tic strand cover holmes bin laden

I found the Great Detective in his Mayfair club as expected at that hour, and we left the Reading Room where talk is forbidden. I had rushed to give him the recently leaked Pakistan Government report on Osama bin Laden, who had rivalled Professor Moriarty in evil cunning. But Holmes had read it already, of course; his brother Mycroft had sent an advance copy by Foreign Office courier. I was dazzled by the report’s honesty, the vicious criticism of its own bureaucracy, of negligence and mind-boggling incompetence that kept the mass-murderer free for many long years. Surprisingly, my aloof friend embraced me.

“Ah, my dear Watson!” he exclaimed. “Ever so loyal! Ever so earnest, attentive and reliably wrong! Were the report not so amateurish and so painfully obvious a fraud, it might have been the hoax of the decade!” I was crestfallen.

He rang for some pre-prandial club Madeira, a late-vintage Sercial. “You will recall, old friend, my celebrated case of the dog that didn’t bark in the night. Which dog is not barking here?” he asked and I averted my gaze in silent embarrassment.

“Their own intelligence services, of course. Testimony from the head of the ISI, their military Inter Services Intelligence directorate, is mysteriously absent from the document which alludes to it nevertheless.” Holmes held his glass of amber liquid up to the gaslight and admired the reflection.

“How convenient,” he mused, “how obviously and stupidly convenient. If that is a mere oversight, my dear boy, then I am Queen Marie of Roumania!” He clapped his hands, rose abruptly and began to pace through the empty card-room, between the baize-covered tables and simple bentwood chairs.

“Next,” he continued, “the authors let slip that his house and compound in the military garrison-town of Abbottabad, in which Osama was discovered by the Americans and later killed, were specially built to contain him. From the photos they were made to look old, in a style common to the 1940s and no later than the 1960s, like the surrounding residences; you will recall my monograph on Pakistani vernacular architecture, written just after my more famous work on cigarette ash.” I nodded thoughtfully.

“It took a lot of planning and preparation, especially by his two peasant bodyguards from the uplands if they had no outside help, especially in a nearly omniscient police state in a town overrun with military, military police and military intelligence,” he posited. “But why a new building instead of hiring an old one?” he asked. “Why go to all that expense and trouble? Why risk the scrutiny that could have been avoided by taking an old house long familiar to the neighbours?”

Thingstocome poster bin ladenHe paused to fill his calabash, then realised that smoking in clubs had been banned, cursed and jammed it back in his jacket pocket.

“Just as a guess,” he pondered, “for the same reason that Osama was housed in the middle of an army town instead of lodged somewhere remote and private. An old building may have been already bugged by anyone; a new one bugged only by the government agency erecting the building from scratch while keeping him under jealously tight surveillance.”

“You are a marvel, Holmes!” I exclaimed.

“Next we examine the motive,” he insisted. “There are two possible explanations and two alone. Either their keen and well-funded intelligence service completely missed the world’s most wanted terrorist as he moved about freely year after year, or the ISI—crammed with radical Islamists since the days of General Zia ul Haq—sheltered their hero but now would rather appear incompetent than evil. The answer speaks for itself in a police-state where one can’t have a dinner party without intelligence reports being filed.”

“Next we turn to how they claimed the unbelievable and botched the job with this flimsy report,” Holmes continued methodically.

“Pakistani spooks can be clever,” he surmised, “but only possess a certain low cunning. They should have left a few gaps in their published findings to create believability. Instead, they covered all possible explanations and tipped their hand. The arrogant blunderers must have been so proud of themselves.”

Holmes continued: “They said the bin Laden affair ‘culminated in the avoidable humiliation of the people of Pakistan,’ with ‘culpable negligence and incompetence at almost all levels of government,’ trying to make their document look sincere by uncharacteristically slamming their own state security apparatus. Weasel-wording would have been traditional and hence more credible were it an independent report to an unsuspecting government. This suggests that their primary audience is gullible foreigners, not their leaders who probably approved every word.”

“It rails against an ‘American act of war,’ and a great humiliation; credibly reflecting popular opinion there and deflecting the obvious criticisms,” Holmes declared. “The more clever defence, Watson, is always a careful self-indictment, or better yet incandescent patriotic rage. This document tries both.”

“Next, by the authors predicting that their findings may be suppressed,” he mused, “the six-month delay between publication and the intentional leak made it seem all the more believable. Then, ultimately, by still warning of ‘the possibility of connivance inside or outside the government,’ they gave themselves, and their masters, the ultimate escape clause. It could have been astoundingly unbelievable negligence or else,” he added, slipping into a music-hall Pakistani accent, “Goodness Gracious Me! The nefarious evil-doing of someone else entirely!”

“How bloody convenient!” snapped Holmes, slamming his empty glass on the nearest tabletop. “Their report lets you choose only between two carefully selected options, cloaking the one obvious answer that they want to cover up; their wholesale protection of the world’s most wanted terrorist after Moriarty! They mock thousands of innocent Americans murdered in the Twin Towers, Watson! They mock us too! Damn them, Watson! Damn them all!”

Holmes thrust his hands deep into his trouser pockets and stared into the glimmering coal fire. Slowly, his rage subsided and my friend adopted his usual reflective tone.

“So, to paraphrase that famous case of mine, we heard the barking and presumed there was a dog, but there was no dog at all,” he concluded mildly. “There was only the incompetent whimpering of a decidedly Third World government guilty of abetting terror, who overdid their excuses and gave themselves away.”

His voice rose again in his usual intellectual pride: “Quod erat demonstrandum, old friend! Circumstantial analysis of course; but so far, game, set and match!”

He paused and turned, displaying his famous aquiline profile over a clenched fist: “By thunder and mark my words, Watson, this struggle isn’t over yet!”

“But Holmes!” I exclaimed “Have you told the Foreign Office?

The detective smiled: “Sir Malcolm was leaving just as you came in. No doubt over supper he will speak to our friends in Grosvenor Square, at the American Embassy.” He looked at his gold pocket watch.

“Watson, old fellow, the club chef’s serving jugged hare again. It’s one of your favourites and last orders are at nine. Let us stroll upstairs, shall we?”

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