Q&A: Edward Luttwak
The military strategist talks about Israeli security, Henry Kissinger, the Arab Spring, and the death of Osama Bin Laden
One final question. When I heard the Bin Laden news and you look at the circumstances surrounding his place of residence, and the length of his stay there, it seems clear that he was sold to the U.S. by somebody inside the Pakistani security apparatus, no?
I don’t believe that at all.
You think that the CIA independently developed this information?
First of all, it was not the CIA because the CIA doesn’t run interrogations in Guantanamo.
You believe the story about the courier?
I believe it and I believe it categorically. Look, the Pakistanis had been sheltering Bin Laden. But in these matters, the only way to proceed is to develop thoughts that are based only on uncontroversial facts. Any analysis of the Bin Laden story tells you that there was active Pakistani complicity simply because people cannot go to Abbottabad and live in a compound without somebody asking questions. For one thing, Pakistan has this system where foreign citizens have to obtain the residence permits and renew them, and there are foreigners including Arabs living there, and they would be asked to show their papers. Pakistani complicity is certain. That’s point one. Point two: The guy uses couriers. Therefore, if you’re going to find him, you had to find the courier. The courier story is not the cover story.
The proof of this is that if they got the information from some Pakistani guy, if one of the protectors of Osama decided to sell out, they would have known what was in the compound, and if they had known what was in the compound, they would not have attacked it the way they did. The attack against the compound reflected the central fact they did not know what they would find inside. The only thing that they hoped to find was Osama Bin Laden, among other objects, furniture, walls, people. Had a Pakistani provided the information, they would have provided two pieces of information, not just one. One is that Osama Bin Laden is there and two, a platoon is not there.
You understand the thing that keeps bothering me.
Now you are entering an area that is highly technical, and I’m not at liberty to speak because I’m in this line of business myself so there are limits to what I can tell you. But tell me what bothers you?
What bothers me is that you have a secret that was obviously known by more than one person. Let’s say that only three people in the ISI knew that Bin Laden was there.
The people who knew that he was in Abbottabad were a minimum number of some 12 people, and the reason is that you had to keep telling the police not to enter, you had to communicate with the other parts of the Pakistani state. But I repeat, but if American information had come from inside Pakistan, and there was knowledge of what was in the compound, they would have not attacked the compound in this way.
If 12 people know a secret, then there are also many people surrounding those 12 people who might also have access to some part of that information.
So, in other words, there are fragments of that secret.
With that many people knowing a big secret over that long a period of time, something must have leaked.
I know the courier information would tell you that Osama Bin Laden is in that space and nothing else. And the military operation that was mounted reflects that fact. Whoever designed that military operation had the kind of information that is consistent with the courier and is not consistent with any other story.
If I am in the receipt of information about Bin Laden’s whereabouts from a source in the ISI who wanted to submarine his boss, or gain the support of America, or pay off his mistress, I might design an operation that would match my cover story about the courier, who definitely existed, but might not have led anyone back to Bin Laden’s house.
No, no, no. It’s a very technical thing. It has to do with how you attack a target when you know that there are maximum of two people who will shoot at you or three people who will shoot at you, neither of the three being trained gunmen, versus how you design an attack on a target when you think there might be 25 people shooting at you. That’s all. The official word is that there was a courier, and I’m inclined to believe it. Because when somebody tells you how something happened, operationally speaking, do not disbelieve it until you have evidence that tells you that it’s wrong. Then you can pursue some other theory. All the information I have is consistent with the courier story because the courier story would tell you that there’s the bad guy in the space but nothing else.
Why kill him?
They were under orders to kill him.
Wouldn’t Osama Bin Laden be a source of useful intelligence? Alternately, one good reason to kill him is that you have a deal with the Pakistanis—“we’re gonna get rid of this problem”—then you need to kill him, because otherwise he might start talking about who protected him for the past 10 years.
There was no deal with the Pakistanis. There’s no institutional integrity. Therefore you cannot make deals with the Pakistani system. They would betray each other. There was no deal.
They killed Bin Laden simply because of the inconvenience of a trial?
They killed him because of the fact that if we captured Bin Laden, every Jihadist in the world would have been duty-bound to kidnap any American citizen anywhere and exchange him for Bin Laden.
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