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Profile: Arthur Keller
Arthur Keller was a participant or observer in the following events:
In 2004, Rep. Mark Steven Kirk (R-Ill) visits Pakistan to find out why the US Rewards for Justice program has generated so little information regarding al-Qaeda’s leadership. In the early 1990s, the program was effective in helping to catch al-Qaeda bomber Ramzi Yousef after a $2 million reward was announced for him and a huge number of matchboxes with his picture and the reward information on it were distributed in countries where he was likely to be (see April 2, 1993). The program has $25 million rewards for al-Qaeda leaders Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, and lesser rewards for other al-Qaeda leaders. Kirk discovers that the US Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan has effectively shut down the reward program. There is no radio or television advertising. A bin Laden matchbook campaign had begun in 2000 (see February 16, 2000), but the embassy has stopped giving away matchbooks with photos of bin Laden and other leaders. Kirk will later say: “We were at zero. I couldn’t believe it.” Embassy officials tell Kirk they are busy with other issues, such as assisting US troops in Afghanistan. Kirk proposes a congressional bill that would increase funding for the rewards program to advertise, extend the program to target drug kingpins (especially those who fund al-Qaeda and the Taliban), and make other reforms and improvements. But apparently the bill does not pass and the problem is not fixed. In 2008, Kirk will complain, “[T]he key thing about the Rewards for Justice program is that no one in a rural area—anywhere—knows about it.” Former CIA officer Arthur Keller will also say in 2008 that there are people in Pakistan and elsewhere with information who would be open to informing. “They’d love to have a $25 million bounty, and they aren’t supportive of Osama. But they don’t necessarily trust the US. Who do you report it to? The local police chief?… They’re not sure who to turn to or who to trust.” [US Congress, House, 2/12/2004; Washington Post, 5/17/2008] In 2006, the program will conduct a large advertising blitz in the US, seemingly one of the most unlikely places to figure leaders such as bin Laden (see December 2006).
CIA officer Arthur Keller allegedly hears rumors in 2007 that Harkat ul-Mujahedeen, a Pakistani militant group, is assisting Osama bin Laden with logistics in helping him hide somewhere inside Pakistan. Harkat will later be linked to the courier who lives with bin Laden in his Abbottabad, Pakistan, hideout until the US raid that kills bin Laden in 2011 (see May 2, 2011). The group also has long-standing ties to the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency. Keller had worked for the CIA in Pakistan in 2006. By 2011, he will have retired from the CIA and will tell his account about these rumors to the New York Times. Another US intelligence official will note that members of Harkat may have helped bin Laden without being aware who exactly they were helping or where he was hiding. It is unclear if the CIA investigates possible links between Harkat and bin Laden at this time, or later. [New York Times, 6/23/2011]
Shortly after the announcment of Osama bin Laden’s death on May 2, 2011 (see May 2, 2011), some commentators are surprised to find that bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, is only 800 yards away from Kakul, an elite military academy that is Pakistan’s equivalent of the West Point academy in the US. [New York Times, 5/6/2011] This fact made targeting the compound with a drone strike very problematic. One unnamed CIA official says, “All [a drone-fired missile] has to be is about 1,000 yards off and it hits the Pakistan Military Academy.” Additionally, Abbottabad is home to two regimental compounds, and many military families live there. [Washington Post, 5/6/2011]
Too Long Not to Know - Hassan Abbas, a former Pakistani official who now teaches at Columbia University, says that there was a tight net of security around Abbottabad because of concerns about terrorist attacks on the many sensitive military installations there. The town was thoroughly covered with security guards and soldiers. Abbas says, “If he was there since 2005, that is too long a time for local police and intelligence not to know.”
"Willful Blindness" at Best - Former CIA officer Arthur Keller, who worked on the search for bin Laden, says the locale of bin Laden’s compound raises questions. He says that bin Laden must have known that the area has a high concentration of military institutions, officers, and retired officers, including some from the ISI’s S Wing. The ISI is Pakistan’s intelligence agency, and the S Wing is the part of the ISI many experts believe has worked with and protected some Islamist militant leaders (see March 26, 2009). Keller says that bin Laden also had to be aware that the town has a higher level of security, checkpoints, and so on, than many other Pakistani towns. While living near a military academy helped ensure bin Laden’s compound would not get hit by a US drone, there were safer towns to hide from drones. According to the New York Times, Keller does not understand why bin Laden would live in Abbottabad “unless he had some assurance of protection or patronage from military or intelligence officers.” Keller says, “At best, it was willful blindness on the part of the ISI.” [New York Times, 5/6/2011]
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