Hunting Osama…or not

Just shows you what a determined Congressman can do.

Mark Kirk, Republican of Illinois, was on a fact-finding trip to Afghanistan in January, 2004. Rep. Kirk is an intelligence officer in the Naval Reserve, so while there he sought out information from embassy intelligence on the progress of the hunt for Osama bin Laden.

In particular, Kirk asked about using matchbooks printed up in the local languages — – and presumably offering rewards. As evidence he cited the capture of the terrorist who opened fire on CIA employees in Langley, VA in 1993. Mir Amal Kansi was arrested two years later in Pakistan, based on a lead provided by someone who read the matchbook cover offering $5 million dollars for his capture.

Embassy officials told Rep. Kirk that such materials were available but that they’d been impounded by the previous ambassador and the current one, Nancy Powell, had refused to re-activate the program, called “Rewards for Justice,” despite its proven record in other areas. When Rep Kirk approached Ambassador Powell, he was effectively rebuffed.

Not a good move. Ambassador Powell is a career diplomat in the State Department and Rep. Kirk is a member the subcommittee that funds State. In February, he met with members of Congress and with the Speaker of the House. He began to bring up the subject with White House officials. In July, he was a guest on Air Force One during the campaign in Illinois.

By November, Ambassador Powell had been replaced. “Rewards for Justice” is back in working order.

The American Embassy in Islamabad now boasts a 24-hour call center to receive tips. The center is manned by two locals, both of whom speak the three major languages of Pakistan, and supervised by a Diplomatic Security officer. Embassy staff recently launched a 12-week radio and television campaign alerting residents that, in the words of one 30-second Urdu-language radio spot, they “may be eligible for a reward of up to $25 million for information leading to the arrest of known international terrorists.” About 25 calls were received in February 2005, the center’s first full month of operation.

Under legislation co-sponsored by Mr. Kirk and signed by Mr. Bush in December 2004, the top reward for information leading to the capture of Mr. bin Laden has been raised to $50 million from $25 million. The Rewards for Justice program has also been extensively retuned. Embassies are now required to conduct focus groups of locals to discover precisely which radio stations they tune in to and which newspapers they read. Based on those reports, the American Embassy in Pakistan is now broadcasting advertisements on the radio programs most closely followed by the residents of Waziristan, a mountainous region of Pakistan that is believed to be a haven for Al Qaeda.

Ambassador Powell is back at Foggy Bottom and unavailable for comment. Osama bin Laden is still at large. Do you think he remembers her in his daily prayers? If he turns up on the coinage of another domestic terror attack, should someone invite the former ambassador in for a chat?

(Thanks to JihadWatch)