Wednesday, December 26, 2001
Did Clinton miss shot at bin Laden?
Former Christiansburg resident stirs up controversy.
By JEN McCAFFERY
THE ROANOKE TIMES
A 1979 Christiansburg High School graduate is at the center of a firestorm
over whether the Clinton administration missed a chance to capture Osama bin
Laden and his terrorist network.
Mansoor Ijaz, now a New York City-based investment banker who traveled to
Sudan more than a half dozen times in the mid-1990s, says he repeatedly
relayed offers from the Sudanese government to the Clinton White House to
share intelligence on bin Laden. In one case, the president of Sudan offered
to arrest and extradite bin Laden and turn over information about global
terrorist networks, Ijaz says.
The Clinton administration declined to take him up on the offer, Ijaz has
argued in a Los Angeles Times commentary, in the pages of the January issue of
the magazine Vanity Fair, and on national television shows.
He blames the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on what he says were the Clinton
administration's foreign policy failures.
Ijaz, the son of Pakistani immigrants, has become a fixture on national
television shows since Sept. 11. His late father was a physics professor at
Virginia Tech and his mother still lives in Shawsville.
"Four thousand Americans lost their lives as a result of a single-minded
pursuit of a single policy," Ijaz, 40, said in a phone interview Friday. "Our
approach was 'contain and control.' It was the same policy from Indonesia to ... Afghanistan. Well, it blew up on September 11."
Clinton's former National Security Advisor, Samuel "Sandy" Berger, called
Ijaz's allegations "ludicrous and irresponsible."
"We were trying to get bin Laden with everything we had, including firing 60
cruise missiles at him in August 1998," Berger said in a phone interview
Friday. Clinton ordered an attack on terrorist camps in Afghanistan and a
pharmaceutical plant in Sudan that was thought to be linked to bin Laden and
suspected of manufacturing chemical weapons.
Former Clinton administration officials don't dispute that Sudan - which is
on the State Department's list of terrorist nations - sent messages that
officials were seeking better relations with the United States. But they do
dispute whether the Sudanese ever offered to arrest bin Laden. They have also
questioned the veracity of the Sudanese government and of Ijaz himself,
arguing that he had business interests in Sudan.
Former Clinton White House officials have also accused Ijaz of representing
himself as an agent of the U.S. government in his interactions with foreign
governments. And they also question whether Ijaz, who donated almost $1
million to Democrats during the 1990s, is angry that his donations did not
influence the Clinton administration's foreign policy.
Ijaz, who has celebrated Christmas at the White House in recent years and
says he had good access to Clinton administration officials, disputes that he
had business interests in Sudan. He also disputes that he represented himself
to foreign governments as an agent of the U.S. government during his forays
into private diplomacy in South Asia, Africa and other locations.
When Osama bin Laden arrived in Sudan from Afghanistan in 1991, he was
welcomed by government leaders. Bin Laden began investing in public works in
the African country. According to a Los Angeles Times commentary by Gayle
Smith, another former senior Clinton administration official, the government
also started terrorist training camps and provided a safe haven for extremist
Islamic groups. It also did little to try to stop the country's civil war,
which has cost 2 million lives, Smith argued.
Ijaz has said that he met with Sudanese leaders and repeatedly came forward
with counterterrorism offers to the Clinton administration, but that he was
Susan Rice, who served as Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs
from 1997 to 2000, said Friday that Sudanese officials never followed up with
any substantive change in behavior. And they never gave U.S. officials any
intelligence files, Rice said.
Ijaz is not alone in criticizing the Clinton administration for failing to
Former Sudan ambassador Timothy Carney said in a phone interview Saturday
that from 1996 to when he left his post in 1997 the dialogue between U.S.
officials and the Sudanese government "petered out." The Clinton
administration then rejected Carney's suggestions about how to re-engage the
Sudanese, Carney said.
"The fact is, they were opening the doors, and we weren't taking them up on
it," Carney told Vanity Fair. "The U.S. failed to reciprocate Sudan's
willingness to engage us on serious questions of terrorism. We can speculate
that this failure had serious implications - at the least for what happened at
the U.S. embassies in 1998. In any case, the U.S. lost access to a mine of
material on bin Laden and his organization."
Rice countered that diplomatic channels to Sudan were always open and that
ambassadors, administration and FBI and CIA officials met repeatedly with
Sudanese officials from 1994 to 2000. The White House was not looking for
foreign policy assistance from Ijaz, a wealthy investor with business
interests in oil-rich Sudan, Rice said.
"We did not need, nor would it have been appropriate for us to use a private
citizen, particularly one with business interests," Rice said. She added that
Ijaz did not disclose his business interests to administration officials when
he met with them in 1996.
Ijaz disputed Rice's claim, arguing that when he met with Berger and Rice at
the White House in 1996, he had "absolutely no business interests in Sudan
whatsoever." The Washington Post reported in a 1997 story, however, that "Ijaz
also acknowledged his commercial interests in effecting a reconciliation
between the United States and Sudan."
In 1997, Arakis Energy Corp., a Canadian company with oil fields in Sudan,
announced Ijaz's appointment to an advisory committee to the company's board.
Ijaz said he did not get paid for the position.
But he said "it wouldn't be the first time that an interested party lobbied
Mr. Berger, the White House, the National Security Council or other organs of
our government for business purposes."
Rice and other senior Clinton officials have suggested that Ijaz's recent
criticism stemmed from Ijaz's frustration that the administration did not
listen to his foreign policy recommendations, despite raising almost $1
million for the Democrats during the 1990s. She recalled that at the 1996
White House meeting Ijaz was basically saying that Sudanese leaders weren't
"He seems to have expected that his views would become policy because he
gave a lot of money," Rice said.
Ijaz has said the entreaties on the part of the Sudanese government also
involved a letter he delivered to the Clinton administration from one of the
country's most powerful politicians, Hassan Turabi, who was later placed under
house arrest for criticizing Sudanese president Omar Hassan al-Bashir's
government. The letter, according to New York Newsday, offered to "usher in a
new era of improving the understanding and attitudes of all elements of the
Ijaz delivered another letter from al-Bashir to Rep. Lee Hamilton, the
ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee in 1997. In the
letter, al-Bashir offered to open up the country to FBI counterterrorism units
and to provide the United States with access to the government's intelligence
files. The Clinton administration did not respond, Ijaz said.
Rice has suggested that the Sudanese government was attempting to "rewrite
"Their lobbyists, business partners and other friends are engaged in an
effort to convince people that they were Boy Scouts who wanted to help the
United States if we would only let them," Rice said.
Carney, a former ambassador to Sudan, points to the letters from Sudanese
leaders to Clinton and Hamilton as evidence of efforts by the Sudanese to open
a dialogue with the United States.
"That's where the evidence lies," Carney said. "That is history, it is not
Berger questioned the timing of a Dec. 5 column in The Los Angeles Times in
which Ijaz claimed that the Sudanese government had been trying to share
intelligence about terrorist networks.
"Why did this all happen after Sept. 11, when President Bush is talking
about targeting state sponsors of terrorism?" Berger asked.
Ijaz wrote in the column that he met with Clinton, Berger, and other
administration officials and Sudanese leaders. Sudanese President al-Bashir
offered to arrest bin Laden and supply intelligence about the operations of
other terrorist groups, Ijaz wrote.
"Among those in the networks were the two hijackers who piloted commercial
airliners into the World Trade Center," Ijaz continued. "The silence of the
Clinton administration in responding to these offers was deafening."
In July 2000, Ijaz wrote, he brought a proposal to the Clinton
administration from a counterterrorism officer of an Arab nation friendly to
the United States that he declined to name. The Arab official offered that bin
Laden would be extradited to the unnamed country first and then extradited to
the United States if Clinton would make a state visit.
Rice countered that she was "not aware of Bashir ever offering the arrest
and extradition of bin Laden."
Ijaz has claimed he had access to the White House, often meeting with
National Security Council staffers. Berger said he recalled meeting with Ijaz
twice, once about Pakistan, then about Sudan.
But after the second meeting with Ijaz and Rice in 1996 and before Berger's
appointment as Clinton's National Security Advisor in 1997, Berger said he was
advised by his staff not to continue to stay in touch with Ijaz. Ijaz,
however, has said he remained in contact with Berger.
"More than one foreign government, including the Pakistanis, came to the
United States government and said Mr. Ijaz was asserting that he was acting as
an agent of the United States government," Berger said. "That was not true and
we told them that. And my staff after that suggested that we should be careful
in dealing with him."
Ijaz replied that "the governments that would do that were the ones who
wanted to contain and control me."
Jen McCaffery can be reached at 981-3336 or email@example.com.