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Context of 'Early 2002: Last Good Intelligence Leads on Bin Laden’s Whereabouts'

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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

A detainee claims that he received information concerning the location of Osama bin Laden in January or February. The detainee says he met bin Laden several times before 9/11, and, according to Pakistani security officials, has close ties with Pakistan and Afghan Taliban leaders.
Detainee's Story - Earlier in the year, the detainee met a trusted contact who said he had seen bin Laden in the eastern Afghani town of Ghazni 15 to 20 days earlier. “He [the contact] said he had come from meeting Sheikh Osama, and he could arrange for me to meet him,” says the detainee. “He helps al-Qaeda people coming from other countries to get to the sheikh, so he can advise them on whatever they are planning for Europe or other places. The sheikh doesn’t stay in any one place. That guy came from Ghazni, so I think that’s where the sheikh was.” The detainee is interviewed twice by the BBC in the presence of Pakistani officials, although Western interrogators are not allowed to talk to him. He is not named publicly for legal reasons, and says he declined the invitation to travel to meet bin Laden because he was afraid of compromising bin Laden’s security, if he was captured by the police or the army, stating, “If I had met him, the first question they would have asked would be where have you met him, and I would have had more problems and it would have created problems for them [al-Qaeda].” The BBC will point out that the detainee’s claims cannot be verified.
Comment by Counterterrorism Expert - However, US counterterrorism expert Bruce Riedel, a former CIA analyst, says the detainee’s story is “a very important lead, that ought to be tracked down,” adding, “The entire Western intelligence community, CIA, and MI6, have been looking for [bin Laden] for the last seven years, and haven’t come upon a source of information like this.”
Bin Laden 'Fresh' - The detainee also claims that bin Laden is well, active, and even training instructors. “What my associate told me was that he is fresh, and doing well,” he says. “The information I have is that he provides training to special people. There are training centres in homes, and all the teachers are first trained by the Sheikh. Then they go and teach the classes.”
Militants Allegedly Avoiding Pakistan - The detainee also says militants are avoiding Pakistani territory because of the risk of US drone attacks. “Pakistan at this time is not convenient for us to stay in because a lot of our senior people are being martyred in drone attacks,” he says.
Skepticism - The BBC will point out that “his account suits Pakistan, which maintains that bin Laden is not on its soil (see December 3, 2009), though Britain and the US think otherwise.” It adds, “The detainee’s account raises a lot of questions—among them, what were his motives for talking.” [BBC, 12/4/2009]

Entity Tags: Al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden, Bruce Riedel

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

A cell phone could link Osama bin Laden to an Islamist militant group with ties to the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, the New York Times reports. The US military raid that killed bin Laden in his Abbottabad hideout on May 2, 2011 (see May 2, 2011) also killed a courier who had links to Harkat-ul-Mujahedeen, an Islamist militant group in Pakistan with links to the ISI. This suggests that the ISI may have been indirectly linked to bin Laden in his hideout.
Links to Harkat Could Lead to ISI - The cell phone of bin Laden’s trusted courier Ibrahim Saeed Ahmed (also known as Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti) was recovered by US forces during the raid. The New York Times reports that senior US officials say the cell phone contains contacts to Harkat-ul-Mujahedeen. This group has long been considered an asset of the ISI. Tracing the phone calls, US intelligence analysts determined Harkat leaders in communication with Ahmed had called ISI officials. One Harkat leader met an ISI official in person. No “smoking gun” showing the ISI protected bin Laden has been found so far. However, the Times says that this raises “tantalizing questions about whether the group and others like it helped shelter and support bin Laden on behalf of Pakistan’s spy agency, given that it had mentored Harkat and allowed it to operate in Pakistan for at least 20 years.”
Harkat Has Strong Local Presence - Harkat is said to have a strong presence in the area around Abbottabad. The group has training camps and other facilities in Mansehra, only a few miles away. Bin Laden’s courier Ahmed appears to have stopped by a camp in Mansehra belonging to a Harkat splinter group, Jaish-e-Mohammed. Members of Harkat are able to move freely within Pakistan. Even now, the group’s top leader, Maulana Fazlur Rehman Khalil, lives openly in the Pakistani capital of Islamabad, about 30 miles away from Abbottabad. Analysts suspect this support network could explain why bin Laden chose to hide where he did. Harkat also has a presence in Pakistan’s tribal region where many al-Qaeda operatives are believed to live, so bin Laden could have used it to send money and messages back and forth to the tribal region.
Harkat 'Very, Very Close to the ISI' - Former CIA officer Bruce Riedel says that Harkat “is one of the oldest and closest allies of al-Qaeda, and they are very, very close to the ISI. The question of ISI and Pakistani Army complicity in bin Laden’s hide-out now hangs like a dark cloud over the entire relationship” between Pakistan and the US. [New York Times, 6/23/2011]

Entity Tags: Jaish-e-Mohammed, Al-Qaeda, Bruce Riedel, Ibrahim Saeed Ahmed, Osama bin Laden, Pakistan Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, Maulana Fazlur Rehman Khalil, Harkat ul-Mujahedeen

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

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