Frederick Harrison Novels



The Bin-Laden Prize

a novel by Frederick Harrison

Copyright 2013 by Frederick Harrison


Admiral Bergen convened an impromptu meeting the next morning with Detwiler and Glover, the three having decided the matter was too complicated to ad- dress over the telephone. The overarching question was whether or not what Jed had reported should be considered credible. His sources were low level, and there was no way to determine where they had gotten their information. Very little that was said or done in Pakistan could be taken at face value.

“I don’t see how we can afford to just ignore it, even without details and confirmation,” Bergen had al- ready concluded. The others agreed.

“However,” Glover noted, “if we let on that we’re very concerned about it, and it turns out to be a baseless rumor or some kind of hoax, we’ll look kind of stupid.”

“But if we don’t, and it becomes a big deal,” Detwiler warned, “we’ll look even worse for not having reacted to such an important development.”

They agreed that the Director of National Intelligence would issue, as low key as possible, a note saying that an unconfirmed rumor had been received indicating the creation of a Bin-Laden Prize, etc. etc. In the interim, Bergen would brief President Kitteridge so that he wouldn’t hear of it first on the six o’clock news. As the meeting broke, all turned to Hannah who promised to keep in close touch with Jed. They agreed it was too soon and too risky to be asking around the Intelligence Community and CIA field stations for information. That itself would be likely to leak and set off a viral reaction of speculation and apprehension.

The debate ended two days later, just after the Admiral was able to brief the President, when an announcement of the Bin-Laden Prize burst forth on jihadist web- sites throughout the world, to be repeated endlessly on social media and news service websites. The nature of the challenge was straightforward: whoever (individual or group) successfully mounted an operation in the continental United States that exceeded in impact the World Trade Center attack of 9/11/2001 would receive a prize of twenty-five million dollars in cash or precious metal, payable either to the perpetrator(s) or their survivors, should they be martyred, the amount being equal to the reward offered by the United States Government for the capture or killing of Osama bin-Laden.

The prize was purportedly being offered by an international group of the slain terrorist leader’s admirers and disciples, who would judge the merit of forthcoming bids. Necessary funds would be raised through contributions by jihadists and their sympathizers throughout the world as testimony to their reverence for the memory of bin-Laden and hatred for America. Access to the Prize would not be limited to Muslim jihadists, but was open to any group or individual embracing its motivating objective: punishing America. There would be no deadline: the first applicant to satisfy the judges would win the Prize. Come one, come all!

A week after the initial announcement, when the first wave of excitement had begun to wane, additional provisions were made public by a website in Yemen established by a notorious terrorist of American descent who been killed earlier in a CIA drone strike. They revealed that the sponsors of the Bin-Laden Prize would provide funding and other support to aspirants who submitted a proposed plan of attack that was judged to be operationally viable, worthy of the Prize, if successful, and within the capacity of the applicants.

Significantly, no information was provided as to where prospective applicants could go to enter their bids or request additional information, it being assumed that Western intelligence and law enforcement organizations would be monitoring them.

“It’s just like those ‘no purchase required’ contests you’re always seeing,” Hannah commented. “They tell you that you don’t need to buy anything in order to win, but the implication is that your chances will be better, if you do. How many would-be terrorist masterminds, do you think, would forego the option of getting official bin-Laden organization endorsement of their plan, not to mention the financial aid.”

Sam Glover smiled ruefully. “This time, they’re likely to be right. Big time terrorist operations are ex- pensive, generally complicated, and slow to develop. Bin Laden was able to pull off 9/11 because he had the money it took, as well as the people. He had to pay for his perps to be trained in piloting the aircraft, move them around to be in position for the attack, and support them while they were doing all of that. One of the principal reasons Bin Laden became a kingpin was that he had money to put where his mouth was. Whoever is behind this Prize business is telling us the same thing.”

“But funding is no longer the most critical element,” James Detwiler noted, “not since 9/11. Our defenses have become a lot deeper and tougher and we no longer discount potential threats because they seem improbable. The hard part for a latter-day bin-Laden is developing a viable attack scenario that is actually implementable, particularly here in the United States. As the traveling public has noted, for example, it is virtually impossible to get on a plane these days unexamined. Anyone carrying a knapsack or even a large briefcase on to a public transportation vehicle is immediately suspect, and it is extraordinarily difficult, if not impossible, to purchase unquestioned, here in the United States, large quantities of explosives or the ingredients for making them. The public is a lot more alert and willing to call in when they notice something that seems strange, and law enforcement is a lot more energetic in checking those reports out.”

“But we’re still vulnerable, nevertheless,” Admiral Bergen observed. “There will always be something new, something we are not anticipating and are reluctant to follow-up on because our people may already be fully engaged and weary. If Jim is right, and I think he is, those are the scenarios the Bin-Laden Prize judges will be looking for.”

“I would be interested in seeing what kind of response the Prize offer draws,” Glover admitted, “from serious would-be terrorists, that is. The established bad guys already have their channels to al-Qaeda, but the newbies would be exposing themselves for the first time, without knowing who may be watching and listening.”

“So you suspect this initiative will not work?” Bergen asked.

“I’d be very interested to know what’s motivating them to sponsor it,” Glover replied. “What do you think, Hannah?”

“One of the things that impresses me,” she responded, “is the professional nature of the campaign so far. Independent of what they’re attempting to sell, they are doing it in a way that would be admired on Madison Avenue. I would be willing to bet the people running this show are not living in a cave at Tora Bora or in the mountains of Yemen.”

Announcement of the Bin-Laden Prize brought forth the anticipated reaction on a scale and level of complexity that greatly exceeded even the expanded expectations of U.S. homeland security authorities. First, there was the explosive response of the mainstream media, especially in the United States, attacking equally the evilness and arrogance of its sponsors and the ineptitude of the West’s intelligence organizations for their apparent failure to detect and forestall the initiative. President Kitteridge’s political enemies claimed loudly that they had been right in asserting, during the recent election campaign, that he was failing to protect Americans and their homeland. The Director of National Intelligence issued a statement explaining that the Intelligence Community had become aware of the Prize challenge, and was already engaged in investigating it at the time it was made public. After almost a week, the furor died down in the absence of new information or rumors to add to what was already known or feared.

The second major surprise was the breadth and scope of the favorable reaction to the Prize offer: seemingly everyone in the world with a grudge against the United States Government, real or imagined, thought it was a marvelous thing. Most alarming of all, tracing of Internet traffic addressed to Jihadist websites indicated that many of the approving messages originated within the United States.

In the Internet monitoring laboratories of intelligence agencies and their contractors, the show had just begun. The key questions, of course, were the identities and locations of the individuals sponsoring the Prize and the facilities created for processing applications. There being no longer a reason for secrecy, the resources of the entire Intelligence Community and its outlying agents and collaborators were enlisted in resolving these questions. Updating Hannah, Jed in Islamabad expressed growing frustration.

“You would think that getting a lead on this would be easy: everyone I talk with has heard about it, and most tell me they would like to find a way to win it. But when I ask them to whom I would go with a plan that could win me the Prize, they say they don’t know. There are still several sources I haven’t checked yet, so I will get back with you later.”

He was in a better mood when he called Hannah five hours later, again awakening her in the middle of the night.

“This had better be worth it, Jed. “

“That remains to be seen, Hannah. But it’s the first possibly credible lead I’ve been able to come up with, and it’s very interesting. I’m told that, if you believe you have a plan of attack that will win the twenty-five mil, you go to see the nearest radical imam at his mosque. If he thinks you’ve got potential, he contacts someone else who comes to hear your proposal in detail and find out what you think will be needed to carry it out. Should the second guy be convinced, he will forward a written account to the Prize Committee, which will send you expense money to come present your proposal in person, that is, if they like it. If you pass the final wicket, you and your associates become well paid wards of the Prize Committee until your operation comes off or is cancelled.”

“I don’t suppose you have any names or places?”

“Not yet, Hannah, except that the people involved in the later phases are apparently not in Pakistan or Afghanistan. The whole scheme is obviously geared to protect the people at the center from being exposed by organizations like CIA tracking the chain of contacts and maybe inserting a ringer. It also serves to weed out frivolous and incompetent applicants.”

“Do you have any recommended next steps, Jed?”

“I’m emailing a write-up of what I just told you that contains the names of people mentioned by my sources. I don’t know that any of them are directly involved in this Prize business, but I recommend the Agency put the names out to all of its stations in the Muslim world and in Europe, for good measure. If any of the people turn up outside of Pakistan and Afghanistan, they may very well be worth trailing.”

“I’ll do that. Now, if you don’t mind, Jed, I’m going back to bed.”


The Bin-Laden Prize
Paperback - 328 Pages -  $12.95



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