News

Bin Laden Was Worried About Arab Spring, Says US Intelligence Chief

A roadside vendor in Pakistan sells newspapers with headlines about the death of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, Lahore, May 3, 2011.
A roadside vendor in Pakistan sells newspapers with headlines about the death of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, Lahore, May 3, 2011.

Multimedia

Audio
  • Listen to entire Clapper interview with VOA's Gary Thomas

It was nearly one year ago - May 2, 2011 - that U.S. commandos killed the world’s most wanted terrorist. After a decade of false leads and dead ends, Osama bin Laden was cornered in a walled compound in the city of Abbottabad, Pakistan, not far from that country’s elite military academy, and shot dead. His body was buried at sea.

Map showing Abbottabad, Pakistan, where Osama bin Laden's compound was located.
Map showing Abbottabad, Pakistan, where Osama bin Laden's compound was located.
A treasure trove of intelligence in the form of documents and computer drives was found in the compound, giving intelligence officers invaluable insights into bin Laden and al-Qaida.

In a rare interview, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told VOA that at the time of his death Osama bin Laden was concerned that his al-Qaida movement was being sidelined by the forces of what came to be known as the “Arab Spring.”

"They [Arab Spring protests] weren’t fomented or inspired," Clapper said. "They weren’t a global jihadist sort of thing. They had other aspirations, other motivations. And so I think there was some concern to the extent that he was aware of all this - again, given his isolation - that would cause him and his movement to be marginalized."

Listen to entire Clapper interview with VOA's Gary Thomas

Clapper said officers were somewhat surprised at bin Laden's isolation.

"He used to commission or swear in new members, he proselytized personally, he engaged," Clapper said. "And of course all that came to an end. And so while his value, his importance, I believe, was his iconic identification and the ideology he represented. And so he was still issuing at least philosophical guidance, some of it operational, some of it aspirational, and frankly, in my mind, some of it delusional."

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper.
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper.
Clapper said bin Laden had not given up trying to hatch new plots to follow up on the devastating attacks of September 11, 2001 in New York and Washington. But analysts say al-Qaida Core, as intelligence officers call the Pakistan-based original group, slipped in importance even before bin Laden's death.

Professor Audrey Kurth Cronin, a terrorism expert at George Mason University, said al-Qaida attacks have killed more Muslims than non-Muslims, which is a major blunder for a group seeking support in the Islamic world.

"The operation to kill bin Laden had a significant impact on al-Qaida," Cronin said. "But if we look at the movement strategically, al-Qaida had begun to decline some years before that. So it’s not taking away from that operation to point out that the broader sense of support, the degree to which al-Qaida was successfully mobilizing the people it was trying to reach in Muslim majority countries, had already turned pretty sharply some years before then."

What of al-Qaida one year after the death of its leader? Intelligence chief Clapper said al-Qaida Core today no longer poses the same threat as it once did because bin Laden’s lieutenants have also been targeted. But, he added, the West should not let down its guard.

"Al-Qaida Core is, of course, profoundly weakened, but it’s not gone," he said. "And that, I think, underscores the necessity of sustaining the pressure on al-Qaida Core. It is a mere shadow of its former self simply because the leadership, the senior leadership - the ranks below Osama bin Laden - have been severely decimated."

Clapper pointed to how the group has now morphed into so-called “franchises” in Yemen and Africa. But he said most of them do not appear to pose much of a direct threat to the West.

"It has created franchises," Clapper said. "But for the most part, with one exception, they are essentially locally focused and not so much consumed with attacking the [U.S.] homeland. The one exception to that continues to be Al-Qaida on the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP, which of all the franchises I view as the most dangerous and most threatening to both Europe and the United States."

Clapper added that there is also concern in intelligence circles that pro-democracy Arab Spring movements in places like Syria, for example, may be hijacked by extremists.

The Director of National Intelligence ascribes the lack of any successful jihadist terrorist plot in the United States since 9-11 to the much improved cooperation among the agencies that make up the U.S. intelligence community. But, he added, he never turns down a bit of luck - and there may be some of that involved, too.

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments page of 2
    Next 
by: Mike
April 29, 2012 8:12 AM
There have always been people who hear little voices telling them to prey on or mislead others. Today we call them bi-polar or something related. Some people have used religious schemes to convince others to follow them and make them politically powerful. OBL was such a person but there are many others. Poor ignorant people are a good recruiting ground for religious manipulation by the clever. OBL is gone but the ignorant are still with us.

by: Terrence
April 27, 2012 10:13 PM
Osama Bin Laden was responsible for thousands of innocent people being killed. In America, in countries around the world where they blew up Embassys and all the innocent civilians killed in Iraq. If 911 did not happen the US would not be in Afganistan or Iraq. IT was all his fault.

by: Tony Quirke
April 27, 2012 2:49 PM
Whether or not you believe in an invisible friend (God or Allah), let your own conscience guide your behaviour. If it feels wrong, it probably is, whatever the snake oil salesman is telling you.

by: Bin Wazir
April 27, 2012 8:09 AM
Robert you ignorance and hatred is astounding. I think a little more education and spelling lessons would help you understand what 1 billion other people (predominantly smarter than yourself) have about Islam and help you spread peace rather than your hate mongering. At any rate with your current views seems like you are no better than BinLaden only difference he unfortunately had balls to do, while all u do is spew hate.

by: Salam
April 27, 2012 6:11 AM
if Osama Biniladin was poor minded person and doing things for Pakistan

by: James
April 27, 2012 5:24 AM
@Paul: No, we need leaders that put the people first, and do not place religious belief in government. Free thought and speech are Enlightenment values, not religious ones.

by: Okoro Leo C
April 26, 2012 9:39 PM
The USA is God's gift to the world. She is contributing immensely in the scientific and technological development of the world, promotion of democratic ideals, promotion of world peace and progress, human development and preservation of human rights, and more especially her relentless war on terror. God bless the USA!

by: Okoro Leo C
April 26, 2012 9:39 PM
The USA is God's gift to the world. She is contributing immensely in the scientific and technological development of the world, promotion of democratic ideals, promotion of world peace and progress, human development and preservation of human rights, and more especially her relentless war on terror. God bless the USA!

by: Robert Makoi
April 26, 2012 8:26 PM
osama bin laden was like unto so-called profet mohammed, the only difference was that O Bin Laden did not proclaim revelations from allah, the only one and only false god.

by: Akira
April 26, 2012 6:32 PM
Paul, it is leaders that put 'GOD then Family' before country and before upholding the rights and dignity of other people that inspired a very small amount of so called 'Miss led Middle Easterners' to threaten/kill others. You say that Christians are being bullied, yet you fail to note that the vast majority of those killed by these groups are not Christian, suggesting that you did not even finish reading the article you responded to with such a holier-than-thou attitude.
Comments page of 2
    Next 

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Calais School Offers Another Face of Europe’s Migrant Crisisi
X
Lisa Bryant
September 02, 2015 6:19 PM
Europe is facing mounting criticism over how it’s handling its biggest migration crisis since World War II. But not all Europeans believe building walls or passing repressive policies are the answer. A school for migrants in the French port city of Calais, is opening doors and building bonds across nationalities. VOA's Lisa Bryant reports.
Video

Video Calais School Offers Another Face of Europe’s Migrant Crisis

Europe is facing mounting criticism over how it’s handling its biggest migration crisis since World War II. But not all Europeans believe building walls or passing repressive policies are the answer. A school for migrants in the French port city of Calais, is opening doors and building bonds across nationalities. VOA's Lisa Bryant reports.
Video

Video Russia-Japan Relations Cool as Putin Visits China for WWII Anniversary

Russian President Vladimir Putin is in Beijing for commemorations of the 70th anniversary of China's WWII victory over Japan. Putin is expected to visit Japan later this year, but tensions between Tokyo and Moscow over islands disputed since the war, and sanctions over Ukraine, could pour cold water on the plan. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Kurdish Fighters on IS Frontline Ready for Offensive

Finger on the trigger, the Kurdish Peshmerga soldier stared across the dust at a village taken over by Islamic State extremists. The Kurdistan’s Khazir frontline, just 45 minutes from the Islamic State stronghold of Mosul. And at this point, the militants were less than two kilometers away. VOA's Sharon Behn reports.
Video

Video Yemen ‘on Brink of Disaster’ as Medical Shortages Soar

Aid agencies warn Yemen is on the brink of humanitarian disaster – with up to half a million children facing severe malnutrition, and hospitals running out of basic medicines. There are fears Yemen's civil war could escalate as the coalition led by Saudi Arabia tries to drive back Houthi rebels, who seized control of much of the country earlier this year. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Apps Helping Kenyan Businesses Stay Ahead of Counterfeiters

Counterfeit goods in Kenya cost the government as much as $1 billion each year in lost tax revenues. The fake goods also hurt entrepreneurs who find it hard to carve out a niche in the market and retain customers. But as Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi, information technology is being used to try to beat the problem.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.

VOA Blogs