Let Bin Laden Stay Free?

Let Bin Laden stay free, says CIA man (Times of London, Sunday)

The world may be better off if Osama Bin Laden remains at large, according to the Central Intelligence Agency’s recently departed executive director. If the world’s most wanted terrorist is captured or killed, a power struggle among his Al-Qaeda subordinates may trigger a wave of terror attacks, said AB “Buzzy†Krongard, who stepped down six weeks ago as the CIA’s third most senior executive. “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.â€

Krongard, a former investment banker who joined the CIA in 1998, said Bin Laden’s role among Islamic militants was changing. “He’s turning into more of a charismatic leader than a terrorist mastermind,†he said. “Some of his lieutenants are the ones to worry about.†Krongard, 68, said he viewed Bin Laden “not as a chief executive but more like a venture capitalistâ€. He added: “Let’s say you and I want to blow up Trafalgar Square. 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.â€

Several US officials have privately admitted that it may be better to keep Bin Laden pinned down on the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan rather than make him a martyr or put him on trial. But Krongard is the most senior figure to acknowledge publicly that his capture might prove counter-productive.

Krongard also acknowledged that the CIA was still having trouble planting spies in Islamic militant ranks. “There are hundreds and hundreds of (Al-Qaeda) cells — it’s like a living, moving bit of protoplasm,†he said. “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.â€

Certainly counter-intuitive. While it’s always been the case that bin Laden’s primary role was managerial rather than as a terrorist manager, it’s hard to conceive that capturing/killing him would be a bad move. While his acquiring martyr status might have negative consequences from a recruitment standpoint, presumably the same is true of his continued ability to elude the West. One would think, too, that a power struggle would be more likely to occur in the aftermath of bin Laden’s death/capture than in the present circumstances.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Well, we certainly shouldn’t try to fight the terrorists because they might get mad or bad things might happen. With respect to what Porter Goss has to do, as Michael Ledeen says, “faster please.”

  2. tubino says:

    Well that would explain why they let him get away at Tora Bora. Or sour grapes would explain the CIA view above…

  3. anjin-san says:

    Makes sense, after all, Bush does not seem to give a rat’s ass about getting bin laden.

  4. carpeicthus says:

    His comments are orders of magnitude less certain than the headline makes them look, keep that in mind. He’s presenting it as a possible scenario, one of many, which is how he was trained to think.