· A May 4 Page One article on the bombing of the USS Cole misspelled the name of John P. Clodfelter Jr., the father of a sailor killed in the attack.
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Probe of USS Cole Bombing Unravels
The Cole bombing represented an enormous political embarrassment for Yemen, which had lobbied the U.S. Navy to use the port of Aden as a refueling stop. As the poorest country in the Arab world, Yemen was also unprepared for some of the FBI's demands.
"This is a country that didn't even have fingerprint powder, and now they're dealing with the most sophisticated law enforcement agency in the world," said Barbara K. Bodine, the U.S. ambassador to Yemen at the time. "DNA is a complete fantasy to them."
Bodine said the FBI was slow to trust Yemeni authorities, and kept the U.S. Embassy in the dark as well, hampering the probe. She described the Yemeni government as generally cooperative, but said some officials dug in their heels and "certainly didn't like us."
The FBI was "dealing with a bureaucracy and a culture they didn't understand," she said. "Yemen operates on a different timeline than we do. We had one group working on a New York minute, and another on a 4,000-year-old history."
The FBI and some White House officials, in turn, suspected Bodine was too sympathetic toward the Yemenis. The FBI special agent in charge, John O'Neill, was forced to return to New York after butting heads too many times with the ambassador.
Michael A. Sheehan, then the State Department's counterterrorism coordinator, said both sides were to blame.
"Basically, I was in the middle of this thing," he recalled. "I felt both sides were over the top -- the FBI in demanding complete autonomy in a foreign country and State in being too protective of the host country. And eventually it just turned into a clash of wills."
"Sometimes, when you deal with a host country, you can push too hard and it backfires and you get less cooperation," Sheehan added. "We needed to find a middle ground, and we had difficulty getting there."
Two in U.S. Custody
Amid the friction, U.S. and Yemeni investigators soon identified the ringleader of the attack as Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, a Saudi national of Yemeni descent who served as al-Qaeda's operations chief in the Arabian Peninsula.
At the time, Yemeni authorities insisted that Nashiri had fled the country before the Cole bombing. But a senior Yemeni official said that was not the case and that Yemeni investigators had located Nashiri in Taizz, a city about 90 miles northwest of Aden, soon after the attack. The official said Nashiri spent several months in Taizz, where he received high-level protection from the government. "We knew where he was, but we could not arrest him," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he feared retaliation.
Nashiri eventually left Yemen to prepare other attacks on U.S. targets in the Persian Gulf, U.S. officials said. He was captured in the United Arab Emirates in November 2002 and handed over to the CIA. He was detained in the CIA's secret network of overseas prisons until he was transferred to Guantanamo Bay in September 2006.
In a hearing at Guantanamo last year, Nashiri said he confessed to masterminding the Cole attack only because he had been tortured.