Three years after the attack on New York’s World Trade Center, the manhunt for Osama bin Laden has failed to produce the world’s most wanted terrorist, and, according to the former No. 3 man at the CIA, that’s just fine.
Former Central Intelligence Agency executive, A.B. “Buzzy” Krongard, has told the London Times that letting the al-Qaida leader run free may actually make the world a safer place.
“You can make the argument that we’re better off with him (at large),” Krongard said. “Because if something happens to bin Laden, you might find a lot of people vying for his position and demonstrating how macho they are by unleashing a stream of terror.”
Krongard, former head of Alex. Brown & Co., a Baltimore-based investment bank, came to the CIA in 1998 as then Director George Tenet’s counsel. He was appointed executive director of the CIA in March 2001 by President Bush. Krongard, 68, stepped down six weeks ago as the agency’s third most senior executive following the appointment of Porter Goss as director.
Krongard sees bin Laden’s role “not as a chief executive but more like a venture capitalist.”
“Let’s say you and I want to blow up Trafalgar Square,” Krongard says. “So we go to bin Laden. And he’ll say, ‘Well, here’s some money and some passports and if you need weapons, see this guy.’ I don’t see him keeping his fingers on everything because the lines of communications are just too difficult.”
Krongard is the most senior official to date to publicly question the wisdom of capturing Osama. If his views are widely shared – and the London Times reports that other U.S. officials have privately said pinning bin Laden down on the Afghan-Pakistan border is preferable to making him a martyr or trying him – they represent a break with three years of official pronouncements about bringing him to justice.
The shift in thinking certainly reflects the difficulty the CIA has had getting inside Islamist groups. “There are hundreds and hundreds of cells ? it’s like a living, moving bit of protoplasm,” Krongard explains. “In order to penetrate you not only have to be language-proficient, you also have to commit acts that exceed criminality. It’s very hard.”
Only this week the U.S. re-stated its desire to capture the elusive bin Laden and more than a dozen other al-Qaida figures by placing a half page ad in the Urdu daily “Jang” promising millions of dollars in rewards. “All the information would be kept secret,” the U.S. Justice Department advertisement promised.
Krongard continues. “He’s turning into more of a charismatic leader than a terrorist mastermind. Some of his lieutenants are the ones to worry about.”
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