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Reno nixed plan
to nab bin Laden

Former attorney general concluded '98 mission to arrest Osama in Afghanistan 'too dangerous'

Posted: May 21, 2003
5:00 p.m. Eastern


The FBI had a clandestine plan to capture terror mastermind Osama bin Laden in 1998 and even practiced the daring operation in the Texas desert but former Attorney General Janet Reno scrubbed it, calling it "too dangerous," reports ABC News.

Jack Cloonan, a former FBI agent who is now an ABC NEWS consultant, revealed the details of a secret team of federal investigators he was a part of whose sole purpose was to apprehend bin Laden.

In 1996, the group set up shop in an unmarked office off the Beltway in Alexandria, Va., which was dubbed Alex Station.

Cloonan said the agents discovered a great deal about bin Laden's al-Qaida network which was operating out of a compound in the Taliban's stronghold of Kandahar, Afghanistan at the time.

"We had information, pretty good information on the particular house where he was," he told ABC, noting the team intended to act on the information.

"There's no sense in getting involved in a case like this and seeking an indictment if you're not going to bring this to a logical conclusion," Cloonan told ABC. "And that logical conclusion for us was the arrest of bin Laden."

The Alex Station team formulated a scheme to have a plane from Uzbekistan swoop into the area and execute an arrest warrant. They even practiced the mission in a desert area outside San Antonio, Texas, which has terrain similar to that in Afghanistan.

"A U.S. plane was to fly in," Cloonan said. "And he [bin Laden] would have been greeted by an FBI agent, who would have said, 'Sheik bin Laden, there is a warrant for your arrest,'" he said.

But when the details of the scheme went up the chain of command for approval, according to Cloonan, Reno killed it.

"They came to the decision that this plan was probably too dangerous, that the loss of life on the ground would have been significant," Cloonan told the news network. There was concern that people around the bin Laden compound would be killed."

At the time, the former attorney general was still answering to critics about her handling of the inferno at the Branch Davidians' Waco, Texas, compound in 1993.

As WorldNetDaily reported during her failed bid for Florida governor last fall, Reno defended the use of force in the federal raid: "John Danforth, the person appointed to review Waco, said I did exactly the right thing. I couldn't walk away from four agents killed and 16 wounded. Neither could I stay there forever. ... David Koresh was out to create his own Armageddon."

Reno declined to comment to ABC News' "Good Morning America" on the Alex Station plot, calling the incident classified.

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