Bin Laden′s killing is not death knell for al Qaeda | World| Breakings news and perspectives from around the globe | DW | 16.05.2011
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World

Bin Laden's killing is not death knell for al Qaeda

In a DW interview, former CIA director James Woolsey calls the death of bin Laden a big success, but warns it doesn't mark the end of al Qaeda. He also says it's hard to believe Pakistan didn't know bin Laden's location.

James Woolsey

R. James Woolsey served as director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) under President Bill Clinton from 1993 to 1995. He also worked in various other foreign policy and security positions in Democratic and Republican administrations and after his government service became chairman of Freedom House. Woolsey has an avid interest in the connection between renewable energy and global security issues and is an investor in various environmental technology ventures.

How important is the killing of Osama bin Laden for the broader fight against al Qaeda in your opinion?

It appears as if bin Laden was the major voice in al Qaeda to attack what he called the far enemy which consists of the United States, Europe and so forth and that some of the other voices were more in favor of local operations. So there could be some kind of effect that way. It could be somewhat more dangerous in Pakistan and it could be somewhat less dangerous in the US and Europe, but that's relatively speculative at this point.

While the death of bin Laden was greeted with relief around the world, there were also questions in Europe whether the commando mission inside Pakistan and the killing of bin Laden was legal. How do you answer the question of the legality of the mission?

The man headed up an organization which killed thousands of Americans and foreign residents too just under a decade ago in the Twin Towers. He and his organization were the subject of an authorization from the United States Congress enabling the administration to use force and I think that if one is of the view that this was illegal than one probably could not imagine a military operation against any institution that was legal.

Should the US then go after other leading al Qaeda figures in the same way?

I think whatever works depending on the role of the individual. Al Qaeda declared war on us in 1996 and that is something that any country I think has a right to take into consideration when it figures out the best way to defend itself.

The US intelligence services, especially the CIA, have suffered from a severe reputation problem for a long time now. More often than not they are either blamed for failing to provide useful information on threats or terrorists or they are accused of faking or sexing up intelligence to suit political agendas. Does the success of finding bin Laden help restore the credibility of the CIA and the US intelligence community?

I disagree with the premise of your question. I think there has been very politically motivated criticism of the United States and the CIA very heavily from the left in Europe and elsewhere. Its successes are virtually never known and its failures and certainly there have been some, are by their nature known. This was a success.

Frankly, I would have preferred it once the success was the case, once bin Laden was dead, for the US government not to say another word. I don't see what good at all comes from describing the nature of the material that was seized or anything else along those lines. That just gives future terrorists information about what we have. So I would have preferred much much less credit claiming and would have far preferred complete silence.

In the wake of the bin Laden raid, do you now expect this to lead to more successes in the fight against al Qaeda?

One would hope so. I think there is still an imperative to deal with al Qaeda and capture or kill its senior people and those of the other affiliated terrorist organizations such as al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, al Qaeda in the Maghreb and so forth. And if the material we obtained helps do that it will save lives and that's good.

Al Qaida will surely now try to prove that it can still function after the death of bin Laden. Is it still capable of mounting a major attack and is the West perhaps better-prepared than in then past?

That's difficult to say and it may depend on what you count as major. For example a prominent member of al Qaeda, Anwar al-Awlaki, apparently was the principal inspiration of Major Nidal Hassan in his killing of 13 of his colleagues in the US army a year or so ago. That is certainly major to us here. It is not a 9/11, so it didn't kill thousands, but these type of inspirations by people like Awlaki of people like Major Hassan could certainly still occur. And it's not impossible for some very major operation to be planned I think and to be executed by al Qaeda, but it's harder than it was two weeks ago.

What's your sense of al Qaeda after the death of bin Laden? Could his death also be the death knell for al Qaeda which has already lost some popular appeal in many Muslim countries?

I think that's too optimistic at this point. I think it's been a major success, but it is probably not a final success. In any case, there are affiliated terrorist organizations that are quite capable of carrying out operations, for example Iran has as one if its pawns Hezbollah and Hezbollah is a very skilled terrorist organization. If Iran decides to let loose Hezbollah on Europe or the US it can do so.

So one shouldn't assume that the only terrorist organization that's relevant here is al Qaeda, there are also a number of others in Pakistan, the Taliban Quetta Shura, the Haqqani Network, Lashkar-e-Taiba etc. There are quite a few that could still undertake major operations in the Middle East and perhaps also in Europe or the US.

Pakistan is a key country that the US needs to get along with if it wants to have any success in Afghanistan or in the fight against terrorism. How will the raid into Pakistan affect US-Pakistani relations?

I think the Pakistanis saw in the raid what we can do if we have adequate intelligence about a terrorist leader or a terrorist organization. I am sure there are Pakistanis who would have preferred that we had not carried out that operation. But that would mean that bin Laden would still be alive and would still be sitting there one kilometer or so from their military academy communication via courier with al Zawahiri or others and planning operations. You don't really get it both ways I don't think: You can't say I'd love bin Laden gone, but I don't want the Americans to have done it with this raid. You don't get to play history and have your imaginings manifested.

Pakistan is in a bind after this raid, because either the Pakistani intelligence services like the ISI failed and didn't have bin Laden on their radar while he was sitting in a key military town or they or some elements knew about it and kept mum about it. What scenario seems more likely to you?

I think it is very difficult to imagine that no one in the Pakistani military or intelligence establishment knew anything about this given how close it was to their major military installation, given the size of the building etc. It may be the case that someone somewhere, even someone who was sympathetic to bin Laden and is part of the Pakistani structure knew something, but that the top level people like (Pakistan Army Chief General, the ed.) Kayani and others did not know. That's plausible in a country like Pakistan with some major rivalries and factions inside its intelligence services and military.

Some of the younger people in Pakistan's intelligence and military services may be more tolerant of al Qaeda than some of the older officers whom we and Britain and other countries have worked with over the years. It's difficult to say. But everyone who looks at this finds it difficult to believe that nobody in the Pakistani structure knew anything given the location and the size of bin Laden's headquarters there.

Interview: Michael Knigge
Editor: Rob Mudge

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