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Context of 'Late 2005: New CIA Push to Get Bin Laden Has Little Impact; Most Experienced Personnel Busy with Iraq War'

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The Daily Telegraph reports that “the search for [bin Laden] the world’s most wanted man has all but come to a halt because of Pakistan’s refusal to permit cross-border raids from Afghanistan, according to CIA officials.” Even spy missions by unmanned Predator drones need Pakistani military approval involving a lengthy chain of command that frequently causes delays. Most accounts have bin Laden still alive and living in the near-lawless Pakistan and Afghanistan border region. US officials believe bin Laden and his deputies are being hidden by sympathetic local tribesmen, who are continuing to fund his operations from opium sales. [Daily Telegraph, 12/14/2004]

Entity Tags: Pakistan, Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

The US search for Osama bin Laden slows down for several years. According to an unnamed former Bush White House official speaking in 2011, “a little fatigue had set in” after a few years of mostly false leads. “We weren’t about to find him anytime soon. Publicly, we maintained a sense of urgency: ‘We’re looking as hard as we can.’ But the energy had gone out of the hunt. It had settled to no more than a second-tier issue. After all, those were the worst days of Iraq.” White House and CIA officials will later say that the war in Iraq and problems with Iran and North Korea took much attention from the search for bin Laden. Juan Zarate, President Bush’s deputy national security adviser for counterterrorism at this time, later says that few new leads emerge. “It was a very dark period.” [Washington Post, 5/6/2011] In December 2004, the Telegraph reported that the US search for bin Laden had essentially been abandoned (see December 14, 2004), and in late 2005, the CIA’s bin Laden unit is shut down (see Late 2005). There is a new push to get bin Laden, also in late 2005, but it has little effect (see Late 2005).

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Juan Zarate, Bush administration (43)

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

By late 2005, many inside CIA headquarters has concluded that the hunt for Osama bin Laden has made little progress in recent years. Jose Rodriguez Jr., head of the CIA’s clandestine operations branch, implements some changes. Robert Grenier, head of the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center since late 2004, is replaced by someone whose name has yet to be made public. Grenier had just closed Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, as part of a reorganization (see Late 2005), and Rodriguez and Grenier had barely spoken to each other for months. Dozens of new CIA operatives are sent to Pakistan as part of a new push to get bin Laden called Operation Cannonball. But most of the operatives assigned to the task have been newly hired and have little experience. One former senior CIA official says: “We had to put people out in the field who had less than ideal levels of experience. But there wasn’t much to choose from.” Two other former officials say this is because the experienced personnel have generally been assigned to the Iraq war. One of them says, “You had a very finite number” of experienced officers. “Those people all went to Iraq. We were all hurting because of Iraq.” The New York Times will later comment, “The increase had little impact in Pakistan, where militants only continued to gain strength.” [New York Times, 6/30/2008]

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Robert Grenier, Central Intelligence Agency, Counterterrorist Center, Jose Rodriguez, Jr.

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

US intelligence is able to learn the last name of Osama bin Laden’s trusted courier. The courier’s real name is Ibrahim Saeed Ahmed, but so far, US analysts have only known him by his alias “Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti.” In late 2005, intelligence analysts concluded Ahmed was very likely working for bin Laden or some other high ranking al-Qaeda leader (see Late 2005). [MSNBC, 5/4/2011; Associated Press, 6/1/2011] Also in late 2005, dozens of new CIA operatives were sent to Pakistan as part of a new push to get bin Laden, called Operation Cannonball (see Late 2005). Although most of the new operatives are inexperienced, the effort does appear to have an impact. The New York Times will later report, “With more agents in the field, the CIA finally got the courier’s family name”—Ahmed. [New York Times, 5/2/2011] Exactly how it gets the family name is unclear. But in 2007, US analysts will learn Ahmed’s first name as well (see 2007).

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Ibrahim Saeed Ahmed, Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

US intelligence learns al-Qaeda courier Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti’s real full name. According to later media reports, his real name is Ibrahim Saeed Ahmed. In late 2005, intelligence analysts concluded Ahmed was very likely working for Osama bin Laden or some other high ranking al-Qaeda leader (see Late 2005). [MSNBC, 5/4/2011; Associated Press, 6/1/2011] An unnamed US official will cryptically say that the crucial intelligence on his real name comes not from Pakistan, but “from a different part of the world.” [CNN, 5/2/2011]
Intel from Ahmed's Family? - Apparently, around 2006, US intelligence somehow learned his real last name (see (2006)). But since “Ahmed” is a common name in many countries, more work was needed to learn the rest of his name. It appears that intelligence comes from learning about his family. The New York Times will later report that after his last name was discovered, analysts “turned to one of their greatest investigative tools—the National Security Agency (NSA) began intercepting telephone calls and e-mail messages between the man’s family and anyone inside Pakistan. From there they got [Ahmed’s] full name.” [New York Times, 5/2/2011]
How Did US Intelligence Know about His Family? - The exact sequence of events of how analysts learn who his family is will not be revealed. But the “al-Kuwaiti” in Ahmed’s “Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti” alias obviously refers to Kuwait, and US intelligence learn at some point from other prisoners that Ahmed’s parents had moved to Kuwait (even though he originally was from Pakistan). [Associated Press, 6/1/2011]
Could Ahmed's Father Be Important Al-Qaeda Figure? - It will later be reported that Ahmed’s father was close to bin Laden. This still unnamed father, who lived and worked in Kuwait, allegedly had a trusting relationship with bin Laden going back 30 to 40 years. [Dawn (Karachi), 5/7/2011] Perhaps this is not relevant, but if US intelligence already had some intelligence on Ahmed’s father, this could have narrowed down the search of Pakistani-linked families living in Kuwait.
Real Name Will Lead to Location - It is unclear when, but the NSA eventually starts tracking the phone calls of Ahmed’s relatives in the Persian Gulf to anyone they call in Pakistan. Later, the NSA will be able to figure out Ahmed’s location in Pakistan from one such phone call (see Summer 2009). [Associated Press, 6/1/2011]

Entity Tags: US intelligence, National Security Agency, Ibrahim Saeed Ahmed, Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

In 2009, US intelligence locates Ibrahim Saeed Ahmed (a.k.a. Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti), a trusted courier working for Osama bin Laden, somewhere in northwest Pakistan. This is done by remote monitoring of his cell phone calls and e-mails, after his full real name was discovered in 2007 (see 2007). His brother Abrar, who is also involved with al-Qaeda, is discovered as well. However, their exact location in Pakistan is still unknown and will not be discovered until 2010 (see July 2010). [CNN, 5/2/2011; MSNBC, 5/4/2011]
Assistance from Pakistani Government - The Washington Post will later report that the Pakistani government has been secretly assisting US intelligence with data collection for a number of years. The US can collect wireless phone calls on its own in Pakistan, but the Pakistani government helps the US collect landline calls and e-mails as well. In 2009, the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, allegedly notices several suspicious calls spoken in Arabic to the Middle East. The phone number is discovered to belong to Ahmed. An unnamed US official will later say: “The Pakistanis indeed provided information that was useful to the US government as it collected intelligence on the bin Laden compound. That information helped fill in some gaps.” [Washington Post, 5/11/2011]
Ahmed's General Location Discovered; Exact Locale Is Still a Mystery - However, Ahmed normally drives an hour or two before inserting the battery in his cell phone, and he frequently changes the SIM cards in his phone. As a result, US intelligence concludes he is living somewhere in northwest Pakistan, but it cannot figure out exactly where. One of these calls comes from the general vicinity of Abbottabad, where Ahmed will eventually be found to be living with Osama bin Laden (see August 1, 2010). But since other calls come from other towns, intelligence analysts cannot limit their search to just Abbottabad. [Washington Post, 5/11/2011; ABC News, 5/19/2011]
Extensive Surveillance Effort Begins - A senior Obama administration official will later say the two brothers’ “extensive operational security” keeps investigators from determining exactly where they live. “The fact that they were being so careful reinforced our belief that we were on the right track.” This official will add, “We couldn’t trail [Ahmed], so we had to set up an elaborate surveillance effort.” [CNN, 5/2/2011]

Entity Tags: Pakistan Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, US intelligence, Ibrahim Saeed Ahmed, Abrar Ahmed, Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

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