March 12th, 2010
12:51 PM ET

Why all the confusion about identities of prize catches?

Adam Gadahn, a U.S.-born spokesman for al Qaeda

Was he or wasn't he?  You might have been scratching your head as you read conflicting reports about whether Adam Gadahn, the American-born mouthpiece for al Qaeda, had been captured in Pakistan.  Some unnamed Pakistani officials said they got him, while anonymous American officials shot back that there is no evidence to support the claim. 

Now we are as certain as we can be that it is not him.  We have both Pakistani and American officials saying Gadahn is not in custody, but why the contradictions, the confusion in the first place? 

Former senior U.S. intelligence and counterterrorism officials say the Pakistani government has been very good at letting the U.S. know within a reasonable period of time when it has captured someone noteworthy.  Furthermore, they say the Pakistanis want credit for it.  But it can be complicated. 

One reason: Pakistan is hardly a cohesive society. Large portions of the country lie outside the control of the central government.  The authorities at the federal level sometimes don't know what is going on in far-flung parts of the country.  In some parts – like North and South Waziristan – tribes are much more influential than the government.  Foreign extremists and terrorists need the blessings of tribal leaders to remain within their territory.   

Often times suspects are caught in remote areas.   It takes time for the Pakistanis to understand who they have.  Physical appearances might have changed, dental records or fingerprints aren't readily available.  

Once it is established they have a prized catch – especially if it’s an al Qaeda or Afghan Taliban leader – then the Pakistani officials have to decide how to handle the suspect.   The U.S. will undoubtedly want access to the individual.  If the person is an American, then the Pakistanis would be obligated to provide at the very least, U.S. consular access. There could be requests to transfer the person to the United States or elsewhere. 

Pakistani officials may also want some time to figure out how they will play their cards.  What will they get for their efforts?  One thing they don't want is to be seen as being in the pocket of America.

 The U.S. could have it own motives for not wanting a name to be immediately disclosed.  What intelligence can be gained through interrogation while the suspect's cohorts are unaware of the detention?  It’s been reported that news of the detention in February of the Taliban’s #2, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, was held back for several days for this reason.  In the case of an American citizen, the U.S. might want to have physical control of the person before an announcement out of fear the transfer would be blocked or the suspected terrorist is set free.  A court in Lahore, for example, recently blocked any attempt to extradite Baradar to Afghanistan where Americans would likely have better access if not outright control of him.

While one former U.S. official maintains the Pakistanis would not lie to the U.S. about the identity of someone in detention, another says the U.S. is still wary when it comes to completely trusting the Pakistanis.   According to this former official, there are many factions in the government who will deceive you or not tell you everything.  And this person believes the Pakistani government today is more disjointed than was the case during the military rule of General Pervez Musharraf.

Regardless of whether the U.S. would have wanted to delay disclosure of a capture, current and former government officials say that to mislead or lie to the press would simply be asking for trouble, and cost the U.S. government credibility.         

The value to keeping a name secret is to use the time to get as much information as possible before the person's contacts know what has happened. "Once it is out there, it's done," an official says.  

One of the officials summed up the confusion over the fate of Adam Gadahn as an unfortunate distraction from the co-operative relationship that has developed between the U.S. and Pakistan in tracking down and arresting terrorist suspects.

soundoff (35 Responses)
  1. fail

    all filler and no content as usual.

    March 18, 2010 at 7:18 am | Report abuse |
  2. ossey

    ALbeit I respsct individual needs but at my age of 46 now still cannot understand why people seems to become extreme and doesnt see the majority of population of the world . choose a moderate life and live happily with our family and friends . Why should we think that we are more devine than others . Just follow and practice the belief of your choice and dont put others in danger . I failed to understand why they dont just carry the explosive themseves and die with that, if they really believe the second world ? Why they use and torture the the brain of others to die for them . Isnt a simple thing to do , if we really believe that we surely die and placed at sactred world. Those commit suicide are actually the victim of the extreme ideology and circumtances.

    March 18, 2010 at 1:04 am | Report abuse |
  3. Real world

    MasterKush – Wow, "Terrorism was over a long time ago.." really? You must be living in a great place....enjoy it while you can. The rest of us will simply deal with what is real – terrorism is an extant threat to Muslims, Jews, Christians, Hindus, you name it.....denial cannot change that fact. I hope it never comes knocking at your door, so you can continue to live in the world you have constructed for yourself. Meanwhile, I applaud any acts which remove this scourge from the face of our planet, and those who are brave enough to do so.

    March 17, 2010 at 7:04 pm | Report abuse |
  4. KellytheSinger

    Who is CNN National Security Producer Pam Benson
    What is her background?

    March 17, 2010 at 6:15 pm | Report abuse |
  5. bob the builder

    Who cares! what has happened to Bin Laden? I think he is dead already, that's why all these puppets are popping up everywhere.

    Catch him and use one bullet to the head, no more, no less!

    March 16, 2010 at 7:16 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Nathanael [desert voice]

    If the Pakistanis "caught" someone who has actually been working undercover for the U.S. the matter is tragicomical and a stuff for a movie. Imagine an "Al-Qaida spokesman" with access to Ayman al-Zawahri and Bin Laden being on the payroll of the CIA. What is amusing that such a person, possibly trained at Harvard, could spew real verbal venom against America better than a real Al-Qaida ever could. This of course would please his Moslem handlers in the extreme, while erasing whatsoever suspicion. The sole idea that he might be "caught" and tortured by the Pakistanis makes me laugh, even though it's not a laughing matter. But I just can't believe that the coordination between the U.S. and Pakistan intelligence services is so hopelessly dumb, as to allow this scenario to happen!

    March 16, 2010 at 3:38 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Matt

    He was totally captured. Pakistan blurted his capture to quickly and then the Americans tried to hush it up for all the reasons listed above. Imagine the head ache for the Obama administration if we caught an American Al-Queda operative. They don't want trials in NYC. Where would you try him?

    March 16, 2010 at 2:04 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Mark

    The Gadahn story would be more interesting and film worthy, if we discover a happy ending, that he is a double agent working secretely for Mossad or FBI to penetrate the inner sanctum of al Quaeda. It would not be very surprising given his jewish background. True or not, good story for a film anyway!

    March 16, 2010 at 9:03 am | Report abuse |
  9. Adam979

    Probably having dinner with his mates from Mossad in my opinion. Was he ever even in Pakistan??

    March 15, 2010 at 3:09 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Bostoncreme

    They (Pakistani Army) have them all, they playing games to confuse America and rest of the world. Terrorism is a gold mine for Pakistan's army why would they want to end it? How much damage Taliban has done to the Pakistani Army? Very little to Zero . They are only killing Pakistani civilians. Bombings in Pakistan is nothing but a desperate attempt to overthrow the civilian government. Taliban and Pakistani Army are just two sides of the same coin.
    My two cents.

    March 15, 2010 at 11:54 am | Report abuse |
  11. Shahzad

    The author may not know but large portions out of control of Gov of Paksitan , are constitutional entities called Fedrally Administered Tribal Area, where in Tribes have a strong legal and Administrative structure. At least untill we finance the war to Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Using tribals was key to its scuccess, and leaving them high and dry was not:)

    March 15, 2010 at 11:20 am | Report abuse |
  12. Darren Smith

    Maybe he was caught, drugged is now in a dungeon being waterboarded to get information on the whereabouts of OBL.

    March 15, 2010 at 6:19 am | Report abuse |
  13. Rob Craigmyle

    Decent reporting on how newscorps got the story wrong. CNN's dodging of responsibility for lapping up and broadcasting disinformation again? Not so impressive.

    If strengthening brand loyalty is important to your corporation, then it's time to divert resources away from razzle-dazzle and infotainment (an already maxed-out commodity) and focus more intently as journalists upon accountability to your viewers and readers.

    There is no excuse for parroting sources without due corroboration just because they're "official".

    March 15, 2010 at 1:16 am | Report abuse |
  14. Brian

    Adam Pearlman is his real name and his grandfather is none other than the late Carl K. Pearlman; a prominent Jewish urologist in Orange County, California. Carl was also a member of the board of directors of the Anti-Defamation League, which was caught spying on Americans for Israel in 1993. Israel's Mossad intelligence agency was caught in 2002 creating a phony Al-Qaeda group to justify attacks on Palestinians.

    Pearlman, the hardcore Jewish Zionist who trashed Muslims and beat them up, grows a beard and suddenly becomes an "Al-Qaeda spokesman" – Now Pakistani officials capture him and suddenly there is confusion about his capture – nothing suspicious here, move along!

    March 14, 2010 at 2:02 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Rick McDaniel

    It is amusing, that in the age of instantaneous news, so much misinformation, gets out. That does make you wonder, about the reliability of journalists in today's world, where they want a headline so bad, they will say anything, to get one.

    March 14, 2010 at 10:25 am | Report abuse |
  16. STUPID.

    what makes a white american who was born and raised in america turn like that?

    March 13, 2010 at 12:37 pm | Report abuse |
  17. Dan Burkard

    Too bad it wasn't him. We will get you one day Gadahn, one day real soon...Watch your back buddy, there's a hellfire missile with your name on it. 😉

    March 13, 2010 at 11:06 am | Report abuse |
  18. thanh

    the Us is trying to fight against ghost and the US people are being lied and live in illusion..

    March 13, 2010 at 6:41 am | Report abuse |
  19. Abdul Aziz Mohmand

    Drone attacks have been achieved the required targets in the war zone and result of that insurgents shifted to cities of Pakistan.World community should focused not only on NATO forces but stress on Drone attacks because of successful technology and this technology has proved the result and killed more wanted terrorists of the world. Don't trust on Karzai, Drug lords and warlords.Trust the technology.

    March 13, 2010 at 2:25 am | Report abuse |
  20. Insan Mukmin

    It is best not to reveal whether a suspected terrorist has been caught in case he dies during interrogation. You only reveal his capture if he survives the interrogation process so as not to offend human rights groups.

    March 13, 2010 at 1:06 am | Report abuse |
  21. eerut

    Not only are large portions of the Pakistan countryside outside government control, large portions of the Pakistani government are outside government control. The recent campaign claiming American aid violated Pakistani sovereignty was orchestrated by corrupt government officials who saw their ability to skim aid money for themselves, and their taliban allies threatened. The Pakistani government, especially the military is heavily penetrated by al qaeda. It should come as no surprise when the moles free high value prisoners or hold them up for ransom.

    March 12, 2010 at 5:46 pm | Report abuse |
  22. Johnny D

    Adam Gadahn may or may not be a spokesman for al Qaeda. Most likely, he is as dazed and confused as the rest of al Qeada. The fact that he is U.S.-born is completely irrelevant. He... and his ilk ARE the enemy. And, like the rest of them, should be considered targets for extermination upon discovery.

    You screwed up Adam. Your parents obviously gave you far more than you deserved. When you end up dead at the hands of the American Military, it will be your fault, not that of your family or the "great enemy of Zion."

    March 12, 2010 at 5:46 pm | Report abuse |
  23. dee es

    you remind me of Cantinflas a mexican comic of the 60's, that talked much, played with words and at the end did not say a thing to clarify the situation or make have done the same explaining the capture of this said nothing & guess you know nothing!!!

    March 12, 2010 at 5:33 pm | Report abuse |
  24. Pat Lane

    Maybe journalists need to be smarter in their choices of sources.

    March 12, 2010 at 4:52 pm | Report abuse |

    I hope he isn't captured. I hope he's DEAD!

    March 12, 2010 at 4:36 pm | Report abuse |
  26. John

    I bet ya, he's actually working undercover for the US Government. That's why the moment Pakistan captured him, the US didn't respond - since they were trying to release him back to the public. And using excuses like these.

    March 12, 2010 at 3:45 pm | Report abuse |
  27. CNerie

    The article keeps referring to what happens in the case of American citizens in custody.

    Gadahn renounced his citizenship, tore up his passport, and gave material aid to terrorists. He's no longer an American citizen (although if he's in custody I'm sure he's whining incessantly about his "rights"). He's a Pakistani prisoner. Let him rot in a Pakistani prison for the rest of his life.

    March 12, 2010 at 3:31 pm | Report abuse |
  28. Nathanael [desert voice]

    It is regrettable that the news came out at all! Now Bin Laden is on notice that "someone" has been caught!

    March 12, 2010 at 3:17 pm | Report abuse |
  29. blah

    Excuse me...."co-operative relationship?" There is _NO_ such relationship with Pakistan. The government there is, simply put, afraid that if they don't bow to the demands of the U.S. that their names are all going to be put up on the big "Axis of Evil" bulletin board, and the peace-loving, democratic Americans are going to cluster bomb the hell out of their country. Plain and simple. They don't want to appear to be "tipping their hand" to the States because of the potential of terrorist backlash, but what the Pakistani government is truly afraid of is becoming another Iraq or Afghanistan - another country ravaged by the United States only to be left to rot.

    March 12, 2010 at 2:49 pm | Report abuse |
  30. K Carroll

    Hmn . . . I suppose if they have him, they might be having a kind of invitation only
    party in nice secluded sea-side resort. I'd expect Mr. Gadahn is the "honored guest".

    March 12, 2010 at 2:46 pm | Report abuse |
  31. master_kush

    Who cares if he is caught. The ONLY people afraid of "terrorism" these days are the sheep that watch Fox News... Terrorism was over a long time ago, the right wing just keeps the word alive to justify invading other countries and to have a "common enemy" like they had with the communists. quit feeding into this "terrorism" fad. Its non existent in our parts of the world, so its pointless to dwell upon.

    March 12, 2010 at 2:35 pm | Report abuse |
  32. utahsang

    Obama signed a bill extending the "Patriot act" . I thought lberals said the patriot act was unconstitutional? I am surprised liberals are not calling for obama's impeachment for high crimes against the constitution. Come on liberals Obama is listening to your telephone calls.

    March 12, 2010 at 2:15 pm | Report abuse |
  33. Don From Atlanta

    The Pakistani's will have him singing just like the others they captured.

    March 12, 2010 at 2:07 pm | Report abuse |
  34. Dale

    It seems to me that Pakistan's cooperation is up since Obama became president. Diplomacy vs threats. Cowboy Bush just made our friends neutral and neutral countries into enemies.

    March 12, 2010 at 2:05 pm | Report abuse |
  35. JohnRJ08

    Could it be that they have Gadahn but don't want Al Qaeda to know it? If we have a terrorist in custody, wouldn't we want to get information from them BEFORE Al Qaeda knows we have him? Why would we EVER announce a capture? Makes zero sense to me.

    March 12, 2010 at 2:00 pm | Report abuse |