This past weekend, I finally sat down to watch Frontline‘s recent, two-part report on the lead-up to and the conduct of the war in Iraq. Despite Frontline‘s well-earned reputation for being left-leaning, the report itself was very well done and comprehensive, including interviews with almost every single person of note both within and without the Bush Administration. The interplay between the Administration heavyweights is enthralling, and the documentary does a great job of providing the contextual background to each person’s strongly-held views. Even realizing the documentary has a political agenda, any viewer (including one as avowedly conservative as myself) can learn a lot from this report.
I found Part I, which covers the period of time from 9/11, through the CIA‘s war in Afghanistan, to the beginning of the fighting in Iraq, to be the most enlightening. It is fascinating to watch how the whole of the U.S. foreign policy apparatus was drastically and immediately changed by 9/11, from being perennially cemented in a defensive posture, to a proactive, “kick a[$$]” footing.
Part I also delves into the flawed intelligence leading up to the war in Iraq, but curiously fails to include the intelligence reports that actually did turn out to be accurate, as recently published by the Institute for Defense Analyses after reviewing some 600,000 Pentagon documents.
Part II delves into all the different players and chapters of the Iraq war, giving noticeably short shrift to the recent success of the “surge.” However, it is a very thorough recounting of the ebbs and flows in the Iraq War and provides background information on many familiar events of which I was unaware. Recommended viewing all around.
I thought the most intriguing interviews were those in Part I of the CIA guys, including Cofer Black (who served as director of the Central Intelligence Agency’s Counterterrorism Center from 1999 to 2002), Gary Berntsen (a CIA field officer who was awarded the Distinguished Intelligence Medal and the Intelligence Star for commanding a team of CIA and special forces during the war in Afghanistan in 2001), Michael Scheuer (chief of the CIA’s Bin Laden Desk from 1995 to 1999 and headed an internal CIA investigation into the allegations of a link between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda), and Gary Schroen (CIA operator who was chosen soon after 9/11 to lead the first trip into northern Afghanistan to connect with leaders of the Northern Alliance, offer money, equipment and political support), who detail how the CIA went immediately into Afghanistan after 9/11 and began to bring the fight to the Taliban and Al Qaeda.
“You[, (Black),] have a personal involvement with Al Qaeda and [Osama] bin Laden. The way the story goes, he tried to kill you …. Tell me a little bit of that story.”
They thought I was the target; actually, I was the hunter, and we turned it on them (snaps fingers) like that. And when they had their chance, they ran home to Mama.
Black, on his immediate thoughts after learning of the 9/11 attacks that morning:
We are now in a situation where we’ll no longer be like the junkyard dog staked to the ground, … and that our capabilities were going to be unleashed and realized.
Schroen, on the orders he received from Black on September 13, 2001:
He basically said to me: “I want to make it clear what your real job is. All these other things — linking up with the Northern Alliance, preparing the battlefield, helping the special forces get in or whatever happens — is fine. But once the Taliban are broken, your job is to find bin Laden, kill him and bring his head back on ice.”
Scheuer, quoting Black’s directives regarding Al Qaeda:
“We’re going to put their heads on pikes. And we want flies crossing–crawling across their dead eyes.”
Berntsen, describing the orders he received from Black around September 15, 2001:
One-third of your men will die. Be prepared for that. I accept it; you need to accept it and proceed aggressively. I want you killing the enemy in 48 hours.
Schroen, recounting Black’s summary of the strategy against Al Qaeda:
[T]he gloves are off.
Black, on implementing the war plan against Al Qaeda:
We really took momentum. And George Tenet said OK, take the plan and have it ready by tomorrow. We spent years working on this stuff, so when everybody else is looking for their maps on Afghanistan, we’re ready to rock; we’re ready to roll ….
Black, on the CIA’s performance in Afghanistan:
[W]e’d like the survivors of 9/11 to know that those of us in the business consider it the CIA’s finest hour. We went in to kick a[$$], and we did that.
Black, on 20/20 hindsight:
Well, I would like to put this into perspective for you. … It always gives me pause when I think about the fact that the 9/11 Commission hired twice as much staff … and were allocated twice as much money than I was provided to fight Al Qaeda worldwide on an annual basis.
Thx to Frontline