…are beginning to seep into the mainstream media. Today, the Washington Post reports on its interview with CIA Director Michael Hayden, in which Hayden described the problems that have beset al Qaeda:
In a strikingly upbeat assessment, the CIA chief cited major gains against al-Qaeda’s allies in the Middle East and an increasingly successful campaign to destabilize the group’s core leadership.
While cautioning that al-Qaeda remains a serious threat, Hayden said Osama bin Laden is losing the battle for hearts and minds in the Islamic world and has largely forfeited his ability to exploit the Iraq war to recruit adherents. Two years ago, a CIA study concluded that the U.S.-led war had become a propaganda and marketing bonanza for al-Qaeda, generating cash donations and legions of volunteers.
All that has changed, Hayden said in an interview with The Washington Post this week that coincided with the start of his third year at the helm of the CIA.
“On balance, we are doing pretty well,” he said, ticking down a list of accomplishments: “Near strategic defeat of al-Qaeda in Iraq. Near strategic defeat for al-Qaeda in Saudi Arabia. Significant setbacks for al-Qaeda globally — and here I’m going to use the word ‘ideologically’ — as a lot of the Islamic world pushes back on their form of Islam,” he said.
Hayden also noted that several top-ranking al Qaeda leaders have been killed by Predator drones in the tribal areas of Pakistan.
Hayden complained about the fact that criticism of the methods we use to combat terrorism is more common than acknowledgement of how successful those methods have been:
“The fact that we have kept [Americans] safe for pushing seven years now has got them back into the state of mind where ‘safe’ is normal,” he said. “Our view is: Safe is hard-won, every 24 hours.”
Hayden, who has previously highlighted a gulf between Washington and its European allies on how to battle terrorism, said he is troubled that Congress and many in the media are “focused less on the threat and more on the tactics the nation has chosen to deal with the threat” — a reference to controversial CIA interrogation techniques approved by Hayden’s predecessors.
That, of course, ties in closely with what we wrote here.
UPDATE: The Associated Press has now put out its own report on the Post’s story. True to form, the AP thought the Post’s account of Hayden’s interview left too positive an impression, even though the Post also quoted several other terrorism experts. So the AP went looking for someone who would contradict Hayden. They knew where to look, of course; former CIA official Bruce Riedel is a Bush administration critic who is on record as saying that the Iraq war has helped al Qaeda. So the AP contacted Riedel and highlighted his response, suggesting that he speaks for a unanimous group of “analysts”:
Analysts, however, said Al-Qaeda’s safe havens in Pakistan have grown larger, not smaller, in the past year, giving the group the space it needs to operate, even in the face of stepped up attacks by unmanned US aircraft.
“I think that the administration very much wants to paint a picture of success, particularly as it gets close to the end of eight years,” said Bruce Riedel, a longtime former CIA analyst now with Brookings Institution.
“So I’m not surprised we’re seeing an effort to portray it in the most optimistic, possible way,” he said, calling it “a pretty large dish of wishful thinking.”
Riedel went on to praise “Al-Qaeda’s remarkable strengths.” That’s the “news” as hundreds of newspapers will print it tomorrow.