Analysis: How the Americans found Bin Laden

Fascinating reports come to light of how, after a decade, the US finally managed to trace bin Laden to a compound outside Islamabad.

Osama bin Laden's compound in Pakistan 311 (photo credit: US Department of Defense)
Osama bin Laden's compound in Pakistan 311
(photo credit: US Department of Defense)
While many around the world celebrate the death of Osama bin Laden, America’s most wanted terrorist, fascinating reports of how, after a decade, the US finally managed to trace bin Laden to the compound outside Islamabad where he was killed have begun to surface.
What is immediately clear is that this was a major intelligence undertaking. Many small clues and details appear to have existed which, in isolation, were not important but when pieced together, painted a picture that strongly pointed to bin Laden’s presence.
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US forces were led to a fortress-like three-story building after more than four years tracking one of bin Laden’s most trusted couriers, whom US officials said was identified by men captured after the September 11, 2001 attacks, according to Reuters.
“Detainees also identified this man as one of the few al-Qaida couriers trusted by bin Laden. They indicated he might be living with or protected by bin Laden,” a senior administration official said in a briefing for reporters.
In August 2010, intelligence officials found the courier had a brother with whom he jointly owned an unusual compound in Abbotabad, a popular summer resort, located in a valley surrounded by green hills near Pakistani Kashmir.
The community is relatively affluent and home to many retired members of Pakistan’s military.
The building, about eight times the size of surrounding residences, sits on a large plot of land that was relatively secluded when it was built in 2005. At the time, it was on the outskirts of Abbotabad’s center, at the end of a dirt road, but some other homes have been built nearby in the six years since it was constructed, officials said. Incredibly, it is situated approximately one hundred meters from a Pakistani intelligence and military base.
Over an unspecified period of time, intelligence officials noted that the residents were burning their trash and not just leaving it for pickup as neighbors did. There were no Internet or phone lines connected to the building, which was strikingly odd as the compound has been valued at over $1 million.
Unnecessarily high walls topped by barbed-wire surrounded the compound and the third floor was protected by a high privacy wall. Few windows faced outside the property.
By following the brothers’ movements, the CIA was able to determine that there were other families living in the compound.
US analysts realized that a third family lived there in addition to the two brothers and found that the age and makeup of the third family matched those of the relatives – including bin Laden’s youngest wife – who they believed would be living with him, according to Reuters.
Pakistan’s clan traditions hold hospitality in high esteem and as long as the guest can pay, the owner will play host, which is what appears to have taken place.
One terrorism expert clarified that, contrary to the popular notion that bin Laden was living under dismal conditions in a cave far from civilization, US officials expected bin Laden to be living in or near an urban setting as he had a health condition and would have required access to medical treatment.
In 2004, NBC News reported that two senior US officials said bin Laden suffers from kidney stones, a painful but not deadly condition that can be treated with drugs.
In addition, the officials said that the CIA determined that bin Laden had an enlarged heart and chronically low blood pressure. Beyond that, his only known malady was two missing toes from a war wound suffered in Afghanistan fighting the Soviet Union.
Yet just two years ago, many experts and officials still assumed bin Laden was hiding in the wilderness. In 2009, National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe, referring to a recording bin Laden had just released, said the tape demonstrates bin Laden’s isolation. Intelligence officials eventually concluded it was highly likely that the person living under extremely tight security with no obvious communication with the outside world, yet so close to Islamabad, could be none other than bin Laden himself.
“Everything we saw, the extremely elaborate operational security, the brothers’ background and their behavior and the location of the compound itself, was perfectly consistent with what our experts expected bin Laden’s hide-out to look like,” another Obama administration official said. “The bottom line of our collection and our analysis was that we had high confidence that the compound harbored a high-value terrorist target. The experts who worked on this issue for years assessed that there was a strong probability that the terrorist who was hiding there was Osama bin Laden.”
Over the last few weeks, President Barack Obama held five national security meetings, the last of which took place on Friday when he gave the official okay to launch the operation.
The operation was CIA-led as the US military cannot operate in Pakistan according to agreements with Pakistan’s government, according to Sky News.
A small US elite special forces team, unofficially known as Seal Team 6, conducted a helicopter raid on the compound on Sunday afternoon, officials said. After 40 minutes of fighting, the soldiers asked one of the non-combatants to identify bin Laden who they then asked to surrender, according to an intelligence source for Fox News. When he refused, he was shot dead. Other reports clarify that military officials have admitted they planned to kill, not arrest, bin Laden. Seal Team 6 supposedly used facial recognition devices to confirm Bin Laden’s identity, along with DNA testing.
DNA taken from brain tissue from bin Laden’s sister who died from cancer in Boston about a year ago, and whose body was immediately taken into custody by the FBI for this very purpose, appears to prove beyond doubt that the US has killed the man they were after, news sources reported.