The Myriad Possibility Puzzles of Intelligence Disinformation After the Osama Bin Laden Raid

Before we wear out are hands patting ourselves on the back for the success of the Osama Bin Laden mission, there are a few things to consider in the aftermath.  While on one note the raid was a true success, and we did kill Osama Bin Laden, I am compelled to critically review the story of his discovery and demise.   Frankly, some of the official explanation, sounds a bit like a legend, meaning a mixture of  truth and fiction.   As one who has enjoyed, if that is the term, a brush with this kind of thing, I find the explanation detailing our discovery of the terrorist’s whereabouts a little sketchy.

The article, among other things,  by Jonah Goldberg in the Los Angeles Times only piques some of my suspicion.   In his article entitled,  Why the Hurry to Gloat About Bin Laden, Goldberg  wonders why this administration raced to announce they found a treasure trove of intelligence.   He writes…”It’s a bit like racing to the microphones to announce you’ve stolen the other team’s playbook even before you’ve had a chance to use the information in the big game.”

Indeed.  Goldberg astutely writes that any World War Two buff knows the shelf life of this sort of intelligence is actionable for a brief period.  Assets scramble and go to ground.  Terror cells reconstitute.  Evidence is destroyed.  Trails grow cold pretty quickly.   So as Goldberg writes, when the administration did announce to the world the Bin Laden killing mission produced  a treasure trove of intelligence they were essentially giving up the goose who laid the proverbial golden egg.    They would have sent Al Qaeda running for cover.   It doesn’t make sense that the administration would employ such a tactic.  Or does it?

Having spent a number of years working with a certain gentleman who specialized in this kind of thing,  I well know the value of disinformation.  Sometimes I even helped him with the story.    But on his own this man I worked for  was  a consummate professional, a Good Shepard from the OSS onward through a number of agencies, chairman here, co-chairman there, who among other things specialized in advanced communications.  He was an expert in radio, meaning microwave technology and extreme low frequency radiation.   And as an information expert,  he could tell a whopper of a tale and make it believable.    In the intelligence business you are supposed to lie.  You are supposed to be good at it.  Lying in the right places is perceived as an asset and not a character flaw.   He would also tell the truth at times, or enough of it to lead certain media people to places he wanted them to visit.  But that’s another matter.  For now, and for the purpose of this little tome,  we will stay on disinformation.   Basically, you bullshit your way to success.

I remember being squeamish at times, thinking his alchemical mixtures  of fact, fiction, and post-modern mythology would never have any currency.  No one would believe it.  Not the adversaries.  Not the media.  But I was wrong.  He would smile at me.   Tell them with conviction, and they will believe it, he would say.  This was in the eighties and nineties.   Times when there actually was some statistical relevance.  And here we are today where even the most batshit theory gets its due, has a few rounds with the muddleheaded who would rather believe anything but the obvious.

I recall stories that were in the best of instances partly true and were bought hook, line, and microphone.   Just make the story plausible.  Give it some depth, some value.  Supply a few details.   Make it satisfactory, a nice arch without any glitches or holes in the fabrication that may come unraveled before the bleary eyes of a persistently gullible and oversaturated media  who in the main knows as much about the relevance of history as I do about the mating habits of mollusks.  The media who in turn serves up its half-baked fare to what is largely a population of lockstep, sieve-brained electron dependents, posing as intellectuals.  So in essence, when you are spreading disinformation, save for a  diminished and discerning few who would rather employ critical thinking than fall for the okey doke, you have a win-win situation.   You disseminate the bullshit as source information, and they buy it as gospel.  They buy it in books from talking heads that are getting paid as fill for the real truth in advertising, the commercials.

So here were are with the administration announcing that they have a treasure trove of information.  From past experience, as  Jonah Goldberg considers, you shouldn’t announce what you have and by consequence blow your opportunities.    Keep it to yourself, right?   Use this highly valued information taken from the cold, dead hands of Osama Bin Laden and cowboy time chase down the badly shaken and destabilized Al Qaeda.

That would make sense.  If you had this treasure trove of intelligence.  But suppose you don’t have the treasure trove of intelligence.  Suppose you have instead a bunch of old papers from an old man who long ago had been marginalized and had in a word bupkes in terms of current intelligence.   Well now.

Then you would tell the world you had the treasure trove of intelligence.  In fact you would announce it every chance you had.  As I learned during my stint doing what I was doing, you give them believable bullshit about what you have on them and then watch them run around from one to the other.  You watch where they go who they see, listen to what they say.  You roll out big time the Signals Intelligence (SIGINT), Communications Intelligence (COMINT), and the Electronics Intelligence (ELINT) and  of course where you can Human Intelligence (HUNINT).  You watch, you listen, you eavesdrop on every fart from every terrorist you confirm or suspect. You watch where they run and you see who they talk to.  You listen in.    And from that you can determine the big stuff–how they have reorganized, their communications flow, methods of  operations.  You can learn of their banking and financing, their weapons purchases.   It’s the proverbial stone in the proverbial pond.  You watch and see how the ripples spread.

Perhaps this is your real treasure trove of intelligence.   This is how you stir the pot, as my associate used to say, rattle their cage, he would say that too, and see what happens.   This is the good stuff.  This justifies you telling the world that you have garnered all this valuable information as a result of the raid.   It’s good provided you don’t do it too often and press it too hard.  Otherwise, the other side gets suspicious and starts to regard it as possible disinformation.  And then your legend is blown.

So that’s one aspect.  A possibility among the myriad possibilities where the ever mutating news story festooned with hyperbole, congratulatory confetti,  and too much celebration.  Among other things, I wonder what forces were on alert in case the mission went all wrong and it was necessary for more than a couple dozen SEALS to confront the Pakistani Army, lest they be taken prisoners.   Failure and embarrassment, which no right think minded President, certainly not this one, would ever allow.   But I digress.

Here is the thrust of what I am driving at.  Mind you this is speculation. As all things in this arena, speculation is healthy.   We are not talking about conspiracy here.  We are talking about reassembling the same facts in different logical patterns to see what other conclusions can be reached.   It is called in some circles Alternate Analysis or, better still, Analysis of Competing Hypotheses.  It is healthy.  It is respected.  But most often, out of convenience, it is ignored.  Anyway, here we go.

Suppose Al Qaeda considered Osama Bin Laden a burden.  A fossil.  A figurehead that was great for the recruitment posters, but otherwise an expense they could no longer afford.  Rumor has it he was running out of bucks.  Not a good place to be when you are a man on the run.   So now here he is, a pain in the ass. Like old gangsters and others who have outlived their reign, others in Al Qaeda decided Osama has to go.   I mean we have all seen the video of him slumped, grayed, and channel surfing.  A potential embarrassment to any respectable terrorist thug.

So what to do?  Well the West wants him more than that twelve minute special on the Home Shopping Network.   He is a symbol.  He is the figurehead who killed thousands, ruined lives, helped to ruin an economy, and changed the way we lead our lives.   He is the asshole responsible for our having to take off our shoes and wait in long lines at the airport.   He is the dark shadow over our lives.   We tell our kids, forget about the bogeyman.  If you aren’t good, Osama Bin Laden is coming to take you back to his cave.

So what to do?   Well…how about allow the West to get wind of his whereabouts.  Use your communications channels.  Drop a few hints.   A tip here and there.   Lead them to where you want to go.    As it has been a thousand times before.   Make sure the courier is followed.   And while you are at it serve Bin Laden a bunch of outdated or phony information.  Disinformation.  Give the great man a lot of bullshit intelligence to make him think he is still in the loop.   And when the West finally decides to move on him, what will they find?  The bullshit information you have been feeding him for the past six months.  Information that says a lot and reveals enough to make it plausible, but ultimately leads to a dark, dead end.  Meanwhile, Obama is dead and out of the way.  He is a martyr and will live forever in the minds of all who follow.

And this crappy information you provided.  This spurious bunch of nonsense, interspersed with enough fact to make it plausible but in the end hardly actionable.   This may well be the “treasure trove” of information.   Maybe not.  But then again…maybe so.    This is part of that world.  And nobody is really saying.

In fact, at the end of the day, the real treasure trove of intelligence that may be had is not necessarily all the documents.  Instead it may well be the crashed helicopter that we left in the compound.  The same helicopter that, as reported in ABC News, the Pakistanis, for a price of course, may show to their good buddies, the Chinese.  The  same Chinese from whom the Pakistanis just purchased advanced fighter jets.   Oh, that didn’t make much noises in the news cycle?  What a coincidence.

So in the end the Chinese may end up with our advanced technology.  We may have in exchange a dead old man who I personally am happy to see has gone off to harass his 72 virgins instead of American citizens.

Or…the helicopter that “crashed” was not operational.  And we left it there for the Pakistanis to give to Chinese so they can reverse engineer it, only to discover up the road it was just a plant.  A typical helicopter with trimmings and nothing more.   One more piece of disinformation.

Had to say.  It always is.   That’s is but one reason the intelligence game is not for the literal minded.