Bin Laden's Game

Most officials thought last month's Osama bin Laden tape was no big deal— maybe even a gesture of weakness. Author and ex-CIA analyst Michael Scheuer, who founded the Agency's bin Laden unit 10 years ago, thinks they're dead wrong.

CP:Could you comment briefly on the command-and-control structure of al Qaeda? I think most Americans have the notion of a paramilitary group with clear lines of top-down control. Is that correct, or is it more akin to a consortium of venture capitalists pursuing different objectives in different locales?

Scheuer: I think it's both. Bin Laden has always been someone who welcomed ideas, which, if he liked them, he would help to fund or train for. But in terms of attacks inside the United States, that is one part of his organization that he has always maintained personal command and control over. We argue quite frequently that he can't communicate, and that he's isolated. The one thing I hope we learn from last week's statement is that that argument may not be correct. He dominated the international media for three days at a time of his choosing.

If you can expose your telecommunication system to a satellite, you can communicate from anywhere in the world. He has all the money he needs. It's a very dangerous thing to assume he can't communicate.

Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher

CP:Any additional thoughts regarding the latest communiqué?

Scheuer: The only thing I've tried to say to people is that this is a very serious man, and a very talented one. He's a very terse man in many ways. He doesn't say things just for the sake of saying them. He is a man well acquainted with the power of silence, I think. When he says something, given the correlation between what he's said and what he's done in the past, I think he deserves a lot of respect and—I don't want to say fear, but respect as an enemy is something that we don't give him. My own inclination is to say that the decks are pretty much cleared now. He would not have said what he said if he wasn't prepared to attack us. 

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