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Mercredi, 28 Décembre 2011 12:30

Stealth Tech, Facebook Revolutions, Shadow Wars: The Most Dangerous Year Ever

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al-Qaida Loses, and Then Loses Some More

When 2011 began, Osama bin Laden was still alive, U.S. troops were still fighting in Iraq, and Iran could only dream about capturing our most advanced spy drone. By the end of the year -- everything had flipped upside-down. America's shadow wars grew, as its conventional conflicts shrank. Secret tech was suddenly not so secret any more. Dictators in place for decades suddenly found themselves out of jobs, thanks in no small part to Facebook. Even the ordinarily sacrosanct Pentagon budget was suddenly under fire. It was, in retrospect, a decidedly crazy, thoroughly exhausting, and utterly exhilarating year. It's hard to imagine what more could be in store for 2012.

2011 was definitely the most dangerous year ever -- if you were an al-Qaida bigwig. Most famously, Navy SEALs finally killed Osama bin Laden in May, removing from the Earth the world's most infamous terrorist and puncturing al-Qaida's most potent symbol of resilience. It was an operation that showed off just how deadly the U.S. really is. Special operations forces paired with CIA operatives, prepped with spy satellites, and equipped with the latest stealth gear. Then, less than four months later, the U.S. proved its lethality again. An American missile strike in Yemen killed al-Qaida's chief online propagandist, Anwar al-Awlaki.

No wonder al-Qaida didn't come close to bombing the U.S. at home, unlike its efforts in 2009 and 2010. Instead, it lost two of its most important figures; a treasure trove of its data; and suffered the kind of setbacks that have Washington talking about capital-V Victory.

Al-Qaida looks like it's in crisis mode now. Top government officials think it's almost a spent force. Its new leader, Ayman Zawahiri, is an uncharismatic, divisive figure. The bin Laden raid gave the U.S. access to dozens of cellphones, thumb drives and computer hard drives revealing terrorist secrets. (Also, bin Laden's porn.) The costly 9/11 Era may actually soon be a relic of the past -- if, that is, we can stop being so afraid of the terrorists who got rolled in 2011.

Photo: White House

Spencer Ackerman is Danger Room's senior reporter. Noah Shachtman tries to tell him what to do.
Follow @dangerroom on Twitter.

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French (Fr)English (United Kingdom)

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