The big story in the news yesterday was that NATO officials had necked down the location of Osama bin Laden, along with his brethren, to a stretch of the lawless lands of Pakistan. The news was immediately followed by rejoinders of American officials about the accuracy of the reports. After recent admissions by our own CIA that we haven’t had any intelligence on bin Laden for years, it was another ghost story that left a majority of Americans scratching their heads. I mean, really, with all of our power, and all of our technology, why can’t we find that son-of-a-bitch?
I’ll tell you why: simply put, finding any human being anywhere in the world is a challenge, made much more difficult if the man doesn’t want to be found. Add in a search area with which we have little ability to operate within, and it’s fairly easy to see how bin Ladin stays outside the wrath of American justice. I suppose someone could read this as, “you were a part of that search, and we’ve failed up to this point, so here’s your excuse”, but it’s not an excuse, its reality.
“But we’re the United States of America! I’ve seen Will Smith in ‘Enemy of the State’. I know we could get him if we wanted!” And then come the conspiracy theories: We don’t want to find him, because it will prove we did 9/11, or whatever other ridiculous theory is out there.
Here are some facts: The tribal area of northwest Pakistan is some of the most rugged terrain on the earth. You couldn’t find a crashed airplane in that region if you were given free rein to look, which we most decidedly are denied.
“That’s just an excuse”.
Really? On September 3, 2007, famed adventurist Steve Fosset took off from an airfield in Nevada and disappeared. The largest rescue effort in the history of America was mounted to find him. They failed. This, when they weren’t looking for a man, but an airplane crash. His remains were found a year later by some hikers who stumbled upon the wreckage. Fosset was in an airplane with all safety beacons on, flying a recorded flight plan, on terrain that we owned, and yet we couldn’t find him. If Steve Fossett was alive when he crashed, make no mistake, he wanted to be found. Wanted to live. Now translate that to finding a man who knows he’s the world’s most wanted, and in terrain that’s worse. It took a year to find Fossett’s stationary aircraft in a country that we owned.
The answer usually given is, “Yeah, well, it wasn’t like the CIA or FBI were on the case. If we had used our true capability to find Fossett, we would have.” Like we have some magic bullet. Here’s another dose of reality. In 1998, a man named Eric Rudolph, was indicted for the Olympic square bombings and a host of abortion clinic attacks. He became the FBI’s Most Wanted with a one million dollar bounty on his head, and yet he evaded capture for five years. Despite a concerted search in our own country. A land where we spoke the language, knew the political landscape, and understood the realities on the ground. For a brief moment in time, Eric Rudolph was a folk hero. A man defying authority in our own backyard. A “regular guy” to the people who were helping him. Make no mistake; the United States government used every resource at its disposal to find him. Everything. Think about that for a minute. We couldn’t capture the most wanted man in America in our own country because he had a rudimentary support system. And people wonder why we can’t find bin Laden?
Try penetrating a tribal area where the language itself is a giveaway, where the dialect alone will get your head cut off. FBI agents went to North Carolina and asked questions – in English – of the people there. And were rebuffed. Try being an FBI agent in Waziristan. Doesn’t work. Along those same lines, Rudolph had a million dollar bounty on his head, yet nobody took it. He ended up getting captured in a random police encounter. Why? Because the people there had protected him. Someone knew where he was located, but didn’t turn him in. And we expect someone in the tribal regions of Pakistan to turn in bin Laden? A man revered for bringing about the Caliphate? In a land where honor is worth much more than any amount of money we offer?
Locating bin Laden is not as simple as Hollywood has inculcated in our population, but he will be found. It will take time and perseverance, but unlike Eric Rudolph, in order for his organization to survive he must do more than simply hide, and that will be his undoing. Every time he reaches out to the world, either through recorded messages or through terrorist attacks, he provides multiple clues to his location, and as Abu Musab al-Zarqawi found out, all it takes is one.