by Larry Johnson (bio below)
The book the CIA didn’t want you to read, JAWBREAKER by Gary Berntsen, is out and it kills. I’ve sent Gary a nasty note because his story kept me up till 4 am today. Just couldn’t put it down. Gary spent most of this year battling CIA censors, who were refusing to release the book. They insisted on excising parts of the story that have already appeared in other books about CIA operations in Afghanistan written by Steve Coll and another CIA veteran, Gary Schroen.
Gary Berntsen was the second CIA officer sent to Afghanistan and put in charge of directing the destruction of Al Qaeda and the hunt for Bin Laden. He arrived in the fall of 2001, replacing veteran officer Gary Schroen, who had led the first CIA element into Afghanistan in the immediate aftermath of the 9-11 attacks. Gary 2, i.e., Berntsen, built on Schroen’s foundation and played a critical role in directing the offensive that broke the back of the Taliban and scattered Al Qaeda.
The key news from Gary’s book is that we had Bin Laden in our sights but Tommy Franks and JSOC Commander, Dell Dailey, dilly dallied and did not deploy U.S. troops requested by Berntsen to the battle at Tora Bora. We could of had him; we should of had him; but we let Bin Laden get away.
Gary’s book is important in another regard. It shows what the CIA is capable of doing and why we need this capability in addition to the talents offered by U.S. military special operations forces. When the CIA puts its mind to it, it can move fast, innovate on the fly, and do some mind boggling things.
But JAWBREAKER also uncovers why the CIA is at times a faltering, incompetent, risk averse bureaucracy. Although the title of the book is the codeword for the Afghan operation in 2001, it may also be a clever reference about what may happen to you when you read how obtuse some CIA managers and other Government bureaucrats can be in the midst of a crisis. Your jaw may drop open and hit the floor. Hence, “jawbreaker”.
Consider for example what happened to Gary, who was sent into Afghanistan in 2000 with orders to capture a top Al Qaeda commander. His mission was sand bagged by another CIA Chief of Station who served in one of the neighboring “Stans”. This prima donna, a guy named “Lawrence”, was sending reports back to Washington lying about what Gary was and was not doing. Lawrence had his nose out of joint because he felt his turf was being trampled on. The petty jealousy of this bonehead (who in a previous overseas assignment had lost of his intelligence assets) is bad enough. Making matters worse, CIA Director Tenet and the Director of Operations, Jim Pavitt, helped pull the plug on the operation. This wasn’t a case of President Clinton getting cold feet, rather the CIA leadership pulled the plug on an operation that had a chance of success. And, Al Qaeda was left virtually unmolested until they struck the United States one year later.
If that doesn’t get your blood boiling maybe you will get riled when you learn that in the immediate aftermath of 9-11 Gary, who was serving in South America, was warned by the Director of Operations for Latin America to NOT, I repeat NOT, volunteer to go to Afghanistan even though Berntsen had led the last American team to go into Afghanistan. Hell, the World Trade Center was still smoldering and this CIA bureaucrat was more concerned about keeping his positions filled than using all available resources to go after Osama Bin Laden.
The list of CIA bureaucratic stupidities detailed in Gary’s tale is long and agonizing. But, the book also shows you what the CIA can do if it places mission over covering its own ass. In that regard it is important to acknowledge the harmful role that politicians have played in asking the CIA to carry out a mission and then feigning amnesia when the risk goes wrong.
Some folks of a liberal political persuasion may find Gary’s high charged, testosterone laden. type A personality a bit overwhelming. Be forewarned and enjoy the ride. Gary is a refreshingly authentic soul who is more concerned with doing what he thinks is right rather than checking to find out what is politically palatable. Gary understood that finding and killing Bin Laden was a priority. Unfortunately, our current civilian and military leaders seem to have forgotten the promise to get him, dead or alive.
Larry C. Johnson is CEO and co-founder of BERG Associates, LLC, an international business-consulting firm that helps corporations and governments manage threats posed by terrorism and money laundering. Mr. Johnson, who worked previously with the Central Intelligence Agency and U.S. State Department’s Office of Counter Terrorism (as a Deputy Director), is a recognized expert in the fields of terrorism, aviation security, crisis and risk management. Mr. Johnson has analyzed terrorist incidents for a variety of media including the Jim Lehrer News Hour, National Public Radio, ABC’s Nightline, NBC’s Today Show, the New York Times, CNN, Fox News, and the BBC. Mr. Johnson has authored several articles for publications, including Security Management Magazine, the New York Times, and The Los Angeles Times. He has lectured on terrorism and aviation security around the world. Further bio details.