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Assassinating al-Awlaki
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The successful assassination of alleged al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula operative Anwar al-Awlaki was made possible by critical assistance from the Yemeni intelligence service. The U.S. had been targeting al-Awlaki for two years but had not been able to get a fix on him because he was constantly changing location, moving in different vehicles with a handful of bodyguards, and seldom stayed two days in the same place. He was also under the protection of the Awaliq clan in the south of Yemen, which made it difficult for outsiders to learn his whereabouts.

The U.S. hoped that his communications would prove a weak point, as has often been the case with other terrorist targets. This led CIA and NSA to implant a number of radio receivers in and around the region where al-Awlaki was believed to be operating, but the results were disappointing. Al-Awlaki, aware of the security risks of modern technology, avoided cell phones and other electronic means of communication. His Internet presence was carefully handled through cutouts who made recordings in safehouses and then uploaded the material to select jihadi websites. This was done in locations far from al-Awlaki himself—frequently in the Yemeni capital, Sana’a.

The break for the Yemenis came when al-Awlaki left his southern safe haven and moved to the northern part of the country, where he had less protection. A local village elder provided information on al-Awlaki’s whereabouts to the Yemeni government, whose security service was able to infiltrate several of its own agents into the area where he was staying. In a particularly audacious move, they were even able to conceal a global positioning device on one of his heavily guarded vehicles. The GPS proved decisive. When the vehicle started up and began to move, it was fired upon and destroyed, as was the escort vehicle that normally traveled with al-Awlaki.

According to an intelligence source, the White House briefly considered attempting to capture al-Awlaki instead of killing him. The decision to kill was ostensibly made because a snatch operation was too risky, but the real reason was that it would lead to a trial—and the question of a military tribunal or a civilian court would be debated in Congress and the media. The evidence against al-Awlaki included considerable classified information that might reveal intelligence community sources and methods; if this material were excluded, the remaining evidence might not be sufficient to convince a jury or tribunal that he was guilty of anything other than exercising his First Amendment rights. Interestingly, the National Security Council meeting where the al-Awlaki issue was discussed was recorded in a memo from which any discussion of the dangers of going to trial was excised, leaving only an account of the tactical difficulties in attempting a capture instead of an assassination.

The killing of Anwar al-Awlaki has been touted as a great victory over al-Qaeda because Barack Obama is keen to burnish his national security credentials, but the dead propagandist is hardly irreplaceable, even as the “English voice of al-Qaeda.” The al-Qaeda target audience does not generally speak English except as a second language, and the impact of Anglophone propaganda is limited.

Philip Giraldi, a former CIA officer, is executive director of the Council for the National Interest.

(Republished from The American Conservative by permission of author or representative)
 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Assassinations 
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  1. tbraton says:

    PG, you forgot to mention that the Queen of Hearts was the legal advisor, and her advice, based on extensive legal precedent, was clear: “Sentence first, trial later.” Since the sentence was death by drone missile attack, there was really no need to get to the second part. It is all very clear and in conformity with the best legal advice. I really wish you would get with the program and stop your incessant nit-picking.

  2. Mario says:

    The US is the only country in the world that cannot bring terrorists to trial and justice

  3. Rehmat says:

    The so-called Al-Qaeda’s official magazine Inspire, run by Anwar al-Awlaki – has slammed Ahmadinejad for not beliving in the official 9/11 story and thus degrading Al-Qaeda’s military and intelligence powers.

    “The Iranian government has professed on the tongue of its president Ahmadinejad that it does not believe that al Qaeda was behind 9/11 but rather, the U.S. government. So we may ask the question: why would Iran ascribe to such a ridiculous belief that stands in the face of all logic and evidence?,” says the magazine.

    http://rehmat1.wordpress.com/2011/09/30/al-qaeda-ahmadinejad-is-911-denier/

  4. tbraton says:

    “”The so-called Al-Qaeda’s official magazine Inspire, run by Anwar al-Awlaki – has slammed Ahmadinejad for not beliving in the official 9/11 story and thus degrading Al-Qaeda’s military and intelligence powers.

    “The Iranian government has professed on the tongue of its president Ahmadinejad that it does not believe that al Qaeda was behind 9/11 but rather, the U.S. government. So we may ask the question: why would Iran ascribe to such a ridiculous belief that stands in the face of all logic and evidence?,” says the magazine.””

    I think Ahmadinejad is just poking fun at the U.S. for “ascribing to such a ridiculous belief that stands in the face of all logic and evidence” that Iraq and Saddam Hussein were connected to the 9/11 attacks and to Al Qaeda. He has nothing personal against Al Qaeda but is merely sticking up for his old buddy Saddam Hussein.

  5. Tina says: • Website

    Great that you’ve covered al-Awlaki’s murder, rather than capture. Wasn’t that mission an illegal invasion in the first place? If they hadn’t actually found and killed hum, the world would have never even heard about the secret mission at all.

  6. JakeJ says:

    Have to ask it – what is with murdering al-Awlaki’s sixteen year old son – SHAME!

  7. beowulf says:

    “Interestingly, the National Security Council meeting where the al-Awlaki issue was discussed was recorded in a memo from which any discussion of the dangers of going to trial was excised”

    Oh there’ll be a trial, just not the one they imagined. There’s no statute of limitations on murder, so the NSC members placed a bet that no future US Attorney General will ever think this is something worth taking to the grand jury. I can’t imagine any grand jury indicting military or CIA personnel for obeying what they thought was a lawful order. As for the civilian policymakers who knew better, ehh, its never too early to lawyer up.
    “18 USC 1119. Foreign murder of United States nationals…
    (b) Offense.— A person who, being a national of the United States, kills or attempts to kill a national of the United States while such national is outside the United States but within the jurisdiction of another country shall be punished as provided under sections 1111, 1112, and 1113.”

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