WASHINGTON - A major hunt for Al Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden launched by the US Central Intelligence Agency last year has produced no significant leads on his whereabouts, The Los Angeles Times reported on its website Saturday.
But citing unnamed senior US intelligence officials, the newspaper said it has helped detect an significant increase in the movement of Al Qaeda operatives and money from Iraq into Pakistan’s tribal territories.
In one of the most troubling trends, US officials said that Al Qaeda’s command base in Pakistan is being increasingly funded by cash coming out of Iraq, the report said.
Al Qaeda operatives in Iraq are raising substantial sums from donations to the anti-American insurgency as well as kidnappings of wealthy Iraqis and other criminal activity, according go the paper.
The influx of money has bolstered Al Qaeda’s leadership ranks in Pakistan, The LA Times said.
The trend also signaled a reversal in the traditional flow of Al Qaeda funds, with the network’s leadership surviving to a large extent on money coming in from its most profitable franchise, rather than distributing funds from headquarters to distant cells, The LA Times said.
Little more than a year ago, Al Qaeda’s core command was thought to be in a financial crunch, according to the report. But US officials said cash shipped from Iraq has eased those troubles.
‘Iraq is a big moneymaker for them,’ the paper quotes a senior US counterterrorism official as saying.
The CIA deployed as many as 50 clandestine operatives to Pakistan and Afghanistan -- a dramatic increase over the number of CIA case officers permanently stationed in those countries, the paper said.
All of the new arrivals were given the primary objective of finding what counterterrorism officials call ‘high value targets,’ meaning bin Laden and Al Qaeda’s number two, Ayman Al Zawahri, according to the report.
Nevertheless, US intelligence and military officials said the surge has yet to produce a single lead on bin Laden’s or Al Zawahri’s location that could be substantiated, The LA Times said.
‘We’re not any closer,’ the report quotes a senior US military official as saying