In the wake of Osama bin Laden's death, we've heard detailed accounts of the roles played by everyone from President Obama down to the Navy SEAL dog in the successful raid. But one story went untold until today: that of the CIA analyst who spent nearly a decade doggedly hunting the al-Qaeda leader. The AP's account this morning reveals how difficult it is to profile the intelligence official who spearheaded what the AP calls "the greatest counterterrorism success in the history of the CIA."
For starters, it's difficult to profile someone when you can't interview the person. The CIA isn't allowing the analyst to meet with reporters, so the AP relied on interviews with former and current intelligence officials, many of whom remained anonymous "because they were not authorized to speak to reporters or because they did not want their names linked to the bin Laden operation" (the report cites only one source--former CIA deputy director John McLaughlin--by name). The AP doesn't explain how it learned about the intelligence official and withholds the analyst's full name to keep him from becoming "a target for retribution," referring to him by his middle name--the conveniently commonplace John--instead. The article is short on biographical information and long on the steps that led John to tell CIA Director Leon Panetta, with 80 percent confidence, that bin Laden was hiding in a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan.
Still, the AP does provide some biographical information. We learn that John joined the CIA's Counterterrorism Center in 2003 and that he previously worked in the CIA's Russian and Balkan departments, penning the "definitive profile" of then-Russian President Vladimir Putin. There's also some random information tossed in; the report, for example, points to the fact that John walked on to a Division 1 basketball team in college as evidence of his persistence, adding that a female analyst working for John studied journalism at a Big Ten university.
In the profile, John emerges as a shadowy but influential figure. One former boss tells the AP that he didn't know what John's position was but, "I knew he was the guy in the room I always listened to." (We know from the article that John was the deputy chief of the Pakistan-Afghanistan Department by September 2010). The AP adds that in the famous picture of Obama's national security team monitoring the raid from the Situation Room, John was standing just outside the frame. "The analyst who was barely known outside the close-knit intelligence world took his place alongside the nation's top security officials, the household names and well-known faces of Washington," the AP writes.