Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Fear eats the soul

Matt Dellinger: Why haven't we found Bin Laden?

Lawrence Wright: This is one of the questions I've asked many people in the intelligence community including [Mike] McConnell [the director of U.S. National Intelligence]. First of all, we know where he is. He's in the tribal areas between Afghanistan and Pakistan. So we have found him in that sense. Beyond that, the truth is we haven't found him because we're not really looking. Even the Pakistanis are not really looking for him...For one thing, there are very important diplomatic considerations. If we went in to Pakistan, essentially invaded it, we might undermine what is already a very volatile country. Pakistan has a nuclear bomb. They have spread nuclear technology around the world before. The prospect of a radical Islamist group taking over a nuclear armed country paralyses the American policy community. It is to them a much greater problem than even Osama Bin Laden.

Matt Dellinger: It sounds like there is some ambivalence about what we would do with him.

Lawrence Wright: It's a fascinating dilemma because if you do catch kill him you make him a martyr. He would be more powerful in death than in life. But if you capture him and put him on trial you give him a forum for his views. The head of the FBI's intelligence division said to me: "what did we do when we got Saddam Hussein? Do we want to go through that with Osama Bin Laden?"

Matt Dellinger: So what's the next generation of dangers we face?

Lawrence Wright: It can be quite terrifying. Take the example of Chinese hackers. One NSA official told me there are forty thousand of them who are constantly trying to penetrate American networks...According to the Germans, last summer many German government computers were penetrated and they blame the Chinese Army. Similarly the Pentagon had to take fifteen hundred computers offline because they had been penetrated. It's a really significant problem. As this NSA official was telling me, "how many of these Chinese hackers speak English? Virtually all of them. How many of our guys speak Mandarin? Virtually none." So he says we should never get into a hacking war with the Chinese. As for other dangers, well one of the things McConnell worries about is weaponising some virus like the Avian flu, which could kill tens of millions maybe even hundreds of millions of people.

(This a rough transcript, not word for word, excerpted from What we know on The New Yorker web site)

No comments: