Dear Diary: Which bin Laden Scares You Most?

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The U.S. government can’t make up its mind when it comes to Osama bin Laden. Last Saturday, it held an unusual press conference where it released a snippet of video showing a feeble, aging terrorist staring at his flickering image on a small TV screen. On Wednesday, government officials were whispering about bin Laden’s bloody diary missives and the plots they allegedly contain to kill enough Americans to drive the U.S. out of the Middle East.

Well, which is it: Osama bin Laden or Osama bin Has-Been?

It’s frankly amazing the way the press has gobbled up every snippet of information hand-fed to it by the government and broadcast it, if you’ll excuse the term, as gospel. It’s fair to believe the bin Laden wasn’t as decrepit as he appeared in the weekend video – but he certainly isn’t the super-terrorist with a diaryful of hand-written plots ready to kill thousands of Americans and send the U.S. military into retreat.

The Associated Press reports that intelligence officers say the diary, as well as other material collected by Navy SEALs during the raid that killed bin Laden, reveal him to be still in command and plotting against America until the very end of his life. His tentacles reached out to various al Qaeda franchises around the world: shift from attacking planes to attacking trains; shift from attacking New York to attacking Los Angeles. Yet intelligence officials say they have no evidence of any specific plot.

It’s important to never forget the vile creature bin Laden was, and what he and his misguided martyrs could do. But that’s the key thing about 9/11 – the bad guys harnessed our aircraft against our skyscrapers. It was a painful wake-up call. Now fully awake, the world’s governments have done a good job of preventing major attacks. Al Qaeda-cum-Keystone Kop has failed to down planes with either explosive underwear (2009) or explosive shoes (2001). There will be further attacks, and some will succeed. But let’s not keep exaggerating the threat.

Within hours of the diary’s existence being made public, parodies of it were cropping up online. “Thinking about a career change. What about finance and investment?” one on the Washington Post‘s website read. “I could still ruin a lot of lives, and the hours are better.” When the world’s most feared terrorist has become a running joke, it’s time to recalibrate his ranking.