Saturday, June 19, 2004

Fisking Anonymous

Senior intelligence official tells all. Jolly good show!

HALLITES . Trust the Brits to be involved when there's some really good cloak and dagger work underway. The same people who brought us Kim Philby and David "Squarehead" Cornwell are breaking the news that an unnamed senior intelligence official is getting ready to expose the deep love bin Laden has for the Bush administration. You can read the full piece here, which might be wise, because we're going to tackle it a sentence or two at a time. And yeah, we know we're not intelligence experts, whatever that means anymore, but we do possess a modicum of logic and common sense. Let's see how those two homely attributes stack up against what passes for intelligence these days.

Bush told he is playing into Bin Laden's hands

Al-Qaida may 'reward' American president with strike aimed at keeping him in office, senior intelligence man says

Julian Borger in Washington
Saturday June 19, 2004

The Guardian

A senior US intelligence official is about to publish a bitter condemnation of America's counter-terrorism policy, arguing that the west is losing the war against al-Qaida and that an "avaricious, premeditated, unprovoked" war in Iraq has played into Osama bin Laden's hands.

Wow. This has got it all. A provocative headline, a downright inflammatory subhead, a mysterious highly placed source, and a vitriolic quote -- all in the first few lines. Should we wait or just sail in right away? Well, you know us. Avaricious, huh? The Bushies couldn't wait to reap the bonanza of a $100 billion war expense, a $70 billion rebuilding effort, and a quick handover of Iraqi oil revenue to the provisional government. We've seen infomercials on late-night TV that looked more promising than this particular formula for enrichment. Premeditated? We hope so. Somehow invasions don't belong to that category of festivity that seem best done as a spontaneous lark. Unprovoked? Right. Twelve years of defiance, U.S. planes shot at in the no-fly zones... who could be provoked by that? Certainly not the old 'intelligence' hands who refused to be provoked by the World Trade Center bombing (1993), the Khobar Towers, Riyadh, the embassy bombings, the U.S.S. Cole, et al. Whatever else you want to say about them, those boys don't provoke easily.

Imperial Hubris: Why the West is Losing the War on Terror, due out next month, dismisses two of the most frequent boasts of the Bush administration: that Bin Laden and al-Qaida are "on the run" and that the Iraq invasion has made America safer.

Funny. Just the other day on Drudge, the Financial Times was reporting that Gitmo interrogations had turned up the interesting fact that Mullah Omar wasn't too gung-ho about the 9/11 attack. Seems he was afraid the Americans might do something military in Afghanistan afterwards. The genius bin Laden told him not to worry, the Taliban was safe. But now we learn that bin Laden actually prefers it this way; he must find it especially inspiring to have big chunks of his leadership captured or assassinated. In fact, that's how you make his day. Another dead colleague, another divine inspiration. As for whether America is safer or not, let's just say that it's become clearer all the time that the American intelligence apparatus may not be the best judge of that. We know this gypsy who divines the future from the grounds at the bottom of your Starbucks cup. Maybe we should ask her.

In an interview with the Guardian the official, who writes as "Anonymous", described al-Qaida as a much more proficient and focused organization than it was in 2001, and predicted that it would "inevitably" acquire weapons of mass destruction and try to use them.

We're always much surer of ourselves, too, when we write as 'Anonymous.' Amazing how it reduces the blood pressure to know you can say anything without fear of direct retort and personal challenges. (Note the tagline we're using for this piece. Cool, huh.) One could point out that a real good way to become more focused is to be the target of a continuous international manhunt. That would sharpen our concentration wonderfully well. How about you? What else? Oh. The dire prediction. Imagine you were a 'senior intelligence official' who had participated in the Keystone Kops pursuit of terrorists and WMDs over the past ten years. How hard would it be to make this particular prediction? Or to put it another way, how hard would it be to avoid making this prediction? Color us impressed.

He said Bin Laden was probably "comfortable" commanding his organization from the mountainous tribal lands along the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

He would know this how? Of course, you'll have to pardon us for being a bit skeptical when a high-level spook uses the word 'probably.'

The Pakistani army claimed a big success in the "war against terror" yesterday with the killing of a tribal leader, Nek Mohammed, who was one of al-Qaida's protectors in Waziristan.

But Anonymous, who has been centrally involved in the hunt for Bin Laden, said: "Nek Mohammed is one guy in one small area. We sometimes forget how big the tribal areas are." He believes President Pervez Musharraf cannot advance much further into the tribal areas without endangering his rule by provoking a Pashtun revolt. "He walks a very fine line," he said yesterday.

You see, we can place great confidence in the words of Anonymous because he has been "centrally involved in the hunt for bin Laden." And Scotland Yard was centrally involved in the hunt for Jack the Ripper. Maybe it takes a Brit to believe that failure is a good credential for expertise.

Imperial Hubris is the latest in a relentless stream of books attacking the administration in election year. Most of the earlier ones, however, were written by embittered former officials. This one is unprecedented in being the work of a serving official with nearly 20 years experience in counter-terrorism who is still part of the intelligence establishment.

He's still part of the intelligence establishment. Great. If you were part of a huge establishment that kept falling on its ass in critical situations in public, would you feel any incentive to tell the world that your screw-ups were somebody -- anybody -- else's fault, and you just couldn't be held accountable for anything that has happened, is happening, or will happen? Does anybody else feel like it's time to fire a few of the sorry so-called expert asses that are warming the plush chairs of the intelligence establishment?

The fact that he has been allowed to publish, albeit anonymously and without naming which agency he works for, may reflect the increasing frustration of senior intelligence officials at the course the administration has taken.

Or it may reflect the increasing fear of senior intelligence officials that sooner or later, even they will be exposed and reviled for their incompetence. Can you spell P-E-N-S-I-O-N?

Peter Bergen, the author of two books on Bin Laden and al-Qaida, said: "His views represent an amped-up version of what is emerging as a consensus among intelligence counter-terrorist professionals."

What a potent mouthful: "a consensus among intelligence counter-terrorist professionals." If we're allowed to consult the record on this, we might be excused for preferring a consensus of the 1962 New York Mets.

Anonymous does not try to veil his contempt for the Bush White House and its policies. His book describes the Iraq invasion as "an avaricious, premeditated, unprovoked war against a foe who posed no immediate threat but whose defeat did offer economic advantage.

We're still waiting to hear about the economic advantage. Lifelong Washington bureaucrats are always the most insightful people about how economics work, we know, but a shred of fact might be helpful in enabling us proles to understand. As a footnote, we'd be more respectful of Anonymous's refusal to veil his contempt if he weren't so thoroughly veiled himself.

"Our choice of timing, moreover, shows an abject, even willful failure to recognize the ideological power, lethality and growth potential of the threat personified by Bin Laden, as well as the impetus that threat has been given by the US-led invasion and occupation of Muslim Iraq."

Another big mouthful. However, if we were looking for a great example of "abject, even willful failure to recognize the ideological power, lethality and growth potential of the threat personified by Bin Laden," we probably wouldn't pick the first administration that dared to overturn the status quo in confronting and seeking to kill Islamofascist terrorists. We might light instead on the senior officials who twiddled their thumbs while bin Laden was moving from attack to attack with utter impunity from the intelligence and law enforcement establishments, not to mention the blind eye of Reno, Gore, and Clinton.

In his view, the US missed its biggest chance to capture the al-Qaida leader at Tora Bora in the Afghan mountains in December 2001. Instead of sending large numbers of his own troops, General Tommy Franks relied on surrogates who proved to be unreliable.

As opposed to the times when the Sudan tried to hand bin Laden to the U.S. on a silver platter.

"For my money, the game was over at Tora Bora," Anonymous said.

How cool is this? The game is over. Guess Anonymous can just sit at his big desk shaking his head at everything that happens from now on. Nothing left to do.

Yesterday President Bush repeated his assertion that Bin Laden was cornered and that there was "no hole or cave deep enough to hide from American justice".

Anonymous said: "I think we overestimate significantly the stress [Bin Laden's] under. Our media and sometimes our policymakers suggest he's hiding from rock to rock and hill to hill and cave to cave. My own hunch is that he's fairly comfortable where he is."

If it's cause for concern when an intelligence official says "probably," imagine how confident we are when he has a hunch.

The death and arrest of experienced operatives might have set back Bin Laden's plans to some degree but when it came to his long-term capacity to threaten the US, he said, "I don't think we've laid a glove on him".

"I don't think" is almost as good as a hunch, though it may be, in some sense, truer.

"What I think we're seeing in al-Qaida is a change of generation," he said. "The people who are leading al-Qaida now seem a lot more professional group.

"They are more bureaucratic, more management competent, certainly more literate. Certainly, this generation is more computer literate, more comfortable with the tools of modernity. I also think they're much less prone to being the Errol Flynns of al-Qaida. They're just much more careful across the board in the way they operate."

We're inclined to agree that Anonymous knows his stuff about bureaucratic management. Who but a Washington bureaucrat would conceive that the most fearful descriptor he could apply to Al Qaida would be "bureaucratic." We're quaking in our boots. Any moment now, the next attack may come in the form of a series of suffocating regulations. What would we do then? Oh that's right. We have senior intelligence officials who know how to deal with that eventuality, if no other.

As for weapons of mass destruction, he thinks that if al-Qaida does not have them already, it will inevitably acquire them.

The most likely source of a nuclear device would be the former Soviet Union, he believes. Dirty bombs, chemical and biological weapons, could be home-made by al-Qaida's own experts, many of them trained in the US and Britain.

Duh. And on whose watch did they get all that training, Anonymous?

Anonymous, who published an analysis of al-Qaida last year called Through Our Enemies' Eyes, thinks it quite possible that another devastating strike against the US could come during the election campaign, not with the intention of changing the administration, as was the case in the Madrid bombing, but of keeping the same one in place.

"I'm very sure they can't have a better administration for them than the one they have now," he said.

"One way to keep the Republicans in power is to mount an attack that would rally the country around the president."

We've been waiting for this part of the spiel. Only a true professional bureaucrat would be able to figure out that bin Laden's greatest fear is a return to the dread days of the Clinton administration, when counter-terrorism lay firmly in the hands of experts like Anonymous. When bin Laden contemplates the havoc Kerry will wreak by genuflecting to the anti-terror leviathan named Chirac, he practically wets his pants. Worse still is the prospect that under a Kerry administration, the Taliban might be restored in Afghanistan and then bin Laden would have to return from his comfy aerie to the urban dangers of Kabul. For months he has lain sleepless in his bed pondering ways of enhancing the electability of the man who made him look like such a genius with Mullah Omar. "Anyone but that ruthless and cunning swift boat captain," he mutters. "anybody but Kerry."

The White House has yet to comment publicly on Imperial Hubris, which is due to be published on July 4, but intelligence experts say it may try to portray him as a professionally embittered maverick.

The tone of Imperial Hubris is certainly angry and urgent, and the stridency of his warnings about al-Qaida led him to be moved from a highly sensitive job in the late 90s.

Oh? So he's been working in a cubicle next to the copier for the past five years? But that wouldn't make him bitter or strident, would it? And isn't it odd that the "consensus among intelligence counter-terrorist professionals" is being articulated by a guy nobody's seen except at the water cooler since before 9/11.

But Vincent Cannistraro, a former chief of operations at the CIA counter-terrorism centre, said he had been vindicated by events. "He is very well respected, and looked on as a serious student of the subject."

Oh, that explains it. He's a serious student of the subject. Why, we have it on good authority that he got a 720 on his counter-terrorism SATs. That's easily in the 99th percentile. Of what, you ask? We don't know.

Anonymous believes Mr. Bush is taking the US in exactly the direction Bin Laden wants, towards all-out confrontation with Islam under the banner of spreading democracy.

Excuse us, but that's what war is. Two combatants identify one another as enemies and have at it. Unless one of them chooses abject surrender, that's pretty much how it has to go.

He said: "It's going to take 10,000-15,000 dead Americans before we say to ourselves: 'What is going on'?"

We've been saying the same thing. Largely because of brain-dead bureaucratic incompetents like Anonymous. There's no way to finesse this war with elegant memos or bitter, self-promoting leaks to the press.

Guardian Unlimited Guardian Newspapers Limited 2004

Tally ho.

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