Amid rumors of Osama bin Laden’s death from illness, former President Bill Clinton and the Bush administration argued this week over who did more to kill the al Qaeda leader before the September 11 attacks.
CNN’s Tony Harris spoke with former FBI agent Dan Coleman about the finger-pointing between the two administrations. Coleman also weighed in on where he believes bin Laden is hiding and on the status of bin Laden’s health.
HARRIS: [Pakistani] President Musharraf in his book says he thinks bin Laden is in east Afghanistan. [Afghan President] Karzai says he’s probably in Pakistan. What do you make of the back and forth here?
COLEMAN: That’s a bit of cross-blaming. The borders in that region are rather undefined, and I defy either one of them to say exactly where he is at any one point in time.
HARRIS: So, undefined because neither leader has control of those border areas at all?
COLEMAN: Afghanistan is basically still in anarchy. And Pakistan, the part of Pakistan in which bin Laden may or may not be located, is northwest frontier provinces which are basically reservations, tribal reservations. And the central government does not have a lot of control there.
HARRIS: What do you make of the deal between Pakistan and some of the tribal leaders in that sort of rugged, undefined area that you describe?
COLEMAN: Well, bin Laden has been on the loose for five years now. If they wanted the $25 million for him they would have turned him in already. So I suspect that’s more internal politics in Pakistan.
HARRIS: So bin Laden is being sheltered?
COLEMAN: I believe so, yes.
HARRIS: Given your knowledge of how intelligence flows, what did you make of the French reporting over the weekend that bin Laden is either dead or is seriously ill?
COLEMAN: Well-off people with access with medicine and doctors don’t die from typhoid. … If you’ve got somebody there that can put an IV in your arm and get you the proper medicine, you’ll survive. American soldiers in the field can catch typhoid just as easily as he can, but they don’t die from it. If they’re treated, they survive.
HARRIS: What do you give Clinton credit for in the hunt for Osama bin Laden and his attempts to disrupt al Qaeda?
COLEMAN: President Clinton is very careful in his comments. I was at least happy to see him get angry about something and at least try to fight back.
I doubt that anything he said was incorrect because he’s too careful a man. But as far as I know, he may — he approved the assassination of bin Laden, but he never approved a particular plan.
HARRIS: His claim is that he couldn’t get the CIA and the FBI to agree on responsibility, for example, for the Cole attack and to launch countermeasures.
COLEMAN: I disagree with that.
HARRIS: He said he had a battle plan drawn up to go into Afghanistan, overthrow the Taliban, and launch a full-scale search for bin Laden.
COLEMAN: Well, he didn’t do it.
HARRIS: Did you see evidence of a plan?
COLEMAN: Not at my level. No, sir.
HARRIS: So what do you make of his claim?
COLEMAN: He was saying that he made a very specific statement about getting a forward operating base in one of the former Soviet republics which he was not able to get. … You don’t need a forward base in one of the former Soviet republics to go in and do a quick operation.