The U.S. government spends roughly $80 billion a year to gather intelligence. Much of that budget is wasted by a hideously bloated bureaucracy (as intelligence community veterans will readily attest in private and sometimes in public). But we certainly got our money’s worth with the operation that took down Osama bin Laden.
Kudos to the CIA, the NSA, and the rest of the intelligence community for finally tracking down the world’s most wanted man: no small feat, given how easy it is for a fugitive to hide even in the United States, much less in a vast, alien place like Pakistan. Not only did the spooks get their man, they managed to do so in secrecy. It is fascinating to read that the CIA has been on the trail of bin Laden’s courier—a trail that ultimately led to the leader of Al Qaeda—since last summer, and no one in the wider world had any idea. Given how hard it is to hold a secret in the age of Woodward and WikiLeaks, that is a significant accomplishment.
Now, with bin Laden gone, it will be possible to redirect significant resources to other targets. The remaining Al Qaeda Central leadership, headed now presumably by Ayman al Zawahiri, is an obvious target. As they try to reorganize after bin Laden’s death, they may well make themselves even more vulnerable. But there are also plenty of other Islamist terrorists in places like Yemen, as well as other groups based in Pakistan (e.g. the Haqqani network), that deserve more attention from the intel community. As bin Laden learned, attracting the full attention of the American intel community—and its de-facto strike arm, the Joint Special Operations Command whose SEALs carried out the raid in Pakistan—can be fatal.