On Sunday, U.S. Marines killed terrorist leader Osama Bin Laden in a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. But history might show that Monday marked the true victory in the War on Terror.
As I write this, terrorist “chatter” is no doubt at a high as supporters of the dead Al Qaeda leader react to his demise. Emails, text messages, social media posts, and all sorts of packets of information from radical Islamists are flying through the ether at this very moment.
Much of this chatter will just be noise. But someone, somewhere will show up on the grid after a long absence. That person might be in a remote village in the mountains north of Abbottabad, or he could be living within a few miles of Buckingham Palace. He’ll slip up, driven by the emotion of the moment. And that will give America’s intelligence apparatus an opportunity to locate him.
Despite all the talk in the last presidential election about needing more boots on the ground in Afghanistan, intelligence is how the War on Terror must be fought. The United States is mapping the terrorists’ social graph, and then connecting nodes on the graph to physical locations whenever our enemies pop up on the grid, if even for a moment.
Think of it as Islamofascist Foursquare. Except they don’t knowingly check-in. And it’s often a Hellfire missile that checks them out.
This connect-the-dots approach is how we caught Bin Laden. While supporters of President Obama credit his use of the military (and rightly so), it was intelligence gathered during his predecessor’s term that led us to his Pakistani mansion.
The New York Times reports that terrorist detainees held as combatants in Guantanamo Bay revealed the name of a Bin Laden courier back in 2007. This courier didn’t resurface until 2009, and it wasn’t until last August that he was tied to Abbottabad. The C.I.A. then started collecting data on the compound and later concluded that it was the likely hideaway of Bin Laden.
While we don’t yet know all the details surrounding the investigation, we do know that Bin Laden had taken great pains to stay off the grid. The mansion had no phone or internet connections. But not being wired is no guarantee of invisibility. Just one node of Bin Laden’s social network appearing on the grid was apparently enough to set in motion the events that brought about his demise.
Which brings us back to today’s inevitable chatter. No doubt the terrorist leadership such as Ayman al-Zawahiri is smart enough not to be texting or tweeting, but someone who’s one or two nodes away from him on the social graph might.
Could the U.S. be delaying the release of photos of Bin Laden’s corpse to incite speculation among his followers that he’s not dead? Obviously we have no way of knowing. But if so, it’s not the worst idea.