Eight years ago, the American destroyer, U.S.S. Cole was on its way to aid in the “containment” of Saddam Hussein’s regime via a naval blockade/U.N. sanctions in the Persian Gulf. It stopped for fuel in the port of Aden, Yemen, was attacked by Al Queda, and almost sank. Only extremely brave (desperate) measures taken on the part of the surviving crew members saved the ship. What lesson(s) did those 17 sailors give their lives for us to learn?
-Did you ever notice that no one in the government was ever fired for “letting” Bin Laden escape in Tora Bora?
-Did you ever notice that no one in the government was ever fired for the pre-invasion intel failures in Iraq?
-Did you ever noticed that no one in the government was ever fired for failing to implement an occupation plan for Iraq back in 2003?
-Did you ever notice that no one in the government was ever fired in the aftermath of the 911 attacks?
-Did you ever notice that no one in the government was ever fired in the aftermath of the U.S.S. Cole attack?
There’s a common denominator here, and aside from the world economic crisis, this common denominator is, in my opinion, the biggest problem facing the United States of America.
Eight years later the lessons taught by the blast have still not been taken to heart. They are still largely ignored, and they are ignored because bureaucrats in Washington value their careers, their pensions, their reputations, their partisanship, and their legacies more than they value their country or the oaths they’ve taken.
We know who attacked the U.S.S. Cole. We knew before it was even attacked. This ship was attackd by Al Queda supported by at least one foreign govt-likely several-including: Sudan, Yemen, Iran, and Iraq. The bomb plot was compartmentalized (broken into cells with independent tasking) so the boatbuilders never knew the bombmakers who never knew the where the money came from, and so forth.
The Yemeni govt has held no one to account for the bombing. Prior to the bombing, after action reports from the crew cited great suspicion regarding the Yemeni pilot who came aboard. Years after the bombing, it was revealed that the explosives used were shipped to the Al Queda terrorists in Yemen via diplomatic pouches from Sudan. In the years since the bombing, most of the U.S.S. Cole bombers have escaped from Yemeni jails (some several times), been released, or never arrested at all. Only those in U.S. custody face real consequences. It’s also important to remember that only 2 nations knew that the U.S.S. Cole was going to be in Aden: the U.S. Department of Defense, and of course many people in the Yemeni government knew an American navy ship was coming to port and would be vulnerable, but no security precautions were taken by Yemen-none at all.
The 911 Commission found that there were numerous ties between Iran and Al Queda during the time that the attack on the U.S.S. Sullivans (and later the U.S.S. Cole) was taking place. During that period the only Al Queda plots against the United States were the Millenium plots (of which the Cole plot was originally intended) and the 911 plot.
Fmr CIA officials have said that Iraqi Intelligence “tutored” the bombmakers in making the one of the largest shaped charges ever made. Documents captured in the Iraqi Intelligence Service Headquarters (revealed in the Iraqi Perspective Project Report) suggest that the IIS had at least originally conceived of an identical plan to attack a U.S. ship in an operation called “Basra Revenge.” (NOTE: Immediately after the IIS brainstormed out the idea of attacking a US ship, and they settled on using suicide bomber boats, there was an “Islamic Conference”/terrorist conference in Baghdad. Supposedly Al Queda #2 man Ayman al Zawahiri attended. When the conference concluded, captured documents show that the IIS told all those involved to forget about the plot, and a timeline of the U.S.S. Cole attack shows that the plot was set in motion days later. This is documented, and the docs have been authenticated). After the bombing, reports from multiple Cole survivors expressed concern over sailing past “the Iraqi Line” of cargo ships waiting to try and get past the UN blockade which the Cole was about to join.
We know who should have been held accountable as criminals, and we know who should have been held accountable as failures.
Bill Clinton (yes, it “happened on his watch”) passed the buck and lied to the American people when he said he wasn’t sure it was AQ. Within 48hrs the FBI had flown to Yemen, taken bomb residue tests, and knew exactly where the explosives came from. Within minutes of being notified about the bombing, Ambassador to Yemen Bodine says she knew it was Al Queda. Within 72hours of the attack, CIA Director Tenet told the President it was Al Queda. Secretary of State Albright, failed Counterterrorism Czar Richard Clarke, FBI Director Louis Freeh, and others all told the President it was an Al Queda attack, and all did so within 100hrs of the attack. They have all gone on record to the 911 Commission as having said such, and they have all written about it in their memoirs as well as on YouTube videos. Rather than announce this fact and take action (as SecState Albright had threatened to against the Taliban only weeks earlier), President Clinton lied to the American people and said that there wasn’t enough evidence to prove that the attack was an Al Queda attack. His intent was purely political as he didn’t want to start a war in Afghanistan days away from an election that was looking like a tie; an election where the Democrat trailed on one issue only…national security.
National Security Advisor, Sandy Berger was seriously responsible for the failure to prevent the attack. The CIA, the USN (NCIS), Jordanian intelligence, Lebanese intelligence, and possibly other nations’ intelligence services (see also Israeli) had warned about an attack on a U.S. navy ship in Yemen, and when the attack did happen, he claimed he had no knowledge. Later, when the 911 Commission called him to testify about the Cole attack, he went to the national archives, accessed classified documents about the Millenium attacks (documents that would have revealed sources and methods used to detect and thwart those attacks as well as demonstrate that the Clinton Admin knew of a plot to attack a ship like the USS Cole w kamikaze boats), and he took them home. Then he destroyed the documents. For this, he lost his security clearance for a few years, but thankfully he will have it back in time to aid an Obama administration.
Secretary of State Madeline Albright threatened the Taliban just weeks before the attack. There had been lots of intelligence reports that Al Queda was preparing to attack the U.S., and with President Clinton’s urging, she warned the Taliban that if there was another Al Queda attack against the U.S., they would be held responsible. People can speculate if this encouraged or discouraged Taliban support for Al Queda, but the fact is that when the Cole was attacked, and everyone from the sailors on the ship to the President himself knew it was Al Queda…her threat of retaliation proved to be weak and empty rhetoric; a paper tiger
Counterterrorism Czar Richard Clarke didn’t do his job. His council knew the attack was coming from the intelligence that they used to help protect against the Millenium attacks, but his council did not warn the Navy adequately enough (if at all), and despite having “a three-ringed binder packed with evidence that it was Al Queda” he sat by idly as President Clinton lied to the world and said there was was no certainty the Cole attack was done by Al Queda.
CIA Director George Tenet, had intelligence reports showing great details of who was responsible for the attack, and he sat by idly as President Clinton lied and politicized the attack.
Ambassador Bodine (later head of Iraqi reconstruction in 03, yeah, that went well) is perhaps the best example of the common denominator between the attack on the Cole, 911, Iraq failures, etc. She not only failed to get the Yemeni government to take extra security measures for the Cole’s refueling stop (she wasn’t even in Yemen at the time!). She even went so far as to restrict the FBI’s entrance to Yemen, hampered their investigation, and eventually she forced them out! Our own ambassador! From there, she went off to UC Santa Barbara to teach courses that ranted against nation-building and interventionism. Then, rather than being put out to pasture for her gross incompetence in Yemen, SecState Armitage (the man who leaked Valerie Plame’s name to the press) called her up and asked this anti-nation-building proponent to come back to DC and prepare to run the nation-building in Iraq. That was Feb 2003. She went to Baghdad in May 03, completely failed to get Baghdad and the nation organized, and was out by the end of the summer. When people want to point fingers for the earliest occupation of Iraq failures this is where the finger should point, but she manages to slip away from accountability once more. In the future, Ambassador Bodine will not face charges, but rather is likely to be a foreign policy advisor or participant in the Obama Administration.
Susan Rice is another State Dept official who repeatedly dropped the ball (according to the 911 Commission, the Joint House/Senate investigation into the 911 attacks, and other investigations). On several occasions Sudanese offered to hand over Osama Bin Laden, and she-at the urging of National Security Advisor Sandy Berger and other Clinton Admin officials, repeatedly refused. Ms. Rice-at the time-believed that talking to a state-sponsor of terror (and Iraq’s only ally) was unacceptable until they renounced terror. It’s never been explained how the Sudanese offer to hand over Bin Laden wasn’t exactly the kind of renunciation that the Dept of State wanted. Today, she is Senator Barack Obama’s senior foreign policy advisor and advocates talking to state-sponsors of terror (specifically Iran and North Korea). She will likely be a key figure in an Obama Administration’s national security team.
Despite all of this, many questions remain about the nature of the attack.
The FBI (as recently as last Thursday) refuses to publicly release information which would determine what nation provided the Russian RDX plastic explosives to Al Queda. Former FBI Director Louis Freeh admits in his book, MY FBI (pg 282) that he personally confirmed the explosives used in the Cole bombing came from Russia, but to this day Russia refuses to explain how hundreds of pounds of their explosives wound up in the hands of Al Queda. Did hundreds of pounds of Russian RDX explosives go to Sudan? Cole bombers claim that’s where they got the explosives. Sudan refuses to explain how hundreds of pounds of Russian RDX were transported by Sudanese diplomatic pouches to Yemen (a claim made by one of the Cole bombers in U.S. custody).
The CIA still refuses to explain how a group of bungling terrorists who couldn’t manage to make a boat that would float, were able to successfully make one of the largest shaped charges ever made (fmr CIA Counter-terrorism official, Cofer Black, described it as a “wafer charge”).
Yemen has yet to hold anyone accountable for the attack, and most of those who were originally arrested have since escaped (some have even escaped several times!), but,Then again, the United States hasn’t held anyone responsible for the attack either.
The attack on the Cole didn’t have to happen. Despite the many documented lines of intelligence reporting that warned the crew and American leaders about the impending attack, it was still carried out. Appropriate defensive measures were not taken by the ship’s crew.
The lesson of the Cole is a simple one: people need to be accountable if America is to prevent future attacks. No one was held to account in the U.S. for the Cole bombing, and as a direct result those same people, and the exact same intelligence failures (see also Malaysia Meeting) led to the 911 attacks as well as a long list of other intelligence failures and national security bungling.
Eight years later, most of the U.S.S. Cole bombers have escaped, been set free, or never been arrested.
Eight years later, no one in the U.S. government has so much as been reprimanded for their failures to prevent an attack that half a dozen different agencies knew was coming (CIA, NSA, DoS, DoD, DIA, USN, NCIS, and more).
Eight years later, many of those same people who failed to protect the U.S.S. Cole are on the verge of coming back to power in a new administration.
17 Americans died in the U.S.S. Cole attack. They died for their friends, their ship, their flag, and they died to teach us a lesson which we have chosen to ignore. We can no longer afford to ignore the Cole and the lack of accountability. That lack of accountability led to more failures of exponentially larger size. It’s time America recognized the Cole disaster and it’s lesson of poor accountability.
It’s time we remember the Cole.