The CIA has shut down a unit assigned to hunt down Osama bin Laden and his top lieutenants.
The New York Times reports two dozen analysts in the unit were re-assigned to other counter-terrorism duties late last year.
The news comes as the widow of Iraq al-Qaida leader Abu Musab al-Zargawi claims his own organization sold him out in exchange for a U.S. promise to ease up on the hunt for Osama bin Laden.
The woman, identified by La Repubblica as al-Zarqawi’s first wife, said al-Qaida’s top leadership reached a deal with U.S. intelligence because al-Zarqawi had become too powerful. She claimed Sunni tribes and Jordanian secret services mediated the deal.
“I think a secret pact was struck whose immediate goal was his death,” she told the newspaper. “In return, the American troops promised to ease, at least momentarily, their hunt for bin Laden.”
CIA officials said the move to shut down the bin Laden unit came amid growing concern in the agency about al-Qaida-inspired groups carrying out attacks independent of bin Laden. But officials stress that finding the elusive terror leader remains a high priority.
The recent book Ghost Wars says some in the CIA were uncomfortable with the unit, saying its zeal for capturing bin Laden took on a cult-like atmosphere.
A former senior CIA official who once headed the unit tells the Times that the move reflects the view that bin Laden is no longer the threat he once was. But he says that view is mistaken.