Betraying the dead of 9/11
Al Qaeda's new uniform
Bin Laden Trail 'Stone Cold'
U.S. Steps Up Efforts, But Good Intelligence On Ground is Lacking
By Dana Priest and Ann Scott Tyson
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, September 10, 2006; A01
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.
"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."
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
They had good reason. At least 23 senior anti-Taliban tribesmen have been assassinated in South and North Waziristan since May 2005. "Al-Qaeda footprints were found everywhere," Interior Minister Sherpao said in a recent interview. "They kidnapped and chopped off heads of at least seven of these pro-government tribesmen."
Pakistani and U.S. counterterrorism and military officials admit that Pakistan has now all but stopped looking for bin Laden. "The dirty little secret is, they have nothing, no operations, without the Paks," one former counterterrorism officer said.
Last week, Pakistan announced a truce with the Taliban that calls on the insurgent Afghan group to end armed attacks inside Pakistan and to stop crossing into Afghanistan to fight the government and international troops. The agreement also requires foreign militants to leave the tribal area of North Waziristan or take up a peaceable life there.
In Afghanistan, the hunt for bin Laden has been upstaged by the reemergence of the Taliban and al-Qaeda, and by Afghan infighting for control of territory and opium poppy cropland.
Lt. Gen. John R. Vines, who commanded U.S. troops in Afghanistan in 2003, said he thinks bin Laden kept close to the border, not wandering far into either country. That belief is still current among military and intelligence analysts.
"We believe that he held to a pretty narrow range of within 15 kilometers of the border," said Vines, who now commands the XVIII Airborne Corps, "so that if the Pakistanis, for whatever reason, chose to do something to him, he could cross into Afghanistan and vice versa."
He said he thinks bin Laden's protection force "had a series of outposts with radios that could alert each other" if helicopters were coming or other troop movements were evident.
Pakistani military officials in Wana, the capital of South Waziristan, described bin Laden as having three rings of security, each ring unaware of the movements and identities of the other. Sometimes they communicated with specially marked flashlights. Sometimes they dressed as women to avoid detection by U.S. spy planes.
Pakistan will permit only small numbers of U.S. forces to operate with its troops at times and, because their role is so sensitive politically, it officially denies any U.S. presence. A frequent complaint from U.S. troops is that they have too little to do. The same complaint is also heard from U.S. forces in Afghanistan, where there were few targets to go after.
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!"
A week later, acting on what Pakistani intelligence officials said was information developed out of Libbi's interrogation, the CIA ordered a missile strike against a house in the village of Damadola, about 120 miles northwest of Islamabad, where Pakistani and American officials thought Zawahiri to be hiding.
The missile killed 13 civilians and several suspected terrorists. But Zawahiri was not among them. The strike "could have changed the destiny of the war on terror. Zawahiri was 100 percent sure to visit Damadola . . . but he disappeared at the last moment," one Pakistani intelligence official said.
Tens of thousands of Pakistanis staged an angry anti-American protest near Damadola, shouting, "Death to America!"
"Once again, we have lost track of Ayman al-Zawahiri," the Pakistani intelligence official said in a recent interview. "He keeps popping on television screens. It's miserable, but we don't know where he or his boss are hiding."
US Special Operations spend their days hunting the Mahdi Army and Sunni guerrillas, not Bin Laden.
All New Yorkers wanted was this man on trial. That's all. If they killed him, fine. And I think most Americans would agree.
But from day one, George Bush and his cronies have conspired to lie and betray New Yorkers and all Americans with a plan to conquer Iraq, as well as lie about the miserable quality of air at Ground Zero. That guttersnipe Ann Coulter wonders why we disdain George Bush, because his word is worth toilet paper. She fled New York to Florida. She doesn't have to listen to Bush's lies.
I'm listening to the sick and pathetic Dick Cheney try to justify his war. He's saying if we leave, people will wonder if we have the "stomach for the fight". We know Pakistan doesn't, they just declared peace with Osama. And for once, Russert is hammering him over this nonsense.
How Bush can show his face at Ground Zero tomorrow should be beyond me. But the cowardly Bush, like Giuliani, need to cloak themselves in the heroic deeds of others. Deeds they could never accomplish.
posted by Steve @ 10:45:00 AM