July 31st, 2014
06:56 PM ET
9 years ago

Bill Clinton: ‘I nearly got’ Osama bin Laden

Washington (CNN) – Bill Clinton, just hours before planes crashed into the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, reportedly told an audience in Australia that he almost killed Osama bin Laden during his presidency.

Speaking to a group of businessmen in Australia on September 10, 2001, according to audio aired by SkyNews Australia on Wednesday, Clinton said that he "nearly got" the al Qaeda leader but didn't go through with a missile attack because of the collateral damage that would have come from it.

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"He [Osama bin Laden] is a very smart guy, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about him – and I nearly got him once," Clinton said. "I nearly got him. And I could have killed him, but I would have to destroy a little town called Kandahar in Afghanistan and kill 300 innocent women and children, and then I would have been no better than him. And so I didn’t do it.”

The tape, which was provided to SkyNews by Michael Kroger, a former head of the Liberal Party of Australia, aired on the networks show "Paul Murray Live."

According to Kroger, who appears on the show, the Clinton remarks came from a meeting the former president had with 30 businessmen and women at Crown Casino Complex in Melbourne.

"The event was taped with his knowledge," Kroger says on the show. "The tape has never been played. … Bill Clinton was answering a question from a member of the audience about terrorism, international terrorism and he made some extraordinary remarks which had hitherto remained in my vault."

A number of books and the 9/11 Commission Report have acknowledged that the Clinton administration considered a December 1998 strike on bin Laden but scrapped the plan over possible collateral damage.

Bin Laden would infamously go on to be the mastermind behind the September 11 attacks that killed 2,977 people. After going into hiding for years, bin Laden was killed on May 2, 2011 by U.S. Special Forces during an early morning raid in Abbottabad, Pakistan.

Filed under: Australia • Bill Clinton • Osama bin Laden
soundoff (561 Responses)
  1. gj2001

    coulda, woulda, shoulda

    August 1, 2014 09:20 am at 9:20 am |
  2. Scott P

    Wonder why he never mentioned this interview after the attacks? Hmmmmm.

    August 1, 2014 09:20 am at 9:20 am |
  3. blvicente

    All you Bush bashiers wanting to blame 9-11 on GWB: There you have it. Clinton knew Bin Laden wanted to harm the US, and he traded 3,000 American lives for 300 in Kandahar.

    August 1, 2014 09:21 am at 9:21 am |
  4. The Doug

    These guys love hiding among women and children. How brave of them. (sarcasm)

    August 1, 2014 09:23 am at 9:23 am |
  5. stephen

    so, let me get this straight...he was willing to fire cruise missiles to kill saddam hussein in baghdad but he wasn't willing to pull the trigger on UBL on a smaller city. Nah, this is a good excuse...justify good with the bad. I'm not sure if monica L had something to do with this.

    August 1, 2014 09:23 am at 9:23 am |
  6. aaron

    You Repubs need to get back on your meds. No SANE president would take out a few thousand innocent civilians to get one bad guy. Of course, you do have Bush and Cheney as your heroes, taking out a few million to get one bad guy.

    August 1, 2014 09:24 am at 9:24 am |
  7. Crocker

    You could have kept your pants zipped up too Bill. Hind sight is always so clear isn't it.

    August 1, 2014 09:24 am at 9:24 am |
  8. johnk

    Slick Willy, then why didn't you take out Bin Laden? Both you and Hillary are birds of a feather, you both talk the same, act the same and speak with a crooked tongues, not to be trusted. Unfortunately are bimbo votes will elect Hillary in 2016 and get anther Bill doing the same things under the table and BSing the public. Most voters are just plain dumb like sheep.

    August 1, 2014 09:24 am at 9:24 am |
  9. Duke

    To little to late.

    August 1, 2014 09:25 am at 9:25 am |
  10. Tomcat

    Bin Laden had left hours before a possible US strike could have been carried out ......Clinton made the correct decision.

    August 1, 2014 09:28 am at 9:28 am |
  11. jackalternatov

    If anyone thinks that Al-Qaeda would have stopped or 9/11 would have been scrapped if Clinton killed OBL, I have to ask, why then is al-qaeda not over now that he's dead? Clinton could have killed him sure, but I find it very hard to believe that htis would have significantly altered any existing plans already in motion to target the US.

    August 1, 2014 09:28 am at 9:28 am |
  12. endofliferitual

    Good job Bill. You saved those 300 people.......traded them for 5,000 Americans, in fact.

    August 1, 2014 09:29 am at 9:29 am |
  13. Don

    Ok, this is some education for all you idiots out there. Funny how this stuff surfaces before an election huh? It's called balance of politics, business, lifestyles. Hello CIA. The cia entered me in sept 90, enhanced me in sept 05, and tried kicking my a$$ in mar of 08. I've fought against all odds and I'm ready for my calling, and it's not six feet under. Interview complete?

    August 1, 2014 09:30 am at 9:30 am |
  14. Smitten kitten

    I hope the "posters" who jumped all over me a few weeks ago when I mentioned this, are eating some crow pie. "You're lying blonde! Clinton didn't know anything about UBL... it was all Bush"
    Clinton had a shot, but UBL was hunting with Saudi princes we didn't want to offend. Heaven forbid we disturb the oil princes.

    August 1, 2014 09:30 am at 9:30 am |
  15. Fair is Fair

    Rudy NYC

    Fair is Fair

    "Clinton said that he "nearly got" the al Qaeda leader but didn't go through with a missile attack because of the collateral damage that would have come from it."
    Thanks, Bubba. Thanks heaps.
    I am thankful for his decision, too. The optics on it would have looked really bad. United States launches sneak attack into sovereign nation that kills dozens of civilians would have played in one of two disastrous ways. An air strike would have probably meant that there would be no means to verify the objective. A ground assault has its' own set of logistical problems, the least of which is the operation being called an invasion.
    According to the article, he could have got him in December, 1998. This was AFTER the first WTC bombing. AFTER the USS Cole. AFTER the destruction of the embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. AFTER Bin Laden was on the FBI's most wanted list.

    You're thankful for his decision?????? Wow. Just wow.

    August 1, 2014 09:30 am at 9:30 am |
  16. Rosslaw

    Well, the deranged right didn't have any time to support any effort to get Bin Ladin since they had to get Clinton for getting a BJ in the White House when republicans know enough to take their secretary or their boyfriend to the parking lot for a BJ in the car. In reality, the republicans blasted Clinton for trying to get Bin Ladin.

    August 1, 2014 09:31 am at 9:31 am |
  17. endofliferitual

    Thanks, Bill. 300 lives saved overseas, 4,000 killed here. Nice job.

    August 1, 2014 09:31 am at 9:31 am |
  18. jackalternatov

    If anyone thinks Clinton killing OBL would have stopped 9/11 or unravelled Al-Qaeda, I'd ask why we're still engaging them across the world now that he's dead? Clinton had a shot but I think he made the right call. We're better than the terrorists and sometimes the cost of that is our own blood. It's a worthy cost though. And either way, killing OBL and 300 kids would not have stopped 9/11 in my humble, often incorrect opinion and likely would have created more enemies.

    August 1, 2014 09:31 am at 9:31 am |
  19. lindaluttrell

    Well, he is finally admitting publically that his administration had this intel for a while. Miracles never cease.

    August 1, 2014 09:31 am at 9:31 am |
  20. me

    Wow, it's good to see that Monday morning quarterbacks don't value life any more than a terrorist does. Those of you that are cool with murdering a few hundred innocent people do realize that Bill Clinton lived in the pre 9/11 timeframe when he made the decisions that he did, right? You do know that was a different world at that time, right? It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that A) His words were spoken PRIOR to 9/11, B)if he had a crystal ball to see the future, he would have done things differently and the thing all you fools conveniently forget, the Bush administration was given ample information about OBL when they assumed office. Personally, as dumb as I think Bush is, I can't fault him any more than I can fault Clinton, for he too was living in a pre 9/11 world. What happened on 9/11 was an incredibly terrible tragedy that we all would have chosen to not have happen but it did and the fault lays squarely on the Muslim jihad extremist who bastardize their religion to justify slaughtering whomever they feel like... let's keep the blame and focus squarely on those inhuman scum and continue to send them 6 feet under while doing whatever it takes to not kill innocent men, women and children... you would feel the same way if the terrorist was standing next to your loved one when the trigger is squeezed...

    August 1, 2014 09:37 am at 9:37 am |
  21. tgb4joepa

    I've heard a similar story, only difference was that he stated he didnt pull the trigger because at the time he was preoccupied with another type of missle and Ms. Lewinski.

    August 1, 2014 09:38 am at 9:38 am |
  22. august43

    What set off Bin-Laden's war on America? It was poppy Bush's reaction to Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait. Recall that the US demanded and received air bases in Saudi Arabia, something that Bin Laden took up as a cause. The underlying cause of the recent conflict boils down to oil, energy supplies, and money. This is still what motivates much of US policy. Clinton actually had missiles fired against Bin Laden on other occasions; the second (and still worse) President Bush was caught completely flat-footed on 9/11, but should not have been, as his team was forewarned that a big attack was coming. And then, just when the Bin Laden forces were trapped in Afghanistan, Bush's incompetence allowed him to escape into Pakistan. Then, acting on dubious intelligence, Bush launched an elective war on Iraq, a disastrous error of judgment that allowed the situation in Afghanistan to slide backward. It is just incredible that right wingers still cling to Bush and his stupid policies.

    August 1, 2014 09:39 am at 9:39 am |
  23. Kevin Collins

    Clinton held weekly meetings with counterterrorism csar Richard Clarke, but When W. got in office it took Clarke 10 months just to get a single sit-down with him - W., of course, was more concerned with securing geared-to-the-wealthy tax cuts than combating terrorism. And in his book, the non-partisan Clarke made clear the Sudanese offer to turn over bin Laden was nonsense. Finally, for those who think Clinton made the wrong decision on bombing Kandahar and killing 300 innocent people, what if this were a village where you and your family resided? Yeah, that's what I thought. And let's not forget the collateral damage from W.'s lies-based Iraq War - over 100,000 innocent civilians killed.

    August 1, 2014 09:40 am at 9:40 am |
  24. Rudy NYC

    Some of you folks can blame Clinton for 9/11. Nothing changes the fact that it occurred on George W. Bush's watch, despite all of the daily intelligence briefings, which were seemingly ignored as they plotted an Iraq invasion, that were warning of a domestic terrorist attack involving hijacked airplanes.

    August 1, 2014 09:41 am at 9:41 am |
  25. John

    The same people crying that he did not are the same people that would have gone nuts if he had. You do not even fool each other anymore.

    August 1, 2014 09:42 am at 9:42 am |
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