|Happy anniversary, September 11, 2001!
Love, the Bush administration.
The clandestine U.S. commandos whose job is to capture or kill Osama bin Laden have not received a credible lead in more than two years. Nothing from the vast U.S. intelligence world -- no tips from informants, no snippets from electronic intercepts, no points on any satellite image -- has led them anywhere near the al-Qaeda leader, according to U.S. and Pakistani officials.
"The handful of assets we have have given us nothing close to real-time intelligence" that could have led to his capture, said one counterterrorism official, who said the trail, despite the most extensive manhunt in U.S. history, has gone "stone cold."
But in the last three months, following a request from President Bush to "flood the zone," the CIA has sharply increased the number of intelligence officers and assets devoted to the pursuit of bin Laden. The intelligence officers will team with the military's secretive Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) and with more resources from the National Security Agency and other intelligence agencies.
The problem, former and current counterterrorism officials say, is that no one is certain where the "zone" is.
Hm... three months ago, eh? I wonder why... could it be the upcoming election? Let's continue...
"Here you've got a guy who's gone off the net and is hiding in some of the most formidable terrain in one of the most remote parts of the world surrounded by people he trusts implicitly," said T. McCreary, spokesman for the National Counterterrorism Center. "And he stays off the net and is probably not mobile. That's an extremely difficult problem."This sounds like a job for ... Cyrus Nowrasteh! Where is our intrepid writer and his Jesus-centered director friend when we need him to pen a tiresome, overly long and boring epic???
Intelligence officials think that bin Laden is hiding in the northern reaches of the autonomous tribal region along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. This calculation is based largely on a lack of activity elsewhere and on other intelligence, including a videotape, obtained exclusively by the CIA and not previously reported, that shows bin Laden walking on a trail toward Pakistan at the end of the battle of Tora Bora in December 2001, when U.S. forces came close but failed to capture him.
Many factors have combined in the five years since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to make the pursuit more difficult. They include the lack of CIA access to people close to al-Qaeda's inner circle; Pakistan's unwillingness to pursue him; the reemergence of the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan; the strength of the Iraqi insurgency, which has depleted U.S. military and intelligence resources; and the U.S. government's own disorganization.
More material for Sir Cyrus' next opus:
On the videotape obtained by the CIA, bin Laden is seen confidently instructing his party how to dig holes in the ground to lie in undetected at night. A bomb dropped by a U.S. aircraft can be seen exploding in the distance. "We were there last night," bin Laden says without much concern in his voice. He was in or headed toward Pakistan, counterterrorism officials think.
That was December 2001. Only two months later, Bush decided to pull out most of the special operations troops and their CIA counterparts in the paramilitary division that were leading the hunt for bin Laden in Afghanistan to prepare for war in Iraq, said Flynt L. Leverett, then an expert on the Middle East at the National Security Council.
"I was appalled when I learned about it," said Leverett, who has become an outspoken critic of the administration's counterterrorism policy. "I don't know of anyone who thought it was a good idea. It's very likely that bin Laden would be dead or in American custody if we hadn't done that."
Several officers confirmed that the number of special operations troops was reduced in March 2001.
White House spokeswoman Michele Davis said she would not comment on the specific allegation. "Military and intelligence units move routinely in and out," she said. "The intelligence and military community's hunt for bin Laden has been aggressive and constant since the attacks."
The Pakistani intelligence service, notoriously difficult to trust but also the service with the best access to al-Qaeda circles, is convinced bin Laden is alive because no one has ever intercepted or heard a message mourning his death. "Al-Qaeda will mourn his death and will retaliate in a big way. We are pretty sure Osama is alive," Pakistan's interior minister, Aftab Khan Sherpao, said in a recent interview with The Washington Post.
Oh, almost forgot ... Cyrus only does made up stories about Clinton failing to capture or kill Osama bin Laden. ... real ones about his beloved Bush failing utterly to do so, even after the attacks of 9/11, wouldn't go over so well with his winger buddies at FrontPage Magazine and the Michael Medved Show...
Too bad. The WaPo provides yet ANOTHER great scene for a potential Cyrus/Cunningham terrorism blockbuster:
Bureaucratic battles slowed down the hunt for bin Laden for the first two or three years, according to officials in several agencies, with both the Pentagon and the CIA accusing each other of withholding information. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's sense of territoriality has become legendary, according to these officials.
In early November 2002, for example, a CIA drone armed with a Hellfire missile killed a top al-Qaeda leader traveling through the Yemeni desert. About a week later, Rumsfeld expressed anger that it was the CIA, not the Defense Department, that had carried out the successful strike.
"How did they get the intel?" he demanded of the intelligence and other military personnel in a high-level meeting, recalled one person knowledgeable about the meeting.
Gen. Michael V. Hayden, then director of the National Security Agency and technically part of the Defense Department, said he had given it to them.
"Why aren't you giving it to us?" Rumsfeld wanted to know.
Hayden, according to this source, told Rumsfeld that the information-sharing mechanism with the CIA was working well. Rumsfeld said it would have to stop.
A CIA spokesman said Hayden, now the CIA director, does not recall this conversation. Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said, "The notion that the department would do anything that would jeopardize the success of an operation to kill or capture bin Laden is ridiculous." The NSA continues to share intelligence with the CIA and the Defense Department.
At that time, Rumsfeld was putting in place his own aggressive plan, led by the U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM), to dominate the hunt for bin Laden and other terrorists. The overall special operations budget has grown by 60 percent since 2003 to $8 billion in fiscal year 2007.
Rows and rows of temporary buildings sprang up on SOCOM's parking lots in Tampa as Rumsfeld refocused the mission of a small group of counterterrorism experts from long-term planning for the war on terrorism to manhunting. The group "went from 20 years to 24-hour crisis-mode operations," one former special operations officer said. "It went from planning to manhunting."
In 2004, Rumsfeld finally won the president's approval to put SOCOM in charge of the "Global War on Terrorism."
Today, however, no one person is in charge of the overall hunt for bin Laden with the authority to direct covert CIA operations to collect intelligence and to dispatch JSOC units. Some counterterrorism officials find this absurd. "There's nobody in the United States government whose job it is to find Osama bin Laden!" one frustrated counterterrorism official shouted. "Nobody!"
Go figure. Bureaucratic infighting ... turf battles ... lack of information sharing ... sounds a hell of a lot like pre-9/11 thinking to me! And this, post-9/11! Geez.
Tags: ABC, TV, Programming, 9/11, September 11, News and politics,path to 911, Cyrus Nowrasteh, David Cunningham, Osama bin Laden