On board with that point of view, the CIA just announced that at the end of last year it brought a curtain down on its unit assigned the task of hunting for bin Laden, called Alec Station, and reassigned its analysts. To allay concerns that they're letting him skate, CIA officials assured the public that nothing could be further from the truth.
Meanwhile, according to Zaki Chehab in The New Statesman, bin Laden's "presence in the mountainous, tribal areas of Waziristan in Pakistan, is no secret to those in the know. . . When Hamid Mir, a Pakistani journalist who has interviewed Bin Laden three times, took his family for lunch one day to a restaurant in Peshawar [just east of Waziristan], he spotted two of Bin Laden's bodyguards."
Some have speculated Alec Station was closed because its analysts had grown obsessed. But, CIA vow to continue searching or no, the real reason its doors were shut may have been because it actually completed its mission. No, bin Laden isn't in custody waiting to be unveiled on election day. In fact, as Chehab explains, despite the "billions of dollars' worth of surveillance equipment [we've spent] on the area. . . it is hard to see how it will penetrate Bin Laden's inner circle."
It's common knowledge that bin Laden hasn't used a cell or satellite phone in years and that his people set up one-time accounts in Internet shops to send emails. In other words, Alec Station may have globally positioned bin Laden's coordinates, but, typical of today's CIA, running agents is a lost art, thus rendering it incapable of zeroing in on his exact whereabouts.
Bush & Co. have been accused of reluctance to pressure Pakistan's president to apprehend bin Laden. While Musharraf has flushed out 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and 700 others labeled al Qaeda, it's feared seizing or killing bin Laden might push forces antagonistic to him, such as al Qaeda and tribesmen in the border provinces, to the point of no return. They then might wrest the helm of the ship of state from Musharraf's shaky grip.
With the help of elements within the Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI) -- Pakistan's Stasi-like "state within a state" -- they could then fulfill every Islamist's dream of turning Pakistan's nuclear weapons into the communal property of Islam.
Another convincing reason the administration has taken its time reeling in bin Laden is his usefulness to them on the loose. His status as the poster bogeyman of terrorism helped the administration scare the public into falling in line behind its rollbacks of civil liberties. Other reasons float through the ether, such as an allegation in La Repubblica by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's first wife. She contends that an Al Qaeda source disclosed Zarqawi's whereabouts to the Americans to buy time for bin Laden before we close in on him.
Meanwhile, all those reports on the decentralization of al Qaeda and its newfound lack of hierarchy diminish bin Laden's usefulness as either a bogeyman or a trophy. They telescope the administration's time frame for corraling him before he's reduced to utter impotence.
Then, on June 28, spokesperson Tony Snow announced that the administration had notified Congress of a proposed sale to Pakistan of "18 new F-16 aircraft with an option to purchase another 18 new planes, a support package for up to 26 used F-16s, a munitions package, an upgrade package for Pakistan's current fleet of 34 F-16s, and logistical support." For 15 years, the US had blocked such sales to Pakistan as a form of sanctions against its nuclear weapons program. The current sale is the result of a decision the administration made in March 2005 to reward Pakistan for its help with al Qaeda.
Of course, the sale is also a way of fortifying Pakistan against its enemies -- not our pal India, but from within, against the day the US finally calls in its markers. It's a safe bet that bin Laden's intinerary, however ad hoc, is familiar to the ISI, from whom Musharraf would then be forced to extract it.
In spite of themselves, even those who suspect the US government is complicit in 9/11 can't help but look forward to the day bin Laden is eliminated. Those who claim he's relinquished power or is broke underestimate him. It behooves us to remember his efforts -- like as not, successful -- to procure suitcase nukes from the Russian mob or Chechyan rebels.
Still, there are two domestic downsides to finding bin Laden. First of course, it might help the Republicans retain one or both houses of Congress. Second, the administration can paddle an attack on Iran into position to catch the wave of popularity bin Laden's demise generates.