WASHINGTON — The United States raised concerns with the United Arab Emirates seven years ago about possible ties between officials in that country and Osama bin Laden, according to a section of the Sept. 11 commission's report that details a possible missed opportunity to kill the al-Qaida leader.
Republicans and Democrats alike are raising concerns this week about the Bush administration's decision to let a UAE-operated company take over operations at six American ports, in part citing ties the Sept. 11 hijackers had to the Persian Gulf country.
President Bush has called the UAE a close partner on the war on terror since Sept. 11, and his aides have listed numerous examples of the country's help.
The Sept. 11 commission's report released last year also raised concerns UAE officials were directly associating with bin Laden as recently as 1999.
The report states U.S. intelligence believed that bin Laden was visiting an area in the Afghan desert in February 1999 near a hunting camp used by UAE officials, and that the U.S. military planned a missile strike.
Intelligence from local tribal sources indicated "bin Laden regularly went from his adjacent camp to the larger camp where he visited the Emiratis," the report said.
Later the article says this:
At a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee Thursday, Sen. Carl Levin, the ranking Democrat, asked Deputy Treasury Secretary Robert Kimmitt if he was aware of the 9-11 commission's assertion that the United Arab Emirates represents "a persistent counterterrorism problem"for the United States.
Kimmitt replied that administration figures involved in the decision to approve the deal "looked very carefully" at information from the intelligence community.
"Any time a foreign-government controlled company comes in," Kimmitt said, "the intelligence assessment is of both the country and the company."
"Just raise your hand if anybody talked to the 9-11 commission," Levin told the administration representatives at the witness table. Nobody raised a hand.
Nobody talked to the 9-11 commission. How smart is that? The same commission that told us the UAE represented a counterterroism problem. Unfreakinbelievable. And that's putting it politely.