CIA: Osama Bin Laden Is Still Enemy No. 1

The CIA is kind of miffed with suggestions that it isn't looking hard enough for bin Laden.

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By Paul Bedard, Washington Whispers.

The CIA is going public with a promise that the al Qaeda chief is still Enemy No. 1. In recent comments, speeches, and interviews, officials have been reiterating their pledge to find the terrorist—dead or alive. Leading the campaign to get the word out has been CIA Director Mike Hayden, who told one group this month that the agency's goal remains finding bin Laden and blocking terrorist attacks. "I can assure you, although there has been press speculation to the contrary . . . that the hunt for bin Laden is very much at the top of the CIA's priority list," he said in comments provided to U.S. News. "Because of his iconic stature, his death or capture clearly would have a significant impact on the confidence of his followers, both core al Qaeda and these unaffiliated extremists," he said. The agency believes that nabbing or killing bin Laden would pave the way to extinguishing the organization, in large part because al Qaeda has not suffered a leadership change in 20 years. However, al Qaeda has seemed able to regenerate lower level leaders as some have been reported killed. Here are some of Hayden's recent remarks on bin Laden to the Atlantic Council:

I can assure you, although there has been press speculation to the contrary, I can assure you that the hunt for bin Laden is very much at the top of the CIA's priority list. Because of his iconic stature, his death or capture clearly would have a significant impact on the confidence of his followers, both core al Qaeda and these unaffiliated extremists, unaffiliated extremists throughout the world.

This is an organization that has never been through a change at the top. For 20 years, bin Laden has been the visionary, the inspirational and harmonizing force behind al Qaeda. Whether his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, could maintain unity in the ranks is a genuinely legitimate question. 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, whatever happens, it would work in our favor.

Killing, capturing, disrupting al Qaeda senior leaders, wherever they may find or seek sanctuary, is absolutely essential in thwarting attacks on the West. That's the key lesson from 9/11. Our understanding of this enemy and what it will take to defeat him changed on that day.

Never before have we faced an enemy so completely committed to our destruction and so completely irresponsible with human life. Al Qaeda is willing to sacrifice both its own operatives and the Muslims for whom it professes to fight.

This enemy, unprecedented in our history, requires a response that also has no model in our past. Let me remind you;one of the defining objectives of al Qaeda's theory of war is to erase the distinction between combatant and noncombatant, for themselves and for their victims alike. And that distinction between combatant and noncombatant has been an inviolate distinction in the laws and morals of the civilized world.

And so, this war presents us with operational, ethical, and legal challenges that we as a nation have not faced before. And at CIA, we have been at the center of this nation's response to that challenge, using our full authorities and our most advanced capabilities, always within law, always with executive and congressional oversight. Doing anything less than playing to the full extent of our authorities and our capabilities would be a failure to live up to the oath we took, which is to defend the nation.

I'm extremely proud that our efforts, together with those of the military, law enforcement, and our foreign partners, have yielded results, results in Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Indonesia, and even in the world of ideas. I'm encouraged by the progress that's being made in South Asia today. And I'm grateful for the talent and dedication of the thousands of CIA officers involved in this fight.

Their work has helped us to disrupt many attacks, including one that would have rivaled the destruction of 9/11. But I'm also acutely aware that al Qaeda remains the most dangerous threat we face.