Falcon and the Snowjob

Relating to the recent pics of GWB hanging out in the Saudi weathering yard, Anne found this post by “BWildered” at the liberal blogsite Daily Kos:

“Were you, like me, treated to an Abu Dhabi photo-op? Abu Dhabi royals introducing George W Bush to the arts and sciences of falconry.

Where are the sharp-eyed falcons of the American media? Why was the irony of the moment not an issue.

Ronald Reagan, rather than admit an error, proceeded with a visit to a war cemetary [sic] in Bitburg, Germany that contained among others, the remains of some SS officers. However, our media caught on to the issue and made it a lead story for days. The very word Bitburg is GOP code for a media relations boo-boo.

And so why is falconry in Abu Dhabi a new Bitburg?”

In answering, BWildered cites various sources to substantiate the claim that the US military declined an opportunity to launch a missile strike against Osama bin Laden while he was hawking (or as BWildered insists, “falconing”) with members of the Saudi royal family.

BWildered is, well, bewildered that the media would miss mentioning this: “…it goes without passing note that George Bush goes for falconing lessons with a royal family whose affinity-members include Osama bin Laden’s falconing partners.”

Maybe we just didn’t want to blow up our allies?

Anyway, Steve has another theory….

Steve here. Could the whacky conspiracists at Kos be reading a novel as reality? Charles McCarry’s 2004 Old Boys seems to have the same plot. As I wrote back then on my website:

“Old Boys mixes a cast of aging spies from such works as The Tears of Autumn and Second Sight with just a touch of the humor from McCarry’s Clinton satire Lucky Bastard and sets them loose in Russia and Central Asia on the trail of a vengeful old sheikh who has atomic weapons. Falconers may be interested to find that the migration routes of the houbara, the Arab falconer’s traditional quarry, are a key “clue”. They and Central Asia hands might find this one the most interesting; others might want to try the earlier novels first. Tears of Autumn may be the best of all the Cold war novels, and the least known of the three best….”

FWIW, I added: “…it rests on a body of work I prefer to, say, John Le Carre’s. McCarry’s books are more nuanced, informed I suspect by more knowledge of the covert trade, and– unlike recent LeCarre— he’s on our side, which to me shows a more sophisticated grasp of the issues.”

Is life imitating fiction?

6 thoughts on “Falcon and the Snowjob”

  1. From the 9/11 Commission Report:

    “The Desert Camp, February 1999
    Early in 1999, the CIA received reporting that Bin Ladin was spending much of his time at one of several camps in the Afghan desert south of Kandahar. At the beginning of February, Bin Ladin was reportedly located in the vicinity of the Sheikh Ali camp, a desert hunting camp being used by visitors from a Gulf state. Public sources have stated that these visitors were from the United Arab Emirates.151

    Reporting from the CIA’s assets provided a detailed description of the hunting camp, including its size, location, resources, and security, as well as of Bin Ladin’s smaller, adjacent camp.152 Because this was not in an urban area, missiles launched against it would have less risk of causing collateral damage. On February 8, the military began to ready itself for a possible strike.153 The next day, national technical intelligence confirmed the location and description of the larger camp and showed the nearby presence of an official aircraft of the United Arab Emirates. But the location of Bin Ladin’s quarters could not be pinned down so precisely.154 The CIA did its best to answer a host of questions about the larger camp and its residents and about Bin Ladin’s daily schedule and routines to support military contingency planning. According to reporting from the tribals, Bin Ladin regularly went from his adjacent camp to the larger camp where he visited the Emiratis; the tribals expected him to be at the hunting camp for such a visit at least until midmorning on February 11.155 Clarke wrote to Berger’s deputy on February 10 that the military was then doing targeting work to hit the main camp with cruise missiles and should be in position to strike the following morning.156 Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert appears to have been briefed on the situation.157

    No strike was launched. By February 12 Bin Ladin had apparently moved on, and the immediate strike plans became moot.158 According to CIA and Defense officials, policymakers were concerned about the danger that a strike would kill an Emirati prince or other senior officials who might be with Bin Ladin or close by. Clarke told us the strike was called off after consultations with Director Tenet because the intelligence was dubious, and it seemed to Clarke as if the CIA was presenting an option to attack America’s best counterterrorism ally in the Gulf. The lead CIA official in the field, Gary Schroen, felt that the intelligence reporting in this case was very reliable; the Bin Ladin unit chief, “Mike,” agreed. Schroen believes today that this was a lost opportunity to kill Bin Ladin before 9/11.159
    Even after Bin Ladin’s departure from the area, CIA officers hoped he might return, seeing the camp as a magnet that could draw him for as long as it was still set up. The military maintained readiness for another strike opportunity.160 On March 7, 1999, Clarke called a UAE official to express his concerns about possible associations between Emirati officials and Bin Ladin. Clarke later wrote in a memorandum of this conversation that the call had been approved at an interagency meeting and cleared with the CIA.161 When the former Bin Ladin unit chief found out about Clarke’s call, he questioned CIA officials, who denied having given such a clearance.162 Imagery confirmed that less than a week after Clarke’s phone call the camp was hurriedly dismantled, and the site was deserted.163 CIA officers, including Deputy Director for Operations Pavitt, were irate. “Mike” thought the dismantling of the camp erased a possible site for targeting Bin Ladin.164″ (here)
    emphasis mine

    This got talked about quite a bit back at the time of the proposed UAE/US ports deal – I heard UAE/hunting camp/southern Afganistan and thought “They were hawking houbara.”

  2. Me again… Steve, re: McCarry – I wonder if he used this incident as a seed for his plot device. Sounds like a good read…
    Also – a misspelling on my part – it’s Afghanistan, dang it!

  3. John– you know, you might just have it. McCarry is deeply connected in the intelligence community, and encountered falconry when he was a spook in Morocco. Both the McCarry and the Kossack paranoia may have the same roots.

    It’s a fun book if not his best. Like most sane humans, he thinks ‘most everybody is dumb…

  4. On (funny) matters deep-coverish – I read this yesterday. It took me a minute to figure out who ‘Toxic’ is – then I laughed… Forwarded the link to a friend – got a reply back – a pointer to the always reliable News of the World. Check para 5 – it caused my head to explode. Life imitates – well, I don’t know what it imitates, but I’m starting to think I’ve been plopped into the middle of a surrealist performance piece!


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