Spies Who Came In Cold


It?s covert ops weekend at the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times. The Post has a story (the first in a two-parter) on how the C.I.A. tried to capture Osama bin Laden during the Clinton years, though the effort was blocked by uncertainty, a lack of reliable information and policy disagreements.

On the front lines in Pakistan and Central Asia, working-level CIA officers felt they had a rare, urgent sense of the menace bin Laden posed before Sept. 11. Yet a number of controversial proposals to attack bin Laden were turned down by superiors at Langley or the White House, who feared the plans were poorly developed, wouldn?t work or would embroil the United States in Afghanistan?s then-obscure civil war. At other times, plans to track or attack bin Laden were delayed or watered down after stalemated debates inside Clinton?s national security cabinet.

The Times examines the C.I.A.?s efforts in Iraq, and emphasizes the agency is facing great difficulty, to the extent that it replaced its Baghdad bureau chief last December. The story also reports: ?The CIA?s Baghdad station has become the largest in agency history [perhaps over 500 people], eclipsing the size of its post in Saigon at the height of the Vietnam War, a U.S. official said. But sources said the agency has struggled to fill a number of key overseas posts.?

The pessimism was felt by one former station chief in the Middle East: ?They claim that they?ve rebuilt the [clandestine service] and it?s firing on all cylinders. Is it? I would say not. Not if you don't have trained manpower.?