"The only way three people can keep a secret...is if two of them are dead." -- Benjamin Franklin
I've been in a few meetings lately where questions have arisen about whether 'they' knew about UBL's whereabouts.
The 'they,' of course, is some veiled reference to either the Pakistani federal government, the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, the Pakistani military, or some portion of the intersection in the Venn Diagram thereof.
If you read this blog regularly, you might already know that conspiracy theories and references to the all-powerful or all-evil but never-defined 'they' are two of my favorite things to pick apart. First, I'll repeat what I say every time I hear some nonsense about how Flight 77 wound up in field in the Midwest where the passengers' voices were recorded bidding farewells to their loved ones because it was really a missile that hit the Pentagon (because we all know that when airliners crash into hardened structures they ought to leave neat imprints of their fuselage AND their wings), never mind how the timeline on that would've worked: conspiracy theories are the playground of the pseudo-intellectual because they're all the fun without the work.
If you scratch your chin and break into an all-knowing Cheshire cat grin as you explain that 9/11 had to have been an inside job because 'look who benefited' you get to sound really smart without having to even break a sweat in the stacks at the library, but the really HARD part would be figuring out how these conspirators could have completely invented the storylines of the lives of 19 men, who all had families, friends, and identities stretching back decades prior. They must have been at this for generations! Hearing Rosie O'Donnell and Charlie Sheen talk about controlled demolitions and burning steel is quick and easy, but stopping to read William Langewiesche's account of how the towers fell actually takes time and effort...no fun in that!
I see some of the same with the UBL reactions. It seems a bit more sophisticated and worldly to offer your take on the Pakistani government, or the ISI's blind eye to terror, to support the idea that 'they' just had to know than it is to just say, "Uhh...maybe he just kinda lived in that house." (although props are duly noted to Kad Barma, who suggested as much in a comment about 'hiding in plain sight.')
Want to know the 'real' truth?
He really did just kinda live in that house. I'm not saying I have any special insider knowledge of that, but let's go back to the quote at the top of this entry.
UBL was the MOST-WANTED man in the history of the world.
I could repeat that for emphasis but I don't see the need...besides, I'm exhausted and need to sleep.
If you lived in Abbottabad, and you knew, or even suspected, that THAT MAN was your neighbor, you would tell someone. That person would tell someone. Gawkers might start to take a look at the house. All of that attention would be quickly noticed. And then guess what?
He might move! He certainly had the resources, right?
It's not much different for 'Pakistani intelligence.' They may have some training in how to keep a tight lip, but let's not forget that Pakistani Intel Officers are subject to the same whims of human nature that we are. Put aside whether they do or don't sympathize with UBL or other extremists. That's just way too big to keep to yourself. Humans have developed over many thousands of years with certain inherent traits, and one of them is to share important information with others. You can call it news, or current events, or gossip, or whatever, but it's one of the most central things that all societies, genders, races, ages, etc. hold in common.
If someone knows where the most-wanted man in the world lives, then more people know. And if more people know, then even more people know.
UBL may have been able to trust one or two people to run his errands...beyond that, he kept family nearby but (wisely) offered them no outlets to the larger world.
I take the risk of sounding naive and unworldly by stating so boldly that the Pakistani government had no widespread, or even narrowspread, knowledge of UBL's whereabouts, but that's my story, and I'm sticking with it.