Killing Osama bin Laden, A Gift for the Intelligence Community


By: Gerard Valentino

People not familiar with the United States Intelligence Community wonder why it took so long to find Osama bin Laden. Some don’t realize that gathering vital intelligence on the location of the world’s most wanted man is a little tougher than finding information on which high definition television to buy, and takes a lot more time as well.

Analyzing material from the diverse and often competing groups of American intelligence agencies, and weighing the value of different types of intelligence, is a daunting task. Even with the lapses that allowed 9/11 to happen, America’s intelligence capability remains the world standard and the intelligence community collects data at a frightening rate.

Adding to the level of difficulty is the counter-intelligence skills of our adversaries who aren’t going to give up their secrets without a fight.

Just before the second War in Iraq, the U.S. launched an air strike to take out Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein based on intelligence from a source that was never officially revealed. But, as we know, Hussein wasn’t at the location and survived the attack.

In the aftermath news stories quoted anonymous sources who said the person responsible for tipping the U.S. to Hussein’s location had disappeared. Hussein likely used the situation to expose the traitor in his midst, and his well crafted plan had the added benefit of making President George W. Bush look foolish.

Getting to the position attained by Hussein or Osama bin Laden requires the guile to advance in a world full of murderers, traitors and thugs. They didn’t rise to their position by being squeamish or by showing restraint if they had concerns about an underling’s loyalty.

They also have the added advantage of not being constrained by the moral guidelines as the United States. If in doubt, Hussein might simply have his entire inner-circle executed, and bin Laden might do the same. An option most Americas can’t comprehend, but is still a possible outcome if either nefarious leader thinks we are closing in.

That truth is that finding bin Laden was truly amazing considering his financial means and that he had the full support of the local people.

What many don’t realize is that finding bin Laden was the equivalent of finding a specific needle, in a stack of identical needles.

America’s intelligence community is also held to a higher standard because the United States is held to a higher standard. When Russian anti-terrorist units killed 67 hostages in an attempt to end a standoff with terrorists at a movie theatre in Moscow, the world community barely batted an eye.

Yet, when American military forces bombed a legitimate military target without the knowledge that Saddam Hussein had filled the building with innocent civilians, it was America, not Hussein that was vilified by the international press.

Being held to such a high standard creates tremendous pressure for our intelligence community and military planners. Intelligence professionals also live with the stress of knowing if they act too soon innocent people may be killed, but if they wait for iron-clad confirmation of a target’s location, the target might escape.

The pressure to find Osama bin Laden was overwhelming and put a constant strain on intelligence professionals who knew the value in bringing the mastermind of 9/11 to justice.

Make no mistake, the intelligence community also remembers the chances we had to eliminate bin Laden during the Clinton Administration. There was a concern when President Obama took office that he would make the same mistake and dither while bin Laden escaped.

By calling for the raid that brought bin Laden to justice, President Obama gave the American intelligence community a true gift. He was decisive when the opportunity presented itself, and despite his other significant failings as President, he deserves credit for his decision.

Granted, there was no downside for him if the mission failed. So calling his decision gutsy might be a stretch. Regardless, other Democrats failed to act when a similar situation presented itself, and that had a detrimental effect on the morale of the intelligence community.

President George W. Bush deserves praise as well since much of the information that led to bin Laden’s demise was gathered on his watch. Had he given the order to get bin Laden, however, it wouldn’t have given the same boost in morale since there was no doubt about his resolve.

After having Osama bin Laden in their grasp on several occasions only to see him slip away because weak willed Democrats failed to pull the trigger, the raid to get bin Laden was one of the best gifts ever given to our intelligence professionals.

It is also a gift that will continue to empower our intelligence professionals for the rest of Obama’s hopefully short presidency, because they now have faith he will not dither while a different target escapes.

(Gerard Valentino is a former military intelligence analyst, the author of The Valentino Chronicles – Observations of a Middle Class Conservative, available at Amazon.com and a co-founder of Buckeye Firearms Association.)

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