Tag Archives: Osama bin Laden

Week in Public Organizations, 7Jun2009


What a week.  more orgporn, gender and mentorship, playing chess with terrorists, spendthrift car companies, antitrust in high tech, black wires, Scandinavian transparency, Korean intel, tending the automotive garden, debunking Hawthorne, more car stuff, and parsing intel failure.  These were some of the stories that made the cut last week:

Forbes posts corporate orgporn
NBER study links gender gap, mentorship opportunities
Obama strategically undermines Osama
GM sends signals… but perhaps not the right ones
Tech companies under antitrust investigation
Covert agency + construction = secrecy fail
CFP: Finland builds through transparency
Scenarios for increased DPRK surveillance
Safford discusses cars, gardens
Hawthorne debunked?
Are there options for GM beyond cars?
What does “intel failure” actually mean?

Obama strategically undermines Osama

This is defter (more deft?  mos deft?) foreign policy strategery than we have seen in some time:

Obama aides believe they can increasingly isolate bin Laden, as Obama’s personal appeal grows in the region and as he modifies or dismantles President George W. Bush’s security policies.

Administration officials also say Obama hopes to sap the appeal of terrorist organizations with his plans to close the military prison at Guantanamo, even though it probably won’t be completely empty by the one-year deadline he set. He also plans to end harsh interrogations for terror suspects, even though the president has left loopholes.

“A lot of their best recruiting tricks are being taken off the table,” said another White House official.

Obama also took dead aim at bin Laden’s frequent claim that the United States seeks to occupy the Middle East. Largely overlooked in Obama’s remarks in Cairo, he included a reminder that he plans no permanent military bases in Iraq, “and no claim on their territory or resources.”

Chess is a longer but ultimately more satisfying game;  the fear-based game of checkers played over the past several years was only slightly less pointless than tic-tac-toe.

Hayden: bin Laden no longer al Qaeda’s manager

Osama bin Laden is spending a great deal of his energy merely surviving, CIA Director Tom Hayden says.

CNN reports that al Qaeda has experienced a leadership transition but omits some pretty important details:

Osama bin Laden is no longer believed to be the head of al Qaeda’s day-to-day operations, but the United States’ capturing or killing him would still have a powerful effect on the organization, CIA Director Michael Hayden said Tuesday.

There is no greater security threat facing the United States than al Qaeda and its associates, Hayden said in a speech to the Los Angeles World Affairs Council.

The CIA’s top issues, however, also include nuclear proliferation — particularly in countries like Iran, North Korea and more recently Syria, he said. The greatest challenge lies in detecting those countries who might be developing in secret, Hayden said, as access to sensitive technologies is no longer the exclusive domain of a few advanced nations.

No word on who leads the organization now, or for how long that person has occupied that role.  Of course, al Qaeda is a less-than-traditional organization, but there are reasons to believe that it has a day-to-day management structure.  Also, Hayden failed to specify (or CNN failed to report) what that “powerful effect on the organization” might be.  I would surmise from what I have read and heard that one effect on the organization might be to further radicalize potential converts and make bin Laden a recruiting-poster martyr.  Despite bin Laden’s ideological leadership, it’s hard to imagine that taking him out would disrupt the organization’s management.

Hayden also omits to compare the threat posed by al Qaeda to that of traditional state actors such as Iran, Russia, and North Korea.  Among the three, it’s hard to imagine al Qaeda being more threatening.  Although al Qaeda’s successes tend to be dramatic, its actual power is probably far less than that of the organized state actors, at least at this stage.  While the organization may be a potentially greater threat, that potential is as yet unrealized.  This could be mitigated through cooperation with a state actor, especially one with nuclear weapons as Pakistan has.

Nuclear proliferation, on the other hand, is increasingly serious as society and organizations move increasingly toward open-source information.  Take the piracy challenges faced by the film and recording industries as an example.  Institutions with clear profit motives and staggering resources are largely unable to stem their losses, and their attempts are usually seen as heavy-handed or laughable.  In fact, many believe illegal downloads are no big deal.  It’s no stretch to imagine extremely loose networks with state and non-state participation passing nuclear technologies to those who seek them.  Governments are ill-equipped to prevent these exchanges.  There are potential remedies, but entrenched cultures make these difficult to explore and adopt.

Despite my respect for Director Hayden, I believe he missed another key opportunity in his address:

In response to a question about how the next president can help the agency focus on its core mission of protecting the homeland, Mr. Hayden replied “do nothing,” as the overall current structure of the Central Intelligence Agency is functioning well.

There is a great deal of evidence to the contrary, most thoroughly detailed in Tim Weiner’s Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA as well as in former National Security Agency Director William Odom’s Fixing Intelligence: For a More Secure America.  There are few leaders of organizations who would allow themselves the hubris to claim that their organizations could not be continually improved.  This seems a little out of character for Hayden, but there may be other reasons for his curt response.  Incidentally, the mission of the CIA is not directly protecting the homeland, but rather providing national security intelligence to senior US policymakers.  It is those policymakers who decide how to use the intelligence to develop policy that protects the homeland.  The strategic implications of this distinction are far beyond semantic.

There is much to consider in Hayden’s speech, and many questions that remain unanswered (and sometimes unanswerable).  It would be useful to hear more high-profile briefings of this nature from the Director of National Intelligence, a role designed to provide comprehensive oversight and management of the intelligence community.  While much of the content of intel is by nature classified, the processes of intel–by Odom’s own advice–are and should be open and subject to discussion and debate.

UPDATE: I wasn’t aware that Odom passed away last Friday.  In addition to being a fellow Tennessean, Odom was distinguished for having a keen eye for intel organization reform and for being very clear-eyed about the rather benign threat posed by Iraq prior to the US-led invasion:

“Vindication is not pleasing,” Mr. Odom told The Washington Post last year. “Even some of my friends have noted: The more vindicated I’ve been, the more irritable I’ve become.”

His parting advice may prove to be similarly prescient:

“Current U.S. policy toward the regime in Tehran will almost certainly result in an Iran with nuclear weapons. The seemingly clever combination of the use of ‘sticks’ and ‘carrots,’ including the frequent official hints of an American military option ‘remaining on the table,’ simply intensifies Iran’s desire to have its own nuclear arsenal. Alas, such a heavy-handed ‘sticks’ and ‘carrots’ policy may work with donkeys but not with serious countries.”

MORE: Embassy bombings aside, R notes some other threats that are probably greater than al Qaeda, including HIV/AIDS, water shortages, and, by the intel community’s own analysis, climate change.