"If every time you catch somebody he has a pocket organizer or a set of numbers … backtrack those real quick and sometimes you'll get lucky," Wedgwood said. "The way you catch people is by doing what prosecutors and intel agents do, which is scour data and play upon human intelligence and human frailties."
Many analysts believe Saddam may be caught before bin Laden because his former associates continue to be rounded up at a rapid rate, and the former dictator is believed to remain confined to Iraq, where he may be planning ongoing attacks.
But even continued operations by fugitives don't ensure their capture. Al Qaeda figures can be a case in point, with bin Laden apparently reverting to lower-tech communications methods such as couriers to cover his tracks better, U.S. officials say.
On the other hand, the cases of Abu Nidal, Carlos the Jackal and others show that even when terrorists slow down their activities in their later years, they may not be safe.
Abu Nidal, in his mid-60s, was found dead in Iraq in 2002. And Carlos was captured in Sudan, where he had taken refuge, in 1994. Both were terrorists who moved from country to country, allegedly masterminding dozens of killings, kidnappings and attacks against Middle Eastern and Western targets.
"Without the assistance, connivance or winks of states, there is no way Abu Nidal would have lived the way he lived for as long as he lived," said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a Jewish human rights group dedicated to bringing Nazi war criminals to justice. "Once that state pulls the rug, five minutes later the guy's dead."
Cooper also sees parallels between the current hunt for al Qaeda figures and the post-World War II hunt for Nazis.
"You're dealing with highly motivated, well-funded, religious Nazis," Cooper said. "There is a direct parallel there. There is a worldview. Their view is that there will be a worldwide Islamic government. … You either agree with their worldview or you're an enemy. That pretty much sounds like echoes of Nazism."
But Patrick Seale, author of Abu Nidal: A Gun for Hire: The Secret Life of the World's Most Notorious Arab Terrorist, said that type of world view also makes today's manhunts much different than those in the past, when figures like Abu Nidal had secular motivations and less extensive popular support.
The difference makes the comparisons between the hunts for Abu Nidal and Osama bin Laden or Saddam Hussein shaky, he said, and may even make applications of past manhunt lessons counterproductive.
"The trouble with counterterror is that it risks alienating the local populations and pushing them into the arms of the militants, as we are seeing in Iraq," Seale said. "Every time an American soldier kills an Iraqi, this breeds, probably, a whole family of militants.
"Israel, for years, has been conducting this policy of targeted killings," Seale added. "This has not visibly dampened the fires of resistance. On the contrary, you see, you have to talk to your enemy rather than kill him if you want to end the problem."
He added that when President Bush says things like, "I want justice, and there's an old poster out West, that I recall, said, 'Wanted, Dead or Alive,' " as he did on Sept. 17, 2001, that doesn't necessarily help, either.