Nov 05, 2008

The Dog that Didn’t Bark

The dog that didn’t bark

Posted: 01:11 PM ET

Peter Bergen CNN National Security Analyst

One person who was supposed to weigh in on the American presidential election is someone we have yet to hear from: Osama bin Laden.

Four years ago the al Qaeda leader appeared in a well-lit videotape addressing himself directly to the American people five days before they voted in the contest between Sen. John Kerry and George Bush. Bin Laden said then that whoever won the election was immaterial as far as al Qaeda was concerned and that instead Americans needed to change their country’s foreign policies in the Muslim world, or face the consequences.

US intelligence officials tracking al Qaeda have been expecting a similar message from the al Qaeda leader in the run-up to this presidential election. Yet, so far, bin Laden has not appeared. There could be several reasons for this. First, the bin Laden tape might still be in the pipeline and will surface in coming weeks having wended its long way via a chain of couriers from his hideout on the Afghan-Pakistan border to be uploaded to a jihadist website or delivered to an Arab TV station.

Second, several of the sites where al Qaeda traditionally places its propaganda messages have been taken down in past days. The fact that those sites are down may both be an effort to curtail al Qaeda’s messages to the wider world and also make the terrorist organization go back to its traditional method of communications through Arab TV stations, which are easier for American intelligence agencies to stake out and monitor than anonymous jihadist websites.Third, bin Laden may have concluded that, given the widespread expectation that he would deliver an election-eve tape, that discretion is the better part of valor and for security purposes now is not the time to make an appearance on the world stage.

Fourth, militant targets in the tribal regions have been the subject of some 20 American missile attacks since the summer and that may have spooked the al Qaeda leadership, which has not being the subject of such intense missile strikes previously.

Those attacks are designed not only to disrupt al Qaeda’s operations, but also to increase the radio or phone communications between militants— signals intelligence known as ‘SIGINT’ —that can be traced by American spy agencies, according to US intelligence and administration officials who track al Qaeda.