The UK Telegraph takes from an interview with Michael Scheur, the former head of the Bin Laden unit inside the CIA, that "he was repeatedly ordered not to stop the al-Qaeda chief".
The story is interesting, not only for its potted history of Osama Bin Laden, but for some fascinating revelations, besides the fact the CIA apparently did not want Bin Laden dead for most of the 2000s.
From the UK Telegraph :
In August 1998 al-Qaeda killed 12 Americans and 200 others in bombings at two American embassies in east Africa. President Clinton ordered the CIA to dismantle al-Qaeda and, in Scheuer’s words, “take care” of bin Laden. The Pentagon launched cruise missile attacks on bin Laden’s training camps, but he had left the compound hours earlier. Scheuer estimates they had at least eight further opportunities to assassinate bin Laden in the following months.
“I’m not saying it would have been simple to take care of the problem, but it got progressively harder when we didn’t take those opportunities. One 50 cent round could have put us all out of our agony.”
In June 1999, he sent off an angry memo to senior officers asking why his men were risking their lives on someone America apparently had no interest in stopping. “I don’t know what you are doing when you talk to the President but he will not get a better opportunity than this,” he told them.
Scheuer was dismissed from his job and spent the next two years running counter-heroin operations in Pakistan and the Middle East. On September 11, 2001, he was back at CIA headquarters in Langley.
Arriving home exhausted at 11.30pm, he took a shower and crawled into bed when his phone went. It was his successor at the bin Laden unit. “We need you back,” he said.
Three months later British and American special forces were at Tora Bora, bin Laden’s heavily defended cave complex in Afghanistan, when they heard his voice over a captured radio.
It was the last time they had a fix on him for nine years. The Afghans let bin Laden walk out of Tora Bora and head for Pakistan during a ceasefire.
Scheuer continued to act as an adviser to the bin Laden unit until 2004 when he resigned in disgust at the way in which the public was being lied to over the opportunities to capture the terrorist leader.
His books have pointed out the many failings of American policy in the Middle East, not least their inability to address the other causes of western unpopularity in the region while portraying a myopic image of bin Laden as a lunatic.
He retains a sneaking regard for the quarry he hunted in vain for so long. “I respect his piety, integrity and skills,” he says. And the next generation of al-Qaeda? “They will be even more cruel and bloody-minded.”