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Context of 'Summer 2009: US Intelligence Finally Determines General Location of Bin Laden’s Trusted Courier in Northwest Pakistan'

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Hassan Ghul, an al-Qaeda leader captured in Iraq in January 2004 (see January 23, 2004), tells interrogators that Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti is a trusted courier who is close to Osama bin Laden. Abu Ahmed is an alias; his real name apparently is Ibrahim Saeed Ahmed, but at this point US intelligence only knows him by his alias.
Ghul's Mysterious Captivity and Interrogation - Ghul apparently is held in a secret CIA prison for the first couple of years of his imprisonment. The conditions of his interrogation during this time are unknown, but presumably they are very harsh and many may call them torture, based on how other prominent prisoners are treated in secret CIA prisons around this time. Officials will later claim that Ghul is “quite cooperative” and the use of any harsh techniques on him would have been brief. [Associated Press, 5/2/2011] However, a prisoner who is kept in a cell next to Ghul’s will later testify in Britain that Ghul told him the CIA transferred him to Morocco at some point. It is not known if this is true, or what may have happened to Ghul in Morocco, but some prisoners are transferred to countries like Morocco so that harsh torture techniques that the CIA is not approved to use can be used on them by other intelligence agencies. [Associated Press, 6/15/2011]
Ghul's Apparently Honest Account - Ghul reportedly tells his interrogators that Ahmed is a trusted courier who is close to bin Laden. He also says that Ahmed has been close to al-Qaeda top operational heads Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) and Abu Faraj al-Libbi. This is in contrast to the claims of other prisoners, including KSM, who have already said that Ahmed is either dead or unimportant. As a result, US intelligence analysts grow increasingly convinced that Ahmed is an important figure who could lead to bin Laden. Ghul adds that Ahmed has not been seen in a while. Analysts take this as another clue that Ahmed could be with bin Laden. Ghul either does not know Ahmed’s real name or does not tell it to his interrogators. In the wake of Ghul’s comments, KSM is asked again about Ahmed, and KSM sticks to his story that Ahmed is not important. [New York Times, 5/3/2011]
'Linchpin' in Search - Tracking Ahmed will eventually lead US intelligence to bin Laden (see Summer 2009 and July 2010). An unnamed US official will later say, “Hassan Ghul was the linchpin” in the hunt for bin Laden. [Associated Press, 5/2/2011]

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Ibrahim Saeed Ahmed, Central Intelligence Agency, US intelligence, Abu Faraj al-Libbi, Hassan Ghul, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline

Some time after he is captured in May 2005 (see May 2, 2005), al-Qaeda leader Abu Faraj al-Libbi tells his CIA interrogators that he has never heard of Ibrahim Saeed Ahmed. CIA analysts already strongly suspect that Ahmed is a trusted courier working for Osama bin Laden, but they only know him by his main alias Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti.
Al-Libbi's False Claims - Al-Libbi tells his interrogators that he does not know who “al-Kuwaiti” is. Instead, he admits that when 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) was captured in 2003 and al-Libbi was chosen to replace him as al-Qaeda’s operational chief, he was told the news of his selection by a courier. But he says the courier was someone named Maulawi Abd al-Kahliq Jan. CIA analysts never find anyone using this name, and eventually they will conclude that al-Libbi made it up to protect Ahmed (see Late 2005). Later, the CIA will learn Ahmed’s real name, and this fact will eventually lead to bin Laden’s location (see Summer 2009 and July 2010).
False Claims Made While Tortured? - The interrogation techniques used on al-Libbi are unknown. However, days after his capture, the CIA pressures the Justice Department for new legal memorandums approving the use of very brutal methods. [Associated Press, 5/2/2011; New York Times, 5/3/2011]

Entity Tags: Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Abu Faraj al-Libbi, Ibrahim Saeed Ahmed, Osama bin Laden, Central Intelligence Agency

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

A key mistake by Osama bin Laden’s courier Ibrahim Saeed Ahmed (a.k.a. Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti) lead US intelligence to exact location of bin Laden’s hideout in Abbottabad, Pakistan (see May 2, 2011). US intelligence already had a good idea that Ahmed was a courier working for bin Laden, and in the summer of 2009, he used a cell phone that allowed analysts to determine he was living somewhere in northwest Pakistan (see Summer 2009). But he drove an hour or two before making his calls, and he changed the SIM cards in his phone, making it impossible to pinpoint his exact location. After a flurry of calls in the summer of 2009, he did not use his phone for nearly a year. [ABC News, 5/19/2011]
Phone Call Is Key Mistake - But then, around July 2010, he accepts a call that provides the key intelligence breakthrough. The call is from an unnamed old friend, but the friend’s calls are already being monitored by US intelligence for his al-Qaeda links. The friend asks Ahmed innocuous questions, like where have you been and what are you doing now. Ahmed vaguely replies, “I’m back with the people I was with before.” Bob Woodward of the Washington Post will later report, “There was a pause, as if the friend knew that [Ahmed’s] words meant he had returned to bin Laden’s inner circle, and was perhaps at the side of the al-Qaeda leader himself. The friend replied, ‘May God facilitate.’” [Washington Post, 5/6/2011]
Exact Neighborhood Is Located - According to one account, when Ahmed takes this call, apparently he is in or near the town of Peshawar (about 120 miles from Abbottabad). He is soon spotted there, and then continually monitored. It will take several weeks before he returns to Abbottabad, and the exact location of bin Laden’s hideout there is discovered. [New York Times, 5/2/2011] According to another account, Ahmed is either inside bin Laden’s compound or very close to it when he takes the call, because the NSA is quickly able to determine the exact neighborhood where the call was received. From there, the CIA and National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency search aerial satellite photographs and deduce which house in the neighborhood likely belongs to bin Laden. [ABC News, 5/19/2011] Either way, apparently his hideout will be discovered by US intelligence on August 1 (see August 1, 2010).
Bin Laden's Compound Already Known to CIA? - According to the Associated Press, the CIA had already known “for years” that bin Laden’s compound was linked to al-Qaeda, but they had dismissed it as not very important since there were no security guards patrolling it. In any case, the compound is located (or relocated), and US intelligence starts to monitor it. [Associated Press, 5/2/2011]

Entity Tags: US intelligence, National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, Ibrahim Saeed Ahmed, Central Intelligence Agency, Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

Bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan.Bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. [Source: Aqeel Ahmed / Associated Press] (click image to enlarge)US intelligence finally learns the exact location of Osama bin Laden’s secret compound, in Abbottabad, Pakistan. [New York Times, 5/3/2011] The compound is discovered by US intelligence tracking bin Laden’s courier Ibrahim Saeed Ahmed. US intelligence was already aware of Ahmed’s general location in northwest Pakistan and was aggressively searching for him in the hopes he could show the way to bin Laden’s location (see Summer 2009). According to one account, Ahmed accepts a phone call while in Peshawar, about 120 miles from Abbottabad, and is tracked when he returns to the compound. According to another account, he accepts the call in or near the compound (see July 2010). In any case, once the compound is discovered, US intelligence begins heavily monitoring it (see August-September 2010).

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

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

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