Via Mediaite, looks like our moment of bipartisan unity is officially over. Dubya, it seems, didn’t much care about catching Bin Laden whereas The One, immaculate in his wisdom, recognized it for the top national priority that it was. Which is a lovely narrative, with just a few teensy holes. For starters, O’Donnell notes that the CIA’s Bin Laden unit was disbanded in 2005. Let’s pick up the storyline with the NYT’s report tonight on the decades-long hunt for Bin Laden:
Prisoners in American custody told stories of a trusted courier. When the Americans ran the man’s pseudonym past two top-level detainees — the chief planner of the Sept. 11 attacks, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed; and Al Qaeda’s operational chief, Abu Faraj al-Libi — the men claimed never to have heard his name. That raised suspicions among interrogators that the two detainees were lying and that the courier probably was an important figure.
As the hunt for Bin Laden continued, the spy agency was being buffeted on other fronts: the botched intelligence assessments about weapons of mass destruction leading up to the Iraq War, and the intense criticism for using waterboarding and other extreme interrogation methods that critics said amounted to torture.
By 2005, many inside the C.I.A. had reached the conclusion that the Bin Laden hunt had grown cold, and the agency’s top clandestine officer ordered an overhaul of the agency’s counterterrorism operations. The result was Operation Cannonball, a bureaucratic reshuffling that placed more C.I.A. case officers on the ground in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
With more agents in the field, the C.I.A. finally got the courier’s family name. With that, they turned to one of their greatest investigative tools — the National Security Agency began intercepting telephone calls and e-mail messages between the man’s family and anyone inside Pakistan. From there they got his full name.
It was Bush’s CIA that discovered the courier and then finally nailed down his name — after 2005, and thanks in part to wiretapping (possibly warrantless, possibly not). It was also after 2005, in 2008 in fact, that the Times of London reported on a new joint push from the U.S. and UK to find and capture Bin Laden. They went looking in the wrong place, alas, but the interest was there.
O’Donnell also highlights the clip of Obama saying during one of the 2008 debates that we’d act inside Pakistan to grab OBL if the Pakistani government refused to. That’s great, but Bush told CNN that he’d do the same two years earlier. And shortly before he was inaugurated in January 2009, Obama told Katie Couric that killing or capturing Bin Laden, while preferable, wasn’t essential. What was essential was to neutralize Al Qaeda’s command and control so that they couldn’t launch attacks. So long as OBL was hiding under a rock somewhere, unable to coordinate with terrorists in plotting to kill people, that was the important thing. Which, ironically, is similar to the point that Bush makes here in the brief clip that O’Donnell derides him for. He was too cavalier in saying, “I truly am not concerned about him,” but his point was the same as Obama’s to Couric — that the important thing is to prevent terrorist operations, not to mount a trophy head over the national fireplace. Admittedly, that head looks great up there today, but that’ll be a cold comfort if OBL’s death becomes an excuse to declare mission accomplished in Afghanistan and cede the field to the Taliban, leading to a new proliferation of terrorist degenerates across the country. (Many Afghan leaders are already worried about that.) The jihad’s the thing, not Bin Laden. Bush and, I hope, Obama both grasp that. Does O’D?