We are very good drivers…

Even as Tim Russert solemnly announced on Meet the Press Sunday that the "Number three man" in the entire Al-Qaeda network was now under lock and key, the world edition of The Sunday Times quoted European intelligence as saying that Abu Faraj al-Libbi was not only NOT number three, he is not even a blip on the terrorist radar screen.

According to The Times, "No European or American intelligence expert contacted last week had heard of al-Libbi until a Pakistani intelligence report last year claimed he had taken over as head of operations after Khalid Shaikh Mohammad’s arrest. A former close associate of Osama Bin Laden now living in London laughed — "What I remember of him is he used to make the coffee and do the photocopying."

But Bush and his minions, joined by their Pakistani counterparts, would not be denied their public victory dance, complete with back-slapping and high-fives. "A critical victory in the war on terror," Bush crowed, and added that the capture of this "major facilitator and chief planner" for Osama bin Laden "removes a dangerous enemy who is a direct threat to America and for those who love freedom."

Bush interrupted his attempts to destroy Social Security to laud Musharraf — "I applaud the Pakistani government for their (sic) strong cooperation in the war on terror," he said, adding that the Pakistanis had acted on "solid intelligence" to bring him to justice and vowing that those fighting terrorism will "stay on the offensive until al-Qaida is defeated."

Although European terrorism experts pointed out that al-Libbi was nowhere to be found on the FBI’s most wanted list nor on the State Department’s "rewards for justice" list, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice gave an impressive "Benjamin Braddock" response, saying robotically that al-Libbi is "a very important figure." Braddock, if you remember, is the idiot/savant "Rain Man" character played by Dustin Hoffman who drove the car back and forth in the driveway, going nowhere, while repeating inanely, "I am a very good driver…"

As she congratulated Musharraf for his coup, Rice also revealed that al-Libbi "is somebody we watched a lot every single day — he is a very important figure for the Al Qaeda network." Then, Bush press secretary Scott McClellan joined the fray, telling reporters at the White House, "Al-Libbi’s capture is a great success in the global war on terrorism. He is one of al-Qaida’s most senior operational planners and one of the terrorist organization’s top leaders," McClellan said.

How does he know that? The only thing actually known about this Libyan national, other than he makes a mean cup of coffee and has mastered the art of running a copy machine, is that he was involved in two 2003 attempts to assassinate Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf.

Anybody see a pattern emerging here? Looks like somebody should be asking where the actual al-Qaeda center of operations is — why the majority of terrorists Bush wants "dead or alive" apparently reside in Pakistan. Doesn’t anybody wonder how, when the Bush administration gets stuck in the driveway furiously driving nowhere, Musharraf pulls another "Number Three" al-Qaeda leader out of his, um…hat?

American officials were given the opportunity to make a graceful exit when it was revealed al-Libbi was possibly being confused with fellow Libyan Abu al-Liby, a senior al-Qaeda commander who was indicted for his role in the August 1998 bombings of two US embassies in east Africa, and who is on the FBI’s most wanted list. The Sunday Times reports when it contacted a senior FBI official for information about al-Libbi’s importance, the official inexplicably sent material on al-Liby.

However, a US counterterrorism official, who understandably refused to be named, proclaimed the arrest of al-Libbi as the most important blow to al-Qaeda since the arrest of Mohammad more than two years ago, especially since al-Libbi had assumed Mohammad’s leadership position and was busily planning attacks against the United States homeland.

It gets better. US officials explain craftily that the reason al-Libbi’s name is not on the FBI list is because "we did not want him to know he was wanted."

So let me get this straight — Here is a guy who is Number Three in the al-Qaeda network; a guy so important that he became head of operations when Khalid Shaikh Mohammad was captured; a guy known to be planning a myriad of 9-11 attacks on our homeland — and we don’t want him to know he’s wanted? None of that matters, according to the official, whether it’s Libbi or Liby, the important thing is that his capture is smoking the evildoers out. "Whether big fry or small fry," the official added lamely, "they’re on the run, I can tell you that.”

No, the important thing here is that Bush and his unnamed intelligence officials with the help of a complicit media are speaking only to the American people; they are buying time with the American people. When the proletariat begins to get restless — begins to ask why Osama bin Laden or Abu Musab al-Zarqawi are still on the loose — or begins to writhe under the weight of lies, to feel the constraints of the loss of freedoms, they are thrown the red meat of another Abu-al-somebody and the danger of being exposed subsides for a time.

With the al-Libbi ploy falling flat on its face, few should be surprised that CNN and FOX are back out there, breathlessly announcing that terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s "top aide" has been captured in Bahgdad. FOX says his name is Ammar al-Zubaydi, also known as Abu Abbas, and he’s responsible for recent suicide car bombings, as well as the devastating attack on Abu Ghraib prison in April. But, wait — I thought the Palestinian terrorist Abu Abbas was arrested in April 2003, and that bin Laden and his henchmen were responsible for …. oh, never mind.

So, just where are bin Laden and al-Zarqawi? I guess if we’re ever going to snag these two, we’re going to be forced to remove their names from the FBI "to do" list so they won’t suspect they’re wanted. We’ve come close to capturing bin Laden many times — even visited him two months before 9-11 in a US hospital in Dubai where he received treatment for his ailing kidneys — but like the persistent ghost of a man who’s been dead for years, Osama always manages to slip noiselessly away.

Al-Zarqawi, a bogeyman of our own making, gets blamed for everything — car bombings, kidnappings, assassinations, beheadings — and, apparently, he is just as wily as bin Laden. In a recent incident in which Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, bragged they "almost got him," al-Zarqawi leapt from a speeding pickup truck and fled on foot. A one-legged man of sub-par intelligence outrunning a crack, highly trained special forces team. I’d pay to see that feat, wouldn’t you?

Bin Laden and al-Zarqawi are ideological poles apart and, in real life, would have no reason to team up or to have anything at all to do with each other. But now, thanks to Bush, they are like two evil, mischievious undead spirits, they appear only to create havoc and, as Bush is wont to say, strike with sudden horror, and then — Poof! — they disappear into the atmosphere, leaving behind only laptop computers, tapes, detailed plans and charts outlining their next bit of bloody derring do.

Whether they like it or not, we’re going to keep nabbing their "Number Three" men until we get it right and they are brought to justice. So, if you see a 7-foot-tall bearded man in a dress dragging around a dialysis machine, accompanied by a squat, fleet-footed guy with only one leg, tell ’em they can run and they can hide, but it won’t do them any good — because we’re hot on their trail.

Yes, indeedy. And we are very good drivers…