Andrew Maykuth Online
The Philadelphia Inquirer
November 10, 2004
Bin Laden a 'malignant' personality who commands attention, CIA expert 

Osama bin Laden's most recent video appearance shows that he is alive and well and as full of himself as ever, says a former CIA specialist on profiling terrorists.

Dr. Jerrold M. Post, a psychiatrist who founded the CIA's center for personality analysis and who has determined bin Laden as a "malignant narcissist," said the video appearance on the eve of the U.S. presidential election demonstrated that the terrorist leader still thrives on being on center stage and wants to influence world events.

"I think there was a certain aspect to it: 'Don't forget about me _ I'm still here, alive and well,'" Post said in an interview Monday before presenting a lecture on terrorism at The College of Physicians of Philadelphia, co-sponsored by the World Affairs Council of Philadelphia.

Post and other terrorism experts noted that bin Laden appeared to be trying to present himself as a savior to a far broader audience of Muslims than he has in the past. In his first appearance in more than a year, he was dressed formally and did not hold any weapons, which seemed to give him a more statesmanlike appearance.

"Bin Laden has a certain sense of vanity and hubris in his mindset," said Bruce Hoffman, director of the RAND Corporation's Washington office. "He feels he has single-handedly changed the course of history, and to a certain extent, it's true. There's not many people who can say that."

Post said the best public response to bin Laden's re-emergence is to ignore him.

"Part of what he's been trying to do is to keep up this tension, which magnifies his stature and accomplishes many of his goals," said Post, director of the political psychology program at The George Washington University. In the past, he said, the U.S. government's portrayal of bin Laden as the personification of evil has been "a marvelous recruitment incentive" for Islamic extremists, he said.

Bin Laden's recent appearance seemed designed to bolster his own prominence rather than influence the U.S. vote one way or another, Post said.

Post, who spent 21 years with the CIA before turning to academia and writing, said the U.S. strategy in the war on terrorism overemphasizes military efforts at the expense of psychological operations. He says that new generations of terrorists are being "bred to the bone" at an early age to despise the West, and that the U.S. war on terrorism is insufficiently aimed at winning over opinions in Islamic countries.

"You can't win an insurgency with smart bombs and missiles," he said. "We've left really uncontested the war for the hearts and minds, to use a cliche. And it's really remarkable how maladroit we've been. Well, not maladroit, we've just ignored it."

The key to fighting terrorism is to inhibit people from joining extremist groups, to cause dissension within the groups, to encourage defections and to reduce public support for terrorist leaders said Post, who has interviewed dozens of jailed Middle Eastern militants to understand their motivations.

"All of that represents four elements of a strategic communications strategy, which we're really not pursing very well," he said.

He said he approves of foreign aid programs like a $25 million grant to support Pakistan's public schools, making them a preferred alternative to the Islamic religious schools or madrassas. "Every child in one of the public schools is a child not in a madrassa being steeped in virulent Islam," he said. "To me, that is effective counter-terrorism."

Bin Laden had maintained a low profile for more than a year, not easy for someone Post diagnoses as a "malignant narcissist" _ characterized by a grandiose self-importance, a messianic sense of mission and an inability to empathize with others, including his own supporters. Post said signs indicated bin Laden was unhappy he had been upstaged by Iraq's Saddam Hussein.

"What I found quite extraordinary is when we switched to Saddam Hussein as the major enemy, I think this was a major offense to bin Laden," Post said. "He lost the limelight."

The video released on Oct. 29 may signal bin Laden is reasserting himself as the leading voice of Islamic extremism.

"He looked a little more vigorous than I had seen before," said Post, who has evaluated most of bin Laden's taped statements. "There have been recurrent rumors about serious medical problems. ... But he seemed better to me."

Post cautioned about becoming preoccupied with one man.

"The real issue isn't bin Laden or even al-Qaida," he said. "It's the growing attraction of radical Islam and the polarization against the United States. ..." home page   
Recent news
  | Africa coverage  |  Archives  |  Afghanistan coverage  |  E-mail from Africa  |  Magazine articles | Photographs  |  Bio 
African Odyssey
  |  Apartheid's Secrets  |  Democracy's Promises  |  The Forgotten Wars  |  Rwanda: Aftermath of Genocide

Copyright 2001-2006 Andrew Maykuth