Two major items appeared in the news the past week, both of which speak to the survivability of al Qaeda “central” in the aftermath of bin Laden’s death. The first, a piece by David Ignatius, details the intelligence treasure trove that fell into the CIA’s hands from the raid on bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. A couple of crucial points: 1) bin Laden was fretting mightily about the persistence of America’s drone war on the Pakistani side of the Af-Pak border (he referred to it as the “intelligence war,” saying that it was the “only weapon that’s hurting us.”); 2) the communications protocols that the leader in hiding adopted were particularly comprehensive– indeed it was a single person, Atiyah Abd al-Rahman, who served as bin Laden’s connection to the outside world. This guaranteed his centrality in the terrorist network, elevating him in operational importance over Ayman al-Zawahiri, bin Laden’s nominal successor.
The second piece concerns Atiyah: to wit, he was killed recently in another sortie of the “intelligence war.” What all of this holds for the longevity of al Qaeda is an open question.