Tuesday, January 10

Did bin Laden take $25 million to his grave?

I'm sure that I'm not alone in suspecting that Osama bin Ladin has been six feet under a pile of rubble in the Afghan borderlands for some time now. As far back as September, 2003, Christopher Hitchens posited as much in the Mirror, on the plausible grounds that a man who could have taught Chuck Schumer a thing or two about self-publicity in the year following 9/11 had been suspiciously reticent for a couple of years. Two and a half years later, and the radio silence continues. Or, at least the video silence--there were disputed audio tapes in October 2003, and January, April, and May of 2004. Now, for the first time, the annual rally-the-kooks speech on the occasion of the Muslim Hajj came from his number two, Ayman al-Zawahiri, as Michael Ledeen noted in a stunning article today (its not tomorrow until I've been to sleep).

I know that I often over-hype articles I agree with or even just find interesting or amusing, but I think that, by any measure, this article registers above average on the stunning scale. How many authors would casually drop into an article about the changing of the guard in the Middle East the nugget that his Iranian sources have assured him that Osama bin Laden finally succumbed to kidney failure sometime before Christmas and was buried without fanfare in Iran. In his own words:

And, according to Iranians I trust, Osama bin Laden finally departed this world in mid-December. The al Qaeda leader died of kidney failure and was buried in Iran, where he had spent most of his time since the destruction of al Qaeda in Afghanistan.

Come again? Has Ledeen befriended the Mark Felt of the Revolutionary Guard? Why doesn't anyone else know about this? I am wary of many of Ledeen's more revolutionary impulses myself, but I've found him to be factually reliable and he has been a trusted advisor to far more exalted institutions than this poor website (including the NSC, U.S. State Department, Department of Defense, Secretary of State, and Georgetown's University Center for Strategic and International Studies). So why has this revelation not generated so much as a media ripple? Why hasn't he been booked for the nightly political talk shows? (Maybe he has, but I didn't notice him on CNN, FoxNews, or MSNBC tonight). More importantly, why couldn't any news outlet dig up the same story?

We may never know bin Laden's ultimate fate (frankly, never hearing from him again in any form is a consummation devoutly to be wished), but Ledeen has been ahead of the curve on the subject before. If he's right again on this point, then so much for the idea that our biggest weakness is intelligence on the ground.

UPDATE 1/20/2006: If the recently released "bin Laden" tape is authentic and recent (I have low confidence in our ability to verify this), I hope that Mr. Ledeen is having a searching conversation with his trusted sources.