'BUSH AT WAR' | The First Two Months
CIA Led Way With Cash Handouts
By Bob Woodward
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 18, 2002; Page A01
From the second of three days of excerpts from the book "Bush At War," by Bob Woodward, an inside account of the internal debate within the Bush administration that led to U.S. military action in Afghanistan and the decision to aggressively confront Iraqi President Saddam Hussein (Simon & Schuster, copyright 2002):
At 12:30 p.m. on Sept. 26, 2001, a husky, 59-year-old man with a round, cheerful face and glasses was huddled in the back of a Russian-made, CIA-owned Mi-17 helicopter that was going to have to strain to climb to 15,000 feet to clear the Anjoman Pass into the Panjshir Valley of northeastern Afghanistan.
Gary, an undercover CIA officer whose last name is not being used, was leading the first critical wave of President Bush's war against terrorism. With him was a team of CIA covert paramilitary officers with communications gear that would allow them to set up direct, classified links with headquarters in Langley, Va. Between his legs was a large strapped metal suitcase that contained $3 million in U.S. currency, non-sequential $100 bills. He always laughed when he saw a television show or movie in which someone passed $1 million in a small attaché case. It just wouldn't fit.
Several times in his career, Gary had stuffed $1 million into his backpack so he could move around and pass it to people on other operations. He had signed for the $3 million as usual. What was different this time was that he could dole it out pretty much at his discretion.
Gary had been an officer in the Directorate of Operations of the CIA for 32 years, the type of CIA clandestine operative who many thought no longer existed. In the 1970s, he had been an undercover case officer in Tehran and then Islamabad. He had recruited, developed, paid and run agents who reported from within the host governments. In the 1980s, he served as chief of the CIA base in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and later as chief of station for Kabul. The U.S. Embassy in Kabul was closed due to the Soviet invasion, so he operated out of Islamabad.
In the 1990s, he served as deputy chief of station in Saudi Arabia, then chief of a secret overseas station that operated against Iran. From 1996 to 1999, he had been chief of station in Islamabad, and then deputy chief of the CIA's Near East and South Asian operations division at Langley.
On Sept. 11, Gary had been almost out the door, weeks from retirement. Four days later, he received a call from Cofer Black, the head of the agency's counterterrorism center, asking him to come to headquarters. "I know you're ready to retire," Black told him. "But we want to send a team in right away. You're the logical person to go in." Not only did Gary have the experience, but he spoke Pashto and Dari, Afghanistan's two main languages.
A team would be a small group of CIA operatives and paramilitary officers working out of the super-secret Special Activities Division of the Directorate of Operations.
"Yeah, I'll go," Gary said. When he was Islamabad station chief, he had made several covert trips into Afghanistan, meeting with leaders of the Northern Alliance, the loose confederation of warlords and tribes that opposed the Taliban, and bringing in cash, normally $200,000 -- a bag of money on the table.
Go in, Black told Gary, persuade the Northern Alliance to work with us and prepare the ground in Afghanistan to receive U.S. forces, to give them a place to come in and stage operations. There would be no backup. There would be few search-and-rescue teams available to get them out if something went wrong.
Four days later, on Sept. 19, Black called Gary back to his office. The team, formally called the Northern Afghanistan Liaison Team (NALT), was given the code word "Jawbreaker." They were to deploy the next day, proceed to Europe and then into the region and into Afghanistan as fast as possible.
Jawbreaker had another assignment. The president had signed a new intelligence order; the gloves were off. "You have one mission," Black instructed. "Go find the al Qaeda and kill them. We're going to eliminate them. Get bin Laden, find him. I want his head in a box. . . . I want to take it down and show the president."
"Well, that couldn't be any clearer," Gary replied.
Gary left Washington the next day, and the team hooked up in Asia. There was a maddening wait for visas and clearances to get into Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.
© 2002 The Washington Post Company