Friday, August 05, 2005

Ou Est Bin Laden?

Bin Laden (Still) Determined to Strike in U.S.

Tomorrow, August 6th, marks the four-year anniversary of President Bush receiving a President's Daily Brief (PDB) entitled "Bin Laden Determined To Strike In US." After fighting two separate wars and spending hundreds of billions of dollars in the name of fighting the war on terror, the sad and unfortunate fact is that bin Laden is still determined to strike in the U.S.

NOT ON WAR FOOTING: Prior to 9/11, President Bush was enjoying "the longest presidential vacation in 32 years" (until this month) at his ranch in Crawford. It was during this time in August that he received the PDB. Prior to receiving the brief, the Bush administration had been told by experts, including outgoing Clinton National Security Adviser Sandy Berger, that the administration would have to "spend more time on terrorism generally, and on al Qaeda specifically, than any other subject." Bush said of his mindset during these boiling days in August on the ranch that he "didn't feel that sense of urgency, and my blood was not nearly as boiling." The Washington Post described Bush as "carefree" on August 7, 2001, the day after receiving the brief. When asked on April 10, 2004, whether Bush had read the PDB, a senior administration official said, "I don't have any information on that." Condoleezza Rice later downplayed the PDB as a "historical memo." Approximately four years later, it appears some things have not changed all that much. U.S. News reports Bush is at the ranch not for a "working vacation" but instead to "relax."

BUSH SHOULD FEEL THE URGENCY: Yesterday, a videotape message from Ayman al-Zawahri, al Qaeda's number two, who is considered to be "bin Laden's brain," was released declaring that al Qaeda is in fact still determined to strike the U.S. With language directed at the Bush administration, Zawahri said, "If you continue the same policy of aggression against Muslims, God willing, you will see horror that will make you forget what you saw in Vietnam." Bob Ayers, a counterterrorism expert at Chatham House, a think tank in London, said of the videotape: "Such messages are usually a call-to-arms, sort of top-down guidance to go forth and do your thing." Thus, it appears likely that President Bush could indeed be receiving a PDB tomorrow, exactly four years after the original, bearing a similar title and warning that al Qaeda is planning another attack on the U.S. -- with the same individual(s) spearheading the effort.

IS BIN LADEN IN CONTROL? The American public is asking an understandable question: "Why no sense of urgency for capturing bin Laden?" After all, the London bombings seem to have underscored al Qaeda's continuing lethality and bin Laden's inspiration of, if not direct control over, global terrorist attacks. Richard Miniter, author of "Losing Bin Laden," said, "I think bin Laden is still alive, still in control because he's able to hold Al Qaeda together, these various factions together, which otherwise don't get along." A major question confronting Western intelligence "is whether Zawahiri and bin Laden are calling the shots on terrorist attacks or merely taking credit after the fact for the actions of loosely affiliated terrorist groups." Ben Venski of the think tank IntelCenter, which closely tracks al Qaeda statements, said it would be foolish to assume al Qaeda is not directing attacks. The Congressional Research Service recently produced a report, however, concluding that tapes are merely an attempt by bin Laden and Zawahri to "create a lasting leadership role for themselves and the al Qaeda organization as the vanguard of an emerging, loosely organized internationalist movement."

BIN LADEN'S PRESENCE STILL BEING FELT: Just recently, new evidence has come to light that bin Laden "bankrolled the bombing of the Australian embassy in Jakarta, Indonesia in retaliation for Australia sending troops to Iraq." Saudi Arabia's new ambassador to the U.S., Prince Turki al-Faisal, recently said a number of terror attacks in

Saudi Arabia since 2003 "were under the immediate directions of the leadership of al Qaeda, particularly bin Laden." And in Iraq, where attacks against Americans occur daily, military officials believe "U.S. forces are coming under intensified attack by suicide bombers and improvised explosives dispatched by followers of fugitive Jordanian Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, whose jihadi group has declared itself al Qaeda's arm in Iraq, apparently with Zawahiri and bin Laden's blessing." The message is clear: as long as bin Laden is alive, he continues to be at the heart of global terrorist activity. Despite CIA Director Porter Goss's statement that he has an "excellent idea" of where bin Laden is, there has been no palpable sense that the administration has changed its priorities or its focus in going after him. When given the opportunity to comment on the Zawahri tape yesterday, Bush notably failed to mention any pledge to capture or kill Zawahri or bin Laden. Recall, shortly after 9/11, Bush pledged to capture bin Laden "dead or alive." However, on March 13, 2002, approximately six months later, Bush backtracked, saying: "I am truly not that concerned about him." Yesterday's comments by the president indicate there is plenty of room for greater urgency over the threat of bin Laden.


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