I’d intended to make fun of the United States’ constant claims of capturing “key leaders” of Al Qaeda, since our intelligence industry seemed unable to fathom that the terrorists could keep appointing new key leaders as long as we could keep capturing the old ones. Especially since critics of the Iraq war have been warning since before our invasion that it would serve as a giant Al Qaeda recruiting tool. Especially since we keep being told that we’re about to be attacked by Al Qaeda, hardly the sign of a devastated terrorist organization.
Then the New York Times goes ahead and slaps “New Generation of Leaders Is Emerging for Al Qaeda” on its front page, beating me to the punch but making it look almost as stupid as our intelligence industry.
“A new generation of operatives ... appear to be filling the vacuum created when leaders were killed or captured,” the Times tells us, quoting “senior intelligence officials.”
Intelligence analysts say they are finding that Al Qaeda’s upper ranks are being filled by lower-ranking members and more recent recruits ... While the findings may result in a significant intelligence coup for the Bush administration and its allies in Britain, they also create a far more complex picture of Al Qaeda’s status than Mr. Bush presents on the campaign trail. For the past several months, the president has claimed that much of Al Qaeda’s leadership has been killed or captured; the new evidence suggests that the organization is regenerating and bringing in new blood.
What’s so bizarre about this revelation by our senior intelligence officials is the implication that we expected to render Al Qaeda harmless, unmotivated and confused, by capturing a few guys at the top, although we still haven’t even gotten our hands on Osama bin Laden, who has been credited with micromanaging the 9/11 attacks and funding the entire terrorist organization, or even the organization’s No. 2 man, Ayman al-Zawahiri. If the 100 top U.S. spooks were captured, our intelligence agencies wouldn’t shut down -- if this is another indication of their ability, in fact, the FBI might actually improve -- and this “coup” is like expressing shock that the FBI can keep operating even though Robert Mueller and his human resources department weren’t among the missing.
One begins to wonder from what universe the Times is reporting, or at least whether its leaders haven’t been captured in another way, held hostage by good sources and wince-inducing attempts at objectivity that look a lot like willful ignorance. The real story is how the Bush administration gets away with its claims to be winning a war on terrorism, a crime in which the Times is complicit. This is not an intelligence coup; this is a complete lack of common sense disguised as high-level analysis.