A well-meaning relative just forwarded me the Ollie North bin Laden Chain Mail, the variant which claims Al Gore shot down his far-sighted plans for assassinating bin Laden. Here’s the snopes article on the chain letter; I wrote up what I hoped was a good response and sent it to everyone on the cc list, and if I work that hard looking stuff up and writing something up, I’m a-gonna blog it. So here goes. There are some typos and mis-wordings here and there but I kinda like what I wrote, so here it is.
This chain email is not true. In fact, most of it is virtually the *opposite* of the truth.
Al Gore was not a member of the committee that questioned Oliver North during the Iran-Contra hearings, so even if Oliver North had said this, he would not have been there to reply.
Oliver North did not, in fact, mention Osama bin Laden at those hearings.
He did say he had bought a very expensive security system to protect himself from an Arab terrorist.
That terrorist was Abu Nidal. He was a Palestinian, a former – friend – turned – enemy of Yasser Arafat. He was a secular (not Islamist) leader of a mercenary terrorist group that sold their services to the highest bidder. Having alienated everyone in Palestine he eventually ended up working for Moammar Gaddhafi, with whom we were in a military standoff at the time. Hence his name coming up as a person for Oliver North to be afraid of. (And he was a horrible person, a terrorist who frightened *other terrorists* with his viciousness, definitely somebody you would not want paying a visit to your loved ones. Whether he really had a grudge against Oliver North or the will to act upon it, I don’t know.)
As it happens, Abu Nidal died in 2002. He was shot to death in Baghdad, on the orders of Saddam Hussein. So North can thank Saddam Hussein for making his security system obsolete.
What was Osama bin Laden up to at the time?
In the late 80s, Osama bin Laden was working for the the United States. He had been recruited by Saudi minister of information Turki al Faisal, who was working on orders from King Fahd, who was pressured by the United States to help the fight against the Communists in Afghanistan. His job was to recruit and organize and funnel money towards the Mujihadeen, the CIA-trained-and-organized fighters against Communism in Afghanistan. He ran an organization called the Makhtab al-Khamadat for that purpose. He left the Makhtab al-Khamadat in 1988, having learned from his CIA friends that it is possible for a small group of Islamic radicals to take on a superpower, and soon he founded a successor organization, called “Al-Qaeda.”
North himself, of course, was supporting the “Contras,” terrorist insurgents in Central America who had a habit of slaughtering innocent people (including missionaries) for the sake of the greater cause. But they were fighting communists too, so Reagan approved of them and supported them (and sold arms to Iran to fund them secretly, without leaving a paper trail — that was what the Iran-Contra hearings were about, remember).
So in 1987, Oliver North and Osama bin Laden were on the same side and doing very similar work — both were engaged in supporting terrorist attacks on *communist* governments, with the backing of the CIA and the Reagan administration.
With regards to the Oliver North quote —
North himself, writing in November 2001, denied that he had said anything about bin Laden at the hearings.
The text of that denial, and a link to a copy of the original testimony, so you can check up on it, are available here: