Five Years After 9/11, Trail Cold For Bin Laden
Senior intelligence officials acknowledged in an NBC News report that the last time they knew with certainty where Osama Bin Laden was in real time was before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Has the trail to Bin Laden gone cold?
"I would have to say it probably has," said Robert Grenier, a former director of the CIA's Counterterrorism Center and a former CIA station chief in Islamabad, Pakistan. Grenier left the CIA in June.
It's a long road from the night of Sept. 11, when President Bush said, "The search is underway for those who are behind these evil acts," and then over the following months repeated on several occasions that he wanted to bring Bin Laden to justice "dead or alive."
To be sure, Americans still want to see Bin Laden brought to justice. A June poll by USA Today/Gallup found that 86% of Americans said that it was somewhat, very or extremely important that Bin Laden be captured or killed, a number that had barely changed over the past two years.
The trail may only grow colder if an agreement signed last week to end unrest on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border winds up protecting Bin Laden, as some analysts suggest.
Former White House counterterrorism official, Richard Clarke, now a consultant for ABC News, told the Associated Press last week that the peace accord between the Pakistan government and pro-Taliban militants in that country meant that "the Taliban and Al Qaeda leadership have effectively carved out a sanctuary inside Pakistan."
Another factor not helping the search is that the CIA last year closed a unit that for a decade had the mission of hunting Bin Laden and his top lieutenants.
Michael Scheuer, a former senior CIA official who was the first head of the unit, known as Alec Station, said the move reflected the mistaken view within the agency that Bin Laden was no longer the threat he once was. "This will clearly denigrate our operations against Al Qaeda," he told the New York Times in July.
As JABBS noted at the time, the Bush Administration has, since 2002, gone from targeting Bin Laden to marginalizing him as just one person in the broad "war on terror." (For a timeline of quotes showing how the administration has changed the way it talks about Bin Laden, click here.)
As CNN correspondent Jamie McIntyre noted in 2003: "They'd love to get him tomorrow, if they could. Since they can't, they're downplaying the role that he's playing."