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Bin Laden's safe haven?

Ex-CIA officer: Bin Laden hiding in Pakistan's tribal areas

By Henry Schuster
CNN

Editor's Note: Henry Schuster, a senior producer in CNN's Investigative Unit and author of "Hunting Eric Rudolph," has been covering terrorism for more than a decade. Each week in "Tracking Terror," he reports on people and organizations driving international and domestic terrorism and efforts to combat those.

bin Laden
Capturing or killing bin Laden could ignite pro-fundamentalist regions of Pakistan, says Schroen.
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SPECIAL REPORT

RENO, Nevada (CNN) -- Gary Schroen doesn't know exactly where Osama bin Laden is. But he thinks he knows who does.

He doesn't think Pakistan's president, Pervez Musharraf, knows, even though Schroen believes bin Laden is somewhere inside Pakistan. Instead, he believes, someone at a more operational level inside Pakistan's army or its intelligence service, the ISI, knows.

"I can only speculate, but it is based on almost 20 years of dealing with the Pakistani military and ISI officers. I think at some level, probably the colonel level, there are officers probably in ISI who know where bin Laden is at."

Here's why it matters what Gary Schroen thinks.

A long-time Central Intelligence Agency operative, Schroen was dispatched to Afghanistan after September 11, 2001, to find bin Laden and to help overthrow the Taliban.

That mission marked the culmination of an extensive career that included some 35 years working in places like Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Dubai.

Now, after decades of avoiding the press, Schroen is talking.

Targeting bin Laden

Mostly, it's about his riveting new book, "First In: An Insider's Account of How the CIA Spearheaded the War on Terror in Afghanistan." In it, he recounts how his boss, then-CIA director of counterterrorism Cofer Black, told him that he wanted "bin Laden's head shipped back in a box filled with dry ice."

That marked the first time in Schroen's career as an intelligence officer, he says, that he was ever told to kill someone, if necessary. And his team was ready to do so.

What made him especially qualified for that mission was that he had developed two plans to capture or kill bin Laden, once in 1998 and then again a year later. Both were turned down by higher-ups in the CIA and the White House.

"Everybody in the agency felt a sense of frustration that we hadn't taken a shot [in 1998 and 1999] -- especially the second time, which was after the bombings that al Qaeda conducted in Africa," he said. "But the decision was made based on policy considerations back in Washington, so we [soldiered] on."

The morning of September 11, the veteran CIA officer was on the glide path to retirement. He came in that day to work on his resume, knowing he had only a few weeks left at the agency.

story.vert.first.in.jpg

Schroen soon found himself being evacuated from the CIA's headquarters in northern Virginia, as fear spread that the building was the hijackers' next target.

Days later, Black hand-picked him to lead a team inside Afghanistan, where he had close ties to many in the Northern Alliance -- the main opposition at the time to the ruling Taliban.

Schroen's team, code-named JAWBREAKER, had rapid success in helping to topple the Taliban using cash, contacts and air strikes coordinated by the CIA and U.S. Special Forces.

Finding bin Laden was another story. Schroen says the closest U.S. forces came was at the battle of Tora Bora in late November 2001. But bin Laden escaped across the border to Pakistan, aided, according to Schroen and others, by some of the same Afghans who promised the United States they were going to capture al Qaeda's leader.

Does Pakistan want to find bin Laden?

So where's bin Laden now?

"He's hiding in Pakistan in the northern tribal areas above Peshawar -- an area that is rugged, hilly, heavily forested," Schroen says. "The U.S. government and the U.S. military are not authorized by the Musharraf government to enter there unilaterally."

start quoteI want bin Laden's head shipped back in a box filled with dry ice. I want to be able to show bin Laden's head to the president. I promised him I would do that. end quote
-- CIA counterterrorism chief Cofer Black, as quoted in former CIA officer Gary Schroen's book, "First In: An Insider's Account of How the CIA Spearheaded the War on Terror in Afghanistan"

With much fanfare, the Pakistani army went into part of the tribal area last year, ostensibly hunting for bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri. (The move was significant because, from the time of Pakistan's independence in 1947 until that point, the area was autonomous, with local leaders governing its affairs.)

Schroen says Pakistani forces went into the wrong area. Instead of going into the area north of Peshawar, they went south of that city, into southern Waziristan.

The campaign was a failure.

"They did get clobbered heavily," Schroen said of the Pakistani forces. "I think they knew that bin Laden wasn't there, and therefore they would be able to arrest a few al Qaeda operatives and make us happy."

Schroen believes Musharraf not only doesn't know where bin Laden is, but he doesn't want to know, afraid of the internal political consequences of finding him. That's because, Schroen thinks, Pakistan's northern tribal areas would explode upon news of the death or capture of bin Laden.

"I think the philosophy of the Taliban, this fundamentalist view, is popular there. So bin Laden, I think, strikes them as heroic. He fought a jihad against the Russians, and he's bloodied America's nose time and again."

That strong sense of loyalty to bin Laden and al Qaeda is one reason reward money, be it $25 million or $50 million, won't work. The trick is to get bin Laden or al-Zawahiri to break cover and move from this heavily protected area, Schroen says.

"As long as he stays in place, it is going to be almost impossible to find him."

Another key job for the United States, Schroen says, is to figure out a way to find the right incentive for Musharraf to hunt harder for al Qaeda's leaders. One major step, in that regard, is for the Pakistani president to get more answers from inside his own military and intelligence establishment.

"A man of that caliber [bin Laden] could not be hidden out for that many years without word getting out in the community. So, I think some people probably know within ISI and the military."


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