Ever since the news broke last night, self has been wondering what the crucial tip-off was, that led to the Seals finding bin Laden’s residence. The answer comes in this article by Associated Press, posted several hours ago on the Yahoo! News site.
It seems that, years ago (shortly after 9/11, in fact), U.S. intelligence had already concluded that “bin Laden’s vulnerability was his couriers.” According to the article:
He was too smart to let al-Qaida foot soldiers, or even his senior commanders, know his hideout. But if he wanted to get his messages out, somebody had to carry them, someone bin Laden trusted with his life.
Detainees in the CIA’s “secret prison network” told interrogators about an important courier who went by the name Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti (What? America has a “secret prison network”? You mean, aside from Gitmo? Oh, right, Gitmo isn’t secret. So, OK, self must swallow the fact that yes, indeed, the U.S. does have secret prisons which no one even heard about until today).
As detainees were interrogated, one after another confirmed that they received crucial information “through a courier.” It was the capture and interrogation of al-Qaida’s “operational commander,” Faraj al-Libi, in 2005, that led to the first big break in the case.
It seems that, under interrogation, al-Libi denied knowing of the existence of any personal couriers bin-Laden might be using. His denials were so “adamant and unbelievable that the CIA took it as confirmation that he was protecting bin Laden’s personal courier.” Suspicions were confirmed when al-Libi went so far as to make up a name for al-Kuwaiti. That was the CIA’s first inkling that al-Kuwaiti was “very important to al-Qaida.”
From then on, the agency worked on the premise that “if they could find the man known as al-Kuwaiti, they’d find bin Laden.”
al-Qaida’s no. 3 leader was captured and subjected to the “simulated drowning technique” known as waterboarding. He did not reveal any information about a courier but, “many months later, under standard interrogation . . . acknowledged knowing al-Kuwaiti.”
See, what self thinks is this: al-Qaida No. 3 knew he would be tortured, and was ready for it. So, he did not cough up any information at that particular time. Months later, when more “benign” interrogation was employed, he let down his guard. Very smart psychological manipulation, CIA!
The CIA then began to perform a concentrated search for al-Kuwaiti, but he was “nowhere to be found.” According to the article, bin Laden “was famously insistent that no phones or computers be used near him,” so the National Security Agency kept “coming up cold.”
The break came last year. The Agency monitored a telephone conversation between al-Kuwaiti and someone they were already watching. Though al-Kuwaiti was not at the time with bin Laden, the phone call was enough to establish al-Kuwaiti’s whereabouts. CIA and NSA then began to track him.
In August 2010, the Agencies tracked al-Kuwait to a compound in Abbottabad. What aroused their suspicion was that the walls of this compound were “18 feet high and topped with barbed wire.” So of course, this alone led them to want to investigate. It turned out that “intelligence officials had known about the house for years.” (!!@@##) Gradually, the CIA began to believe that “bin Laden was hiding in plain sight, in a hideout especially built to go unnoticed.” (As if! Dear blog readers, 18-foot high walls topped with barbed wire are anything but unobtrusive!)
One indication that the CIA began to recognize the value of the information they were accumulating was that they then ceased sharing their information, even with staunch allies like Britain and Canada. The agents began to think: “This is different. This intelligence case is different.” (They would not, of course, have recognized the importance of this new information if they hadn’t already spent years tackling every possible lead) When they went to Obama with their information, he made what John Brennan, a top counterterrorism advisor, said was “one of the gutsiest calls of any President in recent memory.” He called in the Navy SEALS.
Because of “sophisticated satellite monitoring,” they knew which building in the compound bin Laden was most probably hiding in, and even which room! They secured the other buildings in the compound first. Then they closed in on bin Laden. A firefight ensued. The entire operation “took about 40 minutes.” They snatched the body (which self has a feeling was always the aim, dear blog readers — otherwise, they would just have sent in attack Drones or rockets or whatever), and took it aboard the USS Carl Vinson. Then, they supposedly gave bin Laden a “traditional Islamic burial” (which is what, exactly?) before placing his body in “a weighted bag” and slipping it into the sea, 2 a.m. Eastern Standard Time.
The article was a truly fascinating read, from start to finish. Thank you to Associated Press writers Kimberly Dozier, Eileen Sullivan and Ben Feller in Washington and Kathy Gannon in Islamabad, Pakistan.