One of the most interesting things about the four newly released Bush administration memos on the “enhanced interrogation” of detainees in overseas secret CIA prisons has been what isn’t in there, rather than what is. The truly grotesque caterpillar revelation aside, the memos weren’t very revelatory. We already knew about the SERE techniques. We knew that medical professionals attended them -- and that Jay Bybee, then an administration lawyer, now a federal judge, felt the presence of medical professionals meant it wasn’t torture.
But Tom Malinowski, of Human Rights Watch, pointed me to one truly new detail, in a footnote in the May 2005 memo from Steven Bradbury to John Rizzo, a CIA lawyer. Here’s footnote 28:
“This is not to say that the interrogation program has worked perfectly. According to the IG Report, the CIA, at least initially, could not always distinguish detainees who had information but were successfully resisting interrogation from those who did not actually have the information….On at least one occasion, this may have resulted in what might be deemed in retrospect to have been the unnecessary use of enhanced techniques. On that occasion, although the on-scene interrogation team judged Zubaydah to be compliant, elements within CIA headquarters still believed he was withholding information. [REDACTED PORTION.] At the direction of CIA Headquarters, interrogators therefore used the waterboard one more time on Zubaydah.”
Which marks the first time a memo has admitted that waterboarding was “unnecessary.”
In a press release, Attorney General Eric Holder and the Department of Justice announce the withdrawal of the "enemy combatant" definition of Gitmo detainees. The memo says that, under President Obama's orders, the department is reviewing detention policy:
In a filing today with the federal District Court for the District of Columbia, the Department of Justice submitted a new standard for the government’s authority to hold detainees at the Guantanamo Bay Detention Facility. The definition does not rely on the President’s authority as Commander-in-Chief independent of Congress’s specific authorization. It draws on the international laws of war to inform the statutory authority conferred by Congress. It provides that individuals who supported al Qaeda or the Taliban are detainable only if the support was substantial. And it does not employ the phrase "enemy combatant."
The Department also submitted a declaration by Attorney General Eric Holder stating that, under executive orders issued by President Obama, the government is undertaking an interagency review of detention policy for individuals captured in armed conflicts or counterterrorism operations as well as a review of the status of each detainee held at Guantanamo. The outcome of those reviews may lead to further refinements of the government’s position as it develops a comprehensive policy.
The memo states that the government will no longer detain combatants who provided "insignificant or insubstantial" support to al Qaeda or the Taliban. (The Bush administration came under fierce criticism for holding persons with little or no connection to the terrorist organizations.) More than 200 remain incarcerated at Camp Delta; it's unclear if any -- or how many -- will be released under the new legal standards.
Photo: Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images
Geography Professor Thomas Gillespie of UCLA has employed a technique typically used for tracking endangered species in order to pinpoint the most likely location of the world's most wanted terrorist. In a paper (pdf) published in the MIT International Review Gillespie describes how he used biogeographic data including bin Laden's last known location, cultural background, security needs, declining health, limited mobility and height to create a mathematical model that he claims will show where the terror mastermind is hiding.
According to Gillespie, Osama is riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiight about here:
More specifically, he found a 90 percent chance that bin Laden is in Kurram province in Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas, most likely in the town of Parachinar which gave shelter to a larger number of Mujahedin during the 1980s. Here's a closer look at the region with Osama probabilities shown:
Gillespie even identified three buildings in Parachinar that would make the most likely shelters for Bin Laden and his entourage. Here's one of them:
The exact coordinates are N. 33.901944° E.70.093746°. Anyone want to go check it out?
Images: The MIT International Review
A public contest for the "world's best job" -- taking care of a tiny Australian tropical island and writing about the experience -- received an unusual video application from one "Osama bin Laden." ''I enjoy the outdoors and sandy areas,'' the ersatz Bin Laden says. 'I've got experience with videos, delegating tasks and experience with large scale event coordination.''
Australian pranksters seem to have something of a fetish for the terror mastermind.
I see that senior U.S. counterterrorism officials are bragging to NPR that al Qaeda is getting whipped in the rural wilds of Pakistan:
CIA-directed airstrikes against al-Qaida leaders and facilities in Pakistan over the past six to nine months have been so successful, according to senior U.S. officials, that it is now possible to foresee a "complete al-Qaida defeat" in the mountainous region along the border with Afghanistan.
The officials say the terrorist network's leadership cadre has been "decimated," with up to a dozen senior and midlevel operatives killed as a result of the strikes and the remaining leaders reeling from the repeated attacks.
"The enemy is really, really struggling," says one senior U.S. counterterrorism official. "These attacks have produced the broadest, deepest and most rapid reduction in al-Qaida senior leadership that we've seen in several years." [...]
"In the past, you could take out the No. 3 al-Qaida leader, and No. 4 just moved up to take his place," says one official. "Well, if you take out No. 3, No. 4 and then 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10, it suddenly becomes a lot more difficult to revive the leadership cadre."
If you take these claims at face value, it's a pretty impressive achievement.
But here's the problem: At the same time as al Qaeda appears to be getting its collective ass kicked, native Pakistani and Afghan militants appear to be getting stronger, not weaker, just as Pakistani analysts have been warning for months.
Just today, militants in Pakistan's Khyber Agency cut the chief supply route to U.S. troops in Afghanistan. The Obama team appears to be shocked at how bad the situation in the region has gotten. Fareed Zakaria is talking about Obama's Vietnam. And in what is either desperation or brilliant diplomacy, NATO is reportedly considering turning to Iran -- Iran! -- for logistical help.
Is this victory?
UPDATE: John McCreary, of NightWatch, comments on the Iran story:
Iran and Pakistan have a common interest in combating extremists, and they can improve the situation in their region by enhancing political and economic ties, according to Fars news agency today, citing Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, Head of Iran's Expediency Council. Iranian-Pakistani cooperation is the most vital issue in resolving the Afghanistan situation, Rafsanjani said, and foreign forces there cannot fight extremists without the partnership of those two countries. Cooperation on the exchange and supply of energy is the best area for Iranian-Pakistani relations, he added. Rafsanjani made the comments at a meeting with Mohammad Bakhsh Abbasi, the new Pakistani ambassador to Iran.
Rafsanjani made a decent point about the need for partnership with adjacent countries in stabilizing Afghanistan. The significance is that he seems to be offering it. Iran, for example, has not dismissed or discouraged media speculation or the NATO suggestion that Iran could become an alternate supply route for international forces in Afghanistan.
Naturally, Rafsanjani did not mention Iran's terms. Iran always has terms.
With the violence in Gaza and the imminent changeover in administrations here in Washington D.C., terrorism experts told Foreign Policy in interviews today, Osama bin Laden apparently thought the time was right to deliver a message to both his supporters and his enemies.
An audio tape attributed to the al Qaeda leader appeared on an Islamist website early Wednesday morning. Although there has not been any independent confirmation of whether the voice on the tape is actually bin Laden's, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack stated that he had no reason to question the tape's authenticity.
The message called for jihad against Israel for its assault on Gaza. Addressing the Palestinian people, bin Laden stated: "We are with you and we will not let you down. Our fate is tied to yours in fighting the Crusader-Zionist coalition, in fighting until victory or martyrdom." He also publicly doubted the ability of the United States to continue its struggle, saying that "America is begging the world for money," and "the USA will not be as powerful as it used to be."
While the world's most wanted man hardly broke new ground with these pronouncements, the very fact that he recorded a message himself -- his first since last May -- shows that he is very much alive and intent on being a public antagonist to U.S. President-Elect Barack Obama.
"No matter how isolated bin Laden is, [the tape shows] that he is following current events and maintains the ability to comment on them and get his message out there," Bruce Hoffman, a professor at the Security Studies Program at Georgetown University, told FP.
There is no issue in the Arab world that is the focus of more rage right now than the Israeli assault on Gaza, which has now claimed the lives of more than 1,000 Palestinians. Since al Qaeda has been unable to establish any actual presence in Palestine, bin Laden's tape is one of the terrorist organization's only available methods for being heard on the subject. "The Israel-Palestine conflict is, for many al Qaeda members, at the heart of their struggle, so they had to comment on it," noted Daniel Byman, a counterterrorism expert with the Brookings Institution. "The Arab world is riveted to what is going on in Gaza, and it is hard for them to remain on the sidelines."
Bin Laden is also likely interested in puncturing some of the hopes raised by Obama's upcoming inauguration, a message also delivered recently by th al Qaeda leader's deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri.
"They're essentially saying that, despite Obama's talk about change, his administration will be the same old wine in a different bottle," said Hoffman. "The message is: Don't feel hope, don't be taken in. The United States is still doing horrible things to Muslims around the world, and al Qaeda will eventually be victorious."
Bin Laden also blames Bush for "the collapse of the economy," arguing that if the United States pursues its war against al Qaeda it will "drown in economic crisis." This is actually a persistent theme of bin Laden's rhetoric. Since 2002, bin Laden has claimed that the United States was on the verge of military and economic collapse, in much the same way that the Soviet Union was during its battles against the Afghan mujahideen in the 1980s. "He sees the West in fundamental decline, and believes that it is losing the ability to maintain the fight," explained Byman.
Bin Laden is about to outlast the U.S. president who vowed seven years ago to bring him in "dead or alive." Clearly, he's gearing up for the next one.
Photo: AFP/Getty Images
An interesting article by Alan Cowell and Mark McDonald in today's New York Times reveals an inconvenient truth about analysts who study terrorism: they often have wildly divergent views about the same events.
Christine Fair, senior political scientist and a South Asia expert at the RAND Corporation, was careful to say that the identity of the terrorists could not yet be known. But she insisted the style of the attacks and the targets in Mumbai suggested the militants were likely to be Indian Muslims and not linked to Al Qaeda or Lashkar-e-Taiba, another violent South Asian terrorist group.
There’s absolutely nothing Al Qaeda-like about it,” she said of the attack. "Did you see any suicide bombers? And there are no fingerprints of Lashkar. They don’t do hostage-taking and they don’t do grenades." By contrast, Mr. Gohel in London said "the fingerprints point to an Islamic Al Qaeda-affiliated terrorist group."
Fair goes on to make the point that India has a lot of angry Muslims of its own, and has a history of telling the world, "Our Muslims have not been radicalized."
I would point out that the two main competing theories -- a domestic group and outside involvement -- are not mutually exclusive. Extremist groups have been known to share logistical networks (for safehouses, weapons procurement, etc.), and there aren't always bright lines between them. So, it could be that domestic perpetrators of the attack conceived and executed the idea, but operatives turned to Lashkar-e-Taiba or some other group for logistical help and expertise.
UPDATE: Here's a pretty strong clue that points to Kashmir:
A militant holed up at the center phoned an Indian television channel to offer talks with the government for the release of hostages, but also to complain about abuses in Kashmir, over which India and Pakistan have fought two of their three wars.
"Ask the government to talk to us and we will release the hostages," the man, identified by the India TV channel as Imran, said, speaking in Urdu in what sounded like a Kashmiri accent.
"Are you aware how many people have been killed in Kashmir? Are you aware how your army has killed Muslims. Are you aware how many of them have been killed in Kashmir this week?"
On the other hand, a senior Indian military official seems pretty confident the militants are from Faridkot, Pakistan. One captured terrorist had a Punjabi accent.
Al Qaeda's latest video is pretty strange. But one thing that struck me as especially odd was the slur of President-elect Barack Obama as a "house Negro," which is not actually a direct translation of the Arabic.
If you listen to the clip in question, al Qaeda No. 2 Ayman al-Zawahiri actually calls Obama abid al-beit, or "house slave." Yet al Qaeda translates it as "house Negro," which is the term that Malcolm X used. I guess they wanted to keep the parallel exact?
In any case, I wonder if this message might actually play better in some parts of the Arab world than we think. Yes, it's a pretty crude racial epithet, and for a pan-Islamic movement that encompasses Sudanese, Uzbek, and Indonesian members along with the core group of Arabs, it's probably going to ruffle some feathers. But there is a surprising amount of anti-black racism in Arab countries, and Zawahiri may be hoping to tap into that to drum up new recruits.
Finally, in case you were wondering how this incident is being handled on conservative talk radio, here's what Rush Limbaugh said on the matter:
Well, Barack Obama has gone from the 'Magic Negro' now to the 'house negro,' according to Ayman al-Zawahiri. [...] Now, the question about this that we all have, ladies and gentlemen, is what will Obama's reaction be? I don't know that he can turn his back on al-Zawahiri any more than he can turn his back on his own preacher, but don't jump to any conclusions. We don't know what he's going to do here.
It's become a cliché, but I think we can now officially say that the financial crisis has been worse than 9/11 for the United States:
The Commerce Department said Friday that retail sales fell by 2.8 percent last month, surpassing the old mark of a 2.65 percent drop in November 2001 in the wake of the terrorist attacks that year.
Back in October, al Qaeda-linked groups were taking credit for getting the United States into a quagmire that had "exhausted its resources and bankrupted its economy." That's rank economic illiteracy -- America's current woes have a lot more to do with subprime mortgages than overextension abroad. If anything, credit default swaps and collateralized debt obligations have proven to be the true weapons of mass destruction of our age.
I didn't watch the debate last night. But I did read parts of it, and I was particularly interested in the candidates' exchange about Pakistan:
In one of the more heated moments of the debate, Mr. Obama, the Democratic presidential nominee, argued that he would take the war to Osama bin Laden’s cave door, whether Pakistan cooperated or not. And it was Mr. McCain, the Republican nominee, who argued that without Pakistan’s cooperation, any such operation was doomed.
I have to say, McCain gets the better of the exchange.
I've become convinced that Obama is making a huge mistake in endorsing the Bush approach, which will lead to disaster if it is allowed to continue. When FP asked five top Pakistani experts to tell us how to get Osama bin Laden, they all stressed passionately that the United States is heading down the wrong path by escalating a campaign of airstrikes in the tribal areas and, on at least one occassion, sending U.S. ground troops across the border.
There doesn't appear to be any genuine counterinsurgency strategy in place to do what General Petraeus did in Iraq -- protecting the local population from Taliban and other militant groups and seeking to win the hearts and minds of the Pashtun people. Instead, it's bomb, bomb, bomb. I understand the political appeal of getting bin Laden. But if you get
the al Qaeda leader but turn Pakistan into a failed state, that is a strategic
defeat, not a victory in the war on terrorism.
Nor is there any apparent effort to rein in what Pakistan sees as India's attempt to encircle it in Afghanistan, or a major push to make progress on Kashmir. Many people seem mystified and frustrated by Pakistan's "double game" in the war on terrorism. Fear of India is the root cause.
Does Obama get all this? I understand the politics here. But as policy, the Bush approach to Pakistan is sheer folly.
Farrar, Straus, and Giroux has give us permission to post the following excerpts from After 9/11: America's War on Terror (2001- ), by Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colón. A self-described "work of graphic journalism" by the same folks who put together the visual adaptation of the 9/11 report, the book is a very cool way to look at what's happened over the past seven years.
Below is a vignette from the book, which shows the Bush administration shifting its focus from Afghanistan to Iraq:
Click here to see the rest of this series.
Because we were all waiting to see how the international terror organization would react: Al Qaeda has now joined a chorus of condemnation from the international community by calling for a jihad in Mauritania in the wake of last week's military coup:
"Raise the banner of jihad and let us bleed and have our limbs severed until we bring back a caliphate styled along the lines of The Prophet's way," the leader of the al Qaeda Organization in the Islamic Maghreb, Abu Mus'ab Abd el-Wadoud, said in a statement posted on the Internet on Tuesday.
Abd el-Wadoud said the soldiers who toppled President Sidi Mohamed Ould Cheikh Abdallahi in the northwest African state last week were probably acting upon a green light from "infidel states; America, France and Israel".
Abd el-Wadoud must have missed the memo that the "infidel states" aren't happy with the coup either: Both France and the United States have suspended non-humanitarian aid. Israel, too, had ties with the previous government in Mauritania, one of the few Arab nations with whom it had diplomatic relations.
While coup leaders tried to assuage critics by releasing the prime minister and three other high-ranking leaders Monday and promising new elections "as soon as possible," overthrowing a democratically-elected leader in the name of democracy isn't going to jive with international opinion.
Still, the fact that Al Qaeda isn't happy about the new leadership, and the promise by new military ruler Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz to clamp down harder on Islamic militants may give some Western leaders pause. It's not like we've supported convenient coup leaders with so-so democratic credentials before.
Osama bin Laden once said that his goal is "bleeding America to the point of bankruptcy." Maybe he should have gotten into the mortgage business instead of becoming a terrorist.
Zubin Jelveh blogs a new IMF working paper by Hui Tong and Shang-Jin Wei, who look at the responses by economic forecasters and consumers to 9/11 vs. their reactions to the subprime mortgage crisis. As you can see, everybody pretty much shrugged off 9/11 (at least when it comes to the economy; emotional grief is, of course, beyond measure) after about six months, but subprime has brought a steady decline in confidence:
Jeremy M. Sharp, a Middle East specialist at the Congressional Research Service, sounds the alarm in the July Arab Reform Bulletin:
Over the past six months, the tone in international media coverage of Yemen has become increasingly apocalyptic. On the security front, the resurgence of al-Qaeda in Yemen has been well documented via a spate of brazen attacks, leading security experts to warn that the new generation of Yemeni militants will be more lethal than its predecessors. The failed state narrative, in which Yemen devolves into something resembling Somalia or Afghanistan, has also spread. Yemeni ministers, foreign aid workers, and journalists routinely predict an imminent demise, as food prices skyrocket, drought hurts harvests, the long-running al-Houthi rebellion in the north drags on, and riots erupt in the south over unresolved grievances stemming from the 1990 reunification of the country.
Sharp, who notes that scholars "reflexively repudiate" the apocalyptic scenario, isn't quite sure what to make of Yemen's increasingly dire plight. President Ali Abdullah Saleh has long ruled in a milieu of "controlled chaos," so maybe we're seeing a manufactured crisis aimed at securing more foreign aid. It's possible the country could "muddle through" its crisis.
Whatever the truth, Sharp argues, it's high time the international community, and Saudi Arabia and the United States in particular, developed a strategy for insuring that Yemen doesn't go the way of Somalia or Afghanistan. Ranked 21st in this year's Failed States Index, Yemen may not be blinking red just yet. But it's better to be safe than sorry.
Talk about starting off on the wrong foot. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and new Russian President Dimitry Medvedev met for the first time today at the G-8 Summit in Japan, on the heels of a report that British security forces consider Russia the third most serious threat facing the country.
According to The Times of London, only al Qaeda's terrorist threat and Iran's nuclear program are seen to be more dangerous:
The services are understood to fear that Russia's three main intelligence agencies have flooded the country with agents, The Times understands. There is reported to be deep irritation within the services that vital resources are having to be diverted to deal with industrial and military espionage by the Russians
Relations between the two countries have deteriorated since the 2006 poisoning of Russian dissident Alexander Litvinenko in London, allegedly at the hands of an ex-KGB agent whom Russia refuses to extradite. The issue apparently caused a row between Tony Blair and Vladimir Putin at last year's G-8 summit, and was a topic of disucussion at today's talks.
No word so far as to whether Brown and Medvedev have hit it off better than their predecessors, only that there were some "sharp exchanges" between the two.
Late last week and into the weekend, it seemed as if Taliban militants and other extremist groups had infiltrated the Pakistani city of Peshawar -- a city of three million located at the mouth of the Khyber pass, a critical entry point into Afghanistan. Truckloads of bearded men with guns had been roaming the streets of Peshawar, kidnapping residents, ordering barbers not to shave men's beards, and threatening music and DVD shop owners.
But a strong offensive by the Pakistani security forces over the weekend seems to have cleared out the extremists -- for now. According to Pakistan's Daily Times, no government casualties were reported. Militants (not affiliated with the Taliban) were ordered to refrain from fighting the government. Nevertheless, Washington must be happy with Pakistan's aggresiveness in the tribal areas, as this is the first time that the new coalition government has opted for the military approach.
In the grand scheme of things, this "battle" may mean little save its symbolic importance for both sides. The Pakistani government seems to be indicating it will take a more hard-line stance towards the Taliban and other groups, but militants continue to infiltrate key regional towns and cities at will -- seen recently across the border in Kandahar -- and al Qaeda is feeling quite at home in the tribal areas. Watch this space for updates.
Berkeley law professor and former Bush administration official John Yoo weighs in on Boumediene v. Bush, last week's Supreme Court ruling granting Guantánamo detainees the right to challenge their detention:
In World War II, no civilian court reviewed the thousands of German prisoners housed in the U.S. Federal judges never heard cases from the Confederate prisoners of war held during the Civil War. In a trilogy of cases decided at the end of World War II, the Supreme Court agreed that the writ did not benefit enemy aliens held outside the U.S. In the months after the 9/11 attacks, we in the Justice Department relied on the Supreme Court's word when we evaluated Guantanamo Bay as a place to hold al Qaeda terrorists. [...] Incredibly, these five Justices have now defied the considered judgment of the president and Congress for a third time, all to grant captured al Qaeda terrorists the exact same rights as American citizens to a day in civilian court.
I'm no lawyer, but it seems to me that the key problem here is using the phrase "captured al Qaeda terrorists" to refer to accused al Qaeda terrorists. Shouldn't you have to prove that someone is, in fact, a terrorist? Yoo says no:
A judge's view on how much "proof" is needed to find that a "suspect" is a terrorist will become the standard applied on the battlefield. Soldiers will have to gather "evidence," which will have to be safeguarded until a court hearing, take statements from "witnesses," and probably provide some kind of Miranda-style warning upon capture. No doubt lawyers will swarm to provide representation for new prisoners. [...] So our fighting men and women now must add C.S.I. duties to that of capturing or killing the enemy. Nor will this be the end of it. Under Boumediene's claim of judicial supremacy, it is only a hop, skip and a jump from judges second-guessing whether someone is an enemy to second-guessing whether a soldier should have aimed and fired at him.
Judging from the scare quotes, Yoo seems to have little time for legal terms of art when it comes to terrorism. It's an odd stance for a law professor to take. But there's an easy way to solve his problem: Put arresting terrorists back in the hands of law-enforcement officials who are actually trained to handle the kinds of thorny questions Yoo outlines. Soldiers can focus on fighting wars.
On top of Gordon Brown and George W. Bush's joint warning to Iran, there's a bit of other news on the Anglo-American cooperation front. The Times of London reports that Bush has asked Britain's elite special forces to aid in a final, reinvigorated effort to capture Osama bin Laden, who is presumed to be hiding in northern Pakistan:
The Special Boat Service (SBS) and the Special Reconnaissance Regiment have been taking part in the US-led operations to capture Bin Laden in the wild frontier region of northern Pakistan. It is the first time they have operated across the Afghan border on a regular basis.
Now, besides the obvious question (if the Brits can't trust themselves with sensitive al Qaeda information, why should the United States?) what is perhaps most interesting about this story is the effect Bin Laden's capture would have on the 2008 presidential campaign. Who benefits most: John McCain or Barack Obama?
Nailing the world's most wanted man might help to save Bush's legacy, but I'm not so sure that either candidate would score a clear victory. After all, are the differences here, at least in rhetoric, all that different? In a speech this past weekend John McCain vowed to capture al Qaeda's leader. Barack Obama has advocated a beefed-up military force along the lawless Afghanistan-Pakistan border and criticized Bush for failing to nab Osama.
And would putting Bin Laden behind bars really alter the fundamentals of this race? At the end of the day, McCain will still support a war that 64 percent of Americans don't agree with and Obama will still be the candidate of a political party that can't shake its reputation as being weak on security.
Readers, what do you think?
On Sunday, Yemen's defense minister told reporters that his country has expelled some 16,000 suspected al Qaeda members since 2005. If true, that's an astounding and disturbing figure.
What are we to make of his claim? I see a couple possibilities:
It's tough to catch al Qaeda personnel when intelligence on their top leaders is scarce, but it's even more difficult to run an effective counterterrorism program when your country's spies leave sensitive documents in public places. That's what happened today in England.
This mind-boggling security breach occurred when a passenger spotted an orange folder that had been left on a train, and upon discovering its contents, handed it to the BBC:
The two reports were assessments made by the government's Joint Intelligence Committee.
One, on Iraq's security forces, was commissioned by the Ministry of Defence. According to the BBC's security correspondent, Frank Gardner, it included a top-secret and in some places 'damning' assessment of Iraq's security forces,
The other document, reportedly entitled 'Al-Qaeda Vulnerabilities', was commissioned jointly by the Foreign Office and the Home Office.
Just seven pages long but classified as 'UK Top Secret,' this latest intelligence assessment on al-Qaeda is so sensitive that every document is numbered and marked 'for UK/US/Canadian and Australian eyes only,' according to our correspondent."
Sound familiar? Several weeks ago, Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs Maxime Bernier resigned after it was discovered that he left classified NATO documents at an ex-girlfriend's house.
I have to give the edge to Bernier here. At least he might have been trying to impress his female company with his top-secret documents.
September 11th mastermind and terrorist extraordinaire Khalid Sheikh Mohammed yesterday explained to a Guantánamo military tribunal why he was rejecting legal counsel:
I will not accept anybody, even if he is Muslim, if he swears to the American Constitution,'' he said, vowing to follow Islamic shariya and scorning the U.S. Constitution "because it allows for same sexual marriage.''
He also complained that the courtroom artist made his nose look too wide.
(Hat tip: Emptywheel, who notes that KSM's assertion about the legal status of same-sex marriage is open to question.)
The New America Foundation's Steve Coll and Peter Bergen were on CNN the other day, and they made some encouraging comments to Wolf Blitzer:
WOLF BLITZER (Host): [...] What's the latest in terms of the hunt for bin Laden? Is the U.S. and the West any closer to finding him?
STEVE COLL (President, CEO of New America Foundation): Well, I'm not aware of any specific intelligence that has lit up the trail in the last six months or so, but the circumstances in which he's hiding have changed. And he's probably in Pakistan and there his popularity has declined considerably, and also you've got a new government in power, so the motivations on the Pakistani side are changing very quickly.
BLITZER: What do you think, Peter?
PETER BERGEN (New America's Schwartz Senior Fellow): Yes, I think the hunt for bin Laden is going very poorly. As Steve said, bin Laden's support is evaporating in the North-West Frontier Province, where he's almost certainly hiding. A recent poll showed he had dropped from 70 percent favorable in August of 2007 to 4 percent.
BLITZER: So wouldn't that make it easier for Pakistani or other -- or the U.S., Afghan troops, somebody to find him?
PETER BERGEN: Yes. And I think the short answer is yes. Also a very sharp decline in support for suicide bombings amongst Pakistanis. Unfortunately, on the other hand, you have got a Pakistani government which is doing a deal with some of the militants in the North-West Frontier Province at the same time. So as always, sort of a mixed message here with the Pakistanis.
If the Pakistanis can convince those militants to dime out their special guest, it might all be worth it.
(Hat tip: Sameer Lalwani)
The conclusions on Pakistan are likely to garner the most attention, and quite rightly. Watch for more calls like this one for a three-front war.
Last week, our Web editor, Blake Hounshell, ably deflated some of the optimism surrounding the surge. The security gains are impressive, he contends, but the deadly combination of underdevelopment and overeliance on oil make Iraq's political prospects grim. Far better to cut our losses and focus on Afghanistan ("the real fight against Al Qaeda").
But what is it that Blake would have us do in Afghanistan? If Iraq's political prospects are poor, Afghanistan's must be considered even worse. Afghanistan doesn't have oil (yet), but it is one of the world's least developed countries, with infrastructure decimated by a quarter century of war and no history of effective governance. Why then spend billions and risk hundreds of lives propping up a doomed democratic government?
On Blake's logic, it's hard to see the rationale. Commandos and Predator drones can wage the "real fight" against the al Qaeda luminaries in the Pakistani hinterlands with or without an effective central government. Is Blake then willing to jettison the doomed Afghan nation-building project? And, if not, why not?
Blake also believes that cutting Iraq loose will free up America's taxed diplomats to concentrate on managing the rise of China. This has become something of a mantra on the left recently (indeed, it's almost "drearily familiar"). And it's not implausible -- Iraq is consuming vast quanities of senior executive time and energy. But I've never understood what precisely the United States could be doing vis-à-vis China that the Iraq mission now renders impossible. The U.S. has been engaging China economically, tamping down Taiwanese separatism, and working with Beijing diplomatically on North Korea. In sum, an accomodationist stance designed to guide China toward responsible great- power status. What vast benefit would our China policy enjoy once we've cast off the nettlesome Maliki and millions of ordinary Iraqis with him?
Back in September, Rand analyst Seth Jones helped us put together a list of senior al Qaeda leaders who were still at large. The list included senior commander Abu Obaidah al-Masri who, it was announced this week, died about two months ago. I spoke with Jones today about the implications of al-Masri's death for the al Qaeda leadership. He stressed that it's a mistake to think of the organization as a bureaucracy where specific offices are filled after they are vacated:
People get moved around quite a bit based on their competencies. Less-informed people talk about al Qaeda leadership in terms of numbers, as if someone was "number three or number four." I don't think the command and control structure works that way. There's a range of people who go through the different positions. There is not one job that any of these guys do.
People get moved around quite a bit based on their competencies. Less-informed people talk about al Qaeda leadership in terms of numbers, as if someone was "number three or number four." I don't think the command and control structure works that way. There's a range of people who go through the different positions.
There is not one job that any of these guys do.
But this is not to say that al-Masri's death is insignificant. He played a major part in several high-profile operations and, as Jones noted, it can be hard to find someone with his particular skillset:
He played an important role both on the international front in the  transatlantic plot, and was involved in a couple of other plots that European government are investigating. Recently he also played quite an important role with the Afghan insurgency. It takes time to replace competent senior al Qaeda operatives.
It can be tough to get out of the shadow of a famous sibling, and that's especially true if you're an airplane enthusiast and your brother is the world's most famous terrorist. Luxury goods entrepreneur and aviator Yeslam bin Ladin, half-brother of Osama, just can't see why anyone would find it odd that he's launching a line of specialty watches for pilots.
To be fair to Bin Ladin (he spells his last name differently), he has publicly denounced terrorism and hasn't had any links with his notorious younger brother for decades. It's also worth remembering that they are only two out of 54 siblings, but I still have a hard time believing that Yeslam didn't anticipate the aviation theme being an issue. Ironically, their father Mohammed died in a plane crash.
The watches sell for up to $9,472. If you're feeling flush, you can also buy "Yeslam" brand perfume and handbags from his store in Geneva, Switzerland. In the future, Bin Ladin may want to avoid adding some other items to his line, such as digital timers or vests.
So says veteran New York Times correspondent (now London bureau chief) John Burns. He and colleague Dexter Filkins chatted with Charlie Rose about the remarkable security progress the surge has created in the country -- and the still difficult political road ahead. Watch the entire segment:
(Hat tip: TPM)
This is still developing, but a senior U.S. counterterrorism official is saying that al Qaeda operative Abu Obaidah al-Masri has died of natural causes.
In September, al-Masri made our list of major al Qaeda figures who are still at large and was described by Rand Corporation terrorism analyst Seth Jones as “probably the most active and most important” figure we included. He played a major role in coordinating attacks on U.S. forces in Afghanistan and is thought to have been one of the architects of the foiled 2006 trans-Atlantic airliner plot. This is a significant loss for al Qaeda.
I managed to slog through the entire 46-pages of al Qaeda deputy commander Ayman al-Zawahiri's responses to questions (pdf), and found it very revealing as to how jihadi sympathizers view the terrorist organization.
The general tenor of the questions is sharply critical, so let me boil down the questioners' main beefs here:
Now, it's entirely possible that some of these complaints were planted by clever Western and Arab intelligence agencies, but the fact that Zawahiri felt obliged to respond to them repeatedly and at length shows that the critiques must have stung a bit. It also suggests that he's got a lot of time on his hands.
The wait may finally be over.
Back in December, al Qaeda's No.2 Ayman al-Zawahiri announced that he was taking questions from the viewers of his Web videos. The sheikh apparently received over 2,000 questions and the IntelCenter monitoring service now expects the first of his video replies within the week. Watch this space for more analysis when this "Web 2.0" mass murderer addresses his public.
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