Tuesday, Jul. 5th 2011

John – the CIA Analyst Who Found Bin Laden

The CIA allowed a peek behind the curtain in the hunt for America’s former enemy number one in an AP story about a CIA analyst known as John (his middle name.) According to the AP, John was responsible for finding Osama bin Laden. We can also infer John is relatively tall because according to the article he was a walk on success at a Division I basketball program. Hope he doesn’t get smoked out with those details.

The story is great for showing analysts (and their bosses) the goal of all analysisactionable intelligence. John focused his team on hunting clues that produced the location. After a surveillance team watched the compound in which bin Laden was hiding without any observing any evidence that would conclusively prove bin Laden was present, John had the courage to urge action. Many analysts would have just swallowed their tongues when others were talking about problems with the intelligence. Some of those who shut up at decision time then have a habit of talking years later about what could have been “if only they had listened to me.” Instead, John put the odds at finding bin Laden home at 80%. Politicians have to worry that someone will leak to the press in a year or so that the lead CIA analyst gave them good odds of catching bin Laden but the politicians wouldn’t launch the op. Kind of forces their hand.

John was also instrumental in pushing the Bush Administration in its final months into a more aggressive campaign of Predator strikes inside Pakistan. The Obama Administration continued and expanded that campaign.

This was analysis at its best — focused on the target, not making power point slides.

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