excerpted from [NYTimes] on 03.21.04
...rather than thinking of the jihadist movement that sprang from the camps in Afghanistan as a hierarchical structure of lethality, akin to the Comintern, the old international Communist movement of the last century, or the organizational chart of the Gambino crime family with Arab names, think more radically of what happened in the training camps of Afghanistan as some gathering of diverse, but somehow linked, movements.
There is today a sense of belonging in the jihadist movement, evil as it is, but nothing approaching a central command.
Most jihadists will have you believe they defeated the Soviet Army alongside Mr. bin Laden in the mountains of Afghanistan. But consider this: Most of the 19 jihadists on those terrible flights of Sept. 11 were less than 15 years old when the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan ended.
The origins of Al Qaeda can be found in a group of fewer than 300 Islamic extremists, the original jihadists, who swore allegiance to their sheikh, Osama bin Laden, one or two decades ago.
During those years a few tens of thousands of would-be bin Laden followers passed through Afghanistan, where they were caught up in the spirit of hatred and nihilism they found there. Many of their names became part of a database - a Qaeda - developed by Mr. bin Laden, hence the name of his organization. Some stayed with him, but most left, carrying his message.
Washington will certainly not relent in its hunt for the remnants of Al Qaeda, judging by its past tracking of terrorists. The C.I.A. and F.B.I. never gave up the hunt for Mir Aimal Kasi, the murderer of two C.I.A. employees outside the intelligence agency's headquarters in Langley, Va., in 1993, or for Ramzi Ahmed Yousef, the man behind the first attack on the World Trade Center that same year. It took the C.I.A. and the F.B.I. years to track both men down in Pakistan, and still more years before American justice was meted out to them, but justice was served and the cases were closed, if not forgotten.
But the expectations associated with the capture or death of Mr. bin Laden and Dr. Zawahiri are far higher. America's preoccupation with Al Qaeda and Mr. bin Laden has spawned the hope-driven conviction that when these two terrorists are finally neutralized, the war on terror will somehow have been won.
THAT is, sadly, not the case. The jihadist adversary may never have been as localized an evil as has been so broadly perceived. Al Qaeda may have been the first and most destructive of the many groups consumed with hatred of the United States, but it by no means has central control over the countless clusters of jihadists seeking to confront America around the globe. This is an ideological and spiritual movement rather than a cohesive, quantifiable foe.
If Mr. bin Laden is, indeed, the north star, the spirit of the jihadists' movement rather than its controller, then his death will have little effect beyond establishing his immortality and spurring America's jihadist enemies to go to even greater heights to harm the United States or its friends. Dr. Zawahiri's end will have even less meaning.
This could be similar to the consequences of another great manhunt that took place during my early days in the Central Intelligence Agency - the hunt for Che Guevara, the north star of the 1960's communist revolutionaries in Latin America. After a wide-scale effort, Guevara was tracked down and killed in Bolivia in 1967. But his dream didn't die there. His myth continued to inspire revolutionary movements in Latin America and beyond - his death is still marked every five years in capitals throughout the world - and the myth lives on because of the circumstances of his death. It was considered a romantic, almost glamorous denouement.
Perhaps some in Washington are already speculating whether it will be better to try to capture Mr. bin Laden, knowing that his death will guarantee his immortality.
It may be that in death both Mr. bin Laden or Dr. Zawahiri can achieve more real power than they ever wielded while alive.
Milt Bearden, a 30-year veteran in the C.I.A.'s Directorate of Operations, served as a senior manager for clandestine operations. He is the co-author, with James Risen, of "The Main Enemy: The Inside Story of the C.I.A.'s Final Showdown With the K.G.B.