OCTOBER JULY SURPRISE….Is George Bush planning to announce the capture of Osama bin Laden just in time for the election? It’s a pretty common rumor around the watercoolers of Washington DC, but The New Republic thinks it has credible evidence that the rumor is actually fact.

John Judis, Spencer Ackerman, and Massoud Ansari have been talking to various Pakistani officials who tell them that the United States is strongly insisting that they produce either Osama or some other HVT (High Value Target) soon ? as in before the election. To get what he wants from the Pakistanis, Bush is using both a carrot and a stick:

The Bush administration has matched this public and private pressure with enticements and implicit threats. During his March visit to Islamabad, Powell designated Pakistan a major non-NATO ally, a status that allows its military to purchase a wider array of U.S. weaponry. Powell pointedly refused to criticize Musharraf for pardoning nuclear physicist A.Q. Khan–who, the previous month, had admitted exporting nuclear secrets to Iran, North Korea, and Libya ? declaring Khan’s transgressions an “internal” Pakistani issue. In addition, the administration is pushing a five-year, $3 billion aid package for Pakistan through Congress over Democratic concerns about the country’s proliferation of nuclear technology and lack of democratic reform.

But Powell conspicuously did not commit the United States to selling F-16s to Pakistan, which it desperately wants in order to tilt the regional balance of power against India. And the Pakistanis fear that, if they don’t produce an HVT, they won’t get the planes. Equally, they fear that, if they don’t deliver, either Bush or a prospective Kerry administration would turn its attention to the apparent role of Pakistan’s security establishment in facilitating Khan’s illicit proliferation network. One Pakistani general recently in Washington confided in a journalist, “If we don’t find these guys by the election, they are going to stick this whole nuclear mess up our asshole.”

TNR has three separate sources who all say the same thing, and the authors believe them to be credible. And generally speaking, my guess is that the Bushies are indeed hot to produce an al-Qaeda bigshot in the next few weeks and are turning the screws on the Pakistanis to deliver.

But there’s also a niggling note of caution. The article quotes one official saying that the White House told them “it would be best if the arrest or killing of [any] HVT were announced on twenty-six, twenty-seven, or twenty-eight July” ? the first three days of the Democratic National Convention in Boston. This quote has the ring of being a little too perfect to me, and makes me wonder what axe the Pakistani sources have to grind in all this.

But hey ? the Democratic convention isn’t that far away, so we’ll know soon enough. If the administration announces a dramatic capture in the hills of Pakistan at the end of July, remember that you ? unlike most of your friends ? read about it three weeks ago.