November 13, 2008— -- Osama bin Laden is alive and "putting a lot of energy into his own security," the director of the CIA, General Michael Hayden, said today.
He also claimed, without providing details, that the US intelligence community had disrupted an attack "that would have rivaled the destruction of 9/11." A senior intelligence official said Hayden was referring to the 2006 liquid bomb on airliners plot that was foiled in London.
"American and its friends have taken the fight to the enemy," Gen. Hayden said in a broad roundup of efforts to fight al Qaeda.
"Al Qaeda has suffered serious setbacks, but it is a determined, adaptive enemy unlike any our nation has ever faced," he said.
Without directly referring to the CIA's offensive blitz of unmanned missile attacks in the tribal areas of Pakistan, the CIA boss said the US had successfully isolated the al Qaeda leader bin Laden, referring to him in the present tense.
"He appears to be largely isolated from the day-to-day operations of the organization he leads," Hayden said in a speech delivered to the Atlantic Council in Washington.
Hayden said the failure to kill or capture bin Laden in the seven years since the 9/11 attacks, could be explained by the "rugged and inaccessible" terrain of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border area and "the fact that bin Laden has worked to avoid detection."
The CIA director provided no other details but it was the first public indication of the intelligence agency's growing effort to narrow the focus of the search for bin Laden and other top terror leaders.
President-elect Barack Obama has not yet decided whether he will ask Hayden to stay on as director. Several of Obama's top advisers feel that while Hayden did a good job stabilizing morale and performance at the CIA following the debacle of the Iraq War, his connections to warrantless surveillance and so-called torture techniques make him unacceptable as the continuing director of the CIA.
"The truth is, we simply don't know what would happen if bin Laden is killed or captured, but I'm willing to bet that it would work in our favor," Hayden said.