The story, the centerpiece of “Ferreting out bin Laden,” a book by former spy Alexander Makowski that was published in Poland in June but isn’t yet available in English, offers previously unknown details about how the United States missed warning signs of the deadliest foreign attack ever on U.S. soil. It’s told from the perspective of an allied intelligence service whose specialty is human intelligence – recruiting and running agents – not the technological monitoring that’s considered the U.S.’s strength.
“They gave us the exact location of the houses where bin Laden would be staying in Kandahar, the route he would be taking between his living quarters, his meeting place, and what kind of transportation he would be using,” Makowski told McClatchy in a recent interview, referring to the city in southern Afghanistan that was the Taliban’s seat of power. The Afghans planned to use car bombs to kill the Saudi-born leader of al Qaida.
But on Oct. 14, 1999, a CIA officer whom Makowski identified as “Jim” flew to Warsaw with a response. “I would like everyone here to be absolutely clear on one thing: We do not have a license to kill,” “Jim” told top officials at the headquarters of Polish intelligence. Makowski, at the time a businessman, said he was at the meeting.
“We have to capture bin Laden safe and sound so that he can stand trial and be sentenced legally,” Makowski quotes the officer as saying. “Any other solution is out of the question. CIA operates within the American legal order.”
According to Makowski, the intelligence proved accurate: Bin Laden arrived in Kandahar as planned and stayed in the house as had been predicted. Could the Afghans have killed him? “I have no doubt,” he said.
Bin Laden’s death in 1999 could have changed the American role in the world today, particularly if his death had demoralized al Qaida enough that it abandoned its 9/11 plans. Both the war in Afghanistan, which continues to this day, and the war in Iraq, which claimed nearly 4,500 American troops, were outgrowths of the 9/11 attacks, as was the increase in anti-Americanism in much of the Muslim world.