Their source? Michael Scheuer. Coincidentally, the report comes one day after the Times revealed that the CIA had closed the unit devoted to finding Bin Laden that was founded by Scheuer and named after his son.
Scheuer wrote a book critical of Bush, which, ipso facto, means his assessment must be correct. And yet — I’m puzzled:
The flurry of messages from Osama Bin Laden and his deputy this year suggests the pair is regaining control over Al Qaeda operations for the first time since the U.S. toppled the Taliban, two top experts told the Daily News.
“It means their command and control over Al Qaeda is probably stronger than we thought it was,” said Michael Scheuer, who ran the CIA’s Osama Bin Laden unit and is the author of “Imperial Hubris.”…
[T]he messages do suggest Al Qaeda leaders are probably able to communicate as easily with henchmen plotting attacks as they are with operatives putting the tapes on the Internet, according to Scheuer and Peter Bergen, two of the foremost American experts on Bin Laden.
I thought the flurry of messages was supposed to indicate Osama’s and Zawahiri’s worries over being usurped by Zarqawi and the jihadis in Iraq — i.e., a loss of control over Al Qaeda. That was the theory last month, anyway. And why does the fact that Osama has contact with video production people necessarily mean he’s controlling operations? Presumably the video crew is operating within a fairly close orbit; the further afield his messengers go, particularly overseas, the greater the risk that they’ll be intercepted and lead the CIA or Pakistani ISI back to him. He’s got a cozy little figurehead niche happening now. Why risk it?
The Times quotes an interesting bit from a book about counterterror ops in its article about the CIA’s Bin Laden task force:
In his book “Ghost Wars,” which chronicles the agency’s efforts to hunt Mr. bin Laden in the years before the Sept. 11 attacks, Steve Coll wrote that some inside the agency likened Alec Station to a cult that became obsessed with Al Qaeda.
“The bin Laden unit’s analysts were so intense about their work that they made some of their C.I.A. colleagues uncomfortable,” Mr. Coll wrote. Members of Alec Station “called themselves ‘the Manson Family’ because they had acquired a reputation for crazed alarmism about the rising Al Qaeda threat.”
A little more alarmism throughout the agency in 2001 would have been a good thing. On the other hand, “crazed alarmism” is a nifty description for the way some Bin Laden experts talk about him. I remember watching Yossef Bodansky, who wrote a book of his own about Bin Laden, making the rounds on the cable news shows after 9/11. WMD attacks were imminent, he said; there was nothing we could do to stop Bin Laden from asserting his will, such was his evil genius. If anything, invading Afghanistan would make the problem worse — although not invading Afghanistan wouldn’t save us either.
No big point here. Just an observation that some of the hardcore Bin Laden experts tend to go a bit native in describing his capacities. Either that or they know things about Al Qaeda’s nuke/bio arsenal that we don’t, in which case “crazed alarmism” is perfectly appropriate.
For the record, Pakistan says the trail’s gone cold. Meanwhile, in Britain, a quarter of the population thinks Islam is a threat to the British way of life. To which 36% of British Muslims respond by saying right back atcha.