Gates on bin Laden
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.