War in Iraq is over and the White House says our world is safer because of it. But one veteran U.S. intelligence official denies that deposing Saddam has weakened Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda terror network.
Instead, the analyst says, the Iraq war has strengthened bin Laden's case against the United States.
U.S. officials fail to recognize this fact because they do not see that the war on terror, in its essence, is a religious war, the analyst believes. But, he warns, bin Laden and his associates do.
Using the name "Anonymous," this unnamed intelligence analyst details key aspects of al Qaeda psychology in a book, Through Our Enemies' Eyes: Osama bin Laden, Radical Islam and the Future of America.
Over recent months, "Anonymous" also outlined his beliefs — which could be crucial to future U.S. policy — in a series on conversations with Nightline's John Donvan. Excerpts appear below.
JOHN DONVAN: The war benefits bin Laden?
ANONYMOUS: Yes, I think that's right.
JOHN DONVAN: In what way?
ANONYMOUS: In Iraq, we have the unleashing or uncovering of religious passions that had been subdued for a long time. It creates instability. It gives the Americans another area that they have to be concerned about controlling or pacifying.... My effort was to try to see things through Osama's eyes, through bin Laden's eyes. He clearly sees it as a religious war. Whether or not we say it is — we the West, we the United States — bin Laden is drawing power from 1.2 billion Muslims, some number of which, and I would suggest an increasing number, do in fact see our activities as an assault on Islam.
JOHN DONVAN: What evidence do you have that bin Laden is not just on the fringe, or the lunatic fringe, of Islam, but that he actually is much closer — as I think you're saying — to the mainstream? That his appeal is very, very broad globally among Muslims?
ANONYMOUS: The near silence of Muslim intellectuals outside of those who live in the West. [The silence] of Muslim religious leaders in the Middle East, even of Muslim clerics who are in the pay of governments that bin Laden would like to overthrow — whether they are in Egypt or Jordan or Saudi Arabia or Kuwait. There is no resounding religious condemnation of Osama bin Laden....
JOHN DONVAN: Which takes us to the rather radioactive question of whether Islam is at the heart of the problem.
ANONYMOUS: Well, it's hard for me to see how you can explain it without referring to Islam. Not that Islam is somehow a vicious tool. It is more — it is a religion that permeates all aspects of a Muslim's life, whether it's political, whether it's familial, whether it's diplomatic. In my mind, Islam is a very personal religion between the believer and his God. And bin Laden harnesses that belief, supports that belief. To say somehow that this is not a religious war is, I think, hiding from reality.
Bin Laden Is Brilliant; But Understanding Is Not Sympathy
JOHN DONVAN: I can almost hear viewers saying, this guy who works in U.S. intelligence is saying nice things about Osama bin Laden, the guy who we believe is responsible for 3,000 deaths in New York City and the Pentagon. That's how a lot of people are going to hear what you're saying. What's your response?
ANONYMOUS: I tried, in the book, to explain that understanding does not connote sympathy. And so, what I tried to do is write the book and hew as closely as I could to what he said, and to try to explain what he said in terms of Islamic history. And at the same time, to use analogies from our own history — not to persuade Americans, but to allow Americans the opportunity to see that the man was not just a simple gangster, a simple terrorist, as we have called him for the last 30 years. That he was much more than that.... It is hard for me to describe him as other than brilliant. He has formed an organization which truly is unprecedented in terms of what we know of Middle Eastern Islamic abilities to cooperate. We've watched for years, for example, as the Palestinians try to mold a united movement among their groups: secular, Islamist, Marxist.
JOHN DONVAN: And fail.
ANONYMOUS: And fail. And they're all Palestinians. Bin Laden, through the power, I think, of religion; through the power of his rhetoric; through the power of his personal example, has been able to mold an organization which is unique.
JOHN DONVAN: You call him courageous, you call him patient. You're not apologizing for him in any way?
ANONYMOUS: No, I'm not saying we should admire them. I'm also saying that we should not necessarily classify him... [as] a deranged criminal.
JOHN DONVAN: Why not?
ANONYMOUS: Bin Laden is very much a simple — in the sense of a common — man, devoted to his family and his children, and has a reputation well earned for generosity with his own money. A devout Muslim who consistently shows deference for religious leaders, religious scholars. A man who takes care of the people who work with him. If he was on our side, he would be the ideal ally.
JOHN DONVAN: So you're saying that if we tend to underestimate somebody because he's working out of a cave — put him down because he's working out of a cave and assume that he's primitive and living off the land — you're saying that we're making a big mistake?
ANONYMOUS: I think that's right. I think there is a tremendous amount of hubris in America and in the West, generally. We see these guys squatting in the sand and their beards are unkempt and they wear a turban, but these were the fellows who turned our own airplanes against us, who are at least as comfortable with the tools of modernity as we are, computers and e-mail and GPS systems and communication devices.
JOHN DONVAN: So, you go to your bosses and you tell them that that's your analysis. Why does that end up sidelining your career? What did they say to you?
ANONYMOUS: They thought I probably was burned out, had worked it too long.
JOHN DONVAN: If this was your honest analysis and that's what you're paid to do, why would their reaction be that you had to be burned out?
ANONYMOUS: There is a certain degree — within the intelligence community, within America as a whole — of political correctness. No one wanted to be carrying a message that, you know, a good section of 1.2 billion Muslims is madder than hell at us, and think we're racist and think we're attacking their religion. That's not a happy message to carry in this day and age, even though it's patently true.
Al Qaeda and the Iraq War
ANONYMOUS: In the broader perspective, from the canon of bin Laden's writings, this [war] is yet another instance of the Americans smashing a Muslim people.
JOHN DONVAN: So you're saying that bin Laden can point to things he has said in the past about American intentions and say to the Muslim world, "See? I told you so."
ANONYMOUS: He'll just repeat what he has said already. "If the Americans go to Iraq, they will stay, and they will try to build a society that is un-Islamic. And they will try to usurp the hydrocarbon resources of the Muslim world."
JOHN DONVAN: Even though everything that comes out of the White House is that the United States does not plan to stay, that it does not plan to be un-Islamic in whatever government it leaves there, and that it does not want the oil?
ANONYMOUS: I think it's fair to say that the United States has a hard time being heard out there by the people who listen to Osama bin Laden. We've already seen demands from important Shi'a leaders that the Americans should get out of Iraq immediately.
JOHN DONVAN: Bin Laden will also certainly try depict the U.S. victory as a humiliation for Muslims everywhere.
ANONYMOUS: And when we hear from Osama again we will hear more about humiliation. Especially because it seems like we've defined [Iraqi] self-determination in terms of anything but an Islamic government.
JOHN DONVAN: In fact, Donald Rumsfeld is already on record saying that the U.S. will not allow a Muslim theocracy to replace Saddam Hussein.
ANONYMOUS: Bin Laden believes, I think, that self-determination comes out of the barrel of a gun. Like Mao, like the American revolutionaries did. So, he'll use that to good effect with people.
JOHN DONVAN: But doesn't a lot depend on how the U.S. behaves? If the U.S. can create a democratic system and leave shortly, wouldn't that be a huge strike to bin Laden's claim that we're there to take over and crush Islam?
ANONYMOUS: I think absolutely that would be the case. If things work out wonderfully well, if we suddenly have a democracy, and somehow it stands as a beacon in the Middle East, then bin Laden will have a problem.
JOHN DONVAN: What do you think the odds are of that?
ANONYMOUS: We've been working on our democracy since Runnymede in 1215, and we have not perfected it yet. I'm not a big believer in miracles.