President Donald Trump falsely asserted that he predicted Osama bin Laden’s 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center in a news conference Sunday aimed at showcasing his administration’s accomplishments in stemming the terrorist threat abroad.
A look at the president’s claims at the briefing, where he announced the death of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State group:
TRUMP: “I’m writing a book ... About a year before the World Trade Center came down, the book came out. I was talking about Osama bin Laden. I said, ‘You have to kill him. You have to take him out.’ Nobody listened to me.” Trump added that people said to him, ”‘You predicted that Osama Bin Laden had to be killed, before he knocked down the World Trade Center.’ It’s true.”
THE FACTS: It’s not true.
His 2000 book, “The America We Deserve,” makes a passing mention of bin Laden but did no more than point to the al-Qaida leader as one of many threats to U.S. security. Nor does he say in the book that bin Laden should have be killed.
As part of his criticism of what he considered Bill Clinton’s haphazard approach to U.S. security as president, Trump wrote: “One day we’re told that a shadowy figure with no fixed address named Osama bin Laden is public enemy Number One, and U.S. jetfighters lay waste to his camp in Afghanistan. He escapes back under some rock, and a few news cycles later it’s on to a new enemy and new crisis.”
The book did not call for further U.S. action against bin Laden or al-Qaida to follow up on attacks Clinton ordered in 1998 in Afghanistan and Sudan after al-Qaida bombed the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. The U.S. attacks were meant to disrupt bin Laden’s network and destroy some of al-Qaida’s infrastructure, such as a factory in Sudan associated with the production of a nerve gas ingredient. They “missed” in the sense that bin Laden was not killed in them, and al-Qaida was able to pull off 9/11 three years later.
In passages on terrorism, Trump’s book does correctly predict that the U.S. was at risk of a terrorist attack that would make the 1993 World Trade Center bombing pale by comparison. That was a widespread concern at the time, as Trump suggested in stating “no sensible analyst rejects this possibility.”
Still, Trump did not explicitly tie that threat to al-Qaida and thought an attack might come through a miniaturized weapon of mass destruction, like a nuclear device in a suitcase or anthrax.
TRUMP: “Nobody ever heard of Osama bin Laden until really the World Trade Center.”
THE FACTS: That’s incorrect. Bin Laden was well known by the CIA, other national security operations, experts and the public long before 9/11, with the CIA having a unit entirely dedicated to bin Laden going back to the mid-1990s. The debate at the time was over whether Clinton and successor President George W. Bush could have done more against al-Qaida to prevent the 2001 attacks.