Takedown: Inside the Hunt for Al Qaeda

The New America Foundation is an organization in Washington DC, clearly doing big things; I attended an event there this afternoon, at what seemed like a conversation between old friends (later revealing they ARE old friends). Peter Bergen, a British-American journalist, interviewed Phillip Mudd, who worked in the CIA, and then a liaison for the White House during 9/11.

The event began with Mudd simply introducing himself and how he began his career. Mudd is a graduate from UVA, in English surprisingly enough. He had been turned down several times for a teaching career, and drove up to the CIA gates when he was aware they were hiring. Mudd worked his way up quickly and specialized in South East Asia in intelligence. He began working on Iraq in 1999 and was still involved and a leader during the September 11th attacks. Mudd says he didn’t know how, but as soon as he became aware of the attacks, he knew the world in that moment, changed forever. Throughout his deep involved testimonial of the time, Mudd repeats the phrase “let me blunt” very often. He was honest and even though he has no regrets, he says the time was very emotionally trying. He talks about how the CIA perfected in those years, the art of taking down individual leaders before more could develop. An interesting comment he made revolved around that “art” he mentions. Mudd believes that drug and human traffickers could also be taken down in this manor, claiming the Government isn’t doing enough. Mudd went on to talk about how much the hunt for Bin Ladan weighed on him. He speaks openly about how even though we were killing of these awful men, they still had families, and children whom would never see them again. Mudd also brought up a claim that really weighed with me my metro ride home. He says he believes the CIA has gone into a business of man hunting, and has left its espionage roots. (Mudd is no longer working for the CIA- and is an investment banker in DC). He spoke candidly saying this needs to change, and this is a root problem in not only America, but a lot of Intelligence Agencies across the world.

“Al Qaeda is a movement… not a group” Mudd said. This was something I had not just not been aware of, but didn’t even understand. (even after countless views of Zero Dark Thirty) During this presentation, my knowledge of Al Qaeda grew exponentially. He explained Al Qaeda “cells” and other brief knowledge of the movement in a language not only I could understand, but really enjoyed and found fascinating. That quote really stuck with me as well, changing a lot of my preconceived notions about Al Qaeda.

The talk ended with a question and answer session. There were questions from why isn’t he married, to other organizations America should be worried about. A man praised him on being one of the few CIA officers to acknowledge the pain and suffering children of Al Qaeda leaders have faced. Mudd was no longer part of the CIA during the final capture of Bin Laden, he remarks that he was upset with America and the praise his death recieved. While necessary he says, it was still a death. I really respected this outlook and thought about how much morality this must take….especially for a man so much on the inside.



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