[Bill Clinton] had demonstrated his willingness to kill bin Laden, without any pretense of seeking his arrest, when he ordered the cruise missile strikes on an eastern Afghan camp in August 1998, after the CIA obtained intelligence that bin Laden might be there for a meeting of al Qaeda leaders.
As the months passed, Clinton signed new memos in which the language, while still ambiguous, made the use of lethal force by the CIA's Afghan agents more likely, according to officials involved. At first the CIA was permitted to use lethal force only in the course of a legitimate attempt to make an arrest. Later the memos allowed for a pure lethal attack if an arrest was not possible. Still, the CIA was required to plan all its agent missions with an arrest in mind.
Some CIA managers chafed at the White House instructions. The CIA received "no written word nor verbal order to conduct a lethal action" against bin Laden before Sept. 11, one official involved recalled. "The objective was to render this guy to law enforcement." In these operations, the CIA had to recruit agents "to grab [bin Laden] and bring him to a secure place where we can turn him over to the FBI. . . . If they had said 'lethal action' it would have been a whole different kettle of fish, and much easier."
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