Osama bin Elvis
Seven years after Osama bin Laden's last verifiable appearance among the living, there is more evidence for Elvis's presence among us than for his. Hence there is reason to ask whether the paradigm of Osama bin Laden as terrorism's deus ex machina and of al Qaeda as the prototype of terrorism may be an artifact of our Best and Brightest's imagination, and whether investment in this paradigm has kept our national security establishment from thinking seriously about our troubles' sources. So let us take a fresh look at the fundamentals.
Dead or Alive?
Negative evidence alone compels the conclusion that Osama is long since dead. Since October 2001, when Al Jazeera's Tayseer Alouni interviewed him, no reputable person reports having seen him—not even after multiple-blind journeys through intermediaries. The audio and video tapes alleged to be Osama's never convinced impartial observers. The guy just does not look like Osama. Some videos show him with a Semitic aquiline nose, while others show him with a shorter, broader one. Next to that, differences between colors and styles of beard are small stuff.
'Between facts and fiction': Osama bin Laden in a video released in 2007 (Reuters)
Nor does the tapes' Osama sound like Osama. In 2007 Switzerland's Dalle Molle Institute for Artificial Intelligence, which does computer voice recognition for bank security, compared the voices on 15 undisputed recordings of Osama with the voices on 15 subsequent ones attributed to Osama, to which they added two by native Arab speakers who had trained to imitate him and were reading his writings. All of the purported Osama recordings (with one falling into a gray area) differed clearly from one another as well as from the genuine ones. By contrast, the CIA found all the recordings authentic. It is hard to imagine what methodology might support this conclusion.
Also in 2007, Professor Bruce Lawrence, who heads Duke University's religious studies program, argued in a book on Osama's messages that their increasingly secular language is inconsistent with Osama's Wahhabism. Lawrence noted as well that the Osama figure in the December 2001 video, which many have taken as his assumption of responsibility for 9/11, wears golden rings—decidedly un-Wahhabi. He also writes with the wrong hand. Lawrence concluded that the messages are fakes, and not very good ones. The CIA has judged them all good.
Above all, whereas Elvis impersonators at least sing the King's signature song, "You ain't nutin' but a hound dawg," the words on the Osama tapes differ substantively from what the real Osama used to say—especially about the most important matter. On September 16, 2001, on Al Jazeera, Osama said of 9/11: "I stress that I have not carried out this act, which appears to have been carried out by individuals with their own motivation." Again, in the October interview with Tayseer Alouni, he limited his connection with 9/11 to ideology: "If they mean, or if you mean, that there is a link as a result of our incitement, then it is true. We incite…" But in the so-called "confession video" that the CIA found in December, the Osama figure acts like the chief conspirator. The fact that the video had been made for no self-evident purpose except perhaps to be found by the Americans should have raised suspicion. Its substance, the celebratory affirmation of a responsibility for 9/11 that Osama had denied, should also have weighed against the video's authenticity. Why would he wait to indict himself until after U.S. forces and allies had secured Afghanistan? But the CIA acted as if it had caught Osama red-handed.
The CIA should also have taken seriously the accounts of Osama's death. On December 26, 2001, Fox News interviewed a Taliban source who claimed that he had attended Osama's funeral, along with some 30 associates. The cause of death, he said, had been pulmonary infection. The New York Times on July 11, 2002, reported the consensus of a story widespread in Pakistan that Osama had succumbed the previous year to his long-standing nephritis. Then, Benazir Bhutto—as well connected as anyone with sources of information on the Afghan-Pakistani border—mentioned casually in a BBC interview that Osama had been murdered by his associates. Murder is as likely as natural death. Osama's deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, is said to have murdered his own predecessor, Abdullah Azzam, Osama's original mentor. Also, because Osama's capture by the Americans would have endangered everyone with whom he had ever associated, any and all intelligence services who had ever worked with him had an interest in his death.
New Osama, Real Osama
We do not know what happened to Osama. But whatever happened, the original one, the guy who looked and sounded like a spoiled Saudi kid turned ideologue, is no more. The one who exists in the tapes is different: he is the world's terror master, endowed with inexplicable influence. In short, whoever is making the post-November 2001 Osama tapes is pretending to far greater power than Osama ever claimed, much less exercised.
The real Osama bin Laden, like the real al Qaeda over which he presided, was never as important as reports from Arab (especially Saudi) intelligence services led the CIA to believe. Osama's (late) role in Afghanistan's anti-Soviet resistance was to bring in a little money. Arab fighters in general, and particularly the few Osama brought, fought rarely and badly. In war, one Afghan is worth many Arabs. In 1990 Osama told Saudi regent Abdullah that his mujahideen could stop Saddam's invasion of the kingdom. When Abdullah waved him away in favor of a half-million U.S. troops, Osama turned dissident, enough to have to move to Sudan, where he stayed until 1996 hatching sterile anti-Saudi plots until forced to move his forlorn band to Afghanistan.
There is a good reason why neither Osama nor al Qaeda appeared on U.S. intelligence screens until 1998. They had done nothing noteworthy. Since the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Africa, however, and especially after director of Central Intelligence George Tenet imputed responsibility for 9/11 to Osama "game, set, and match," the CIA described him as terrorism's prime mover. It refused to countenance the possibility that Osama's associates might have been using him and his organization as a flag of convenience. As U.S. forces were taking over Afghanistan in 2001, the CIA was telling Time and Newsweek that it expected to find the high-tech headquarters from which Osama controlled terrorist activities in 50 countries. None existed. In November 2008, without factual basis and contrary to reason, the CIA continued to describe him and his organization as "the most clear and present danger to the United States." It did not try to explain how this could be while, it said, Osama is "largely isolated from the day to day operations of the organization he nominally heads."
Read the rest of the article at: Spectator.org
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