bin Laden.”

[Gaurdian, 5/12/09]

DECEMBER 7, 2009: Obama National Security Advisor James Jones stresses the urgency of finding Bin Laden and speaks “of a renewed campaign to capture or kill him.” [AP, 12/7/09]

DECEMBER 9, 2009: Top commander in Afghanistan emphasizes importance of capturing or killing Bin Laden.

“The top US commander in Afghanistan has said al-Qaeda will not be defeated unless its leader, Osama Bin Laden, is captured or killed. Testifying to the US Congress, Gen Stanley McChrystal said Bin Laden had become an “iconic figure” “I don’t think that we can finally defeat al-Qaeda until he’s captured or killed,” said Gen McChrystal of Bin Laden.”I believe he is an iconic figure at this point, whose survival emboldens al-Qaeda as a franchising organisation across the world.”

[BBC, 12/9/09]


2010

AUGUST 1 2010: American intelligence locates unusual compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan.

American intelligence locates the brothers’ residence, a compound in Abbottabad. The compound is so large, secluded and secured that analysts conclude it must shelter a high value target.

[New York Times, 5/3/11]

SEPTEMBER 1 2010: Obama starts to review assessments that Bin Laden may be at compound. [New York Times, 5/3/11]

SEPTEMBER 11 2010: Obama says he thinks about capturing Bin Laden “day and night” and has the best intelligence officers and special forces on the case.

“Bin Laden has gone deep underground. Even Zawahiri, who is more often out there, has been much more cautious. But we have the best minds, the best intelligence officers, the best special forces, who are thinking about this day and night. And they will continue to think about it day and night as long as I’m president,” he said.

[AP, 9/11/10]


2011

MARCH 14-28, 2011: Obama hold series of National Security Council meetings to develop options for capturing or killing Bin Laden. [New York Times, 5/3/11]

APRIL 29 2011 Mr. Obama authorizes the operation against Bin Laden. [New York Times, 5/3/11]

MAY 1, 2011, 4-4:30PM ET: United States forces raid Bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad around 1 a.m. Pakistan time. Bin Laden is killed. [New York Times, 5/3/11]

MAY 1, 2011, 11:35PM ET: Obama announces Bin Laden’s death.