How to Spot a Terrorist Mastermind

Some helpful hints for the Pakistani government


A number of U.S. officials have expressed skepticism that Osama bin Laden could have been hiding in plain sight for years in Pakistan without the government's knowledge. Abbottabad, where bin Laden was hanging out, is home to three army regiments. The military swings a lot of weight in Pakistan.

Moreover, the Pakistani government is not exactly looking over its shoulder in fear of a stern letter from the ACLU. Freedom House's annual "Freedom in the World" report on Pakistan is filled with terms like "excessive force," "arbitrary detention," "collective punishment for individual crimes," "impunity for human rights abuses," and "extrajudicial killings."

This has led to the widespread assumption that if the Pakistanis were curious as to who was living in the giant compound less than a mile from the Kakul Military Academy, they had means of finding out.

Well, those of ye without sin may cast the first stone. Once the Pakistani news shows get around to interviewing bin Laden's neighbors, no doubt they will say the same sorts of things that Americans say when someone on the block turns out to be a serial killer:

"He was always very quiet and polite."

"He never caused any trouble."

"We're all in shock. That sort of thing just doesn't happen around here."

"Did I think it was weird that he was stockpiling fissile nuclear materials in his garage? Well, maybe, now that you mention it. But hindsight is always 20/20, you know?"

Why would anyone assume spotting a terrorist mastermind is easy, anyway? It's not like spotting a suicide bomber. Your typical suicide bomber gives himself away with a dozen telltale signs: the bulky overcoat, the chanting under the breath, the glassy stare, the hand glued to the detonator in his pocket. And of course the explosion. That's usually the biggest giveaway of all.

A terrorist mastermind, on the other hand, is much harder to spot. So for the benefit of Pakistan's ISI and any other secret police forces out there that aren't sure what to look for, here are some helpful hints.

(1) Check the mailbox. If the name on the plate says Ayman al-Zawahiri, Saif al Adel, Abu Yahya al Libi, or—better write this one down—Sa'ad bin Laden, you might want to post a surveillance team.

(2) Look at the residence. Does it have high walls, security cameras, armed guards, and batteries of surface-to-air missiles? Does it look like the sort of place that would appeal to someone named Tony Montana, Hugh Hefner, or Ted Kennedy? Would news organizations describe it as a "compound"? If so, then it could be a terrorist hideout.

(3) Ask around. Remember what Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has said: "Homeland security begins with hometown security." Neighbors are often a surprisingly good source of human intelligence, or HUMINT. Ask people who live nearby if the resident inside the compound ever shows himself. Does he go to block parties, attend PTA meetings, run in the Race for the Cure, or participate in Neighborhood Watch? Or does he stay inside, emerging only when chauffered in an armored limousine with bulletproof tinted windows and run-flat tires? Details such as these might not seem like much on their own, but over time they can help flesh out a profile.

(4) Go through his trash. Sure, it's kinda gross. But the juicy, smelly glop inside that Hefty bag can yield up a treasure trove of clues. Does your mark's trash contain bits of detonation cord, lots of empty shell casings, used poison ampules, hermetically sealed containers marked BIOHAZARD, bloody duct tape, severed fingers and toes, or gouged-out eyeballs? If so, he might be up to something. Does your mark burn his trash inside his compound and bury the ashes? This might be an indication that he has something to hide.

(5) Monitor his purchases. Many ordinary items can be used to fashion crude weapons of mass destruction. No matter how innocent they might appear, pay particular attention to purchases of unusually large quantities of acetone, hydrogen peroxide, ammonium nitrate, sulfuric acid, C4, Semtex, or highly enriched uranium, as these are often used to make homemade explosives.

(6) Google him. Nowadays most people have an online presence of some kind—a Facebook page, a blog, a network of associates on LinkedIn. Look for patterns and themes. A single post reading, "Death 2 Infidels!!!!!" does not mean much by itself. But it grows in significance if your suspect also Tweets, "@AQAPfan — yes death 2 infidels; see sura 9:5 you ignorant spawn of apes and pigs." If the suspect also posts a video of himself decapitating an American hostage or vowing to rain the fires of hell upon the American sons and daughters of Shaitan, all the more reason to keep an eye on him.

Not every recluse who lives in a fortified compound and wages holy war is a terrorist, and mistakes are bound to happen. But when you're tasked with preventing the nuclear immolation of a major metropolitan area, it's better to err on the side of caution. Share this information with your coworkers in the security community. And remember: If you see something, say something.

A. Barton Hinkle is a columnist at the Richmond Times-Dispatch. This article originally appeared at the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

NEXT: End the War on Terror

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  1. A. Barton Hinkle Heimer-Schmidt
    Hey, that’s my name, too
    Whenever we go out
    The people always shout
    There goes A. Barton Hinkle Heimer Schmidt

  2. They also say “Derka derka jihad” all the time. It’s a dead giveaway.

    1. and they like BALLS!

      1. Chef’s Chocolate Salty Balls?

    2. I was sure I was going to see that when I moused over for the alt-text.

  3. This was pointless but I found a few passages more than mildly amusing. A vast improvement over the other pieces y’all have published by Herr Hinkle.

    1. (frightened whinny)

      1. swats Off-camera horse with a rubber chicken

  4. “He was always very quiet and polite.”

    “He never caused any trouble.”

    “We’re all in shock. That sort of thing just doesn’t happen around here.”

    Much of the time when local ATL TV news reports a homicide outside a ” fast food fried chicken restaurant”, the survivor’s kin remark what a tragic shame as the victim was “just turning his life around”.

    Perhaps bin Laden was turning over a new leaf.

    1. the survivor deceased’s kin


      1. they had signed up for Jenny Craig?
        Guns don’t kill – fried chicken outlets do

    2. why fried chicken? hummm….

      1. You can get fried chicken, chat up some young ladies who hold a job, and get proof of applying for work to give to your probation officer all in one stop.

        1. u mean chat up some hoes right?

          1. Racist! I believe the term is “Holla”.

  5. Signs of a possible domestic terrorist:

    Registered Republican or supporter of non-leftist Third Party
    Flies an American flag at home
    Talks about “states’ rights” and “limited government”
    Can quote the Constitution
    White skin
    Drives a domestic vehicle
    Military vet
    Oppose gun control
    Listens to talk radio

    1. Likes Tea and Parties

    2. .

      1. Not that one. That one isn’t an indicator but a crime in itself.

        1. That’s right. Profit is theft.
          When you come out ahead through a voluntary transaction you are no better than a common thief.
          Taxes on the other hand, being involuntary in their nature, are a perfectly acceptable if even noble way of acquiring wealth.

      2. We saw what you did there.

    3. Yeah, how could you possibly miss the Weathermen, the JDL, the Symbionese Liberation Army, the Animal Liberation Front, the Black Liberation Army, or Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan with an accurate profile like that?

      1. What are you talking about?
        Those groups supply the president’s top advisers.
        How could they possibly be subversive?

    4. You forgot home schoolers and christians

    5. Enjoys subversive anti-government texts like ‘One Flew over the Cockoo’s Nest’ and ‘Animal Farm’.

  6. What you really need is a method for spotting a viable libertarian-leaning presidential candidate. Hint: if he looks a lot like Grandpa in “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” and sounds like some old fuck on the back of the bus, he’s probably not your man.

  7. That was an oblique reference to Ron Paul, by the way.

    1. I thought you were complaining about your small penis.

    2. Define “oblique”.

    3. Edward, have you ever had sex?

      1. Do Fleshlights count? Because he goes through one of those a week.

        1. I have trouble believing that he can sustain an erection.

          1. I just tried to post a link to mocking photo… And the server squirrels took it and told me I was a spammer. Thus PROVING Max is on Reason’s payroll. I assume it is to angry up “our” blood to be good little warriors in the kochtopusarmy… or navy, I suppose. What? Does that make the Kochtopus like Aquaman? Fuck you stumpy! I’m not taking orders from no Jar-Jar related water creature.

            Wait. What was I saying?

    4. I think I found Max

  8. This article was a waste of time.
    Sorry Mr. Hinkle, no offense…

    1. “Dying is easy, comedy is hard.”

  9. “Gary, you didn’t kill your brother. Those gorillas did.”

    1. “I couldn’t wait to see it. After the show I was asked if I wanted to go meet some of the performers backstage. Man, I was thrilled. But when I got back there, they were drunk and out of control. Rumpus Cat and Macavity kept feeling up my leg. I tried to leave, but, Rumpleteazer held me down, and… I was raped by Mr. Mistoffelees. “

  10. “Does he go to block parties, attend PTA meetings, run in the Race for the Cure, or participate in Neighborhood Watch?”
    “…Or does he stay inside…”
    Yup…watching porn…

    “Go through his trash. Sure, it’s kinda gross”
    Well, yeah! and it is very, very, very sticky. I can imagine someone saying, ‘damn, how can one man produce so many mayonaise laden tissues?’

    GULP – I’m a terrorist mastermind!!!

  11. Neighbors are often a surprisingly good source of human intelligence, or HUMINT.

    You know who else wanted people to rat on their neighbors?

    1. The D.A.R.E program ?

      No wait, that was kids ratting on their parents…my bad.

    2. Drink

    3. Geraldo Rivera?

  12. I heard a rumor that they’ve saved Bin Laden’s head and are going to kick it through the goal posts at the Superbowl.

    1. I’d pay a dollar to see that.

      1. I’d pay a thousand to do it.

  13. Easy, just observe carefully how they react around goats. If they start crying or become irate, then you know!

    “I was just a boy when the infidels came to my village in their Blackhawk helicopters. The infidels fired at the oil fields and they lit up like the eyes of Allah. Burning oil rained down from the sky and cooked everything it touched. I could only hide myself and cry as my goats were consumed by the fiery black liquid death. In the midst of the chaos, I could swear that I heard my goats screaming for help. As quickly as they had come, the infidels were gone. It was on that day I put a jihad on them.”

  14. Perhaps “How Not to be Seen” is part of al Qaeda’s training regimen?

    1. “Pro Libertate, would you mind standing up please?”

      “Pro Libertate has learned the first rule of not being seen, not to stand up.”

  15. I keel you!

  16. lol, OK that sounds like a good read dude Wow.


  17. Best way is to take the printout of “most wanted” from FBI website and just memorize the faces.

  18. It is far easier to get information about your suspect terrorist if you subdue them by placing either a 5.56mm or 6.8mm bullet between the oculo-orbital sockets. This should render them quite passive and very compliant.

    Once subdued you are free to search their belongings to determine if further action is needed.

    Also ISI uniforms are dead giveaways to terrorist activities.

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