Gates on bin Laden

The Washington Times Weekly - - National Security -

De­fense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates, a for­mer CIA di­rec­tor, last week said he has not seen any good in­tel­li­gence in­for­ma­tion on the lo­ca­tion of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden for “years.”

Asked about the hunt for bin Laden, now in its eighth year, a U.S. coun­tert­er­ror­ism of­fi­cial said U.S. in­tel­li­gence and mil­i­tary per­son­nel have been wag­ing “an in­tense and un­wa­ver­ing search” for the ter­ror­ist leader. “The ef­fort to find him re­mains ag­gres­sive, and there’s ab­so­lutely no ques­tion that find­ing him re­mains a top pri­or­ity for this gov­ern­ment,” the of­fi­cial said, speak­ing on con­di­tion of anonymity be­cause of the sen­si­tiv­ity of the is­sue.

On Dec. 6, Mr. Gates was asked when there was “good in­tel­li­gence” on the ter­ror­ist mas­ter­mind be­hind the Sept. 11, 2001, at­tacks: He replied: “I think it’s been years.”

Mr. Gates dis­puted a re­port that bin Laden had been spot­ted in Afghanistan, say­ing the claims have not been con­firmed.

Ji­hadist Web sites mon­i­tored by U.S. in­tel­li­gence agen­cies in re­cent months have car­ried re­ports that bin Laden is dead, but that also has not been con­firmed.

Mr. Gates said the rea­son for the dearth of in­tel­li­gence on bin Laden was not caused by a lack of co­op­er­a­tion from Pak­istan’s mil­i­tary and in­tel­li­gence agen­cies. “I think it’s be­cause if, as we sus­pect, he is in North Waziris­tan, it is an area that the Pak­istani gov­ern­ment has not had a pres­ence in in quite some time,” he said.

Then, on Dec. 7, Mr. Gates ap­peared on NBC’s “To­day” show and said that in the three years he has been de­fense sec­re­tary, “I haven’t seen any” cred­i­ble in­tel­li­gence re­ports about bin Laden.

Asked why there has not been bet­ter in­tel­li­gence on the al Qaeda leader, Mr. Gates again cited the lack of Pak­istani gov­ern­ment con­trol in the re­mote tribal re­gion “where he has the pro­tec­tion of lo­cal tribes, and it’s in­cred­i­bly rough ter­rain.”

“And the truth of the mat­ter is, some­body who is smart and who is cau­tious can elude peo­ple for many years,” Mr. Gates said. “I mean, look at the Un­abomber in the United States. Seven­teen years, or some­thing, that guy eluded the FBI, and that was in­side our own coun­try. So if you have a lot of help, as [bin Laden] does, [. . . ] you cer­tainly are able to do that.”

In Jan­uary, days be­fore be­ing sworn in as pres­i­dent, Barack Obama was asked by CBS News how im­por­tant it was to get bin Laden, and he said his “pref­er­ence ob­vi­ously would be to cap­ture or kill him.”

“I think that we have to so weaken his in­fra­struc­ture that, whether he is tech­ni­cally alive or not, he is so pinned down that he can­not func­tion,” Mr. Obama said, not­ing that “if we have so tight­ened the noose that he’s in a cave some­where and can’t even com­mu­ni­cate with his op­er­a­tives, then we will meet our goal of pro­tect­ing Amer­ica.”

U.S. of­fi­cials have said bin Laden rarely com­mu­ni­cates elec­tron­i­cally, pre­fer­ring more se­cure hu­man couri­ers to con­tact al Qaeda leaders. His last pub­lic state­ment was an au­dio­tape mes­sage re­leased in Septem­ber.

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