A panel of top political commentators joins Diane to talk about some of the head spinning events of this last year and to get their perspectives on the challenges ahead.
Guest Host: Susan Page
For many Americans, he had become the epitome of evil. Now, 10 years after the 9-11 attacks, U.S. forces finally found al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan – and killed him in a firefight. As the news spread last night, there were chants of “U.S.A.” at ballgames and cheers from a youthful crowd that gathered at the White House. But U.S. officials and experts on terrorism warn that the threat Bin Laden did so much to create won’t end with his violent demise. In this hour, we’ll discuss why it took so long to find Bin Laden, how the operation finally succeeded – and what’s ahead in the battle against terrorism.
- John McLaughlin Former acting director of the CIA and now senior fellow at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.
- Yochi Dreazen Senior national security correspondent, National Journal magazine.
- Paul Pillar Director, graduate studies at the Center for Peace and Security Studies at Georgetown University and a former CIA National Intelligence officer
- Ahmed Rashid Pakistani journalist and author. A second edition of his book "Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia " has just been published. His other books include “Descent into Chaos” and “Jihad.”
MS. SUSAN PAGEThanks for joining us. I'm Susan Page of USA Today, sitting in for Diane Rehm. It was nearly midnight last night when President Obama made an extraordinary appearance in the East Room. He announced that the al-Qaida leader who masterminded the 9/11 attacks was dead. Here's what the president said.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMAWe can say to those families who have lost loved ones to al-Qaida's terror, justice has been done.
PAGEBut the death of Osama bin Laden doesn't end the battle with terrorism. For a time, experts say it may make it worse. Joining me in the studio to talk about what's happened and what's next, John McLaughlin who was deputy director of the CIA during the 9/11 attacks, Paul Pillar who was at the CIA at the national intelligence office during 9/11 and Yochi Dreazen of National Journal magazine. Welcome to "The Diane Rehm Show."
MR. YOCHI DREAZENWelcome.
MR. JOHN MCLAUGHLINThank you.
MR. PAUL PILLARThank you.
PAGEWe're going to invite our listeners to join our conversation with their thoughts and questions later in this hour. They can call us on our toll-free number, 1-800-433-8850. Or you can send us an email at email@example.com, or find us on Facebook or Twitter. Well, we have waited a long time for this day. Yochi, tell us, in the end, why was Osama bin Laden finally captured and killed now?
DREAZENYeah, I think the -- one of the big questions that has yet to be answered and will be answered hopefully in the short time to come -- we know that there was a tip about a courier that led, beginning in August, to this really intensive 8-month effort to track it. I was told last night that involved persistent drone coverage, Global Hawk drones, which can fly very, very high, so they don't give off the kind of trademark sound of lower flying drones over this compound. There were SEAL teams practicing in Afghanistan that were on a sort of state of readiness for literally more than a month, so that if the drones saw any sign of bin Laden or someone looking like him preparing to leave, that this team was going to go immediately.
DREAZENIt's not clear whether there was carelessness on the part of bin Laden after so long of being on the run. We know -- it's easy to think of him as superhuman, as this, like, 10-foot tall, terror mastermind. He's a human being. He was a sick human being. He managed to invade the most sophisticated effort to capture individual in the history of the world. It's possible that after almost a decade of doing so, he slipped up.
PAGELeon Panetta, this morning in a statement, said the uncatchable man had finally been caught. Well, John McLaughlin, when the 9/11 attacks happened and you were at the CIA, did you have any idea it would take so long for Osama bin Laden to be caught?
MCLAUGHLINWe couldn't imagine at that moment how long it would take. There was, however, reaction of anger and resolve at the CIA that we would get this done. And this operation actually inherits work done by people at the CIA going all the way back to the mid-1990s when we organized a unit to follow bin Laden. The real breakthrough came in the early part of this decade when a detainee told us the name of a courier who was important to bin Laden, but we had only the nickname. It took until about 2007 before the nickname was translated into a real name. It took until about 2010 until that person was located at this compound.
MCLAUGHLINAnd in the period since the location of that individual at the compound, the CIA and other intelligence organizations have had that compound under intense surveillance. A whole series of clues indicated that this compound probably housed a high-value target, things like it had no Internet connection, it had no television connection. People there didn't put out their trash the way other people did. They burned it. All of these things were indirect evidence of a high-value target there. And over time, the judgment was made that this was bin Laden.
PAGEWe found in a CIA...
MCLAUGHLINSo this was -- let me just say, this was a really spectacular intelligence operation and military operation, and a wonderful example of cooperation between intelligence and the U.S. military.
PAGEIn a CNN poll last September, two-thirds of Americans said they thought it was unlikely that we would ever catch bin Laden. Did you ever doubt that, in the end, we would find him?
MCLAUGHLINNo, not for a minute. We knew at the CIA that it takes a long time to find a single individual. You may recall that in 1994, I believe it was, or '93, an individual killed two CIA officers and wounded some others in front of our building. It took four years for us to find that person and bring him to justice. In our own country, the Atlanta bomber, for example, it took a number of years with all the transparency we have in our country to find that man -- I think about four years. So we never doubted we'd find him. I've said, at every time I've ever been asked, we will find this man. But it took a long time.
PAGEPaul Pillar, he was found not in some cave, but in a $1 million-complex in a suburb of Islamabad. Is it credible that Pakistani officials didn't know he was there?
PILLARI don't think it's credible that there was no knowledge or no suspicion. That strikes me as the most not worthy part of the story. It wasn't a cave in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas in the far northwest, although, almost certainly, bin Laden has spent time, if not literally in caves, in some pretty remote areas of that part of Pakistan, but here in a well-to-do, basically, leafy suburb, that, in addition, was the home of a lot of military installations.
PILLARI would think, at a minimum, we're talking about Pakistani officialdom looking the other -- in the other direction and not wanting to see certain things. Now, whether there was firm evidence, firm knowledge on their part as to exactly who was in this compound, we can only guess. But it's not credible to me that there was not, at least, a very strong suspicion.
PAGEWhich is why, presumably, the United States apparently did not give Pakistan any kind of heads-up about this operation. What does that do, Yochi, do you think to U.S.-Pakistan relations? I mean, whatever the problems are, in some way's a key ally.
DREAZENIn some ways, a key ally had been, in some ways, an ally that we don't trust in a fundamental way. I mean, the backdrop against all of this is that the relationship between Washington and Islamabad, between the CIA and the ISI has deteriorated really sharply over the last couple of months, to the point that the CIA -- if you remember, there was the CIA contractor who killed two people in Lahore that prompted -- he was arrested. We asked for his release. It took months to get him finally freed. The ISI has asked the CIA to curtail its drone campaign. We've emphatically said no. And a number of drone strikes has risen and risen.
DREAZENI mean, there was a profound lack of trust before this. The fact, as Paul mentioned, this is a well-fortified town. I was watching the initial footage from ABC today, that there was a police station about 400 yards away, an Army base and including an Army hospital 1,000 yards away. I mean, this wasn't just a suburb. This was a suburb winged by Pakistani security elements. How could they not have known?
PAGEIt's like Osama bin Laden was living in Bethesda, Md., or McLean, Va. John McLaughlin.
MCLAUGHLINI just wanted to add that I thought the president handled this very well in reaching out to the Pakistanis in a conciliatory, magnanimous way, if you will. This gives us a great deal of leverage with the Pakistanis, I think, to go forward in the future because they have to be incredibly embarrassed by this. They may not acknowledge that. They may not say it. I'm sure they won't. But we have a lot of other work to do in Pakistan. There's the Tehrik-i-Taliban, which is a small unit that, as we understand it, trained the bomber who attempted to blow himself up in Times Square, set off a truck bomb there.
MCLAUGHLINThere is, you know, a Taliban influence and presence in Pakistan. There's the Lashkar-e-Taiba, a major terrorist group. So there's a lot of work left to be done in Pakistan, and we need to lay the basis for that.
PAGENow, Paul Pillar, they -- U.S. forces buried Osama bin Laden at sea. I think that was a surprise to a lot of Americans that that happened, and that it happened so quickly. Why that -- was that decision made?
PILLARI think that was a very shrewd move. It avoids having a shrine, a place that will be a symbol and a focus of the martyrdom that will still be there -- bin Laden as a dead martyr, as a symbol. But at least there will not be a physical place that will be the target of who knows what, demonstrations, attacks. One of the best things from the United States' point of view, in terms of avoiding problems, is the fact that bin Laden is dead and even his body is not around, as opposed to have been being captured and then restarting all over again the issue of what would be the disposition of this arch-criminal.
PILLAREverything we went through with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and the other 9/11 associated suspects, with regard to whether they should be tried at Guantanamo or in civilian court, we would've seen that all over again, but with 10 times more intensity.
PAGEWill there be questions, Yochi, do you think, about whether we actually got him since perhaps people won't be able to see the body since he has now been buried at sea?
DREAZENI think that's a great question. I also think that Paul laid it out perfectly as to why they buried it at sea and how smart of a move that was. If you remember, back during the Iraq war when they killed the sons of Saddam Hussein, the U.S. publicized those photos very quickly, in part to make clear that people knew they were dead. I wouldn't be surprised, if his body was in remotely good enough shape, that he's recognizable as himself. I wouldn't be surprised, at some point, if that photo was made public, precisely so that there is no doubt, no question, this man is dead.
PAGEIn fact, the Telegraph has already posted a photograph that shows bin Laden shot in the head, assuming that photograph is real -- of course, you have to be careful in this day and age.
DREAZENI mean, it's also worth pointing out that there -- it's not by accident that the White House decided to take the risk of sending in Navy SEALs by helicopter, rather than striking from the air with a warplane, rather than using a predator drone to fire a missile at that compound.
PAGENow, John McLaughlin, should Americans now be braced for retaliation from terrorists?
MCLAUGHLINI think we have to assume that to be the case. I would be surprised if al-Qaida had plans on the shelf for some sort of retaliation in the event of bin Laden's death. But in the last couple of years, we've seen, of course, something like -- this last seven or eight years, something like 45, 46 incidents within the United States of basically homegrown terrorism or domestically inspired terrorism. So you've got the affiliates in Yemen, you have groups there. You have groups in East Africa who are loosely affiliated with al-Qaida who will probably have operations on the -- in their libraries, if you will, prepared to attack American installation somewhere in the Middle East or Europe and possibly in the United States.
MCLAUGHLINSo we should be braced. The prudent thing to do would be to take all precautions, and I'm sure our intelligence community and law enforcement community is doing exactly that.
PAGEJohn McLaughlin, he is the former acting director of the CIA. He's now a senior fellow at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. And we're also joined this hour by Yochi Dreazen, national security correspondent for National Journal Magazine, and Paul Pillar, director of graduate studies at the Center for Peace and Security Studies at Georgetown University. He's a former CIA, national intelligence officer. We're going to take a short break. When we come back, we'll go to the phones. We'll read some of your emails. Stay with us.
PAGEWelcome back. I'm Susan Page with USA Today. We're talking this hour about the extraordinary developments over the last hours with the announcement that Osama bin Laden was killed in a firefight with U.S. forces. We saw celebrations last night at the White House, at the site of Ground Zero in New York, at ballgames. What did you think when you saw that reaction, Paul?
PILLARThe main thought that goes through my mind, Susan, is that although this sort of reaction is very understandable, we Americans like to personalize our enemies. You know, if it's not Hitler or Saddam Hussein, it's Osama bin Laden. But we immediately need to add -- and I think the president struck the right tone on this as well in his message last night -- that taking out this one man does not defeat al-Qaida, and it certainly does not defeat the larger terrorist threat.
PILLARMost of the initiative and direction and instigation for terrorist attacks that have been directed against us and other Western targets over the last several years has actually come not from the leaders in hiding in Pakistan, but from the periphery, including some of these incidents we've had here in the United States, to which John alluded, including the ones that we are now very familiar with, that have been organized and directed from Yemen in the form of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula. So we Americans need to temper our understandable enthusiasm about this one extremely prominent leader being taken out of commission. This is not like a game of chess where you checkmate the king and the game is over. The game is not over.
PAGESo, clearly, it doesn't end the terrorist threat for Americans. But, John McLaughlin, does it have an effect? Osama bin Laden is such an iconic figure not only to us in a negative way, but to his followers.
MCLAUGHLINWell, it's really worth thinking about, Susan. I think it's going to have many effects. You know, for some people in the extremist movement, he will be seen now as a martyr, and they will be inspired by his example. That's a bad thing that will come from this. Many good things will come from this. Among them, I think we will see fissures or divisions begin to be accentuated within al-Qaida and within the extremist movement generally. We have to remember that it was bin Laden who really took this movement and directed it toward what he called the far target -- that is, the United States.
MCLAUGHLINMany people did not think it was a good idea to attack the United States, and I think they were surprised by the ferocity of our reaction. And so there will be now a debate, I think, within al-Qaida about what their future is. And anytime they're talking and debating and arguing among themselves, that's good for us. So that's one good thing that will happen here as a result.
PAGESo, Yochi, who takes over now as the leader of this loosely affiliated federation of groups?
DREAZENI think part of, you know, John's point is that it's not entirely clear. I mean, Ayman Zawahiri, who remains free -- we had at times thought we had killed, but he has escaped for years, like bin Laden has -- in some way would normally be the number two. This would be the Egyptian who had been imprisoned and tortured and sort of radicalized while he was in prison. Later, he's a medical doctor, comes from a very wealthy family, has worked with bin Laden for decades.
DREAZENI think John's point is spot-on, that this -- the backdrop against which this is taking place is that al-Qaida main has fractured. You have al-Qaida affiliates in Yemen. You have al-Qaida affiliates in Maghreb and Somalia, all of which runs somewhat independently. They raise money somewhat independently. They run and plan their operations independently. It's not as if striking off, as Paul indicated, you know, the head of this somehow means the whole organization crumbles. Their organization is already different. It's smaller. It's more metastasized. And so it's not clear, A, who the person is who will follow bin Laden, or, B, how much that will really matter since these independent groups are already the ones who are planning the attacks, not al-Qaida main.
MCLAUGHLINOh, I think that's exactly right. We're going to see a lot of changes in the terrorist movement as a result of this -- really, unpredictable at this point. We've said several times here that some of the attacks we've had or come close to having in the United States, like the Christmas bomber and the Times Square bomber and the attempted attack on the New York subway. Some of those came from groups that have nothing to do directly with bin Laden. They were inspired by him. And I think we have to worry about what they're going to do in the future now and how they'll react to this. And this will be one of the -- I'm sure one of the objectives of our intelligence agencies is to figure out what's going on among all of these people.
PILLARI would just add, Susan -- and John is absolutely right -- that the role that bin Laden has played in a lot of these recent attacks has been inspiration, and that, unfortunately, is something that can continue even when...
PILLAR...the inspirer is dead, as well as when he's alive.
PAGEWe heard on the NBC's "Today Show" this morning, Donald Rumsfeld, the former defense secretary for President George W. Bush, say that the Bush administration deserved a lot of credit for the fact that Osama bin Laden had been captured. Is that correct, do you think?
MCLAUGHLINI think what is correct to say -- the way I would say it is that everyone in the intelligence and military realm who worked on terrorism, I would say, from the early to mid-'90s forward, deserves some credit here because catching terrorists is a long, complicated, grinding business. It is the most labor-intensive business in the intelligence field. And people who build up databases over years, people who have learned a lot about al-Qaida, people who could bring something to the party in every one of these discussions, contributed to this outcome.
MCLAUGHLINJust -- as I mentioned earlier, you can sort of trace the immediate trail here back to the early part of this decade. And, I think, the intelligence officers and military people who brought this to conclusions would acknowledge that. So a lot of people can take a bow.
PAGELet's go to the phones and let some of our listeners join this conversation. We're joined now by David. He's calling us from Middletown, Conn. David, hi, you're on the air.
DAVIDHello. Hi. Thanks for taking my call. My -- I think it's cause for celebration for our country and the world, but I was quite amazed that so quickly they dumped his body in the ocean. Now, where is verification going to come from that actually this was bin Laden and so that we can show the world that this is actually a reality and a good positive thing for us? Thank you very much.
PAGEAnd, David, are you skeptical of that?
PAGEAre you skeptical that it was actually bin Laden?
DAVIDI'm sure it was, but I was quite amazed that they basically -- they gave him, you know -- they dumped him in the ocean so quickly.
PAGEAll right, David. Thanks for your call. I would say we've gotten several callers making similar points. Paul?
PILLARIn addition to the photographic -- immediate photographic evidence that we alluded to earlier, I'm sure there will be other photography from the burial at sea that we are likely to see. There was DNA evidence reportedly collected by the Navy SEALs. And they also spent their additional 40 minutes at the site collecting all the other possible documentary and related evidence they could. So, I think, between, you know, what will be scientific testimony about the DNA, as well as probably multiple photographs, there should be plenty of evidence.
PAGEYochi, what -- did you have something else you wanted to say?
DREAZENI did. I mean, I think that will be an immediate question the White House will have to answer. I mean, in the Bush administration, when they had photos that were releasable, they released them precisely for this purpose. It's not clear Obama will make the same choice, but I think the pressure to do this will mount because there's no question there will be conspiracy theories immediately that will say, he's still alive. They killed an impostor. He's out there somewhere. And they'll want to put those to bed as quickly and as conclusively as they can.
PAGEDo you think that the data that was collected at the compound is likely to turn out to be a real treasure trove of intelligence information? I mean, this is where we think Osama bin Laden had been living for years.
MCLAUGHLINI think we'll learn a lot from it. For one thing, as I mentioned earlier, there was no Internet connection or telephone connection. All of this messaging to him was done by courier. So I'm guessing -- although I'm sure they also had a destruction plan for documents and such -- I'm guessing it will come away with sizeable trove of documents. And I would think they probably had electronic media within the compound. And anytime you get that stuff in a terrorist operation, you usually have the equivalent of a small public library. So I think we'll -- I'd be surprised if we didn't come away with a lot of great stuff here.
PAGEAnd the reason they wouldn't have had a telephone line or an Internet connection there, what's the reason behind that, Paul?
PILLARThat had to do with the operational security. That is the main reason that bin Laden has stayed at large for so long. The use of couriers, the use of cutouts, which makes it harder for Western intelligence to do things like intercept electronic communications -- that was a critical part of his security.
PAGEAnd yet the use of couriers, in the end, helped us find him.
DREAZENWhich is so ironic because the couriers had always been seen as the thing that would keep him safe, along with -- there had been a detainee named Abu Jandal, who gave an interview a couple of years ago, talking about how when he had served, Jandal, as bin Laden's bodyguard, he had a gun with him at all times. And his order was, if forces -- U.S. forces were closing in, he was to kill bin Laden and not allow the U.S. either to capture him or to kill him. And this had been part of bin Laden's mythology for years, that he would always be killed in his own hand or by one of his bodyguards rather than being killed by the West. In the end, he was killed by the West.
PAGENow, joining us from Spain is Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid, who's been a guest on our show before. Rashid -- Ahmed Rashid, thank you so much for joining us.
MR. AHMED RASHIDThank you.
PAGETell me, what has been the reaction in Pakistan to this news?
RASHIDWell, I think there's been a lot of relief at one level. People have been fed up by the suicide bombing and the attacks by al-Qaida, who are also supported by a section of the Pakistani Taliban who have been driving away the minorities, the Christians. Many of the Islamic sects have been bombing their way through society. People, I think, you know, have been quite relieved. But, obviously, there are also a lot of questions that are being asked internally as to, you know, what are they doing living there in such a way, in such a style, in this very well-known town for so long when the government and government leaders have been progressively denying that he was in Pakistan even?
PAGESo, Ahmed, is it credible, do you think -- this is a question that we discussed earlier in this hour with the panel -- credible that Pakistani officials were completely unaware there was this $1 million compound with all this security in this suburb of Islamabad?
RASHIDWell, you know, it's very difficult to say. But, I mean, you know, certainly, some people must have known about it. Somebody must have known about it. But who exactly, how high up they went, who were they exactly, you know, it's very difficult to say at this stage. I can only presume that there will be some kind of investigation by the Pakistani authorities as to how this happened or how this was allowed to happen and, you know, who was to blame because, you know, you're living in a small town. I mean, certainly, I mean, you just look at the neighbors, for example. I mean, the neighbors must have been suspicious, at least, as to what was going on in this large house with these huge walls.
PAGEOne would think. Is there anger or embarrassment that this U.S. military operation involving helicopters and Navy SEALs went forward without the Pakistani government apparently being given a heads-up?
RASHIDWell, the Pakistani statements have been saying that everything was done in coordination with Pakistan. The Americans acted with Pakistan. Now, of course, it's not clear to many Pakistanis exactly what that means. Did the Americans not take the mission? Were the Pakistanis alongside the Americans? And, of course, the initial talk about this helicopter coming down was that this was a Pakistani helicopter that came down. So, you know, all this -- some of this still has to be cleared up, I think.
PAGEHow -- you, of course, written a book about the Taliban, an expert on Taliban politics and more, and I wonder how much impact you think this event, the killing of Osama bin Laden, has on the overall battle against terrorism for Americans. Is there an impact, do you think?
RASHIDOh, yes. I think there will be an impact. I mean, we will see an initial bout of revenge bombings and killings, which will take place, no doubt, in many countries, but especially in Pakistan and in Afghanistan and perhaps in Europe and the United States, too. But once that is over, I think that there will be a demoralization. But, most importantly, I think, right now, the two effects -- the first is that I think the Arab revolt and the youth in the streets in the Arab countries, you know, will be encouraged by this, and there's even less of a chance now that they will be influenced by this kind of Islamic extremism. And their demand, hopefully, for democracy and freedom will increase.
RASHIDI think the second thing is that the chances of now talking to the Taliban are very great. The Afghan Taliban are in the mood to talk to both the Americans and the Karzai government. And one of the American conditions has always been that they should renounce al-Qaida. Well, they now really have no reason to -- with bin Laden dead, they don't know al-Qaida or anything anymore, and it frees them up, in a way, to have much freer talks with everyone. And I think this is something that must be grasped quickly by the Obama administration now to move swiftly on taking some positive steps towards having talks with the Taliban.
PAGEAhmed Rashid, thank you so much for joining us.
PAGEAhmed Rashid, he's a Pakistani journalist. He joined us by phone from Spain. I'm Susan Page, and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We're taking your calls, 1-800-433-8850. Well, two interesting points here -- one, the idea that the United States should now move forward to have direct talks with the Taliban. Yochi, could that be a result of this?
DREAZENI think it could, and I think another result of this could be that the fundamental rationale for the war in Afghanistan, arguably, is now gone. I mean, the war is unpopular. It's expensive. Our casualties are rising very, very high. It's not clear what success would be or how we would get there on the Afghan side as far as building up the Karzai government or having a government that we believe could run security forces that could replace us. But, from our point of view, this war has always been about al-Qaida.
DREAZENAnd there -- I think there will be a lot of people on the Hill, a lot of people, just average voters who say, when we're running enormous deficits and we've killed the head of al-Qaida, why are we at war at Afghanistan in the first place?
PAGEWell, Paul, how would you answer that question? Is it time for us to get out of Afghanistan?
PILLARWell, I have views about this, and I would welcome that sort of questioning of our policies in Afghanistan. I think we're going to hear a lot more commentary, exactly along the lines that Yochi mentioned, after we get past this first day of euphoria and we get to the second and third and fourth days of comments. But I'd like to highlight the one thing that Ahmed Rashid mentioned, which I think is one of the major effects of this one individual as opposed to a whole group being put out of commission, and that was the idea that the Taliban no longer really owes anybody anything once bin Laden is out of the picture.
PILLARWhat they owed to al-Qaida was, to a large extent, to bin Laden personally, you know, going back to the 1990s, when bin Laden used his resources to aid the Taliban in that phase of the Afghan civil war. So I agree with Ahmed that this is an opportunity to move forward on the negotiating and diplomatic front reps in a way that we were not able to before.
PAGEJohn McLaughlin, what do you think? Is this now a reason to say we've accomplished what we need to accomplish in Afghanistan? We can bring our troops home?
MCLAUGHLINWell, I think that thought is going to be alive and will be part of the review that the president and his administration will carry out in July. And I think this is all going to take a lot more careful thought than we can give it on the very first day. It's more complicated than that. One of the things I would emphasize from Ahmed's remarks is the connection to all of the turmoil in the Middle East. If you think about -- this is a really interesting thing to think about. No one in these demonstrations has been going around carrying pictures of bin Laden.
MCLAUGHLINNo one's been going around calling for, you know, al-Qaida victories and so forth or the restoration of the caliphate. So, already, al-Qaida had suffered a kind of irrelevance, if you will, in the midst of the most important series of things that have happened in the Middle East in decades. So on top of that, the loss of their leader strikes me as a particularly important blow to this whole idea of al-Qaida moving forward in some major way among -- in the Islamic world.
PAGEJohn McLaughlin, he is former acting director of the CIA. We're also talking this hour with Yochi Dreazen from National Journal and Paul Pillar from the Georgetown University Center for Peace and Security Studies, himself a CIA veteran. We're going to take a short break. When we come back, we'll go straight to the phones, 1-800-433-8850, to hear your calls and comments. Stay with us.
PAGEHere is an email we've gotten. It says, "Dancing and chanting in the streets makes us look just like them. It is an understandable reaction when your enemy is dead, but it looks uncivilized as if we have not learned one thing." What do you think, Yochi? Is that a reaction that we might hear abroad to the celebrations we're seeing in the United States today?
DREAZENI think it will be rational you'll hear some places, but I think muted. I think that in most parts of the world, there'll be understanding of why there was the kind of celebration that there was yesterday. It's also interesting that most -- I live not far from the White House, and we could hear the chanting from our balcony. The chanting wasn't, you know, yea, yea, bin Laden's dead, or Hallelujah, we killed this man. It was patriotic. It was people singing "The Star-Spangled Banner," singing "God Bless America," chanting USA, USA. Whatever you think of that, it wasn't the sort of, like, bloodlust, we've killed this guy, let's go kill other people. It was celebratory, rather than sort of retributive, if that distinction makes sense.
PAGEHere's another email from Lauren. She writes us from Lansing, Mich. She writes, "My husband is currently serving his third deployment, and I Skyped him last night when news of bin Laden's death broke. We were both quite sober regarding the story because we knew that national security and the safety of deployed service members will face new threats as al-Qaida responds to the death of its leader. What was most chilling to me, however, was when my husband stated that it took 10 years, trillions of dollars and over 5,000 American lives to reach this goal. Al-Qaida has killed many more people in a shorter time with less money and fewer losses in their own ranks. If this war is not sustainable for the U.S., how can it be winnable?" I wonder what you think about that, John McLaughlin.
MCLAUGHLINWell, it's worth thinking about the future for the war on terror if that's what we still call it. And to really prevail here, you need to do at least three things: you need to destroy the leadership, you need to deny it safe haven, and you need to change the conditions that give rise to this phenomenon. Now, yes, it took a long time and cost a lot of effort and treasure and American blood to find bin Laden. Was there a choice? I don't think so. You could not abandon the search for him. And when I think of those three things I just said that you need to do, well, we have now gone a long way toward destroying the leadership. We now need to focus on denying terrorists who continue to plot the kind of safe haven they need to accomplish it.
MCLAUGHLINThe third thing, changing the conditions that give rise to all of this is a much bigger problem. It can't be done, for example, by intelligence alone. We're talking here about assistance policies, strategic communications, big and complicated issues, like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, that need to be dealt with now as kind of one of the excuses that terrorists have used for carrying out some of things that they've done. So there's a long path ahead to really make this whole terrorist phenomenon, the irrelevancy it needs to be in history.
PAGEPaul, here's an email from Sara. She writes us from Kalamazoo, Mich. She says, "Was the goal of yesterday's raid to take Osama bin Laden prisoner? Or was the goal to kill him?" What do you think?
PILLARWell, we don't know exactly what the rules of engagement were for the SEALs, and we might learn some more about that later. I can think back to previous years back when I was working on counterterrorism in the 1990s, when this became a major issue as to exactly what the those rules should be. My assumption is that in the raid this week, the orders were to shoot pretty quickly. And if it wasn't outright that the mission is to kill him, that the circumstances were such -- especially given what we heard before, that Yochi was mentioning about bin Laden's determination not to be taken alive anyway -- that this would -- the mission would end with a dead bin Laden rather than a captured bin Laden.
PAGEYochi, you've -- we talked earlier in this hour about some photos already circulating that purport to show the dead Osama bin Laden. What do we know about them? Do we think they're real?
DREAZENWe don't. If I can just turn back real quickly to a point that Paul had made a second earlier, my understanding, from a counter-terror official I was talking to en route to the studio actually, was that the order from the outset was to kill, that there was no thought to take him alive, that the planning they did -- I mean, they had built a mock-up of this base in Afghanistan. I mean, they had built it to scale. They practiced different ways of going over the wall. They practiced -- 'cause they didn't know how many guards he actually had. So the SEAL teams practiced against different-sized guard forces, 10, 20, five, six, so the -- I mean, the practice was extensive. But the order was to kill. The order was not to take him alive. The order was to kill.
DREAZENThe reason, again, that they sent these guys in by helicopter rather than using air strike was so you could kill him and then have proof as opposed to having a flattened compound. To this question on the...
PAGENow, before we...
PAGEBefore we go on, this practice compound was built in Afghanistan.
PAGEWhere, at a U.S. base or what?
DREAZENIt was at a SEAL base called Camp Alpha, which is a -- Bagram Airbase, which is the biggest airbase in Eastern Afghanistan, has a portion of it that is -- it's huge. And it -- this was a part of the SEAL compound there. They built the mock-up at Camp Alpha.
PAGESo how interesting they did that and managed to keep it a secret in an era when a lot of secrets aren't kept.
DREAZENThat, to me, is fascinating. Not just that they kept it on the military side, but we think about how much -- let's say, during the Afghan review last year, there was almost daily leaks about who said what, what word had -- what seemed like verbatim transcripts of who said what. Think about the -- all that's happened in the week since Obama gave the order to do this. You had him releasing the birth certificate, all that nonsense, you had the White House Correspondents dinner with him giving -- you know, telling very funny jokes. But the fact that this was kept such close hold here and in Afghanistan is kind of remarkable to me.
PAGEAnd even last night, when the White House put out the word that the president would be speaking -- they said at 10:30. It didn't happen until somewhat later. It was impossible, for an extended period of time, to figure out what he was going to talk about and really leak the way it traditionally does, which is from people they briefed on Capitol Hill.
PILLARI think what this says, Susan, about leaks is when everyone has agreed on a mission on the goal, which was -- in this case, was to take bin Laden out of commission, then nobody has an incentive to leak. You have incentives to leak when there are disagreements about the policy and about the objectives. Here, there was no disagreement.
MCLAUGHLINNonetheless, this was kept to a very, very, very small number of people.
PAGEAnd, Yochi, go back to the question I had asked you before.
PAGEThe people may already be seeing photos on the Internet. Should they believe them?
DREAZENNo. There's a photo circulating, one in particular, which shows a man with a beard lying down against sort of a white pillow -- like, there's pillow stuffing, there's bruising, and you could see a lot of blood and carnage. It's reporting to be a photo of bin Laden right after the raid. A website, just in the last 20 minutes or so, has taken that photo apart layer by layer. It was Photoshopped. I mean, it -- and that website shows you the three photos that were used to make it. That photo, which is the one that I think has circulated most widely, is definitively fake. Whether there will be a real one later is yet to be determined.
PAGEWe have to be so careful these days because of mischief-makers like that. But, John McLaughlin, do you think that we will see video of this burial at sea, which already has occurred?
MCLAUGHLINI'm sure the video exists. Whether they'll show it is unknown, of course. But if it ever does surface, I'm sure it will be done -- display that the United States carried out the burial in a way consistent with Muslim tradition, very respectful of bin Laden's faith -- absolutely sure of that.
PAGEAnd that's important in the aftermath of this.
MCLAUGHLINIt's important in the aftermath. There's precedent for this. There was, for example, a Soviet submarine that was sunk some years ago, and we managed to recover the crew in a secret operation. And we videotaped the burial of that crew in a -- showing the Russians later that it was done in a very respectful manner. So I'm sure that -- that's just one precedent -- but I'm sure this was done exactly as Muslim law and tradition would have prescribed it.
PAGEAnd, Paul, this is presumably also part of the plan that had been laid out in some detail for some time.
PILLARAll of these things we've been discussing -- the burial at sea, the public relations part of it, photographs -- I'm sure, was meticulously planned, given the long lead time based on the tips about the courier and so on, yes.
PAGELet's go back to the phones. Let's some of our listeners have their say. Mike is calling us from San Antonio. Mike, thanks for holding on.
MIKEYeah, thanks. I have to say, we owe a great deal of gratitude to a lot of people for this day, the military personnel, the intelligence community. But I just have to say that, I think, an incredible amount of credit needs to go to President Obama for the courage that he demonstrated in ordering this high risk operation. He basically put his presidency on the line. Can you imagine the news today if it had failed? He would have been compared to Jimmy Carter, the failed hostage rescue at -- operation in Iran, and any chance of his re-election would have been gone. So a lot of people to thank, but I just have to say, thank you, Mr. Obama for the guts it took to do what's right.
PAGEWell, Mike, thanks very much for your call. If this had failed, would we necessarily know about it?
DREAZENI think, given the way this was constructed with U.S. Navy SEALs going in by helicopter into a fairly crowded area, not in a remote part of the country but in a modern suburb, we would definitely have known. I think there's no question about that.
PAGEAnd what would have been the political impact, do you think?
DREAZENWell, I think the caller laid it out well. It would have been seen as a Democrat who will always face the charges, fair or unfair, that they're soft and national security having failed. I mean, it's interesting in this specific case, if you think back to the '08 campaign. Susan, I know you covered that extensively, but when Obama was asked during one of the Democrat debates, would you act unilaterally to send troops into Pakistan if you knew bin Laden was there, and he said, yes. And he was hammered for it by Sen. Clinton, his now...
PAGEBy Hillary Clinton, now his Secretary of State.
DREAZENExactly. I mean, he was hammered for it as a sign of naïveté. But what you've seen from Obama since he took office was a steady escalation of the CIA and joint special operations campaign against al-Qaida, more drone attacks than ever before, a willingness that we saw with this to send in ground troops. This is not a Democrat falling into the sort of old cliché, the unfair cliché of being soft on national defense.
PAGEIn those debates and its aftermath, Hilary Clinton made the point that it would undermine the Pakistani government on whom we depend if you acted unilaterally in that situation. Let's go to Corey calling us from Long Island. Hi, Corey.
COREYHi. Thank you for taking my call. It was really good to hear Ahmed Rashid on the program also and all your speakers. You got a great program going on today. What I want to point out is that, it's a great victory getting rid of Mr. bin Laden, but one has to remember that he's a student of the Muslim Brotherhood, which started in the 1920s under Hasan al-Banna. Their motto, their creed has not changed, just their methodology, and their agenda is never going to change. So one must keep that in mind.
PAGEAll right. Corey, thanks for your call. Paul?
PILLARWe have to make very clear distinctions between the radical, Salafi terrorist, Islamist of bin Laden and al-Qaida's ilk in the Muslim Brotherhood, which is really something else. You know, a lot of comment is often made about how some of these radicals were formally associated with the Muslim Brotherhood. Or we've had Brotherhood figures in the past who have provided ideology, but, you know, the Brotherhood, as it's manifested today, particularly in Egypt, is a different organization with which, by the way, al-Qaida has had short differences. You know, al-Qaida has condemned the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood for their peaceful methods, so we're talking about two very different phenomenon here.
PAGEJohn McLaughlin, you made the point that we have to do several things to win the battle against terrorism. Is it possible? Do you think, will a day come when the threat of terrorism no longer seems to loom so large in Americans' minds?
MCLAUGHLINYes. We will not arrive at the point where there is no terrorism in the world. It's always been there at some level, and it's hard to define that endpoint of victory. For me, it's always been the point at which terrorism has become almost a nuisance. It still exists at some level, kind of the way there are still a few communists left in the world, but no one takes communism seriously anymore. That's, I think, what we're aiming for with terrorism, and, I think, the death of bin Laden may move us a good way down that road.
PAGEYou know, a lot of Americans would love to see that day when terrorism is a nuisance and not such a threat that seems to have changed so many ways Americans live their lives. Paul, do you have that similarly optimistic view of what could be in the foreseeable future?
PILLARWell, I mean, terrorism's been around for a millennia. I think the only way in which we're going to have a sense that we've somehow gotten past the problem that preoccupies us now is that we -- when we no longer have radio programs like this that ask people like us on for a discussion like this.
PAGEI'm Susan Page, and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's go back to the phones. We'll go to Carrollton, Texas, and talk to Jim. Jim, you're on the air.
JIMOh, hi. Thank you for calling my call. I'm very concerned about the Pakistanis not being reliable allies. Obviously, you know, the way we got out of there where we blew up a helicopter, and we had to inform them after the fact because they had scrambled jets. They don't seem like a reliable ally. What are we going to do about their nuclear weapons?
PAGEWhat do you think, Yochi? What's ahead in terms of the Pakistanis' possession of nuclear weapons?
DREAZENI don't think we'll see any change. I mean, the U.S. has consistently felt that those weapons are safe. I think, though, the bigger question is what happens to Pakistan's government. I mean, this is -- there's a statement from Prime Minister Gillani a short time ago saying that they welcome this, that they're grateful for this, but this is an enormous, enormous embarrassment. And when you already have a bad relationship between their security services and ours, it's hard to see how this makes that bad relationship better.
PAGEDo you think that's right, John, that this could weaken the Pakistani government, already not so very, you know, firmly entrenched in power?
MCLAUGHLINIt's a very weak government and shaky, and I don't think this will have a dramatic impact on that government itself, this incident itself. We need to really think hard about the Pakistani issue. It's a complicated one. And the president was right to, in a sense, reach out to them. The Pakistanis, over time, have been helpful to us, particularly in the earlier part of this decade when a number of the big capture operations we carried out and the number of the advances we had in disrupting terrorism were partially dependent on Pakistani cooperation. They haven't been as cooperative in recent years for a whole range of complicated issues, but I think we need to stand back and ask ourselves, what do we really want in this relationship and try and get there.
PAGEThe AP is reporting that two Obama administration officials say DNA evidence has proven that Osama bin Laden is dead with 99.9 percent confidence. The officials did not immediately say where or how the testing was done. Paul, I wonder -- talk to us for a moment about what this means for the future of U.S. counterterrorism policy.
PILLARWell, U.S. counterterrorism policy has to keep firing on a whole bunch of -- firing, in a figurative sense -- in a lot of cylinders. There's the Homeland Security dimension. There is the use of law enforcement and intelligence resources to dismantle terrorist infrastructures overseas. There's the use of diplomacy, financial controls. All of that is going to continue. So I don't see a basic change in that mix. Perhaps the resources and attention that have gone to taking out of commission this one leader, you know, can be redirected to some other things. But I don't see a basic change in counterterrorist policy.
PAGEPaul Pillar at Georgetown University, John McLaughlin, who's at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, and Yochi Dreazen, senior national security correspondent with National Journal magazine. Thank you so much for being with us this hour.
PAGEI'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. We thank you for listening, and we're going to close with a bit more of the words that President Obama said last night in announcing this news.
OBAMALet us think back to the sense of unity that prevailed on 9/11. I know that it has, at times, frayed. Yet, today's achievement is a testament to the greatness of our country and the determination of the American people. The cause of securing our country is not complete, but tonight we are once again reminded that America can do whatever we set our mind to.
ANNOUNCER"The Diane Rehm Show" is produced by Sandra Pinkard, Nancy Robertson, Susan Nabors, Denise Couture, Monique Nazareth and Sarah Ashworth. The engineer is Tobey Schreiner. Dorie Anisman answers the phones. Visit drshow.org for audio archives, transcripts, podcasts and CD sales. Call 202-885-1200 for more information. Our email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. And we're on Facebook and Twitter. This program comes to you from American University in Washington. This is NPR.
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