Gary Brooks Faulkner, the “American ninja” arrested in Pakistan carrying a pistol, sword, dagger, and other military equipment, apparently was trying to hunt down Osama bin Laden. Was he working for the CIA? Or any other secretive arm of the US government?
No, we think not. Well, anything is possible – that selling-arms-to-Iran-to-raise-cash-for-the-contras adventure at first seemed preposterous, too – but the fact is that, according to what has been made public so far, Mr. Faulkner’s adventure seems to have more in common with Chuck Norris action movies than with any actual paramilitary activities of US intelligence.
First of all, Faulkner was the spear tip of his own plot. Generally speaking, US intelligence in the past has employed locals or other third parties for its more aggressive clandestine activities. Remember all those plots to assassinate Fidel Castro? The ones that involved, among other things, giving Mr. Castro a poisoned cigar, or luring him to examine an exploding seashell? (No, we’re not making those things up.) They envisioned dissident Cubans – or in some cases, the Mafia – as the people who were supposed to carry them out.
Second, Faulkner seems to have been tramping around Pakistan’s wilderness areas on his own. US intelligence paramilitary actions center on teams. In the 2001 opening of the Afghanistan war, in which US and local forces toppled Taliban leaders and sent them fleeing into the hills, CIA personnel did operate on horseback in the hinterlands. But they traveled in groups and worked with local allies of the Afghan Northern Alliance.
Third, there’s the publicity. His brother Dr. Scott Faulkner is on cable news talking openly about Faulkner’s motives, health, and faith – he was on NBC’s "Today" show on Wednesday, for instance. Now, even spies can’t always control their relatives. But in this case Dr. Faulkner is an Air Force veteran. We’re guessing that if the government was really involved he’d be conveniently in the Caribbean on vacation.
All that said, Gary Brooks Faulkner was arrested in an area widely rumored to hide Al Qaeda’s top leaders. Chitral is a mountainous region on Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan that is so remote it has until recently been cut off from the outside world by winter snows for months at a time. It’s a place where it is even difficult for the US to fly Predator drones.
And you can bet that the US still wants very badly to catch Osama bin Laden. US officials long have downplayed Mr. Bin Laden's importance to Al Qaeda, saying that even absent him, Islamist extremism would persist. But in February, then-Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair told Congress in an annual estimation of threats to the US that “we assess that at least until Usama Bin Ladin and [aide] Ayman al-Zawahiri are dead or captured, al Qa’ida will retain its resolute intent to strike the [US] Homeland.”
Stopping Al Qaeda from sending operatives to attempt US attacks will require “enhanced counterterrorism efforts” in, among other places, the far reaches of Pakistan, said DNI chief Blair.