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Context of 'May 20, 2007: US Intelligence Has No Good Leads on Bin Laden’s Location'

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Al-Qaeda top leaders Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri hide out in a remote province in Afghanistan for most of 2002. After bin Laden is killed in May 2011 (see May 2, 2011), US officials will reveal that they no longer believe the conventional account that he and al-Zawahiri left the Tora Bora battle by escaping into nearby Pakistan. Instead, the two of them headed north into Konar, a remote Afghanistan province, around December 15, 2001 (see (December 15, 2001)). According to one unnamed US official, they stay in mountain valleys “that no one has subdued… places the Soviets never pacified.” Their exact location during this time is unknown. Some Guantanamo prisoners will later tell interrogators that the two leaders stay in Konar for up to 10 months. But even bin Laden’s closest followers don’t know exactly where he or al-Zawahiri have gone in Konar. One US intelligence official will later say: “It became clear that [bin Laden] was not meeting with [his followers] face to face.… People we would capture had not seen him.” [Washington Post, 5/6/2011] Exactly how, when, or where bin Laden and al-Zawahiri go after Konar will not be revealed. But there will be reports that bin Laden moves to the village of Chak Shah Mohammad in northwest Pakistan in 2003 (see 2003-Late 2005).

Entity Tags: Ayman al-Zawahiri, US intelligence, Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

Bruce Riedel.Bruce Riedel. [Source: Brookings Institute]Bruce Riedel, a South Asia expert at the CIA, will say in 2007 shortly after retiring, “There hasn’t been a serious lead on Osama bin Laden since early 2002. What we’re doing now is shooting in the dark in outer space. The chances of hitting anything are zero.” Other intelligence officials interviewed by Newsweek will agree that since that time US intelligence has never had a better than 50 percent certainty about his location. [Newsweek, 8/28/2007] An anonymous former CIA official will similarly tell the Los Angeles Times in 2007 that not only does the US have no idea where bin Laden is, but since 2002 the US has not even had information that “you could validate historically,” meaning a tip on a previous bin Laden location that could be subsequently verified (see May 20, 2007). [Los Angeles Times, 5/20/2007]

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Bruce Riedel, Central Intelligence Agency, US intelligence

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Lt. Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal.Lt. Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal. [Source: Defense Department / Helene C. Stikkel]The Washington Post reports in a front page story, “The clandestine US commandos whose job is to capture or kill Osama bin Laden have not received a credible lead in more than two years. Nothing from the vast US intelligence world—no tips from informants, no snippets from electronic intercepts, no points on any satellite image—has led them anywhere near the al-Qaeda leader, according to US and Pakistani officials.” It is widely believed by US intelligence that bin Laden is hiding in tribal areas of Pakistan near the Afghanistan border. Since May 2005, al-Qaeda has killed at least 23 tribal leaders in the region who are opposed to them, making intelligence collection increasingly difficult. There is no single person in charge of the US search for bin Laden with authority to direct covert operations. One counterterrorism official complains, “There’s nobody in the United States government whose job it is to find Osama bin Laden! Nobody!” However, Lt. Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal has become the de facto leader of the search. In recent months, President Bush has requested that the CIA “flood the zone” to gain better intelligence and efforts have stepped up. But at the same time, “Pakistan has grown increasingly reluctant to help the US search.… Pakistani and US counterterrorism and military officials admit that Pakistan has now all but stopped looking for bin Laden. ‘The dirty little secret is, [the US has] nothing, no operations, without the Paks,’ one former counterterrorism officer said.” [Washington Post, 9/10/2006]

Entity Tags: Pakistan, Stanley A. McChrystal, George W. Bush, Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The Los Angeles Times reports that US intelligence has no idea where bin Laden is hiding. The search for bin Laden was disrupted in early 2002 when most US intelligence assets and equipment was pulled out of Afghanistan to prepare for war with Iraq, and the search has yet to recover. There has not been a single substantiated lead on bin Laden’s location since early 2002 (see Early 2002). “We’re not any closer,” says a senior US military official who monitors the US intelligence on bin Laden. A former senior CIA official says, “We’ve had no significant report of him being anywhere,” and adds that the US does not even have information since 2002 that “you could validate historically,” meaning a tip on a previous bin Laden location that could be subsequently verified. There have been no solid leads on the location of al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri in recent years either. [Los Angeles Times, 5/20/2007] The Washington Post similarly reported in September 2006 that the search for bin Laden has gone “stone cold” (see September 10, 2006). In June 2008, a Western military analyst” will tell NBC News, “We don’t have a clue where [bin Laden] is or even may be. We have had NO credible intelligence on [him] since 2001. All the rest is rumor and rubbish either whipped up by the media or churned out in the power corridors of Western capitals.” This analyst says the last good information on bin Laden from the battle of Tora Bora in Afghanistan in late 2001. [MSNBC, 6/13/2008]

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, US intelligence

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

An unnamed senior NATO official says that Osama bin Laden is hiding in a house somewhere in northwest Pakistan. Al-Qaeda number two leader Ayman al-Zawahiri is also hiding in a house somewhere nearby, but not in the same place as bin Laden. The official says, “Nobody in al-Qaeda is living in a cave.” This person adds that al-Qaeda’s top leadership is likely living in relative comfort, protected by locals and some members of the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency. Additionally, top Taliban leader Mullah Omar lives in the Pakistani cities of Quetta and Karachi. It is unknown how the NATO official would know all this, but CNN says the person has access to classified information. [CNN, 10/18/2010] When a US raid kills bin Laden in May 2011, he will be found in a house in northwest Pakistan (see May 2, 2011), and there will be accusations that the ISI must have protected him there (see May 2, 2011 and After).

Entity Tags: Mullah Omar, Al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Pakistan Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

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