US launches global manhunt for names in OBL documents

posted at 9:20 am on May 19, 2011 by Ed Morrissey

ABC reported late last night that US intelligence and national security agencies have begun a massive global manhunt for names found in Osama bin Laden’s personal affects in the raid that ended with his death.  The search is taking place in the US as well, suggesting serious concern that al-Qaeda may have already infiltrated the country for later operations:

The entire U.S. intelligence community is busy pursuing leads from files recovered from Osama bin Laden‘s Abbottobad, Pakistan, compound to determine whether bin Laden’s plots had gone beyond the discussion and planning phase to concrete threats, government sources told ABC News.

Sources familiar with bin Laden‘s handwritten journal and computer files told ABC News that names of suspected al Qaeda operatives had been found in the files, and that an intense effort was under way to find the individuals attached to those names. …

“The names that they are finding are extremely important,” former FBI Agent Brad Garret said in an interview with ABC News. “I believe that they’re under a lot of pressure to resolve and identify these people as quickly as possible.”

Travel records are being combed to see if any of these people have entered the U.S. already, and names are being added to terrorist watch lists in case any operatives try to come here.

ABC says that officials have “expressed shock” over the extent of sensitive material OBL kept with him, but in retrospect, why should anyone be surprised?  The Abbottabad redoubt had apparently been an effective hiding place for years, keeping bin Laden safe from Americans and maybe the Pakistanis, assuming they were looking for him at all.  Bin Laden would need ready access to the data, which would have complicated his attempts to keep out of sight.  If the US discovered the cache hidden elsewhere, it would have almost immediately led back to bin Laden.  Under the circumstances, the most secure option was to keep OBL and the data together — and that worked for several years.

The question will be whether the names and places will match up, but that’s not going to be much of an issue.  Unless OBL was acting out the final days of Adolf Hitler and moving phantom armies on a map, the CIA shouldn’t need too much time to decipher it.  No one has suggested that OBL himself was a master cryptographer, and he needed the data to be readily usable.  Further, the very fact that we captured all of this data will have AQ assets on the move, and in that kind of chaos there are opportunities to pick up fresh trails on leadership and money men.

If we find them in Pakistan, though, Dianne Feinstein says we should just leave them for the Pakistanis as their problem, not ours:

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said the U.S. should not repeat the mission that U.S. forces undertook to kill Osama bin Laden, in which President Obama ordered a team of Navy SEALs into Pakistan without notifying the country’s government.

“The appropriate thing is for the Pakistanis to handle it and indicate that they intend to handle it,” Feinstein said in a short interview with The Hill.

Sounds as though Feinstein and Ron Paul are on the same page these days.  This can be taken as tacit criticism of the OBL raid, except that OBL is literally such an exceptional target that exceptions would always be made for him.  But what about Ayman al-Zawahiri?  Anwar al-Awlaki?  If either or both are found in Pakistan (likely in the former case, unlikely in the latter), should the US take a pass on taking them out as well?  Feinstein’s Democratic colleague Carl Levin disagrees:

“I don’t have confidence in Pakistani intelligence,” said Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. He said he would make sure any information about al-Zawahiri’s location stayed within U.S. ranks.

Levin said a drone attack against al-Zawahiri was a possibility.

“Maybe we would do it with a drone, which would be preferable if you could confirm it,” he said. “It depends on the degree of certainty, the location, is he staying in the middle of a city; it depends on a whole lot of circumstances.”

I don’t agree with Levin on most subjects, but I’m with him on this one.  Let’s keep our options open, at least until the Pakistani intelligence service quits playing footsie with radical Islamist terrorists.


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