By Doug Doan
I really enjoyed the recent post from Frank Cilluffo that warned about the potential harmful impact of all the loose talk about the intelligence received from the Bin Laden hit last week. However, the contrarian in me thinks there might be a different explanation for all the speculation and press reports of the huge intel bonanza.
What if Bin Laden turned out to be exactly what he looked like – a burnt out dude that has long been out of the game and sat around in his underwear? Maybe he no longer operates a terrorist command center but, rather, spends his time watching himself and old Gilligan Episodes on a 14” black and white TV. No one calls, and no one writes anymore. He did stay busy though – three wives (one of which is 30 years younger) are demanding enough for anyone. He just has retired from all terrorism planning.
Put differently, when the SEALS hit bin Laden, what if they only found some dirty clothes, some overdue Netflix discs and a giant stack of ancient pizza delivery boxes? In short, if the raid resulted in a bust for intel collection, what would that mean?
If our guys turned up zip in the way of useable intel, it seems to me that we would exploit the negative. Put another way, we would want to talk about the huge Intelligence Treasure Trove of information on all Al Qaeda operations. The goal would be to plant some disinformation to get all the other al-Qaeda guys hiding in holes around the world very worried that they are next on the SEALS’ list.
Here, it is important to note that the classic insurgency strategy of forming terrorist cells that are all isolated and distinct is just terrific for maintaining operational security. When one terrorist is discovered, he has only a limited understanding of the others organized into his own cell. At the same time, he knows nothing about other cells. It is a great model for terrorist groups and insurgents and has been used quite effectively over time. But it does have one huge limitation.
What happens if the guy at the top of the pyramid has the one, complete list of all the subordinate cells, full organizational structure and operational plans? Grab him and you really do have a treasure trove of intel that would allow friendly forces to simply roll up all the bad guys.
But what if bin Laden had nothing of value? Well, maybe it doesn’t matter. The al-Qaeda cells around the world can’t afford to take the chance that the SEALS really did hit the mother lode and have, for the first time, the complete picture of all al-Qaeda operatives, plans, and organizational structure. Bound to make them a bit nervous, don’t you think?
So, if we really got no intel of value out of bin Laden, the trick to it all would be to tell everyone that we hit the mother lode, an intel treasure trove. The purpose of the disinformation would be to panic the remaining members of al-Qaeda, get them moving, make them afraid, and above all, make them visible to our intel community that is homing in on them like a dog on a bone.
Making the other cells move makes them vulnerable and easier to catch. They would be forced to communicate differently; they might have to disrupt existing plans as they try to reorganize.
Even better, we could send a few predator drones to attack empty space in Yemen and Pakistan. Al-Qaeda members might believe we are targeting all other al-Qaeda teams and terrorist cells in a systematic manner. These attacks might be bogus, but they would certainly dial up the fear factor for remaining al-Qaeda guys who might conclude that they might be next on the list.
Of course, if we wanted to really scare them, we could leak reports that we have their banking data and know where their money is, who is providing financial support and then let them know we are taking all their money. That would certainly do it.
Could be our guys are actually really clever and are mining the greatest intel treasure trove that never was.