Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

April 30, 2012

Lessons Learned From The Bin Laden Raid

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Arnold Bogis on April 30, 2012

The one year anniversary of the raid that resulted in Osama Bin Laden’s death has brought with it a steady stream of analysis.  You have the stories about while what traditionally (if less than a decade can be considered “traditional”) is referred to as “Al Qaeda Central” is on the ropes and what Secretary of Defenese Leon Panetta called “within reach” of strategic defeat, the franchises persist:

The emerging picture is of a network that is crumpled at its core, apparently incapable of an attack on the scale of Sept. 11, 2001, yet poised to survive its founder’s demise.

“The organization that brought us 9/11 is essentially gone,” said the official, among several who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss U.S. intelligence assessments of al-Qaeda with reporters a year after bin Laden was killed. “But the movement .?.?. the ideology of the global jihad, bin Laden’s philosophy — that survives in a variety of places outside Pakistan.”

You have those concerned that despite it’s weakened state, the franchises are robust and many still hope to avenge Bin Laden’s death:

“It’s wishful thinking to say al-Qaida is on the brink of defeat,” says Seth Jones, a Rand analyst and adviser to U.S. special operations forces. “They have increased global presence, the number of attacks by affiliates has risen, and in some places like Yemen, they’ve expanded control of territory.”

By the numbers, al-Qaida’s greatest presence is still greatest in Iraq, where intelligence officials estimate up to a 1,000 fighters have refocused their campaign from striking now-absent U.S. troops to hitting the country’s Shiite-dominated government.

Yemen’s al-Qaida of the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) is becoming a major draw for foreign fighters as it carves out a stronghold in the south of the country, easily defeating Yemeni forces preoccupied battling tribal and political unrest. The White House recently agreed to expanded drone strikes to give the CIA and the military greater leeway to target militant leaders.

Washington Post columnist David Ignatius puts forward the provocative idea that Bin Laden is winning, even from beyond the grave:

In the year since Osama bin Laden’s death, it has been a comforting thought for Westerners to say that he failed. And that’s certainly true in terms of al-Qaeda, whose scorched-earth jihad tactics alienated Muslims along with everyone else. But in terms of bin Laden’s broader goal of moving the Islamic world away from Western influence, he has done better than we might like to think.

So, a year on, it’s a time to think about bin Laden’s failures but also about the ways his fellow Islamists have morphed toward a political movement more successful than even bin Laden could have dreamed.

However, I think perhaps the most interesting analysis, and that which adds the most value long-term to homeland security in general, is the Time magazine cover piece (behind a pay-wall) by Harvard professor Graham Allison.  He examines the policy-making process behind the decision when and how to carry out the raid, as well as identifies lessons for future foreign policy challenges.  The bottom line, in his words, “is that American government worked.”

His lessons:

The first lesson this case demonstrates is that the US government is capable of extraordinary performance—in extraordinary circumstances. The challenge is to find ways to apply lessons learned here to improve performance in ordinary cases.

Second, sometimes secrets matter. And when they do, secrecy matters more. The bin Laden case demonstrates why success requires both discovering secrets and then keeping them, allowing a President time to reflect in private, and permitting him to reach a decision and act.

Third, secrecy comes with a price. Tightening the decision loop in order to prevent leaks means that important angles will not be adequately considered. If other officials had been brought in earlier and told to design an alternative storyline about imaginary Pakistani cooperation in the raid, that might have avoided humiliating the Pakistani military in their own backyard. The consequences of this for our prospects not only of finding an acceptable exit from Afghanistan, but also of securing Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal, are becoming clearer every day.

Fourth, the most troubling lesson from this case is the dog that has not barked. In the aftermath of Abbottabad, we are left with two possibilities: either the Pakistanis knew that bin Laden was there—or they did not. It is hard to know which is more frightening.

All readily applicable to homeland security challenges.

(Note: while the Time piece is currently behind a pay-wall, Professor Allison and others were interviewed on the most recent episode of CBS’ “Face the Nation.”  The video is available here: http://tiny.cc/chfkdw)

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4 Comments »

Comment by William R. Cumming

April 30, 2012 @ 7:40 am

Much to agree with in this post but largely about tactics although this President apparently thinks the raid is the highlight of his entire foreign policy so far. And his National Security and Homeland Security efforts. Whether that flies with those who vote remains to be seen.

I take the whole of the 9/11/01 effort by AQ to have been both a tactical and strategic success. The Arab Spring is a complex event and apparently totally took the American INTEL community by surprise. So here is my take and could be wrong as always. Apparently since the last seige of Vienna about every 100 years militant ISLAM shows up in MENA and perhaps elsewhere in Christendom and now the question is will the AQ effort be followed on by other militant Jihadis or not. It does appear that some of the so-called Nation-states in MENA [middle east and north africa] are about to fall to Salafists and other militant sects like the Wahabis of ISLAM. Many tracing back to an Egyptian mid-20th century philosopher. So we don’t yet know exactly what is in store for the 21st Century. Perhaps Islam will largely turn inwards as it seems to have done when not demonstrating its militancy towards Christendom. Perhaps not. But again it seems that few are able to articulate a strategic vision for ISLAM, Christianity, or Judaism. Is this going to be a big problem the rest of the Century or not? I don’t have the education or background to suggest an answer. My focus now is how Russia west of the URALS will integrate if at all with the rest of Europe and how the riches of Siberia will be dominated and by who and the Arctic by the end of the Century. Also the Chinese condominium as I call it has accelerated in its inception and operations with only internal stability in China likely to derail that fact of international relations for short periods at most.
In the meantime of course the USA continues to have almost no strategic vision or long term vision and waste, fraud, and abuse dominate government operations at all levels of our federal system.

It is interesting to see story after story about AMAZON and APPLE and other corporations conducting their tax avoidance strategies. Labeled other than tax evasion this is allowed only due to the incompetence and corruption of the ruling classes. But hey it is cheaper in the short run.

So the USA continues to fritter away its comparative advantages and then ponders why it is in decline relatively or absolutely depending on your point of view. In another blog it was mentioned that the Arabs view the USA as the new Rome, and of course I wonder whether that was before Emperor Constantine or not.

We in Christendom and Israeli seem to revel in our ignorance of the ARABS and ISLAM. And the converse also true.

Perhaps William McNeil was correct in his analysis of how the WEST arose and Gibbon as to the Decline and Fall of the 1st Rome. So far no second Rome in sight as far as I am concerned. Take any particular Millenial period and so far Paul Kennedy’s analysis seems to hold up well!e

Comment by Michael Brady

April 30, 2012 @ 10:12 am

I’m inclined to agree with those who regard the threat of Al Qaeda classic as largely passed, as was destined to happen the moment it decided to attack high profile Western targets. But in response to OBL’s $500,000 investment the most powerful nation on the planet has spent several trillion dollars and sacrificed thousands of American lives in a decade-long spasm of rage. In the wake of AQ’s twisted one-off the government of the United States of America tortures criminal suspects, spies on its citizens, and gropes grandmothers and small children at government checkpoints. Mission Accomplished.

Comment by Dan O'Connor

April 30, 2012 @ 3:17 pm

In terms of President Obama’s leadership on the raid; there was great political risk. But the President did not execute the raid; the SEAL’s did. Different risk metric to be sure but still took different kinds of courage to approve and order than execute. I think it would not wise for the President to shawl himself with “look what I did” rhetoric. He has not to date, but the election draws near and trumpets are being readied. The raid could also have been carried out by other tier one units in the portfolio, but give the SEALS credit; mission accomplished.

Nixon in his approval of the Raid on Son Tay wasn’t given dramatic kudos because while the raid was an astounding military success it was an intelligence failure. And it was to rescue mission for POW’s, not kill an individual. Carter and Desert One had the ingredients for a tactical success, but the complexity of the plan and zero margins for error doomed his Presidency. Again, it was a rescue mission, not a direction action. And while it may be signs of the times, the decision to go/no go wasn’t nearly as precarious as Kennedy’s leadership during the Cuban missile crisis. Truman and the atom bomb? Only time will reveal the efficacy of President Obama’s leadership.

How much do we really need to know? Transparency may be a post event luxury. There has to be secrets and security for those secrets, but unfortunately, I find myself agreeing with Michael Brady and his assessment.

In a decade of accelerated spending and security we find ourselves being more afraid of threats that are ill-defined than actual. We see a separation taking place or a polarization of sorts.

Law enforcement views people as “bad guys” and citizens view law enforcement as overtly bellicose. Government appears to become more and more inept all the while trying to meet the demands of a populace that wants more and more. We cheer Wall Street rally’s while the U.S. national debt is rising by more than 2 million dollars every single minute.

Performance and success has been marginalized and deemed inappropriate yet more and more people continue to draw from the federal roles for subsidies, assistance, and benefits. We the people are being pulled from E Pluribus Unum to something altogether different. Bill nails it with Apple and Amazon. Throw GE in there too. Perhaps overstated but I see a growing contrast.

The contrasts are vivid and becoming if they have not already, potentially divisive. At some point, our behavior and expectations must change. While Seth Jones may be accurate in his Al Qaeda assessment it is also at this particular time a bit irrelevant.

Al Qaeda, while not dead and clearly not as capable, has been reduced to reassessment and adaptation. This is key; they are not gone, they’re adapting. Where they really good or lucky? In either case, what are we doing in this lull?

No one should be surprised that as tumult in MENA grows, those either disenfranchised or seeking power will maximize the situation to advocate violence. With the United Nations being fairly insignificant in global enforcement, opportunities for oppression and power activities will increase.

In thermodynamics, entropy is commonly associated with the amount of order, disorder, and/or chaos in a system. Are we seeing entropic decay of our system? As things move from order to disorder, which appears to be the case, opportunities will arise for new groups, adaptations, and resilient strains of organisms (organized crime, terrorists, etc) will propagate and thrive. Are we capable of adaptation or have we become too big to change?

Was that an understood phenomenon ten years ago? Did we or were we able to anticipate any of these activities and if so, how did we accommodate or prepare for them? Hindsight is a dangerous planning tool.

With the house recent passing of CISPA, (Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, awaiting the Senate) and the Patriot Act and a host of other legislation I wonder how much security and protection we will need to not be afraid. On many fronts the mere appearance of these legislative activities seems to shift authority to circumvent the Constitution. Or, is simply histrionic on the part of people to assume the Government must inspect all data and activities we complete daily to protect us? I think it’s a real question.

“He who would trade liberty for some temporary security, deserves neither liberty nor security.” Was Benjamin Franklin correct or was this simply a sound bite of the time?

Bin Laden has been dead a year. Americans are still being killed in Afghanistan. Iraq is percolating as is Yemen and we have not seen the final outcomes in Bahrain, Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and who can predict the outcome in Syria? So what has it all been worth? If the 1st Marine Division or 81st or 101st Airborne Division landed in Tora Bora and surrounded it and killed everyone up to Bin Laden would that have been wiser and fiscally more prudent than spending trillions of dollars in combination with a Chinese funded tax cut?

“Having begun the war with the greatest imaginable reservoir of moral authority, the U.S. was on the verge of letting it slip away through high-level attacks using the most ghastly inventions its scientists could come up with.” Steven Tanner. The recent report from Lt. Col. Daniel Davis in “Truth, Lies, and Afghanistan” clearly points out “things” are not as they have been presented. Thousands of Americans dead, hundreds of thousands of Iraqi’s and Afghans dead, trillions spent, borrowed from our future with a diminishing ability to repay…

How we define winning is as important as how we define an enemy. Yes; we got him. We could have had him many times before. History will show if he was worth it.

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