Update: TigerHawk and The Daily Demarche both have posts on this story from the other day.
First, Tiger Hawk:
|Representative Kirk, of course, makes big claims about how effective matchbooks can be — he cites one arrest as the result of a matchbook reward — but is a single case ten years ago (and probably not involving al Qaeda) proof that the matchbooks work? I would be interested in knowing whether these programs really do work. There is undoubtedly a big memo in a file somewhere in Foggy Bottom with State’s actual assessment, and probably a contradicting memo in another file in Langley. The single ancient anecdote offered by the Sun seems like a frail reed on which to hang Nancy Powell, though.|
Then, the email at Demarche:
|… So advertising on match books/boxes is one of the few effective media. In most of the Third World (and the old Second World, the USSR and Warsaw Bloc) there are no free matches, so smokers (lots of males in the Third World smoke) are happy to take free matches…
I was told by people involved in the “turn in a terrorist program” (my name for it, not theirs) that the match box advertisements did produce leads that caused several terrorists to be caught. Knowing the nature of far too many FSOs, Nancy Powell was offended by the manner of the advertising (on match boxes), offended that such advertising might offend some Pakistanis (it certainly would, anything that helped us would offend some of them), and/or just offended by anyone who was helping to fight “GW Bush’s War”. We will not know what was in Powell’s head. We do know the nature of the culture of the State Dept. whereby the ambassador is supreme and all powerful, able to openly disobey orders from Washington, DC (unless the orders are really really important to the Secretary of State)…
As pointed out in the earlier post, it’s hard to find “clean” intelligence programs and this one seems a good example of that. Might it make people mad at us? No more than anything else does. Has it served to improve embassy intelligence morale? Seems so. Does it cost very much? Not as these things go. The materials were already printed, and it takes few personnel to track the responses, at least initially.
Think about it this way: matchbooks are a measured, low-tech, low-cost and even amusing response to bin Laden’s machinations.