Radio reports new CIA-Bin Laden details

By ELIZABETH BRYANT, United Press International   |   Nov. 1, 2001 at 10:08 AM
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PARIS, Nov. 1 (UPI) -- Radio France International offered additional details Thursday of allegations that terrorist suspect Osama bin Laden met with a CIA officer in the United Arab Emirates in July.

The CIA has dismissed as "total absurdity" a report carried Wednesday by Radio France and by France's Le Figaro newspaper, alleging that a CIA agent met with bin Laden at a Dubai clinic, where the suspected terrorist was reportedly treated for kidney problems.

The clinic, said to be the American Hospital in Dubai, also denied bin Laden had been a patient. The American Embassy in Paris has not commented on the report.

The Paris-based International Herald Tribune suggested the erroneous information may have been leaked by opponents in France to the U.S. military campaign in Afghanistan.

"Disinformation may have been planted ... to suggest a continuing covert linkage between the CIA and bin Laden," a French intelligence source told the Herald Tribune.

Nonetheless, Radio France International, for one, said it stood by its report. In a follow-up Thursday, the French radio station identified the alleged CIA agent as Larry Mitchell, "a connoisseur of the Arab world and specialist of the (Arab) peninsula."

Mitchell's business card identified him as a "consular agent," the radio said. In fact, RFI alleged, he was a CIA agent and a prominent fixture in Dubai's expatriate community. According to both the radio and Le Figaro, Mitchell was recalled to the CIA's headquarters in McLean, Va., on July 15.

The radio also gave the precise date of Mitchell's supposed encounter with bin Laden -- July 12, two days before the Saudi dissident reportedly checked out of the hospital.

Neither the Figaro, nor Radio France offered independent confirmation of the report. The radio station also cited no source for its latest allegations. Earlier, the Figaro said its story was leaked by a partner of the hospital's management.

In an interview published Thursday in Le Figaro, Arab specialist Antoine Sfeir said he was not surprised on the alleged CIA-bin Laden ties.

"Bin Laden maintained contacts with bin Laden until 1998," Sfeir said. "Those contacts didn't end after bin Laden moved to Afghanistan. Until the last minute, CIA agents hoped bin Laden would return to U.S. command, as was the case before 1998."

Sfeir also maintained the information about the CIA-bin Laden connection had been in circulation for the past 15 days.

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