It appears that Bill Clinton may have exaggerated his record when it came to strategizing against Osama bin Laden. Newsweek's Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenball take a look at the Inspector General's report of the pre-9/11 intelligence failures at the CIA and find an interesting nugget. Despite Clinton's angry assertion to Chris Wallace in last year's controversial Fox interview, he never gave the CIA an assassination order regarding bin Laden (h/t: CQ reader Mark):
The report also criticized intelligence problems when Bill Clinton was president, detailing political and legal “constraints” agency officials felt in the late 1990s. In September 2006, during a famous encounter with Fox News anchor Wallace, Clinton erupted in anger and waived his finger when asked about whether his administration had done enough to get bin Laden. “What did I do? What did I do?” Clinton said at one point. “I worked hard to try to kill him. I authorized a finding for the CIA to kill him. We contracted with people to kill him. I got closer to killing him than anybody has gotten since.”
Clinton appeared to have been referring to a December 1999 Memorandum of Notification (MON) he signed that authorized the CIA to use lethal force to capture, not kill, bin Laden. But the inspector general’s report made it clear that the agency never viewed the order as a license to “kill” bin Laden—one reason it never mounted more effective operations against him. “The restrictions in the authorities given the CIA with respect to bin Laden, while arguably, although ambiguously, relaxed for a period of time in late 1998 and early 1999, limited the range of permissible operations,” the report stated. (Scheuer agreed with the inspector general’s findings on this issue, but said if anything the report was overly diplomatic. “There was never any ambiguity,” he said. “None of those authorities ever allowed us to kill anyone. At least that’s what the CIA lawyers told us.” A spokesman for the former president had no immediate comment.)
I've written before that pursuing partisan blame for 9/11 is a waste of time. It gets in the way of determining where failures occurred and developing the proper approaches to avoid them in the future. The truth is that the issues that created these failures stretched back for years, probably decades in terms of interpretation of intelligence law.
However, it gets difficult to remember that when former presidents essentially lie about their roles on national television. Given Clinton's unique history, this prevarication and self-aggrandizement comes as no surprise, but it is still pretty disappointing. It leaves the historical record muddied, right up to the point when independent investigations reveal the truth. Worse, his shouted fabrications contribute to the partisan atmosphere.
One has to sympathize with CIA officials who had read the classified report in 2005, but were unable to respond to his exaggeration in 2006. He once gave the same kind of finger-waggling tirade to the nation, which turned out as false as his Wallace interview. It's a sad reflection on a man who somehow cannot bring himself to tell the truth, even when his nation needs it.