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Profile: Osama bin Laden
a.k.a. Osama Muhammad Al-Wahad bin Laden, Usama bin Laden, OBL, UBL, The Sheikh, Abu Abdullah, Sheikh, Osama bin Ladin, Mujahid Shaykh, Shaykh Usama Bin Ladin, Emir, Director
Osama bin Laden was a participant or observer in the following events:
Alleged al-Qaeda leader Muhammad Rahim al-Afghani is captured in Lahore, Pakistan, by local forces. His arrest will be reported in Pakistani newspapers in early August 2007, but the arrest receives little international attention because al-Afghani is a previously unheard of figure. However, the US government considers him valuable. He is soon transferred to the CIA’s secret prison system and is held there until March 2008 when he will be sent to the US-run Guantanamo prison and officially declared a “high value” prisoner (see Late July 2007-March 14, 2008 and March 14, 2008). Rahim is an Afghan who is said to have been a long-time al-Qaeda planner and facilitator. He is probably highly valued because it is said he served as a translator for Osama bin Laden in recent years, and not many people in recent contact with bin Laden have been caught. [Asian News International, 8/2/2007; Los Angeles Times, 3/15/2008; New York Times, 3/15/2008]
In October 2007, Fox News military commentator Col. David Hunt claims that in August 2007, the US military had a chance to kill Osama bin Laden, but did not. “We know, with a 70 percent level of certainty—which is huge in the world of intelligence” that bin Laden was in a convoy heading south from Tora Bora. He claims that bin Laden was seen on satellite imagery and heard through communications intercepts. “We had the world’s best hunters/killers—SEAL Team 6—nearby. We had the world class Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) coordinating with the CIA and other agencies. We had unmanned drones overhead with missiles on their wings; we had the best Air Force on the planet, begging to drop one on the terrorist.” But, “[u]nbelievably, and in my opinion, criminally, we did not kill Osama bin Laden.” He blames risk-aversion and incompetence for the failure to act. His account has not been corroborated by other sources. [Fox News, 10/23/2007]
An unnamed prisoner held in the CIA’s secret prison system is kept awake for up to six days straight. According to documents made public in 2009, in August 2007, the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) gives CIA interrogators permission to keep an unnamed prisoner awake for five days straight. The prisoner is kept awake by being forced to stand with his arms chained above the level of his heart. He is forced to wear diapers, so he can stay continuously chained without bathroom breaks. Then in November 2007, interrogators ask for and receive permission to keep a prisoner awake for another day. A prisoner is kept awake for six days straight.
Is It Torture? - According to the Associated Press: “Sleep deprivation beyond 48 hours is known to produce hallucinations. It can reduce resistance to pain, and it makes people suggestible. The State Department regularly lists sleep deprivation as a form of torture in its annual report on human rights abuses. Recent reports have noted Iran, Syria, and Indonesia as engaging in the practice.” The US-based Center for Victims of Torture considers 96 hours (four days) of sleep deprivation to be torture. One director of the organization says: “It’s a primary method that is used around the world because it is effective in breaking people. It is effective because it induces severe harm. It causes people to feel absolutely crazy.”
Who Is Interrogated? - The name of the prisoner is blacked out in documents. However, the Associated Press suggests that the most likely candidate by far is alleged al-Qaeda leader Muhammed Rahim al-Afghani. Rahim was arrested not long before, in July 2007 (see July 2007), and he is the only known prisoner in the CIA’s secret prison system at this time (see Late July 2007-March 14, 2008). Furthermore, the US government will later declare him a “high value” detainee, most likely because he is said to have been in contact with Osama bin Laden as a translator and facilitator in recent years (see March 14, 2008).
Guidelines Exceeded? - At the time of the prisoner’s sleep deprivation, the Bush administration is reducing its use of severe interrogation techniques. Sleep deprivation is still allowed, but six days without any sleep exceeds existing guidelines. Amrit Singh, an American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) attorney, says these incidents are “particularly disturbing” because they occur “even after the Supreme Court held that these prisoners were entitled to the protections of the Geneva Conventions and after Congress passed the Detainee Treatment Act to specifically prohibit cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment.” When the Obama administration takes power in early 2009, it will issue new rules that state all prisoners must be allowed to sleep at least four hours during every 24-hour period. [Associated Press, 8/27/2009]
Senator Barack Obama (D-IL), while running for US president, says in a speech, “There are terrorists holed up in those mountains who murdered 3,000 Americans. They are plotting to strike again… If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and [Pakistani] President [Pervez] Musharraf won’t act, we will.” This is in response to a recent comment made by his main opponent for the Democratic presidential nomination, Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY). She said, “If we had actionable intelligence that Osama bin Laden or other high-value targets were in Pakistan, I would ensure that they were targeted and killed or captured.” The difference between the comments is Obama’s willingness to attack inside Pakistan without approval from the Pakistani government. [Reuters, 7/1/2007; ABC News, 6/9/2011]
The US administration leaks the news that it has obtained an advance copy of a new video from a man thought to be Osama bin Laden, damaging an intelligence operation by the SITE Institute. SITE, a private organization involved in the fight against international terrorism, obtains an advance copy of the video through an intelligence operation that had been ongoing for years (see September 7 and 11, 2007) and provides the copy to the White House.
SITE founder Rita Katz sends White House representatives Fred Fielding and Joel Bagnal an e-mail saying that there is a need for secrecy and the video should not be distributed, but within twenty minutes of this government defense and intelligence agencies begin downloading the video from SITE. The video leaks from the administration to the news media within a few hours, tipping al-Qaeda off to the security breach. SITE’s activities are described as “tremendously helpful” by some intelligence officials, but Katz says that due to the leak, “Techniques that took years to develop are now ineffective and worthless.” However, officials say that US agencies do not rely solely on outside contractors for such information, and Ross Feinstein, spokesman for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, comments, “We have individuals in the right places dealing with all these issues, across all 16 intelligence agencies.” [Washington Post, 10/9/2007] The Office of the Director of National Intelligence announces an inquiry into the leak, but Feinstein says, “we don’t think there was a leak from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence or the National Counterterrorism Center,” which also received a copy of the video from SITE. [Washington Post, 10/10/2007]
Bin Laden video in 2004, left, and bin Laden video in 2007, right. [Source: Al Jazeera (left) and Intelcenter (right)]A man thought to be Osama bin Laden releases a new video message, his first for three years (see October 29, 2004). In the message, which is addressed to the US, the speaker says that actions by radical Islamists have influenced US policy and that American prestige in the world has fallen, even though the interests of radical Islamists “overlap with the interests of the major corporations and also with those of the neoconservatives.” He also criticizes the US media and, due to its treatment of Sunni Muslims, the Iraqi government. The speaker says, “The holocaust of the Jews was carried out by your brethren in the middle of Europe, but had it been closer to our countries, most of the Jews would have been saved by taking refugee with us,” and also references common discrimination against Jews and Muslims in Medieval Spain, pointing out that Jews in Morocco “are alive with us and we have not incinerated them.” In addition, he criticizes the US-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, saying that the Democratic party was elected to stop the war, but continues “to agree to the spending of tens of billions to continue the killing and war there,” because “the democratic system permits major corporations to back candidates,” who are then, it is implied, controlled by these corporations. The voice mentions the assassination of former US President John Kennedy and says that “the major corporations who were benefiting” from the Vietnam War “were the primary beneficiary from his killing.” He also references left-leaning writer Noam Chomsky, former CIA bin Laden unit chief Michael Scheuer, global warming, and the Kyoto accord, saying that the democratic system has caused a “massive failure to protect humans and their interests from the greed and avarice of the major corporations and their representatives,” and is “harsher and fiercer than your systems in the Middle Ages.” Finally, the speaker compares US President Bush to former Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev, who failed to acknowledge the Soviet Union was losing the Afghan War, and calls on the US to get out of Iraq and embrace Islam, which recognizes Mary and Jesus, a “prophet of Allah,” but does not recognize taxation. [MSNBC, 9/7/2007 ; Osama bin Laden, 9/7/2007; Osama bin Laden, 9/7/2007; Osama bin Laden, 9/7/2007] Bin Laden’s beard is different to his beard in previous videos and this leads to some discussion. According to the Washington Post, “The tape’s most striking feature [is] bin Laden’s physical appearance: The straggly, gray-streaked whiskers of his previous images [have] been replaced with a neatly trimmed beard of black or dark brown. While some analysts speculated that the beard [is] fake, others said it [is] likely that bin Laden had dyed his beard, as is customary for older men in some Muslim cultures.” [Washington Post, 9/8/2007] There are some problems with the video; for example, the picture is frozen for most of the time and the video is spliced (see September 12, 2007).
A frame from Osama bin Laden’s 2007 video. [Source: Intelcenter]US analysts obtain two new videos of a man thought to be Osama bin Laden (see September 7, 2007 and September 11, 2007) before al-Qaeda makes them available on the internet. A video released on September 7 is obtained by the US-based SITE Institute, which provides it “to government agencies and news organizations at a time when many well-known jihadist Web sites had been shut down in a powerful cyberattack by unknown hackers.” The next tape is obtained by a web designer known as “Laura Mansfield,” who manages “to scoop al-Qaeda by publicly unveiling its new video, a feat she has accomplished numerous times since 2002.” Although SITE’s founder Rita Katz declines to comment on how it obtained the video, the Washington Post says that SITE, Mansfield, and others like them obtained the videos, whose release was publicly announced in advance, “using a combination of computer tricks, personal connections and ingenuity to find and download password-protected content.” [Washington Post, 9/12/2007] The fact that the SITE Institute obtained the tape in advance was apparently leaked to the press by the White House, and SITE will complain about this, as it damages an intelligence operation aimed at al-Qaeda (see September 7, 2007).
The Washington Post reports, “Today, al-Qaeda operates much the way it did before 2001. The network is governed by a shura, or leadership council, that meets regularly and reports to bin Laden, who continues to approve some major decisions, according to a senior US intelligence official. About 200 people belong to the core group and many receive regular salaries, another senior US intelligence official said.” This second official adds, “They do appear to meet with a frequency that enables them to act as an organization and not just as a loose bunch of guys.” Most of this core group is believed to be in the Pakistani tribal region near the Afghanistan border. [Washington Post, 9/9/2007] It has been estimated that there were roughly 1,000 al-Qaeda operatives around 9/11, but only a core of about 200 had pledged loyalty to bin Laden (see Just Before September 11, 2001).
Waleed Alshehri in his video will. [Source: As Sahab]A new video is released featuring an audio statement by a man thought to be Osama bin Laden and a video will by one of the 9/11 hijackers, Waleed Alshehri. The man thought to be bin Laden urges sympathizers to join the “caravan of martyrs” and praises Alshehri, saying, “It is true that this young man was little in years, but the faith in his heart was big.” The audio message is accompanied by a still image of the man thought to be bin Laden, apparently taken from a video released a few days earlier (see September 7, 2007). It is unclear whether the audio message is new or was taped some time before release, although the speaker mentions the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in 2006 (see June 8, 2006). In the will, Alshehri warns the US, “We shall come at you from your front and back, your right and left.” He also criticizes the state of the Islamic world, “The condition of Islam at the present time makes one cry… in view of the weakness, humiliation, scorn and enslavement it is suffering because it neglected the obligations of Allah and His orders, and permitted His forbidden things and abandoned jihad in Allah’s path.” Homeland security adviser Frances Townsend says that the video is not important and that bin Laden is “virtually impotent.” However, MSNBC will comment, “Bin Laden’s new appearances underline the failure to find the terror leader that President Bush vowed in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks to take ‘dead or alive.’” [MSNBC, 9/11/2007]
Osama bin Laden in 2004 (left) and 2007 (right). [Source: As-Sahab]Problems with a recently released video featuring a man thought to be Osama bin Laden surface. In particular, the 26-minute recording only contains two short sections where the man said to be bin Laden is seen talking. The first covers the initial two minutes of the tape, the second begins after around twelve and a half minutes and lasts for about 90 seconds. The remaining 23 minutes of the tape show only a still image of the speaker. There are also many audio and video splices in the tape and the two live sections appear to be from different recordings, as the desk in front of bin Laden is closer to the camera in the second section. Analyst Neal Krawetz says, “the new audio has no accompanying ‘live’ video and consists of multiple audio recordings… And there are so many splices that I cannot help but wonder if someone spliced words and phrases together. I also cannot rule out a vocal imitator during the frozen-frame audio. The only way to prove that the audio is really bin Laden is to see him talking in the video.” Krawetz will also note the similarities with bin Laden’s previous video, released just before the 2004 US presidential election (see October 29, 2004): “[T]his is the same clothing [a white hat, white shirt and yellow sweater] he wore in the 2004-10-29 video. In 2004 he had it unzipped, but in 2007 he zipped up the bottom half. Besides the clothing, it appears to be the same background, same lighting, and same desk. Even the camera angle is almost identical.” Krawetz also comments, “if you overlay the 2007 video with the 2004 video, his face has not changed in three years—only his beard is darker and the contrast on the picture has been adjusted.” [News(.com), 9/12/2007] However, most of the Western news coverage about the video fails to point out that most of the video is a still image. [CNN, 8/8/2007; National Public Radio, 9/7/2007; BBC, 9/8/2007]
Former ABC News source and sometime reporter Alexis Debat, whose career as a media commentator and information source is in shambles due to his exposure as a fabricator of numerous interviews with US political and business figures (see September 12, 2007), has a number of close ties with US neoconservatives, according to research by Philadelphia Daily News reporter Will Bunch. Debat has had a strong influence on the US media’s slant on both the Iraq occupation and the envisioned war with Iran, particularly with his frequent contributions to ABC News reports and commentary. Debat has also provided sensational, and often unconfirmed, “information” about the hunt for Osama bin Laden and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Several “scoops” from Debat and published by ABC News about Pakistan had to be either corrected or suffered contradiction by Pakistani officials. Debat also has close, if murky, ties with a number of prominent neoconservatives and right-wing Middle East figures. Iranian-born Amir Taheri was listed as an editor of Debat’s primary European press outlet, Politique Internationale, from 2001 through 2006. Taheri’s work has been promoted by a New York public-relations firm, Benador Associates, which specializes in Middle Eastern affairs and boasts a number of neoconservatives on its website, including former Defense Policy Board chairman Richard Perle and former CIA director James Woolsey. Taheri is often published in newspapers owned by conservative media mogul Rupert Murdoch. And, like Debat, Taheri’s work has been called into question in recent years. A May 2006 column printed in a Canadian newspaper that alleged Iran was forcing Jews and other religious minorities to wear colored badges was proven false. And a 1988 book by Taheri, Nest of Spies, purporting to give inside details about Islamic terrorism, has been shown to contain a raft of inaccuracies and misstatements. Taheri’s connections with Benador gives him prime entry to conservative media outlets, which seem to sometimes ignore the rampant problems with his reporting. [Attytood, 9/14/2007]
Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Amir Taheri, Alexis Debat, ABC News, Benador Associates, James Woolsey, Politique Internationale, Will Bunch, Philadelphia Daily News, George W. Bush, Rupert Murdoch, Richard Perle
Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation, Neoconservative Influence, Domestic Propaganda
A man thought to be Osama bin Laden releases a new audio tape calling on the people of Pakistan to overthrow President Pervez Musharraf. The immediate reason is a Pakistani government attack on a mosque, which is compared to the destruction of a mosque in India by Hindu nationalists, “Pervez’s invasion of Lal Masjid [the Red Mosque] in the City of Islam, Islamabad (see July 3-11, 2007), is a sad event, like the crime of the Hindus in their invasion and destruction of the Babari Masjid.” The voice on the tape accuses Musharraf of providing “loyalty, submissiveness and aid to America,” and says, “armed rebellion against him and removing him [are] obligatory.” Musharraf is also criticized for showing images of a cleric attempting to escape the mosque in women’s clothing, for Pakistani military intelligence allegedly pressurizing clerics to issue fatwas favorable to the government, for his inaction over Kashmir, and for using the Pakistani army in tribal areas. [Counterterrorismblog(.org), 9/2007; BBC, 9/20/2007] Al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri also apparently released an audio tape condemning the Red Mosque raid, but his tape took only days to appear (see July 11, 2007).
According to Time magazine, the CIA produces a report saying that Osama bin Laden has long-term kidney disease and may only have months to live. Time cites as its source “two US officials familiar with the report.” Allegedly, the CIA managed to get the names of some of the medications bin Laden is taking. How this was done is unclear. One of the sources says the report concluded, “Based on his current pharmaceutical intake, [we] would expect that he has no more than six to 18 months to live and impending kidney failure.” However, some observers will dispute the alleged report’s apparent claims. Paul Pillar, a former deputy director of the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center, will say, “It’s trying to make a diagnosis from thousands of miles away with only fragments of the medical chart.” Former Bush administration official Frances Fragos Townsend will add: “I’ve read all the same conflicting reports [on bin Laden’s health] that people have talked to you about. I never found one set of reporting more persuasive than another.” When Time breaks the story the next year, the CIA will even disavow the claims attributed to the report. “I have found no one here familiar with this alleged report or the analytic line it supposedly conveys,” says CIA spokesman Paul Gimigliano. “The fact that anonymous sources attribute views to the CIA is not, by itself, reason to believe the agency actually holds those views.” [Time, 6/30/2009]
A new audio tape is released by a man thought to be Osama bin Laden. The voice on the tape tells the various groups in Iraq fighting the US to unify, but contains no dated references, so it is unclear when it was made. The voice says, “Beware of your enemies, especially those who infiltrate your ranks,” and, “You have done well to perform your duty, but some of you have been late to another duty, which is to unify your ranks and make them into one line.” [CNN, 10/22/2007]
Former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto gives an interview to David Frost of Al Jazeera in which she makes a number of noteworthy statements:
She says that Saeed Sheikh is “the man who murdered Osama bin Laden.” Saeed helped kidnap Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, who was later murdered (see January 23, 2002), is said to have provided money for the 9/11 hijackings (see Early August 2001), and is thought to have been in prison in Pakistan since 2002 (see February 12, 2002). Although bin Laden is thought to be alive at this time (see October 22, 2007), Frost does not ask a follow-up question about bin Laden’s alleged demise. [Al Jazeera, 11/2/2007] When a video of the interview is posted at the BBC’s website, this section is initially edited out, as the editor thinks Bhutto must simply have misspoken. However, the BBC accepts this was an error and later posts a full version of the interview. [BBC, 4/1/2008] This is the only known occasion that Bhutto makes this claim.
Based on information from a “friendly country,” she names four people and/or organizations that might attack her: al-Qaeda linked warlord Baitullah Mahsud; Hamza bin Laden, son of Osama; the “Pakistan Taliban in Islamabad”; and an unnamed group in Karachi.
While she thinks that such groups may be used for an attack on her, they are not pulling the strings, she says. She suggests three people may be behind an attack by one of the groups. The reason these three are said to want her dead is because she could stop the rise of terrorism in Pakistan. One of the three is former ISI officer Ijaz Shah, a “very key figure in security,” who she thinks has turned a blind eye or even colluded with militants, and who is an associate of Saeed Sheikh (see February 5, 2002). [Al Jazeera, 11/2/2007] Shah, a government official, will actually be in charge of protecting Bhutto from assassination when she is assassinated. The names of the other two said to be “pulling the strings” are not certain, but they are a prominent Pakistani figure, one of whose family members was allegedly murdered by a militant group run by Bhutto’s brother, and a well-known chief minister in Pakistan who is a longstanding opponent of Bhutto. [Daily Mail, 12/30/2007]
A man thought to be Osama bin Laden releases a new audio message aimed at European listeners. [Reuters, 11/29/2007] As-Sahab, al-Qaeda’s media arm, gave advance notice of the tape’s release on the Internet. [Associated Press, 11/26/2007] The voice on the tape urges Europeans to end troop commitments to Afghanistan, as American power is on the wane, “With the grace of God… the American tide is receding and they would eventually return to their home across the Atlantic… It is in your interest to force the hand of your politicians [away from] the White House.” The man also says that the Taliban had no knowledge of 9/11: “I am the one responsible… The Afghan people and government knew nothing whatsoever about these events.” In saying this, he claims that the US-led invasion of Afghanistan was wrong. Bin Laden names Nicolas Sazkozy and Gordon Brown as leaders of France and Britain, indicating that the tape was made at some time after June 2007. [Reuters, 11/29/2007]
A man thought to be Osama bin Laden releases a new 56-minute audio tape over the Internet. He warns Sunni Arabs aligned with the US in Iraq and also indicates he wishes to attack Israel. The voice on the tape says that the US-aligned Iraqis “have betrayed the nation and brought disgrace and shame to their people. They will suffer in life and in the afterlife.” He recommends the Islamic State in Iraq (which will later be commonly referred to as ISIS), an umbrella organization of which al-Qaeda’s Iraqi franchise is a part. Regarding Israel, he says, “We intend to liberate Palestine, the whole of Palestine from the [Jordan] river to the sea,” and threatens “blood for blood, destruction for destruction.” The tape does not mention the assassination of Benazir Bhutto two days previously, so was presumably recorded before that. [Associated Press, 12/29/2007]
The Associated Press reports that 2007 is the deadliest year yet for US troops in Iraq, though the death toll has dropped significantly in the last few months. The US military’s official count of US war dead for 2007 in Iraq is 899. (The previous high was 850 in 2004. The current death toll since the March 2003 invasion is 3,902.) The unofficial count for Iraqi civilian deaths in 2007 is 18,610. [Associated Press, 12/30/2007] CNN reports that there was a spike in US deaths in the spring as the “surge” was getting underway. There were 104 deaths in April, 126 in May, and 101 in June: the deadliest three-month stretch in the war for US troops. [CNN, 12/31/2007] The reasons for the downturn in US deaths are said to include the self-imposed cease-fire by the Shi’ite Mahdi Army, a grassroots Sunni revolt against extremists (see August 30, 2007), Iran’s apparent decision to slow down its provisions of aid for Shi’ite fighters, and the US “surge” (see February 2, 2007). General David Petraeus, the supreme commander of US military forces in Iraq, says: “We’re focusing our energy on building on what coalition and Iraqi troopers have accomplished in 2007. Success will not, however, be akin to flipping on a light switch. It will emerge slowly and fitfully, with reverses as well as advances, accumulating fewer bad days and gradually more good days.” Security consultant James Carafano of the conservative Heritage Foundation warns that the US is not out of the weeds yet. “The number of people who have the power to turns things around appears to be dwindling,” he says, referring to Iraqi extremists. “But there are still people in Iraq that could string together a week of really bad days.… People have to be really careful about over-promising that this [decline in violence] is an irreversible trend. I think it is a soft trend.” [Associated Press, 12/30/2007]
Indian intelligence allegedly warns US intelligence that Osama bin Laden is likely living in one of Pakistan’s military garrison areas, probably in northwest Pakistan. This is according to an article published in the Times of India shortly after bin Laden’s death in May 2011 (see May 2, 2011). Reportedly, Indian intelligence warned the US in mid-2007 that bin Laden could be living in northwest Pakistan, after getting some information about the movements of al-Qaeda number two leader Ayman al-Zawahiri (see Mid-2007). Over the next six months or so, Indian intelligence learned more about the movement of al-Qaeda leaders in northwest Pakistan. Then, in early 2008, India sends the US more intelligence. An unnamed top Indian official will later say: “This time, we specifically mentioned about his presence in a cantonment area. It was because we had definite information that his movement was restricted owing to his illness and that it would have been impossible for him to go to an ordinary hospital. We told the Americans that only in a cantonment area could he be looked after by his ISI or other Pakistani benefactors.” Cantonments are permanent military garrison areas administered by the military. Abbottabad, where bin Laden will be killed in 2011, is one of the cantonments in northwest Pakistan. Indian officials do not get the impression that US officials are particularly interested in their lead. [Times of India, 5/4/2011]
Nick Davies, author of a new book, Flat Earth News, claims that since the 9/11 attacks, the US has engaged in a systematic attempt to manipulate world opinion on Iraq and Islamist terrorism by creating fake letters and other documents, and then releasing them with great fanfare to a credulous and complicit media.
Al-Zarqawi Letter - Davies cites as one example a 2004 letter purporting to be from al-Qaeda leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi that became the basis of an alarming news report in the New York Times and was used by US generals to claim that al-Qaeda was preparing to launch a civil war in Iraq (see February 9, 2004). The letter is now acknowledged to have almost certainly been a fake, one of many doled out to the world’s news agencies by the US and its allies. Davies writes: “For the first time in human history, there is a concerted strategy to manipulate global perception. And the mass media are operating as its compliant assistants, failing both to resist it and to expose it.” Davies says the propaganda is being generated by US and allied intelligence agencies working without effective oversight. It functions within a structure of so-called “strategic communications,” originally designed by the US Defense Department and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to use what Davies calls “subtle and non-violent tactics to deal with Islamist terrorism,” but now being used for propaganda purposes. Davies notes that al-Zarqawi was never interested in working with the larger al-Qaeda network, but instead wanted to overthrow the Jordanian monarchy and replace it with an Islamist theocracy. After the 9/11 attacks, when US intelligence was scouring the region for information on al-Qaeda, Jordan supplied the US with al-Zarqawi’s name, both to please the Americans and to counter their enemy. Shortly thereafter, the US intelligence community began placing al-Zarqawi’s name in press releases and news reports. He became front-page material after being cited in Colin Powell’s UN presentation about Iraqi WMDs and that nation’s connections with al-Qaeda (see February 5, 2003). The propaganda effort had an unforeseen side effect, Davies says: it glamorized al-Zarqawi so much that Osama bin Laden eventually set aside his differences with him and made him the de facto leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq. Davies cites other examples of false propaganda besides the Zarqawi letter:
Tales of bin Laden living in a lavish network of underground bases in Afghanistan, “complete with offices, dormitories, arms depots, electricity and ventilation systems”;
Taliban leader Mullah Omar “suffering brain seizures and sitting in stationary cars turning the wheel and making a noise like an engine”;
Iran’s ayatollahs “encouraging sex with animals and girls of only nine.”
Davies acknowledges that some of the stories were not concocted by US intelligence. An Iranian opposition group produced the story that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was jailing people for texting each other jokes about him. Iraqi exiles filled the American media “with a dirty stream of disinformation about Saddam Hussein.” But much of it did come from the US. Davies cites the Pentagon’s designation of “information operations” as its fifth “core competency,” along with land, air, sea, and special forces. Much of the Pentagon’s “information operations,” Davies says, is a “psyops” (psychological operations) campaign generating propaganda: it has officials in “brigade, division and corps in the US military… producing output for local media.” The psyops campaign is linked to the State Department’s campaign of “public diplomacy,” which Davies says includes funding radio stations and news Web sites. Britain’s Directorate of Targeting and Information Operations in the Ministry of Defense “works with specialists from 15 UK psyops, based at the Defense Intelligence and Security School at Chicksands in Bedfordshire.”
Some Fellow Journalists Skeptical - The Press Association’s Jonathan Grun criticizes Davies’s book for relying on anonymous sources, “something we strive to avoid.” Chris Blackhurst of the Evening Standard agrees. The editor of the New Statesman, John Kampfner, says that he agrees with Davies to a large extent, but he “uses too broad a brush.” [Independent, 2/11/2008] Kamal Ahmad, editor of the Observer, is quite harsh in his criticism of Davies, accusing the author of engaging in “scurrilous journalism,” making “wild claims” and having “a prejudiced agenda.” (Davies singles out Ahmad for criticism in his book, accusing Ahmad of being a “conduit for government announcements” from Downing Street, particularly the so-called “dodgy dossier” (see February 3, 2003).) [Independent, 2/11/2008] But journalist Francis Wheen says, “Davies is spot on.” [Independent, 2/11/2008]
Entity Tags: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Francis Wheen, Directorate of Targeting and Information Operations (British Ministry of Defense), Colin Powell, Chris Blackhurst, Al-Qaeda in Iraq, John Kampfner, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, Al-Qaeda, Kamal Ahmad, US Department of Defense, Osama bin Laden, US Department of State, Saddam Hussein, North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Mullah Omar, Nick Davies, Jonathan Grun
Timeline Tags: US Military, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Domestic Propaganda
Joseph Margulies. [Source: PBS]Joseph Margulies, a law professor at Northwestern University, and lawyer George Brent Mickum write of their plans to meet with Guantanamo detainee Abu Zubaida (see March 28, 2002) as part of his legal defense team. The lawyers write: “Zubaydah’s world became freezing rooms alternating with sweltering cells. Screaming noise replaced by endless silence. Blinding light followed by dark, underground chambers. Hours confined in contorted positions. And, as we recently learned, Zubaydah was subjected to waterboarding. We do not know what remains of his mind, and we will probably never know what he experienced.” What exactly the CIA did to Zubaida may never be determined, as the agency destroyed the videotapes of his interrogations (see Spring-Late 2002). Zubaida’s subsequent confessions to FBI agents are essentially meaningless, the lawyers assert, because his will and mind were already irrevocably broken by the time of the FBI interviews. The lawyers hope to piece together what Zubaida knew and what was done to him, although they are not confident they will be given the documentation necessary to find out what they want to know. They fear that, if they are not able to learn the truth of Zubaida’s participation with al-Qaeda and the interrogation methods he was subjected to, then in his and others’ cases, the truth will be “only what the administration reports it to be. We hope it has not come to that.” [Washington Post, 2/23/2008]
Senator Barack Obama, during a 2006 visit to Somalia. [Source: Associated Press]Conservative radio hosts such as Dan Caplis and “Gunny” Bob Newman use a photo of Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama wearing traditional Kenyan robes to imply that Obama has terrorist sympathies. As reported by progressive media watchdog site Media Matters, Caplis says the photo shows Obama wearing “the same type of turban and clothing that Osama bin Laden wears,” while Newman asks, “[W]hy do you think Obama really had the photo taken, dressed up as a Somali warlord?” The photo was taken during an August 2006 visit by Obama to Kenya, where his father was born. [Media Matters, 2/25/2008] It was published a few days ago by the conservative Drudge Report. According to Yusuf Garaad Omar, head of the BBC’s Somali Service, the robes are “the normal clothes that nomadic people wear. The head turban is especially used by elderly people as a suggestion of respect. It is something that has no meaning whatsoever in Somalia culture. If you see someone dressed like that in Somalia, you think it is a nomadic person—that is all. There is no religious significance to it whatsoever. It is mainly the nomadic people who use it. Some of them are religious, some are not. It is simply a tradition of the place where they are from. In this particular place, Wajir in north-east Kenya, the community is majority ethnic Somali.… This debate reminds me of people back home in Somalia, who say that women should not wear trousers, or other cultures who say men should not wear a tie. I just don’t think it makes sense.” [BBC, 2/26/2008] Caplis asks his listeners why Obama would “put on similar clothing to the outfit worn by the man who personally ordered thousands of Americans, including women and kids, to be burned to death,” and says that “it would be as if [former President] John Kennedy had gone out and thrown on the fatigues and the funny baseball hat that Castro wore.” Newman, like Caplis a nationally syndicated Clear Channel talk show host, tells his audience, according to Media Matters: “We were five years into the war on terror when Obama knowingly and willingly dressed up in Somali warlord garb to have his photo taken.” He asks if Obama wore the robes “to garner support from Muslim-Americans who ideologically support Muslim terrorists?” and then asks, “Would it have been right for [former President] Harry Truman to dress up like a Nazi in 1948?” Caplis also tells his audience, “[Obama’s] middle name is Hussein, which should not be held against him for a second; his last name rhymes with Osama, which should not be held against him for a second.” [Media Matters, 2/25/2008] Months later, Newman will tell his listeners that an Obama presidency will welcome “an invasion of Muslim terrorists” (see July 10, 2008).
Entity Tags: Bob Newman, Clear Channel Communications, John F. Kennedy, Media Matters, Barack Obama, Harry S. Truman, Dan Caplis, Osama bin Laden, Yusuf Garaad Omar, Fidel Castro
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, 2008 Elections
Alleged al-Qaeda leader Muhammad Rahim al-Afghani is transferred to the US-run prison in Guantanamo, Cuba, and officially declared a “high value” prisoner. Rahim was captured in Lahore, Pakistan, by local forces in July 2007 (see July 2007) and then was held in a secret CIA prison until his transfer to Guantanamo (see Late July 2007-March 14, 2008).
Why Is Rahim Considered Important? - Rahim is just the 16th person the US government has declared a “high value” prisoner. Fourteen prisoners were given that label when they were transferred from secret CIA prisons to Guantanamo in September 2006 (see September 6, 2006 and September 2-3, 2006). The 15th was Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi, who was held by the CIA in autumn 2006 and sent to Guantanamo in April 2007 (see Autumn 2006-Late April 2007). [Los Angeles Times, 3/15/2008] Although there had been reports in Pakistan about Rahim shortly after his arrest, virtually nothing was known about him until his transfer to Guantanamo. [Asian News International, 8/2/2007] He may have experienced extreme sleep deprivation during CIA interrogations (see August and November 2007).
Hayden's Memo - There still are no published photographs of him. At the same time Rahim is sent to Guantanamo, CIA Director Michael Hayden issues a memo to CIA employees explaining Rahim’s alleged importance. Hayden calls Rahim a “tough, seasoned jihadist” with “high-level contacts,” and claims his arrest “was a blow to more than one terrorist network. He gave aid to al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and other anti-coalition militants.” According to Hayden, Rahim sought chemicals for an attack on US forces in Afghanistan and tried to recruit people who had access to US military facilities there. He helped prepare Tora Bora as a hideout in 2001, and then helped al-Qaeda operatives flee the area when US forces overran it in late 2001. But perhaps most importantly, Rahim had become one of Osama bin Laden’s most trusted facilitators and translators in the years prior to Rahim’s arrest. [Los Angeles Times, 3/15/2008; New York Times, 3/15/2008]
A new audio recording is released, allegedly from al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. The voice on the tape directs the message to “the intelligent ones in the European Union” and discusses a cartoon said to be offensive to Muslims—showing the prophet Muhammed with a bomb in his turban—that was recently re-printed by all major Danish newspapers. The tape, which criticises US-led bombing of “those modest mud villages which have collapsed onto our women and children,” says that the “morals of fighting” should be observed in conflict, but the west has abandoned them, “even if you hold aloft its slogans in theory.” However, the publication of the cartoon and other similar ones is worse than bombing innocent civilians: “Although our tragedy in your killing of our women and children is a very great one, it paled when you went overboard in your unbelief and freed yourselves of the etiquettes of dispute and fighting and went to the extent of publishing these insulting drawings. This is the greater and more serious tragedy, and reckoning for it will be more severe.” The voice also claims that, despite the publication, “you haven’t seen any reaction from the one and a half billion Muslims.” [Council on Foreign Relations, 3/19/2008] In actual fact, when the cartoons were first published there were protests around the world in which dozens were killed, and Danish diplomatic offices were destroyed in two cities. [BBC, 3/20/2008] The voice argues that the cartoons should not have been published under freedom of expression, as US troops in Europe are not subject to European law, and, according to the voice, those who question the amount of Jews killed in the holocaust are suppressed. In addition, when the King of Saudi Arabia told Britain to stop its investigation of the corrupt al-Yamamah deal, British Prime Minister Tony Blair complied. [Council on Foreign Relations, 3/19/2008] The message comes on the fifth anniversary of the US-led invasion of Iraq (see March 19, 2003). [BBC, 3/20/2008] However, the man thought to be bin Laden makes no mention of Iraq on the tape. [Council on Foreign Relations, 3/19/2008] The audio message is released in video form with a graphic showing a still image of bin Laden holding an AK-47 and bearing the logo of as-Sahab, al-Qaeda’s media wing. There is a written translation of the message in English. It is unclear when the message, released by posting at an Islamist website, was recorded. [BBC, 3/20/2008]
A man thought to be Osama bin Laden releases a new audio message urging Muslims to join the insurgency in Iraq, as this is the “nearest jihad battlefield to support our people in Palestine.” The message comes one day after the previous communication thought to be from bin Laden (see March 19, 2008) and just over five years after the invasion of Iraq (see March 19, 2003). According to the person thought to be bin Laden, “Palestine cannot be retaken by negotiations and dialogue, but with fire and iron,” and Arab leaders were complicit in Israeli attacks on Gaza. “The people of the blessed land should sense the great favour God has bestowed upon them and do what they should do to support their mujahideen brothers in Iraq,” the speaker says. “It is a great opportunity and a major duty for my brothers the Palestinian emigrants [in Arab countries], between whom and jihad on the plains of Jerusalem a barrier has been built.” [BBC, 3/20/2008]
Navy Lieutenant Commander Brian Mizer, the lawyer for Guantanamo detainee Salim Hamdan, says that senior Pentagon officials are orchestrating war crimes prosecutions for the 2008 presidential campaign. In a court brief filed on this day, Mizer describes a September 29, 2006 meeting at the Pentagon where Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England asked lawyers to consider 9/11-related prosecutions in light of the upcoming presidential campaign. “We need to think about charging some of the high-value detainees because there could be strategic political value to charging some of these detainees before the election,” England is quoted as saying (see September 29, 2006). Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman refuses to discuss specifics of the case, but says that the Pentagon “has always been extraordinarily careful to guard against any unlawful command influence” in upcoming military commissions trials. Mizer says that because of England’s instructions, and other examples of alleged political interference, his client cannot get a fair trial. Three weeks before England’s observation about the “strategic political value” of the trials, President Bush disclosed that he had ordered the CIA to transfer “high-value detainees” from years of secret custody to Guantanamo for trial.
Issues 'Scrambled' - Attorney Eugene Fidell, president of the National Institute of Military Justice, says the Hamdan motion exposes the problem of Pentagon appointees’ supervisory relationship to the war court. “It scrambles relationships that ought to be kept clear,” he says. England’s statement, says Fidell, is “enough that you’d want to hold an evidentiary hearing about it, with live witnesses. It does strike me as disturbing for there to be even a whiff of political considerations in what should be a quasi-judicial determination.” Susan Crawford is the White House-appointed supervisor for the court proceedings; England is a two-term White House appointee who has supervised the prison camps’ administrative processes. Crawford, England, and other White House officials have crossed the legal barriers that separate various functions of a military court, Mizer argues. Mizer plans to call the former chief prosecutor for the Guantanamo trials, Morris Davis (see October 4, 2007), who first brought the England remark to light. Davis resigned his position after contending that political influence was interfering with the proper legal procedures surrounding the prosecution of accused war criminals.
Motion for Dismissal - Mizer’s motion asks the judge, Navy Captain Keith Allred, to dismiss the case against Hamdan as an alleged 9/11 co-conspirator on the grounds that Bush administration officials have exerted “unlawful command influence.” Hamdan is a former driver for Osama bin Laden whose lawyers successfully challenged an earlier war court format (see June 30, 2006). Hamdan’s case is on track to be the first full-scale US war crimes tribunal since World War II. [Miami Herald, 3/28/2008]
Entity Tags: Michael Hayden, Eugene R. Fidell, Central Intelligence Agency, Bryan Whitman, Brian Mizer, George W. Bush, Gordon England, Keith Allred, US Department of Defense, Salim Ahmed Hamdan, Susan Crawford, Morris Davis, Osama bin Laden
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties, 2008 Elections
A new audio message is released by a man thought to be Osama bin Laden. In the message, which lasts about nine minutes and is posted to a website commonly used by al-Qaeda, the speaker calls on Muslims to continue the fight to liberate Palestinian land. The speaker pledges to continue fighting the Israelis and not give up “a single inch of Palestine,” adding that the Palestinian cause is the most important factor driving al-Qaeda’s war with the West. The tape’s release comes around the time of Israel’s 60th anniversary, when US President Bush is in Israel to attend the anniversary celebrations [BBC, 5/16/2008]
A man thought to be Osama bin Laden releases an audio tape calling on Muslim fighters to help end the Israeli blockade of Gaza. In the tape, released by posting on the Internet, the speaker says it is the duty of every Muslim to fight the “oppressive closure.” The tape is released two days after the previous one (see May 16, 2008), on the day US President Bush ends a visit to the Middle East. [Sky News, 5/18/2008]
Doctored photo supposedly showing Barack Obama in the company of Osama bin Laden. [Source: Media Matters / Newsradio 850 KOA]As reported by progressive media watchdog site Media Matters, conservative radio host “Gunny” Bob Newman posts doctored “satirical” photographs of Democratic candidate Barack Obama supposedly posing with Osama bin Laden and as “Che Obama” (appearing as South American socialist revolutionary Che Guevara) on his radio station’s Web site. Newman also posts real photos of Obama with fake captions featuring profanity-laden threats directed at Newman. The Web site, like Newman’s radio station, KOA Radio of Denver, is owned by Clear Channel Communications. One caption has Obama saying about Newman, “If that sumb_tch even tries to get into my convention [the Democratic National Convention], I’ll have him disappeared like Jimmy Hoffa.” Another reads, “Upon seeing Gunny Bob approaching with a microphone, Democrat presidential candidate Barack Obama angrily warns the Gunny, ‘If you come any closer, I’ll have the Secret Service shoot and then waterboard you, you fascist Marine capitalist b_stard!’” The fake Obama-bin Laden photo is captioned, “Endorsed By Terrorists, Tyrants and Racists Everywhere.” [Media Matters, 7/9/2008] In May, Newman accused Obama of being a “thug,” and rhetorically asked the candidate if he intended to come to Denver and “whip [his] white _ss” (see May 19, 2008).
As the Democratic Party’s nominee for US president, Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) is given his first classified intelligence briefing. The briefing includes information on the hunt for Osama bin Laden. An unnamed senior official will later say that Obama already is under the impression that bin Laden has to be hiding in Pakistan, and the briefing solidifies that view. The official says, “What I remember in terms of the aftermath of that briefing and into the transition was just how much the focus became on Pakistan.” [Reuters, 5/12/2011]
From September to December 2008, a team of US Special Forces trainers is based in Abbottabad, Pakistan, ironically less than one mile from the compound Osama bin Laden is hiding in at the time. The trainers are in Abbottabad as part of an unpublicized mission to train Pakistani Frontier Corps forces. The training takes place in Kakul Military Academy, Pakistan’s equivalent of the US’s famous West Point military academy. The training is later moved to Warsak, Pakistan. [Radio Free Europe, 5/6/2011; Washington Post, 5/11/2011]
Christiane Amanpour on “Real Time With Bill Maher” on October 3, 2008. [Source: Real Time with Bill Maher]ABC News reporter Christiane Amanpour says that Osama bin Laden is living in a villa in Pakistan, not in a cave. She makes these comments as a guest on HBO’s Real Time With Bill Maher. She says: “I just talked to somebody very knowledgeable… [who] thinks that [bin Laden is] in a villa, a nice comfortable villa… in Pakistan. Not a cave.” After bin Laden’s death in an urban compound in May 2011 (see May 2, 2011), Amanpour will explain that she’d heard the information a short time earlier from a “US intelligence officer who had recently left a top position.” [ABC News, 5/3/2011]
In a speech, CIA Director Michael Hayden says that Osama bin Laden is probably hiding in the tribal region of northwest Pakistan. He adds that bin Laden “is putting a lot of energy into his own survival, a lot of energy into his own security,” and is isolated from al-Qaeda’s daily operations. [BBC, 11/14/2008]
A man thought to be Osama bin Laden releases a new audio recording calling for violent jihad over a recent Israeli offensive in Gaza. In an audio tape, entitled “A Call for Jihad to Stop the Aggression against Gaza” and posted on Islamist websites, the speaker questions America’s stomach for the fight with radical Islam. “God has bestowed us with the patience to continue the path of jihad for another seven years, and seven and seven years,” the speaker says. “The question is, can America continue its war with us for several more decades to come? Reports and evidence would suggest otherwise.” The speaker also condemns Arab governments for preventing their people from acting to “liberate Palestine,” and adds: “Our brothers in Palestine, you have suffered a lot… the Muslims sympathise with you in what they see and hear. We, the mujahidin, sympathise with you also.… We are with you and we will not let you down. Our fate is tied to yours in fighting the Crusader-Zionist coalition, in fighting until victory or martyrdom.” The London Times comments, “The al-Qaeda leader has placed growing emphasis on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in recent years (see May 16, 2008 and May 18, 2008) and today’s audio tape was accompanied by a still of bin Laden and a picture of the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem, Islam’s third holiest shrine.” [Times (London), 1/14/2009]
After taking office as president (see January 20-21, 2009), Barack Obama instructs new CIA Director Leon Panetta to develop options and find new resources for pursuing Osama bin Laden. An unnamed senior official will later say that while “a lot of good” had been done during the Bush administration years, resources for the CIA’s bin Laden hunt “fluctuated over time.” As part of the effort, the CIA increases the number of drone strikes on militant leaders in Pakistan’s tribal region. [Reuters, 5/12/2011]
Obama: Bin Laden Must Be Killed - In the spring of 2009, Obama tells his top intelligence officials that al-Qaeda can never be truly defeated unless bin Laden is killed, and the US needs the closure his death would provide. Obama allegedly says: “We need to redouble our efforts in hunting bin Laden down.… I want us to start putting more resources, more focus, and more urgency into that mission.” [ABC News, 6/9/2011]
New Attitude towards Pakistan - Part of the change is a new attitude towards the government of Pakistan. President Bush had close personal ties to Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf. But Musharraf resigned shortly before Obama became president (see August 18, 2008), making those ties moot. An unnamed former top Bush administration official will later say: “For a long time there was a strong inclination at the highest levels during our time to work with the Pakistanis, treat them as partners, defer to their national sensitivities.… There was some good reason for that.” But, this person says, the Obama administration “do seem more willing to push the envelope.” In 2011, former senior State Department official Vali Nasr will say: “Obama was fundamentally honest that the United States and Pakistan were on different trajectories in Afghanistan. Under Bush, there was this pretense that we were all in this war on terror together.” The Obama administration is increasingly skeptical about Pakistan’s promises to act against militants, and the US is more willing to act on its own to get militants hiding in Pakistan. [Reuters, 5/12/2011]
A US military newspaper reports that continued resurgence of the Taliban has led residents in Kabul to surmise that the US is supporting the Taliban. US support for the Taliban is “virtually ubiquitous” in Kabul, according to Stars and Stripes. “Now we think America is supporting both the Taliban and the Afghan government. That’s what everyone says,” states Kabul shopkeeper Qand Mohmadi. “We don’t know for sure why they are doing it,” says real estate broker Daoud Zadran. “Politics is bigger than our thoughts. But maybe America wants to build up the Taliban so they have an excuse to remain in Afghanistan because of the Iranian issue.” Stars and Stripes also reports that many residents suspect that the US and Western companies are colluding with Afghan officials to pilfer the economy. [Stars and Stripes, 2/15/2009]
National Opinion Survey Reveals Public Alarm, Plummeting Confidence - A public opinion survey conducted by ABC News, the BBC, and the German TV station ARD finds plummeting public confidence in and support for the Afghan government and its Western allies. Just 40 percent of those surveyed say they feel the country is heading in the right direction, down from 77 percent in 2005. Approval of overall US efforts in Afghanistan is only 32 percent, compared to 68 percent three years ago. The poll also shows falling support for the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai. In 2005, 80 percent of Afghans said they supported the Karzai regime, but just 49 percent say the same thing today. In addition to corruption and complaints about food, fuel, and the economy, the resurgence of the Taliban is a key element of the public’s alarm: 58 percent of Afghans see the Taliban as the biggest danger to the country. 43 percent say the Taliban have grown stronger in the past year in comparison to 24 percent who think the movement has weakened. [ABC News, 2/9/2009]
Police Chief Doubts Veracity of Public Suspicions - One district police chief in Kabul expresses frustration with American efforts, but finds it hard to believe that the US is supporting the Taliban. “People see that America is so strong and they wonder—why can’t it wipe out the Taliban?” says Col. Najeeb Ullah Samsour, adding that he does not personally think the US is supporting the insurgents. “People are saying that for six or seven years we have all these international troops, but everything is getting worse… security, the economy, everything. So they think America must be supporting the Taliban.”
Osama bin Laden - “This government is so corrupt that if Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar were crossing the street together right outside, no one would call the police because they know the police would just take a bribe to let them go,” says resident Habib Rahman. “A lot of people say that Osama is really from America,” according to Nasrallah Wazidi. “They say he’s just playing a role like a movie star.” [Stars and Stripes, 2/15/2009]
Angelo Codevilla, a professor of international relations at Boston University, publishes an article entitled “Osama bin Elvis” in the American Spectator arguing that Osama bin Laden is dead. “All the evidence suggests Elvis Presley is more alive today than Osama bin Laden,” writes Codevilla. He cites as evidence apparent differences in the facial features of people said to be bin Laden in video messages, problems with voice analysis—an independent Swiss facility found a recording the US attributed to bin Laden was not actually by him (see November 29, 2002), clear changes in bin Laden’s rhetoric after 9/11, problems with the “confession” video (see Mid-November 2001), and numerous reports of his death. According to Codevilla, if bin Laden’s death were popularly acknowledged, it would have serious policy ramificiations for the US. [American Spectator, 3/2009]
CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer interviews investigative journalist Seymour Hersh, who recently alleged that an “executive assassination wing” operated out of the White House (see March 10, 2009). Blitzer notes that the entity Hersh cited, the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), denies Hersh’s claim, and says, in Blitzer’s words, “their forces operate under established rules of engagement and the law of armed conflict.” The JSOC “has no command and control authorities over the US military,” the JSOC has told Blitzer. Additionally, former Bush national security expert Frances Townsend has denied Hersh’s claim.
Not New Reporting - Hersh tells Blitzer that though he has not written specifically about the “assassination wing,” he and others have written about the actions of the JSOC well before now. “[I]t’s a separately independent unit that does not report to Congress, at least in the years I know about.… It has been given executive authority by the president in as many as 12 countries to go in and kill we’re talking about high value targets. That’s absolutely correct.” He says that such actions are not only illegal, but have no basis in intelligence. “The idea that you’re telling a group of American combat soldiers,” he says, “[t]he idea that we have a unit set up who goes after high-value targets who up to a certain point I know for sure until very recently were clearing lists. That doesn’t mean Cheney has an assassination unit that he says I want to go get somebody. That’s how it sort of played out in the press. The idea that we have a unit that goes around and without reporting to Congress, Congress knows very little about this group, can’t get clearings, can’t get hearings, can’t get even a classified hearings on it. Congresspeople have told me this. Those are out and has authority for the president to go into a country without telling the CIA station chief or the ambassador and whack somebody and I’m sorry, Wolf, I have a lot of problems with that.”
Poor Choice of Phrase - Hersh says he regrets using the phrase “executive assassination wing,” because it is a “loaded phrase.” Word choice aside, Hersh says: “It comes down to the same thing, that you can—you’ve delegated authority to troops in the field to hit people on the basis of whatever intelligence they think is good and I can tell you it’s always not good and sometimes things get very bloody.… The bottom line is, it’s—if it were the way your little presentation set up, that everything was checked and cleared, in fact, it was an awful lot of delegation to this group, which does not brief the Congress. And this does raise profound questions of constitutional authority. It’s the same questions that have come up repeatedly in the Bush administration. That is a unitarian president, the notion that a president can do things without telling Congress and unilaterally. This is an extension of that issue.”
Implied Confirmation from Former Cheney Adviser - John Hannah, the former national security adviser to Vice President Cheney, says Hersh’s allegations are “not true,” but in his next statement, he seems to confirm Hersh’s allegations to an extent. Blitzer says: “Explain exactly what’s going on in terms of a list. Is there a list of terrorists, suspected terrorists, out there who can be assassinated?” Hannah replies: “There is—there’s clearly a group of people that go through a very extremely well-vetted process—interagency process, as I think was explained in your piece, that have committed acts of war against the United States, who are at war with the United States, or is suspected of planning operations of war against the United States, who authority is given, to our troops in the field in certain war theaters to capture or kill those individuals. That is certainly true.… Osama bin Laden and his number two are right at the top of the list. [The number of individuals to be assassinated] is a small group and the point is that it is very, very heavily vetted throughout the interagency process.” Hannah says that he has trouble believing that Congress was not aware of actions, presumably including possible assassinations, carried out by the JSOC: “I don’t know exactly what the consultations are with the Congress, but it’s hard for me to believe that those committee chairman and the leadership on the Hill involved in intelligence and armed services, if they want to know about these operations, cannot get that information through the Defense Department.” Asked if such assassinations are legal and Constitutional, Hannah says: “There is no question. And in a theater of war, when we are at war, and there’s no doubt, we are still at war against al-Qaeda in Iraq, al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, and on that Pakistani border, that our troops have the authority to go out after and capture and kill the enemy, including the leadership of the enemy.” [CNN, 3/30/2009; MinnPost (.com), 3/31/2009]
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]
In an audio message broadcast on the Qatar-based TV channel Al Jazeera, a man thought to be Osama bin Laden accuses US President Obama of fueling hatred of America in Pakistan, and blames US pressure for a crackdown by authorities on militants in northwest Pakistan. According to the speaker, Obama is following in the footsteps of his predecessor, George W. Bush, in antagonizing Muslims. “Obama and his administration have planted seeds for hatred and revenge against America,” he says. “Let the American people prepare to continue to reap what has been planted by the heads of the White House in the coming years and decades.” The tape is released as Obama arrives in bin Laden’s native Saudi Arabia for a brief visit at the start of a Middle East tour in which he will deliver a key speech in Cairo, Egypt. The White House responds that bin Laden wants to divert attention away from that speech. [BBC, 6/3/2009]
Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik says in an interview that Osama bin Laden and other top al-Qaeda leaders are not in Pakistan, so US drone strikes in Pakistan’s tribal region are futile. Malik says: “If Osama was in Pakistan we would know, with all the thousands of troops we have sent into the tribal areas in recent months.… If he and all these four or five top people were in our area they would have been caught, the way we are searching.… According to our information Osama is in Afghanistan, probably Kunar, as most of the activities against Pakistan are being directed from Kunar.” He adds that US drone strikes are hitting mid-level militants at best, and are “counterproductive because they are killing civilians and turning locals against our government. We try to win people’s hearts, then one drone attack drives them away.” [London Times, 7/12/2009] Malik’s statement about bin Laden not being in Pakistan is not consistent with the facts (see January 2005, Late 2005-Early 2006, August 2007, September 2008, and May 2, 2011).
Osama bin Laden meets a prominent Pakistani militant leader in Pakistan’s tribal region, according to a Pakistani Interior Ministry report. An account of the report will be published in the Daily Times, a Pakistani newspaper, in 2010. Supposedly, bin Laden meets with Qari Saifullah Akhtar, the leader of Harkat-ul-Jihad al-Islami. The two allegedly meet to discuss militant operations against Pakistan. This is the only known recorded instance prior to bin Laden’s death in 2011 (see May 2, 2011) that the Pakistani government has evidence bin Laden is hiding somewhere inside Pakistan. [New York Times, 6/23/2011] Akhtar has been an Islamist militant leader since the 1980s, and he had personal ties with bin Laden and Taliban head Mullah Omar that predate the 9/11 attacks. In 2008, media reports named him as a suspect in the Marriott Hotel bombing in Islamabad, Pakistan, that killed over 50. [Asia Times, 9/30/2004; Daily Telegraph, 9/22/2008] In hindsight, it will appear bin Laden lives in Abbottabad, Pakistan, at this time, outside the tribal region (see May 2, 2011). It will be unknown if he occasionally leaves his hideout to make journeys for meetings such as this.
An audio message purportedly from Osama bin Laden is released on an Islamist website. The message is called “A Statement to the American People,” is about 10 minutes long, and is accompanied by a still image of bin Laden, but no video. A voice on the tape tells President Obama that he is “powerless” to stop the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. “The time has come for you to liberate yourselves from fear and the ideological terrorism of neo-conservatives and the Israeli lobby,” the voice tells Americans. “The reason for our dispute with you is your support for your ally Israel, occupying our land in Palestine.” The speaker adds: “If you stop the war, then fine. Otherwise we will have no choice but to continue our war of attrition on every front. […] If you choose safety and stopping wars, as opinion polls show you do, then we are ready to respond to this.” In addition, the speaker accuses the new US president of failing to fundamentally change foreign policy because of his decision to retain key figures from the previous administration, such as Defense Secretary Robert Gates. “If you think about your situation well, you will know that the White House is occupied by pressure groups,” the man says. [BBC, 9/14/2009]
A man thought to be Osama bin Laden releases a new audio tape demanding that European nations withdraw their troops from Afghanistan. The four-minute tape, made by al-Qaeda’s media arm As-Sahab and entitled “A message to the people of Europe,” is released on the Internet with a background picture of bin Laden, and with German and English subtitles. “We are not demanding anything unjust. It is just for you to end injustice and withdraw your soldiers [from Afghanistan],” says the speaker on the tape. “One of the greatest injustices is to kill people unjustly, and this is exactly what your governments and soldiers are committing under the cover of the NATO alliance in Afghanistan.” The speaker also attacks Europe’s alliance with the US, as “an intelligent person does not waste his children and wealth for the sake of a gang in Washington,” and says, “It is shameful to be part of an alliance whose leader does not care about spilling the blood of human beings by bombing villages intentionally.” One possible reason for the German subtitles is that Germany, which has 4,200 troops in Afghanistan, is soon to hold elections. [Reuters, 9/25/2009]
According to a US government diplomatic document, senior Tajik counterterrorism official General Abdullo Sadulloevich Nazarov tells US officials that Pakistani officials are tipping off al-Qaeda militants about raids. The document states, “In Pakistan, Osama Bin Laden wasn’t an invisible man, and many knew his whereabouts in North Waziristan, but whenever security forces attempted a raid on his hideouts, the enemy received warning of their approach from sources in the [Pakistani] security forces.” The document will be made public by Wikileaks prior to the US raid that kills bin Laden (see May 2, 2011). [Daily Telegraph, 5/2/2011] The warning may not be entirely accurate, since it appears bin Laden was hiding for years in Abbottabad, not North Waziristan.
On a visit to London, Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani says he thinks Osama bin Laden is not in Pakistan. The statement is made against a background of Western demands that Afghanistan and Pakistan take more action against militants, including stepping up their efforts to find bin Laden, to accompany the surge in Western troops to Afghanistan. “I doubt the information which you are giving is correct because I don’t think Osama bin Laden is in Pakistan,” says Gillani in response to a question. The New York Times observes, “The Pakistani leader did not indicate where Mr. bin Laden might be if he is not in Pakistan.” [New York Times, 12/3/2009] The next day, the BBC will run an article brokered by a Pakistani intelligence service in which a detainee claims he recently received information bin Laden was in Afghanistan (see Before December 4, 2009). Gillani’s statement is not accurate (see May 2, 2011).
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]
US Defense Secretary Robert Gates says the US has had no good intelligence about the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden for “years.” Asked by ABC host George Stephanopoulus about bin Laden’s whereabouts, Gates first says: “Well, we don’t know for a fact where Osama bin Laden is. If we did, we’d go get him.” Stephanopoulus follows up, asking, “What was the last time we had any good intelligence on where he was?” Gates replies, “I think it’s been years,” and then confirms this when Stephanopoulus seems incredulous. [ABC News, 12/5/2009]
A CIA officer who hunted Osama bin Laden after 9/11 says that the al-Qaeda leader must be dead, according to former CIA officer and journalist Robert Baer. The officer adds, “No wonder there’s no intelligence on him.” When Baer asks him about the numerous audio and videotapes that appear to have been released by bin Laden over the past few years, the officer says they easily could have been digitally mastered from old recordings. However, he admits that the CIA has no evidence bin Laden died and his comments are only based on a hunch. Baer will say this theory is not popular in Washington because “it veers off into the realm of conspiracies,” and people are scared that “the moment they air their view, bin Laden will reappear.” Nevertheless, according to Baer: “[I]t’s a real possibility that bin Laden was killed at Tora Bora in late 2001 and is now buried under tons of rock, never to be found. Or that he died of ill health in the intervening years.” [Time, 12/8/2009] Baer will later be proven incorrect (see May 2, 2011).
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton accuses the Pakistani government of knowing where Osama bin Laden and other top militant leaders are hiding. She says, “I’m not saying that they’re at the highest levels, but I believe that somewhere in this government are people who know where Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda is, where Mullah Omar and the leadership of the Afghan Taliban is, and we expect more co-operation to help us bring to justice, capture or kill those who attacked us on 9/11.” A Pakistani government spokesperson dismisses Clinton’s claim. [Daily Telegraph, 5/11/2010] In March 2011, a US strike force will assault a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan and kill bin Laden (see May 2, 2011).
Al-Qaeda’s latest alleged number three leader, Mustafa Abu al-Yazid, is apparently killed in a CIA drone strike in Pakistan’s tribal region. Media reports say nine others are killed in the village of Boya near Miran Shah, North Waziristan. A statement posted on an al-Qaeda website will later confirm al-Yazid’s death along with that of his wife, three daughters, and others. Al-Yazid, an Egyptian also often called Sheik Saiid al-Masri, was one of the founding members of al-Qaeda, and a member of the group’s Shura Council ever since then. He was al-Qaeda’s chief financial officer while living with Osama bin Laden in Sudan and then Afghanistan in the 1990s. In 2007, he emerged after years of hiding and revealed in a released video that he was in charge of al-Qaeda’s operations in Afghanistan. A US official says he was “the group’s chief operating officer, with a hand in everything from finances to operational planning. He was also the organization’s prime conduit to Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri. He was key to al-Qaeda’s command and control.” Former National Security Council counterterrorism official Roger Cressey even says: “In some respects, [his] death is more important for al-Qaeda operations than if bin Laden or al-Zawahiri was killed. Any al-Qaeda operation of any consequence would run through him.” [MSNBC, 6/1/2010]
CIA Director Leon Panetta tells ABC News that there are on 50 to 100 al-Qaeda operatives left in Afghanistan, and Osama bin Laden is hiding in Pakistan’s tribal region. He says that the number of al-Qaeda operatives in Afghanistan is “relatively small.… At most, we’re looking at 50 to 100, maybe less. It’s in that vicinity. There’s no question that the main location of al-Qaeda is in the tribal areas of Pakistan.” He also says that bin Laden “is in an area of the tribal areas of Pakistan.” He concedes that the CIA has not had good intelligence on bin Laden’s location for a long time. “It’s been a while. I think it goes back almost to the early 2000s, you know in terms of actually when [bin Laden] was leaving from Afghanistan to Pakistan that we had the last precise information about where he might be located. Since then it has been very difficult to get any intelligence on his exact location.” [ABC News, 6/27/2010] Almost a year later, bin Laden will be assassinated in his Pakistan hideout (see May 2, 2011).
In an interview, CIA Director Leon Panetta says Osama bin Laden is in Pakistan’s tribal region. Bin Laden, Panetta says, is in “very deep hiding. He’s in an area of the tribal areas of Pakistan, that is very difficult. The terrain is probably the most difficult in the world.” Asked when the CIA last had good information on bin Laden’s location, Panetta says: “It’s been a while. I think it almost goes back to the early 2000s in terms of actually when he was moving from Afghanistan to Pakistan that we had the last precise information about where he might be located. Since then, it’s been very difficult to get any intelligence on his exact location.” [ABC News, 6/27/2010] Almost a year later, bin Laden will be assassinated in his Pakistan hideout (see May 2, 2011).
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]
The location of Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, allegedly is revealed by a captured German militant. After bin Laden is killed in May 2011 (see May 2, 2011), both the Washington Times and London Times will claim that a militant named Ahmed Siddiqui is captured in Afghanistan in July 2010, and quickly tells US interrogators that bin Laden is hiding in a compound in Abbottabad (although apparently he does not mention the exact location, just the town). Both articles will also claim that US intelligence tracks bin Laden’s courier Ibrahim Saeed Ahmed to bin Laden’s compound at nearly the exact same time (see July 2010 and August 1, 2010). The Washington Times will mention that different sources name Siddiqui or Ahmed as the key intelligence breakthrough. [Washington Times, 5/2/2011; London Times, 5/8/2011] In September 2010, Der Spiegel will report that the 36-year-old Siddiqui is arrested in early July by US forces in Afghanistan, and he confesses about attack plots in Germany and other countries. He is a German of Afghan descent, and is believed to be part of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU). He is thought to have gone to Pakistan and Afghanistan in early 2009. He attended the same mosque in Hamburg as some of the 9/11 hijackers such as Mohamed Atta and Marwan Alshehhi. Siddiqui also has links to Mounir El Motassadeq, who was given a 15-year sentence in Germany for a role in the 9/11 attacks (see January 8, 2007). For instance, Siddiqui worked at the Hamburg airport like El Motassadeq did, drove El Motassadeq’s father to jail to visit El Motassadeq, and went on vacation with El Motassadeq’s family in Morocco in 2002. [Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 9/6/2010]
Osama bin Laden’s bodyguard makes some phone calls that help US intelligence to conclude bin Laden is living in Abbottabad, Pakistan. In July 2010, Ibrahim Saeed Ahmed (a.k.a. Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti) accepts a phone call on his cell phone from a friend who is already being monitored by US intelligence, and this leads investigators to the exact compound in Abbottabad where Ahmed and bin Laden live (see July 2010). Investigators determine there is no land line or Internet in the compound. However, there is a satellite phone that apparently is used by bin Laden’s bodyguard.
Calls to Known Associates - In July and August 2010, US intelligence tracks calls from this bodyguard to al-Qaeda associates in the towns of Charsada and Kohat in the same province. Further details are unknown, such as who is called or if the bodyguard continues to make calls after August 2010. But these calls help US analysts decide that bin Laden is probably living inside the compound.
Who Is the Bodyguard? - The name of this bodyguard will not be made public, but apparently he is Kuwaiti. When bin Laden is killed in 2011 (see May 2, 2011) there will be no bodyguards with him. However, Ahmed and his brother Abrar could be considered Kuwaiti, as they were originally Pakistani, but raised in Kuwait. [Christian Science Monitor, 5/2/2011] So perhaps the bodyguard is actually one of them.
US officials privately brief British Prime Minister David Cameron. In his first visit to Washington, DC, as prime minister, Cameron is briefed by General James Cartwright, vice-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. According to a later account by the Guardian, Cartwright tells Cameron that the ISI, Pakistani’s intelligence agency, is at least tolerating terrorism, and may be promoting it. The Guardian will add that Cameron “was not just told in Washington that organizations like Lashkar-e-Toiba were able to launch attacks on India and Britain from Pakistan. Cameron was also warned that Pakistan was providing a haven for al-Qaeda leaders, possibly including Osama bin Laden.” [Guardian, 5/2/2011] Exactly one week after this briefing, Cameron will publicly accuse Pakistan of supporting and exporting terrorism (see July 28, 2010). This briefing takes place the same month US intelligence makes a key intelligence breakthrough that soon leads to bin Laden’s hideout in Abbottabad, Pakistan (see July 2010 and May 2, 2011).
According to ABC News, beginning in August 2010, the US begins flying a stealth drone over the newly discovered compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, where intelligence experts have discovered Osama bin Laden is probably secretly hiding (see August 1, 2010). The drone is of a new type, and very little is known about it. Crucially, it is able to fly above Pakistan undetected by Pakistan’s air defenses, allowing the US to keep its interest in the town and compound a secret. [ABC News, 5/19/2011] In March 2011, a US strike force will assault the compound and kill bin Laden (see May 2, 2011).
Pakistani intelligence begins monitoring Tahir Shehzad, an apparent al-Qaeda facilitator who lives in the town of Abbottabad, Pakistan. Shehzad lives only about two miles away from where Osama bin Laden is hiding, but apparently Pakistani investigators are not aware of bin Laden’s hideout at this time.
Who Is Shehzad? - Shehzad works as a clerk in Abbottabad’s main post office. One relative will later say that Shehzad was “a jihadist through and through.” According to an article published in April 2011, shortly before the US raid on bin Laden’s hideout, Shehzad is first suspected in 2010 when he is spotted with an “Arab terror suspect.” The name of this suspect has not yet been made public. [Associated Press, 4/14/2011; News (Islamabad), 5/3/2011; Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 5/18/2011] Another account will claim that Shehzad was monitored after he was received suspiciously large cash transfers. [London Times, 5/23/2011] Shehzad will be arrested in January 2011 after he leaves Abbottabad to meet two suspected militants from France in a nearby town. He will then confess the location of Indonesian militant leader Umar Patek, who is arrested in Abbottabad that same month (see January 25, 2011).
Alternate Account for Bin Laden Intel? - The News, a Pakistani newspaper, will later report that anonymous Pakistani government sources claim the surveillance and then arrest of Shehzad led Pakistani investigators to bin Laden’s hideout before the US raid that kills bin Laden in May 2011 (see May 2, 2011). Furthermore, these same sources claim that the Shehzad lead is the real intelligence coup that led to the US raid. [News (Islamabad), 5/3/2011] An unnamed CIA official will later say, “It is quite possible a false or partial narrative was given of how bin Laden was found. … Intelligence can only function in silence and in the dark - protecting source and method is very important.” [London Times, 5/23/2011]
An illustration of the Abbottabad compound. [Source: CIA]US intelligence officials come to believe more strongly that they have found Osama bin Laden. US intelligence officials have tracked al-Qaeda courier Ibrahim Saeed Ahmed (a.k.a. Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti) to a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, in August 2010 (see July 2010), and by September they are so convinced that bin Laden is hiding there that they inform President Obama about this (see September 1, 2010). Bin Laden is not directly seen by surveillance, but there are many clues suggesting he could be there:
Most importantly, Ahmed fits the profile of an ideal courier for bin Laden, and Ahmed lives at the compound.
The compound is surrounded by 12- to 18-foot high walls topped with barbed wire.
However, there is no telephone or Internet in the compound. This would seem to be an unusual security precaution, but it also makes the compound hard to monitor.
The compound sits on a large plot of land and is about eight times larger than the other homes in the neighborhood.
The people in the compound burn their trash instead of leaving it out for collection, like the other neighbors.
The main three-story building in the compound has few outside windows.
Ahmed and the others known to live in the compound have no known source of wealth that could explain how they pay the expenses of running the compound. [CNN, 5/2/2011]
There are no balconies, except for those covered with more high walls. Balconies are a standard feature for wealthy houses like this one in Pakistan. One neighbor will later comment: “It’s not a proper house. It’s more like a warehouse. It’s not like a home where anyone would want to live.” [Daily Telegraph, 5/3/2011]
A senior Obama administration official will later say, “When we saw the compound where the brothers lived, we were shocked by what we saw—an extraordinarily unique compound.” He adds that intelligence analysts conclude the compound was “custom-built to hide someone of significance.… Everything we saw… was perfectly consistent with what our experts expected bin Laden’s hideout to look like.” [CNN, 5/2/2011] However, according to the Associated Press, US intelligence has known about the compound “for years,” but it did not think bin Laden would live there because there were no security guards. [Associated Press, 5/2/2011] Months later, a US strike force will assault the compound and kill bin Laden (see May 2, 2011).
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).
US intelligence begins intensively spying on the Abbottabad, Pakistan, compound where they strongly suspect Osama bin Laden is hiding (see August-September 2010). The compound was discovered on August 1, 2010 (see August 1, 2010). The Washington Post will later report that “virtually every category of [intelligence] collection in the US arsenal” is used, including satellite imagery and attempts to record voices inside the compound.
CIA Safehouse - The efforts include a CIA safehouse located somewhere near the compound. Abbottabad is a tourist town with pleasant weather and colonial era charm, enabling strangers to easily come and go without attracting suspicion. The CIA takes advantage of that atmosphere to send CIA operatives and informants into the town to gather information. A former US official will say, “The [main compound building] was three stories high, and you could watch it from a variety of angles.” Moving there “was his biggest mistake.” [Washington Post, 5/6/2011]
Escape Tunnel? - Analysts even study the water tables in the area in an attempt to figure out if bin Laden could have an escape tunnel. They conclude the soil is too wet to build a tunnel. [ABC News, 5/19/2011]
Intelligence Allegedly Still Lacking - The surveillance is so extensive that in December 2010, the CIA has to secretly get Congress to reallocate tens of millions of dollars within various agency budgets to help fund it. But US intelligence is allegedly unable to get a clearly identifiable picture or voice recording of bin Laden before the raid that eventually kills him. The CIA safehouse is abandoned shortly after the May 2, 2011 raid that kills bin Laden (see May 2, 2011), since it has served its purpose. [Washington Post, 5/6/2011]
Shortly after US intelligence begins monitoring the Abbottabad, Pakistan, compound where it suspects Osama bin Laden is hiding out (see August 1, 2010 and August 2010-May 2, 2011), a man who fits bin Laden’s description is seen walking around outside almost every day, the Washington Post’s Bob Woodward will later report. The man leaves the main compound building but stays within the compound walls to walk around a courtyard for an hour or two. Analysts eventually start calling him “the pacer.” Satellite imagery suggests the pacer has the height and gait of a tall man (and bin Laden is at least six foot four inches tall). However, the satellite imagery is reportedly not clear enough to get a good view of his face. This tall person is never seen leaving the compound. An analysis of the daily routine of this person suggests he is living there almost like a prisoner. Allegedly, CIA Director Leon Panetta tells President Obama and other top US officials that it is too risky to send in a human spy or move electronic equipment closer to confirm if the pacer is bin Laden or not. As a result, US intelligence will still not be 100 percent that bin Laden is living in the compound when US Special Forces raid it in May 2011 (see May 2, 2011). [Washington Post, 5/6/2011] The London Times will publish a later story claiming that US intelligence was aware of the type of clothes bin Laden wore before the raid (see May 23, 2011). That would support these claims about bin Laden’s walks.
CIA Director Leon Panetta informs President Obama that Osama bin Laden may be living in a certain compound in Pakistan that is being monitored. (Some accounts say Obama is informed in August, but most say September, and one account specifies September 1.) [Associated Press, 5/2/2011; CNN, 5/2/2011; New York Times, 5/3/2011; ABC News, 5/19/2011; Wall Street Journal, 5/23/2011] Many of Obama’s top aides are at the top secret meeting as well, including Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, and Defense Secretary Robert Gates. Panetta describes the compound and the intelligence leading to it in great detail. An unnamed administration official at the meeting will later say: “It was electric.… For so long, we’d been trying to get a handle on this guy. And all of a sudden, it was like, wow, there he is.” [New York Times, 5/2/2011] The evidence is so tantalizing that the US decides not to say anything about the compound to the Pakistani government, or to even close US allies like Britain or Canada, for fear that intelligence leaks could let bin Laden slip away. [Associated Press, 5/2/2011]
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).
Some leaders of US Congress are briefed about intelligence on Osama bin Laden’s secret compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), chairperson of the Senate Intelligence Committee, will later say: “We were briefed about suspicions about the size, about the structure of the compound, about the absence of people going in or out. We were actually shown overhead long distance photos from the air and we were essentially told that there were suspicions, serious suspicions, that this may be the place where Osama bin Laden was and that there was a 24/7 oversight of this compound.” [Time, 5/3/2011] It is likely that all of the “Big 8”—the leaders of each party in the House and Senate and the top lawmakers from each party on the House and Senate intelligence committees—are informed about the intelligence. They will continue to receive periodic updates up until the raid that kills bin Laden on May 2, 2011 (see May 2, 2011). They will get calls from CIA Director Leon Panetta two days before the raid saying that the action against bin Laden is likely to take place soon. [Time, 5/3/2011; Politico, 5/3/2011]
Vice Admiral William McRaven. [Source: CBS News]Navy Vice Admiral William McRaven, commander of Joint Special Operations Command, meets with intelligence officials at CIA headquarters and is shown photographs and maps of Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. McRaven is one of the first military officers to be told the highly classified intelligence. He begins planning options on how the US could kill or capture bin Laden (if bin Laden is in the compound). McRaven assigns an unnamed Navy captain from SEAL Team 6 to work on the options. The captain will work daily with CIA officials on the plans. McRaven and his associates will come up with three main options on how to raid the compound (see March 14, 2011). [Wall Street Journal, 5/23/2011; ABC News, 6/9/2011]
Abdul Hameed Sohail at his house in Abbottabad. [Source: Associated Press]On January 25, 2011, radical militant Umar Patek is arrested by Pakistani intelligence agents in a house in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Patek is Indonesia’s most wanted terrorist suspect at the time, because he is the only major suspect wanted for the 2002 Bali bombing who has not yet been killed or captured. The US issued a $1 million bounty on him in 2005 (see October 6, 2005 and After). Patek has $1 million in cash on him when he is arrested, and he is shot in the leg during the arrest. News of Patek’s arrest will become public in late March 2011 (see March 30, 2011). [Associated Press, 5/4/2011; Independent, 5/8/2011] The CIA worked with other countries to get Patek. But Patek stays imprisoned in Pakistan, unlike many other terrorist suspects captured in Pakistan who are deported to the US or elsewhere. [Associated Press, 3/30/2011]
Is Patek There to See to Bin Laden? - After Osama bin Laden is killed in Abbottabad in May 2011 (see May 2, 2011), an unnamed senior US counterterrorism official will say that Patek’s presence in the town “appears to have been pure coincidence” and there is no evidence that Patek was meeting with bin Laden there. However, Indonesian Defense Minister Purnomo Yusgiantoro will later say, “The information we have is that Umar Patek… was in Pakistan with his Filipino wife trying to meet Osama Bin Laden.” Indonesian counterterrorism official Chairul Akbar will further explain that Patek was there to meet bin Laden and get his “support and protection.” Akbar says that Patek “was instructed to go to Abbottabad to meet other militants.” He will also claim that Patek may have met other al-Qaeda leaders in Pakistan, but he had not yet met with bin Laden before his arrest. [Associated Press, 5/4/2011] Patek’s arrest takes place less than two miles away from where bin Laden is hiding. [Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 5/18/2011]
Link to Bin Laden's Key Courier - The Independent will report after bin Laden’s death that Patek met with Ibrahim Saeed Ahmed (a.k.a. Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti), an al-Qaeda courier who is living with bin Laden in an Abbottabad compound at the time. By this time, US intelligence is intensively monitoring the compound and everyone in it (see August 2010-May 2, 2011). However, the compound is not searched by the Pakistanis during the raid that got Patek, or in the months afterward. [Independent, 5/3/2011]
Link to Another Al-Qaeda Courier - Additionally, two French men, Sharaf Deen and Zohaib Afza, are arrested in Lahore, Pakistan, on January 23, 2001. One of them was born in Pakistan and the other was a convert to Islam. A Pakistani named Tahir Shehzad is arrested with them. Investigators will later say that they trailed Shehzad from Abbottabad to Lahore, and that the French men planned to travel with Patek to Pakistan’s tribal region where many al-Qaeda leaders are hiding. Shehzad gave up Patek’s location, which led to his arrest two days later. Later press reports will call Shehzad an “alleged al-Qaeda facilitator” who worked as a clerk in the Abbottabad post office. Pakistani intelligence had Shehzad under surveillance since 2010, when he was seen in Abbottabad with an “Arab terror suspect” (see August 2010). [Associated Press, 4/14/2011; Associated Press, 4/14/2011; News (Islamabad), 5/3/2011]
Waiting in Abbottabad for Someone? - Abbottabad resident Abdul Hameed Sohail will later tell the press that his son found Patek and Patek’s wife cold and shivering in the street, and he ended up feeling sorry for them and let them stay in his house. They were given an upstairs room, and for nine days they rarely left the room or even ate the food that he left for them. Finally, Pakistani officials raided the house, shot Patek, and took him away. Sohail is not arrested. However, his son Kashif is arrested as an accomplice, and will still be in custody three months later. Patek and his wife had arrived in Pakistan five months earlier, traveling with forged passports, but it is not known where they were in Pakistan prior to Abbottabad. (Nor is it known what happens to his wife.) [Associated Press, 4/14/2011; News (Islamabad), 5/3/2011; Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 5/18/2011]
CIA Tip Off - It also will later be reported that the CIA gave key information to Pakistan about Patek being in Pakistan, which led to his arrest. It may be that the CIA gave the information that Patek had gone to Pakistan five months earlier under another name. [Associated Press, 3/30/2011] In hindsight, this is interesting since the CIA is part of the surveillance of bin Laden’s Abbottabad compound at the time, and news of Patek’s arrest could have threatened the effort to find bin Laden.
Entity Tags: Kashif Sohail, Osama bin Laden, Chairul Akbar, Pakistan Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, Central Intelligence Agency, Umar Patek, Abdul Hameed Sohail, Al-Qaeda, Zohaib Afza, Purnomo Yusgiantoro, Tahir Shehzad
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan
By mid-February 2011, top US officials are convinced that a “high-value target” is hiding in the recently discovered compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan (see August 2010-May 2, 2011). If Osama bin Laden is not hiding there, someone nearly as important is. Deputy National Security Adviser John Brennan will later say: “They were confident and their confidence was growing: ‘This is different. This intelligence case is different. What we see in this compound is different than anything we’ve ever seen before.‘… I was confident that we had the basis to take action.” President Obama decides he wants to take action. However, Obama still has to decide what to do exactly. The situation is a difficult one, because the compound is located deep inside Pakistan. He and his advisers will discuss options later in the month (see February 25, 2011). [Associated Press, 5/2/2011]
A meeting about Osama bin Laden’s possible hideout in Abbottabad, Pakistan (see 2003-Late 2005 and January 22, 2004-2005), is held at CIA headquarters. The attendees include commander of Joint Special Operations Command Navy Vice Admiral William McRaven, Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence Michael Vickers, vice chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General James Cartwright, CIA Director Leon Panetta, and other senior CIA officials. They meet around a large and highly accurate scale model of the suspect Abbottabad compound built by the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency from satellite imagery. They discuss the intelligence about the compound and possible courses of action. Three choices of action are discussed: a Stealth bomber bomb strike; a Special Forces helicopter raid; and a joint operation raid with the Pakistani government. Analysts have concluded that there is a high-value target in the compound (which is now called Abbottabad Compound One, or AC1), and there is a strong possibility that the target is bin Laden. However, it is also possible the target could be someone else important like al-Qaeda number two leader Ayman al-Zawahiri or top Taliban leader Mullah Omar, or bin Laden’s family could be there without him. To be more certain, a “red team” analysis is ordered, which means that analysts so far unaware of the compound are given the evidence and asked to critically appraise it. [Wall Street Journal, 5/23/2011; ABC News, 6/9/2011] Three months later, a US strike force will assault the compound and kill bin Laden (see May 2, 2011).
President Obama heads a National Security Council meeting to discuss possible courses of action against Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Obama is presented with three basic courses of action that he can take:
Bombing Option - One is to have B-2 stealth bombers drop a few dozen 2,000-pound guided bombs on the compound. The stealth bombers would bomb the compound thoroughly to make sure bin Laden was killed, that all of the people in the compound, including women and children, would be killed, and many neighbors would probably be killed as well. The odds are good that nothing would remain of bin Laden, so it would be unlikely to find any of his DNA to firmly conclude he was killed.
Special Forces Option - The other is to have US Special Forces arrive by helicopter and then assault the compound on the ground. This is considered the riskier option, because many things could go wrong and US soldiers could be killed. As ABC News will later comment: “The helicopters could be detected coming in. Bin Laden might be warned a few minutes out, and he could go into a hole, escape, set off a suicide vest, set a booby-trap bomb, prepare for a firefight.”
Pakistani Government Participation - Another option is a joint raid with Pakistani government forces. The US and Pakistan have successfully worked together on high-profile captures in the past, such as the capture of 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed in Pakistan in 2003 (see February 29 or March 1, 2003). However, in recent years, the US has stopped giving the Pakistani government advanced warning about the targets of drone strikes on militant leaders in Pakistan’s tribal region, because of incidents where it appeared the targets were tipped off.
No Final Decision Yet - Obama decides not to involve Pakistan in the raid or even warn it in advance. He does not make up his mind between the remaining two options, the bombing raid and the Special Forces raid. He tells his advisers to act quickly with further preparations on both. He also rules out using more invasive measures to gather better intelligence on the compound, figuring that the potential gain is not worth the risk of discovery. [New York Times, 5/2/2011; Wall Street Journal, 5/23/2011; ABC News, 6/9/2011]
President Obama meets again with the National Security Council to decide how to act on intelligence that Osama bin Laden is probably hiding in a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan (see 2003-Late 2005 and January 22, 2004-2005). Two weeks earlier, he had narrowed down the options to two: bomb the compound with stealth bombers and thus completely destroy it, or send in US Special Forces by helicopter and kill bin Laden with a ground assault (see March 14, 2011). Since that meeting, CIA analysts have been unable to rule out the possibility that there is a tunnel network under the compound. To be sure tunnels could not be used to escape, the amount of bombing on the compound would need to be greatly increased. At least one nearby house would be in the blast radius and probably a dozen or so neighbors would be killed. Furthermore, the heavy bombing would make it even less likely that DNA evidence could be acquired to prove that bin Laden had been killed. By the end of the meeting, Obama rules out the bombing option, leaving only the Special Forces helicopter raid option. He tells Navy Vice Admiral William McRaven, commander of Joint Special Operations Command, to come back to him by April 18 with a more detailed helicopter raid plan and an opinion on how likely such a plan would be successful. [New York Times, 5/2/2011; Wall Street Journal, 5/23/2011; ABC News, 6/9/2011] Five weeks later, a US strike force will assault the compound and kill bin Laden (see May 2, 2011).
Umar Patek with the Abu Sayyaf militant group in the Philippines, 2007. [Source: Associated Press]The Associated Press makes public for the first time the arrest of an Indonesian militant named Umar Patek in Abbottabad, Pakistan, on January 25, 2011. It will later turn out that Osama bin Laden is in hiding in Abbottabad at this time, and Patek may have been there to meet with him (see January 25, 2011). The Associated Press claims that the information was provided by Indonesian and Philippine intelligence officials one day earlier, and then it was confirmed by Pakistani officials before publication. [Associated Press, 3/30/2011] News reports two weeks later even reveal that an “alleged al-Qaeda facilitator” and Abbottabad resident named Tahir Shehzad was arrested as well, after he gave up Patek’s location. Plus, it is reported that Shehzad had been monitored by Pakistani intelligence for a year before that. [Associated Press, 4/14/2011; Associated Press, 4/14/2011]
Who Is to Blame? - Bin Laden does not immediately move from Abbottabad after these reports come out. After he is killed in May 2011 (see May 2, 2011), the Pakistani government will register displeasure that Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd confirmed the information about the arrest on March 30. But Rudd’s confirmation comes after the Associated Press article has been published. A Pakistani official will say that an attempt was made to keep the arrest a secret for fear that “subsequent leads would all go dead.”
No Reaction from Bin Laden? - The Australian will later note, “Many security experts have… expressed surprise that the leaking of Patek’s arrest in Abbottabad did not trigger alarm bells in the bin Laden compound and prompt [bin Laden] to flee the area.” [Australian, 5/6/2011]
CIA Director Leon Panetta meets with Lieutenant General Ahmed Shuja Pasha, head of the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency. The meeting, at CIA headquarters, is meant to help repair relations between tUS and Pakistan. A CIA contractor named Raymond Davis caused a major diplomatic crisis after he shot and killed two Pakistanis in disputed circumstances. He was held in Pakistan for two months and released on March 16. Pasha asks Panetta to be more forthcoming about what the CIA is doing in Pakistan. Panetta promises to respond to Pasha’s concerns. But at the time, the US government is secretly planning to raid Osama bin Laden’s hideout in Abbottabad, Pakistan (see March 30-April 19, 2011), and Panetta does not say a word about this. His goal is to appease Pasha so relations with Pakistan will be improved by the time the bin Laden raid takes place. [Wall Street Journal, 5/23/2011] Bin Laden will be killed less than a month later (see May 2, 2011).
The non-profit whistleblower group WikiLeaks releases documents that may inadvertently speed up the timing of the US effort to raid Osama bin Laden’s hideout. WikiLeaks releases secret military dossiers on about 750 prisoners held at the US base in Guantanamo, Cuba (see April 24, 2011). These documents cover nearly every prisoner held at Guantanamo since the prison opened there in 2002. All the dossiers are published in full and are easily accessible on well known websites, including those of the New York Times, The Guardian, and WikiLeaks. [Guardian, 4/25/2011]
Mentions of Ahmed - Numerous dossiers mention “Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti,” or some variant on that name. This will later be revealed as a commonly used alias for Ibrahim Saeed Ahmed, a trusted courier for bin Laden. In the dossiers, Ahmed is seen as an important al-Qaeda figure and a courier for important al-Qaeda leaders. [Express Tribune, 5/4/2011]
Mentions of Abbottabad - Even more crucially, the dossiers reveal al-Qaeda activity in Abbottabad, the Pakistan town where bin Laden is hiding at this time. For instance, the dossier on al-Qaeda leader Abu Faraj al-Libbi states: “In July 2003, al-Libbi received a letter from Osama bin Laden’s designated courier, Maulawi Abd al-Khaliq Jan, requesting detainee take on the responsibility of collecting donations, organizing travel, and distributing funds to families in Pakistan.… In mid-2003, al-Libbi moved his family to Abbottabad, and worked between Abbottabad and Peshawar.” [Daily Mail, 5/3/2011]
Data in the Dossiers Lead to Bin Laden - In fact, the courier mentioned as “Jan” appears to be Ahmed. “Jan” was a name al-Libbi made up in his interrogations in order to protect Ahmed. US intelligence had figured this out by late 2005. US analysts were able to use information on Ahmed from the interrogation of al-Libbi and other Guantanamo prisoners to find the exact location of bin Laden’s Abbottabad hideout in 2010 (see August-September 2010). Bin Laden will be killed by a US Special Forces raid on his hideout on May 2, 2011, eight days after the dossiers are made public (see May 2, 2011).
Influence on Raid Timing or Not? - The Daily Mail will later suggest: “WikiLeaks may have triggered the killing of Osama bin Laden.… [S]pecial Forces stormed his fortress only days after the website published new secret documents.” [Daily Mail, 5/3/2011] Time magazine will say that according to an aide to Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), “Though there may have been a reference to the compound in one of WikiLeaks’ classified document dumps, there wasn’t a serious concern that the information had become widely known through that source.” [Time, 5/3/2011] Plans for the raid were already well developed before the Wikileaks release (see for instance March 14, 2011). President Obama gives the final okay for the raid on April 29, four days after the release (see April 29, 2011).
President Obama meets with his national security team again as preparations to raid Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, near their final stages. The main concern remains contingency plans in case things go horribly wrong. It is decided to use four helicopters instead of two in the raid. (The two extra helicopters will be nearby in case of emergency.) US intelligence allegedly is still not 100 percent certain that bin Laden is at the compound, and Obama’s advisers have varying opinions:
Navy Vice Admiral William McRaven, commander of Joint Special Operations Command, who has been leading the raid preparations (see March 30-April 19, 2011), tells Obama that he thinks the raid will be successful. [New York Times, 5/2/2011; ABC News, 6/9/2011] (McRaven participates remotely, because he is already in Afghanistan making last minute arrangements with the raid team.)
According to one account, Defense Secretary Robert Gates is skeptical, but finally comes out in favor of the raid. [Wall Street Journal, 5/23/2011] Another account says Gates still thinks the intelligence isn’t strong enough. [ABC News, 6/9/2011]
Michael Leiter, the director of the National Counterterrorism Center, says he thinks the odds are less than 50 percent that bin Laden is there.
Deputy National Security Adviser John Brennan is in favor of going ahead with the raid.
CIA Director Leon Panetta also is in favor. He says the odds of bin Laden being there are between about 60 and 80 percent. He also says that the “red team”—analysts only recently brought in on the intelligence on the compound to get an outside opinion—agree that bin Laden is probably in the compound.
Obama reportedly puts the odds at about 55 percent. At the end of the meeting, he reportedly says, “I’m not going to tell you what my decision is now—I’m going to go back and think about it some more.” But he adds, “I’m going to make a decision soon.” [New York Times, 5/2/2011; ABC News, 6/9/2011]
In the evening, President Obama meets with his national security team to make final preparations for the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan (see March 30-April 19, 2011). Obama meets with four advisers: National Security Adviser Tom Donilon, Deputy National Security Adviser John Brennan, Deputy National Security Adviser Denis McDonough, and chief of staff Bill Daley. As the meeting begins, Obama tells them he has finally given approval for the raid. He says, “It’s a go.” The raid is planned to take place the next day. However, officials warn that because of cloudy weather, the raid probably will be delayed one day to May 1 (which is May 2 in Pakistan). That will turn out to be the case (see May 2, 2011). [New York Times, 5/2/2011; ABC News, 6/9/2011]
Bin Laden’s Abbottabad compound in flames. Apparently, the fires are mainly due to a crashed US helicopter. The picture comes from a neighbor’s cell phone. [Source: Reuters] (click image to enlarge)Osama bin Laden is shot and killed inside a secured private residential compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, according to US government sources. The operation is carried out by US Navy SEAL Team Six, the “Naval Special Warfare Development Group.” The covert operation takes place at 1:00 a.m. local time (+4:30GMT). Two US helicopters from bases in Afghanistan fly low over the compound in Abbottabad, and 30 to 40 SEALs disembark and storm the compound. According to White House sources, bin Laden and at least four others are killed. The team is on the ground for only 40 minutes; most of that time is spent searching the compound for information about al-Qaeda and its plans. The helicopters are part of the 160th Special Ops Air Regiment, itself a detachment from the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC). The CIA oversees the operation, but the operation is tasked to, and carried out by, Special Forces. When President Obama announces bin Laden’s death, he says: “His demise should be welcomed by all who believe in peace and human dignity. Justice has been done.” Of the soldiers that eliminated bin Laden, and the other military personnel deployed in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and elsewhere, Obama says: “We are reminded that we are fortunate to have Americans who dedicate their lives to protecting ours. We may not always know their names, we may not always know their stories, but they are there every day on the front lines of freedom and we are truly blessed.” The members of Team Six are never identified, and it is unlikely their names will ever be made public. [CNN News, 5/1/2011; ABC News, 5/2/2011] Bin Laden is said to have ordered the 9/11 attacks, among other al-Qaeda strikes against American and Western targets. In a 1997 CNN interview, he declared “jihad,” or “holy war,” against the US. He had been number one on American military and law enforcement “Most Wanted” lists well before the 9/11 attacks. [CNN News, 5/1/2011]
Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, US Department of the Navy, Obama administration, Al-Qaeda, Leon Panetta, Barack Obama, Bush administration (43), US Naval Special Warfare Development Group, Joint Special Operations Command, Central Intelligence Agency
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline, War in Afghanistan
In the immediate aftermath of the US raid that killed Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan (see May 2, 2011), Pakistani police detain up to 200 people in the Abbottabad area. Police are looking for anyone who knew Ibrahim Saeed Ahmed, the courier who lived in the same compound with bin Laden, or his brother Abrar, who also lived in that compound. (Note that locally they were known by the aliases Arshad Khan and Tariq Khan, respectively.) Both men died in the US raid, but police are hoping to find accomplices. One Pakistani official says 31 have been arrested, but another official says as many as 200 have been. Pakistani police have a history in situations like this of detaining many people for questioning and then releasing most of them later without charge. One man detained, known locally as Tahir Javed, is said to have been the main contractor who built bin Laden’s compound in 2005 (see January 22, 2004-2005). He is quickly released. Other people detained are a major local landowner named Shamroz and his two sons. Neighbors says they are the people who knew those living in the compound the best. [ABC News, 5/6/2011] A follow-up story on June 28 will state that most of those detained have since been released, including Shamroz. It is not known if Pakistani officials still hold or suspect any neighbors at that time. [McClatchy Newspapers, 6/28/2011]
In the days and hours after the US Special Forces raid that kills Osama bin Laden in his Abbottabad, Pakistan, hideout (see May 2, 2011), some US officials question whether anyone within the Pakistani government knew that bin Laden was hiding there.
John Brennan, the White House’s top counterterrorism adviser, says that bin Laden’s presence in the Abbottabad compound “raises questions” about what some Pakistani officials might have known. He adds that while Pakistani officials “seem surprised” to hear that bin Laden was hiding there, he wonders how “a compound of that size in that area” could exist without arousing suspicions.
Ali Soufan, a former FBI agent who was investigating al-Qaeda well before 9/11, notes that Abbottabad is heavily populated by current and former Pakistani military officers. He says, “There’s no way he could have been sitting there without the knowledge of some people in the ISI and the Pakistani military.”
Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) similarly comments, “The ability of Osama bin Laden to live in a compound so close to Pakistan’s capital is astounding—and we need to understand who knew his location, when they knew it, and whether Pakistani officials were helping to protect him.” [MSNBC, 5/2/2011]
Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) says that she is troubled by the possibility that the Pakistani government may be engaging in “duplicitous behavior” with the US. “It would be very difficult [for bin Laden] to live there for up to five or six years and no one know [he’s] there. I would have a hard time believing that they did not know,” she says. As chairperson of the Senate Intelligence Committee, she is one of only a small number of people in Congress given top secret security briefings. [Time, 5/3/2011]
An anonymous senior Obama administration official says, “It’s hard to believe that [General Ashfaq Parvez] Kayani and [Lieutenant General Ahmad Shuja] Pasha actually knew that bin Laden was there.” Kayani is the head of the Pakistani army and Pasha is the head of the ISI. “[But] there are degrees of knowing, and it wouldn’t surprise me if we find out that someone close to Pasha knew.” [New York Times, 5/6/2011]
Richard Clarke, the US counterterrorism “tsar” on 9/11, says, “I think there’s a real possibility that we’ll find that there were former members of the Pakistani military and military intelligence who were sympathizers with al-Qaeda and with various other terrorist groups, and that they were running their own sort of renegade support system for al-Qaeda.” [ABC News, 5/7/2011]
About one month after bin Laden’s death, Representative Mike Rogers (R-MI) says he believes elements of the ISI and Pakistan’s military protected bin Laden. He says this is based on “information I’ve seen.” As chairperson of the House Intelligence Committee, he is one of only a small number of people in Congress given top secret security briefings. He adds that he has not seen any evidence that top Pakistani civilian or military leaders were involved in hiding bin Laden. [New York Times, 6/14/2011]
Representative C.A. “Dutch” Ruppersberger (D-MD) says that some members of the ISI or Pakistan’s military were involved in hiding bin Laden. As the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, he also is one of only a small number of people in Congress given top secret security briefings. [New York Times, 6/23/2011]
However, most US officials are hesitant to openly accuse Pakistan, for political reasons. The New York Times reports, “One [unnamed] senior administration official privately acknowledged that the administration sees its relationship with Pakistan as too crucial to risk a wholesale break, even if it turned out that past or present Pakistani intelligence officials did know about bin Laden’s whereabouts.” [New York Times, 5/6/2011] Pakistani officials deny that the Pakistani government had any knowledge that bin Laden was living at the compound. [MSNBC, 5/2/2011]
Entity Tags: C.A. Ruppersberger, Dianne Feinstein, Ali Soufan, Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, Pakistan Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, Ahmad Shuja Pasha, Osama bin Laden, Frank R. Lautenberg, John O. Brennan, Mike Rogers, Pakistan
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan
Shortly after the announcment of Osama bin Laden’s death on May 2, 2011 (see May 2, 2011), some commentators are surprised to find that bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, is only 800 yards away from Kakul, an elite military academy that is Pakistan’s equivalent of the West Point academy in the US. [New York Times, 5/6/2011] This fact made targeting the compound with a drone strike very problematic. One unnamed CIA official says, “All [a drone-fired missile] has to be is about 1,000 yards off and it hits the Pakistan Military Academy.” Additionally, Abbottabad is home to two regimental compounds, and many military families live there. [Washington Post, 5/6/2011]
Too Long Not to Know - Hassan Abbas, a former Pakistani official who now teaches at Columbia University, says that there was a tight net of security around Abbottabad because of concerns about terrorist attacks on the many sensitive military installations there. The town was thoroughly covered with security guards and soldiers. Abbas says, “If he was there since 2005, that is too long a time for local police and intelligence not to know.”
"Willful Blindness" at Best - Former CIA officer Arthur Keller, who worked on the search for bin Laden, says the locale of bin Laden’s compound raises questions. He says that bin Laden must have known that the area has a high concentration of military institutions, officers, and retired officers, including some from the ISI’s S Wing. The ISI is Pakistan’s intelligence agency, and the S Wing is the part of the ISI many experts believe has worked with and protected some Islamist militant leaders (see March 26, 2009). Keller says that bin Laden also had to be aware that the town has a higher level of security, checkpoints, and so on, than many other Pakistani towns. While living near a military academy helped ensure bin Laden’s compound would not get hit by a US drone, there were safer towns to hide from drones. According to the New York Times, Keller does not understand why bin Laden would live in Abbottabad “unless he had some assurance of protection or patronage from military or intelligence officers.” Keller says, “At best, it was willful blindness on the part of the ISI.” [New York Times, 5/6/2011]
In the days after the US raid in Abbottabad, Pakistan, that killed Osama bin Laden (see May 2, 2011), neighbors to bin Laden’s compound are interviewed by journalists. The consensus appears to be that no neighbor claims to have suspected a prominent Islamist militant was living in the compound, much less bin Laden himself. Most thought the people in the compound were simply very religious and conservative. The inhabitants were seen as courteous, but distant and private. However, a lot of curious behavior was noticed that made people suspicious: [New York Times, 5/3/2011; Associated Press, 5/3/2011]
Neighbors called the compound the “Waziristan Mansion” because it was owned by a man believed to be from Waziristan. Waziristan is part of Pakistan’s tribal region near Afghanistan, and it is the area where most of al-Qaeda’s leadership was believed to be hiding. [Wall Street Journal, 5/3/2011]
One local farmer says: “People were skeptical in this neighborhood about this place and these guys. They used to gossip, say they were smugglers or drug dealers. People would complain that even with such a big house they didn’t invite the poor or distribute charity.” [Associated Press, 5/3/2011]
A local ice cream vendor says: “If a ball went into bin Laden’s compound the children would not be allowed to get it. They were given money instead; 100-150 rupees ($2-$3) per ball.” This is several times more than the worth of such balls.
Anyone who leaned against any of the compound walls was warned to keep moving.
One local teen boy says, “There was a rumor in the neighborhood that the man who lived there was Baitullah Mahsud’s nephew.” (Mahsud was one of the militant leaders of Tehrik-i-Taliban (the Pakistani Taliban.) [Australian, 5/3/2011]
The people in the compound give conflicting explanations for their wealth, and neighbors found this suspicious. For instance, one person in the compound says they had a hotel in Dubai managed by an uncle who sends them money. Another says they worked in the money-changing business. One man who frequently came and left the compound alternately told neighbors he was in the transportation business, or a contractor, or a money changer. [New York Times, 5/3/2011; Wall Street Journal, 5/3/2011]
The family never invited anyone inside the compound and never visited neighbors’ homes. However, they did attend prayers in the mosque and local funerals. [New York Times, 5/3/2011]
One neighbor says, “We thought maybe they had killed someone back in their village or something like that and were therefore very cautious.” [New York Times, 5/7/2011]
An unnamed “senior intelligence official” claims that the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, has used Abbottabad, Pakistan, to hide assets in safehouses. “This area had been used as ISI’s safe house…” He even alleges the very compound Osama bin Laden hid in (see May 2, 2011) was used by the ISI, “but it was not under their use any more because they keep on changing their locations.” Another unnamed official says, “It may not be the same house, but the same compound or area [has been] used by the ISI.” It is not specified which country or countries these intelligence officials work for. [Gulf News, 5/3/2011]
Osama bin Laden’s killing by US forces on May 2, 2011 (see May 2, 2011) reignites the debate about the usefulness of the torture techniques used by US intelligence. The debate centers on how US intelligence learned about bin Laden’s location and whether the torture of prisoners helped find him.
Courier Provides the Key Lead - According to Obama administration officials, bin Laden was located through US intelligence agencies’ “patient and detailed intelligence analysis” of “a mosaic of sources,” including evidence garnered from detained inmates at Guantanamo Bay. The first clue to bin Laden’s whereabouts came when US intelligence learned of an al-Qaeda courier that worked with bin Laden, Ibrahim Saeed Ahmed, who used the pseudonym “Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti.” Ahmed is one of those killed during the Abbottabad raid. US intelligence had known of Ahmed since 2002, after a Kuwaiti detainee told interrogators about him, and it has taken this long for CIA and other intelligence officers to identify him, locate him, track his communications, and then follow him to the large and well fortified compound in Abbottabad.
Do Bush Administration Techniques Deserve Credit? - Some former Bush administration officials, such as former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and former Justice Department legal adviser John Yoo, claim that the Bush administration and not the Obama administration deserves the credit for finding bin Laden. According to a report in the Christian Science Monitor, “the former director of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center, Jose Rodriguez, said the first important leads about Kuwaiti came from alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) and Abu Faraj al-Libbi, the third-ranking al-Qaeda leader at the time of his capture.” KSM was repeatedly waterboarded (see March 7 - Mid-April, 2003). [Christian Science Monitor, 5/5/2011] Former Attorney General Michael Mukasey states that the path to bin Laden “began with a disclosure from Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who broke like a dam under the pressure of harsh interrogation techniques that included waterboarding. He loosed a torrent of information—including eventually the nickname of a trusted courier of bin Laden.” [Wall Street Journal, 5/2/2011]
Rebuttal from CIA Director Panetta - However, according to information in a letter CIA Director Leon Panetta sends to Senator John McCain, these assertions are false or misleading. In the letter, Panetta says: “Nearly 10 years of intensive intelligence work led the CIA to conclude that bin Laden was likely hiding at the compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. There was no one ‘essential and indispensible’ key piece of information that led us to this conclusion. Rather, the intelligence picture was developed via painstaking collection and analysis. Multiple streams of intelligence—including from detainees, but also from multiple other sources—led CIA analysts to conclude that bin Laden was at this compound. Some of the detainees who provided useful information about the facilitator/courier’s role had been subjected to enhanced interrogation techniques. Whether those techniques were the ‘only timely and effective way’ to obtain such information is a matter of debate and cannot be established definitively. What is definitive is that that information was only a part of multiple streams of intelligence that led us to bin Laden. Let me further point out that we first learned about the facilitator/courier’s nom de guerre from a detainee not in CIA custody in 2002. It is also important to note that some detainees who were subjected to enhanced interrogation techniques attempted to provide false or misleading information about the facilitator/courier. These attempts to falsify the facilitator/courier’s role were alerting. In the end, no detainee in CIA custody revealed the facilitator/courier’s full true name or specific whereabouts. This information was discovered through other intelligence means.” [Washington Post, 5/16/2011]
Officials Says Torture Techinques Played No Role - Also, nine US military interrogators and intelligence officials state in an open letter: “The use of waterboarding and other so-called ‘enhanced’ interrogation techniques almost certainly prolonged the hunt for bin Laden and complicated the jobs of professional US interrogators who were trying to develop useful information from unwilling sources like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. Reports say that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and Abu Faraq al-Libi did not divulge the nom de guerre of a courier during torture, but rather several months later, when they were questioned by interrogators who did not use abusive techniques.” [Human Rights First, 5/4/2011]
Entity Tags: Jose Rodriguez, Jr., Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Obama administration, Osama bin Laden, Leon Panetta, John C. Yoo, Michael Mukasey, Central Intelligence Agency, Ibrahim Saeed Ahmed, Abu Faraj al-Libbi, Donald Rumsfeld, Barack Obama, Al-Qaeda, Bush administration (43)
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan
Three days after Osama bin Laden was allegedly killed by US special forces in Pakistan, President Obama is interviewed by CBS’s 60 Minutes. He is asked if he thinks anyone in the Pakistani government knew where bin Laden was hiding. He replies: “We think that there had to be some sort of support network for bin Laden inside of Pakistan. But we don’t know who or what that support network was. We don’t know whether there might have been some people inside of government, people outside of government, and that’s something that we have to investigate, and more importantly, the Pakistani government has to investigate.” He adds: “[T]hese are questions that we’re not gonna be able to answer three or four days after the event. It’s going to take some time for us to be able to exploit the intelligence that we were able to gather on site.” [60 Minutes, 5/8/2011; Daily Telegraph, 5/9/2011]
The government of Afghanistan says that the Pakistani government must have been aware of Osama bin Laden’s location prior to the US raid that killed him (see May 2, 2011). Defense Ministry spokesperson General Mohammad Zahir Azimi says, “Not only Pakistan, with its strong intelligence service, but even a very weak government with a weak intelligence service would have known who was living in that house in such a location.” Relations are tense between Pakistan and Afghanistan. In 2008, the Afghan government blamed the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, for a role in a bombing in Kabul that killed 54 (see July 7, 2008). The US and other countries have also blamed the ISI for that bombing (see August 1, 2008). The Afghan government also complains in general that Pakistan is giving sanctuary to Taliban militants. [Associated Press, 5/4/2011]
Eric Bolling, the host of the Fox Business Channel talk show Follow The Money, reads a list of people his viewers say they want waterboarded. The list includes President Obama. Bolling is doing a segment on his viewers’ reaction to the death of Osama bin Laden (see May 2, 2011), and insists, despite claims from Obama administration members and informed outsiders, that bin Laden was located “through waterboarding, simple as that” (see Autumn 2003, August 6, 2007, December 2-4, 2008, December 11, 2008, and March 29, 2009). (Later in the segment, some of his guests dispute that claim.) Bolling says he asked viewers who they wanted to see waterboarded. The respondents, through Facebook, named, among others: “Senate Dems… and then Obama… then the kooks on [the ABC morning talk show] ‘The View,’ starting with Joy” Behar; “Alan Colmes… [t]he secrets of the left-wing cabal will come pouring out of that boy”; “[m]y ex-wife!”; progressive talk show hosts Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow; and the far-right, virulently anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church. Bolling concludes the segment with some jocularity with his guests, and jokingly offers to be waterboarded himself. [Media Matters, 5/5/2011]
Entity Tags: Keith Olbermann, Barack Obama, Alan Colmes, Eric Bolling, Obama administration, Fox Business Channel, Westboro Baptist Church, Rachel Maddow, Osama bin Laden, Joy Behar
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Domestic Propaganda
Senator Carl Levin (D-MI), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, says that he believes even senior Pakistani officials knew where Osama bin Laden was hidden (see May 2, 2011) and they still know the location of other top militants.
Knowledge at High Levels - Levin says: “At high levels, high levels being the intelligence service… they knew it.… I can’t prove it. [But] I can’t imagine how someone higher up didn’t know it. The thing that astounds me more than anything else is the idea that people in Pakistan higher up in the intelligence service [the ISI] or their police or their local officials didn’t know he was there. I find that difficult to believe.”
Possible Hearings - He says that the Senate Armed Services Committee has started a preliminary investigation into the issue of Pakistan’s possible knowledge of bin Laden’s location before his death, and the committee may hold public hearings on the issue in the future.
Pakistan Shelters Other Militant Leaders - Levin adds that he has “no doubt” that people at the highest levels of Pakistan’s government are protecting others, including top Taliban head Mullah Omar and leaders of the Haqqani network, which is a semi-autonomous part of the Taliban. He says that Omar and others “live openly” in Pakistan. “They cross the border into Afghanistan and kill us. And the Pakistan government knows where they’re at, they’re openly living in north Waziristan. The Pakistan government knows where the so-called Quetta Shura is, which is the Afghan Taliban leadership in Pakistan.”
Denials Predicted - He concludes: “[T]he government of Pakistan is going to continue to say they didn’t know bin Laden was there. It’s kind of hard to believe that higher level people didn’t know, but they’ll continue to say that. But what they won’t say is that they don’t know where the Haqqani terrorists are because they do know, and they’ve told us they know.” [ABC News, 5/5/2011]
A statement allegedly by al-Qaeda confirms the death of top al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and vows revenge. The statement is dated May 3, 2011, one day after the reported time of bin Laden’s death (see May 2, 2011), but it is posted on Islamist militant websites on May 6. The statement reads, in part: “The blood of the holy warrior sheik, Osama bin Laden, God bless him, is too precious to us and to all Muslims to go in vain.… We will remain, God willing, a curse chasing the Americans and their agents, following them outside and inside their countries.… Soon, God willing, their happiness will turn to sadness… their blood will be mingled with their tears.” The 11-paragraph statement emphasizes the continuation of al-Qaeda despite bin Laden’s death. “Sheik Osama didn’t build an organization to die when he dies.… The soldiers of Islam will continue in groups and united, plotting and planning without getting bored, tired, with determination, without giving up until striking a blow.” The statement’s authenticity cannot be independently confirmed, but it is posted on websites the group usually uses to put out its messages. [Associated Press, 5/6/2011]
Radio Free Europe reports that RAW, India’s external intelligence agency, had long known Abbottabad, Pakistan, was a major al-Qaeda and Taliban operations center. RAW had put the town on a list of such operations centers prior to the US raid that killed Osama bin Laden on May 2, 2011 (see May 2, 2011). The article claims that “[t]he US was watching carefully as well.” For instance, Abbottabad was used by Islamic militant groups to train new recruits for at least a decade (see July 2001). [Radio Free Europe, 5/6/2011]
History of Militant Links - Several militant camps have existed near Abbottabad since the 1990s (see May 22, 2011). Key al-Qaeda leaders lived in the town around 2004, and US intelligence was aware of this (see 2004 and After April 2004). An important Indonesian militant leader, Umar Patek, was arrested in Abbottabad in January 2011 (see January 25, 2011).
One day after bin Laden’s death, neighbors told the Wall Street Journal that there had been a recent influx of suspicious Arabs in the town. [Wall Street Journal, 5/3/2011]
Completely Contradictory Accounts - On May 4, an unnamed senior US official told the Wall Street Journal that Abbottabad was “a place we always looked” because “we always figured that Osama bin Laden would not be in a cave.” [Wall Street Journal, 5/4/2011] Yet, on May 5, an unnamed former US intelligence official involved in trying to find bin Laden told the Washington Post, “Abbottabad is not a place where Islamic extremists went, because it wasn’t a stronghold.” The official added that when analysts considered likely locations for him, “Abbottabad wouldn’t be on that list.” [Washington Post, 5/6/2011]
CIA Director Leon Panetta tells House members during a secret briefing that the Pakistani government was “either involved or incompetent,” regarding the hiding of Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad for about five years (see May 2, 2011). This is according to two unnamed sources who attend the briefing. [CNN, 5/9/2011]
The US government selectively releases videos of Osama bin Laden found in the raid that killed him (see May 2, 2011). ABC News reports, “The US government is running a full-court press to prevent Osama bin Laden from becoming a hallowed martyr by using what are essentially out-takes of videos made by bin Laden to paint him instead as a vain, pathetic old man, experts said today.” Excerpts from five videos are made public. The one that attracts the most attention shows bin Laden in his Abbottabad, Pakistan, hidehout, wrapped in a blanket and watching videos of himself on television. He is seen using a remote control to frequently change channels. Author Lawrence Wright comments, “[This is] just a guy who wants to be seen, who wants to be known. [It’s] very pathetic in a way.” [ABC News, 5/9/2011]
Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani announces that he has ordered the Pakistani army to investigate how Osama bin Laden managed to hide in Pakistan for many years (see May 2, 2011). The investigation will be carried out by the army’s adjutant general, Lieutenant General Javed Iqbal. However, at the same time, Gillani says that it is “disingenuous” to blame any part of the Pakistani government for being “in cahoots” with al-Qaeda. “Allegations of complicity or incompetence are absurd. We didn’t invite Osama bin Laden to Pakistan,” he says. He specifically defends the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, which has been repeatedly accused of supporting some Islamist militants, saying: “The ISI is a national asset and has the full support of the government. We are proud of its considerable contribution to the anti-terror campaign.” [Guardian, 5/9/2011]
Former US Representative Michael D. Barnes (D-MD) claims that ex-Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto firmly believed Osama bin Laden was being protected by the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency. Barnes says that he was a good friend of Bhutto before her assassination in 2007, and he regularly socialized with her when she visited the US. He says that on more than one occasion, she told him that she was virtually certain bin Laden was not living in a remote mountain cave. Instead, she claimed: “He’s living comfortably somewhere in Pakistan. He’s being supported and protected by Pakistani intelligence. You can bet on it.” She also complained that the Taliban, al-Qaeda, and the ISI were “in cahoots,” working together to attack US forces in Afghanistan. She felt her own life could be in danger (see December 27, 2007) because of her opposition to this covert Pakistani policy. [Washington Post, 5/13/2011]
The Associated Press reports that three active Islamist militant training camps have existed for a long time just 35 miles from Abbottabad, Pakistan, where Osama bin Laden was killed earlier in the month (see May 2, 2011). The camps are in the Ughi area of the Mansehra district, a more mountainous and remote region than Abbottabad. The Associated Press claims to have spoken to many people, even some of the militants in the camps, and has learned the three camps together house hundreds of militants.
Camps Operate with Government Knowledge - The Pakistani military claims to be unaware of any such camps, but villagers near the camp say this is impossible. They point out there even is a military checkpoint on the road to one of the camps. There have been militant camps in the area since the 1990s. One camp attendee says that attendees can take part in a four-week course of basic military skills, or a three-month course on guerrilla warfare. Promising graduates are then sent to the Pakistani part of Kashmir for more training. The camps are very close to Kashmir, a region disputed between Pakistan and India, and most of the camp attendees presumably aim to fight India in Kashmir with Pakistani government approval. But there are inevitably some trained in the camps who get involved with other militant activities and groups instead. [Associated Press, 5/22/2011]
Militant Groups and Bombers Linked to Camps - Radio Free Europe has also claimed that militant groups like Lashkar-e-Toiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed have long been active in the Abbottabad area, “seemingly tolerated by the Pakistani military and intelligence services,” and the Taliban have a strong presence in the area as well. [Radio Free Europe, 5/6/2011] Some of the suicide bombers in the London 7/7 bombings trained in the Mansehra area (see July 2001), and five British Pakistanis found guilty of a 2004 fertilizer bomb plot (see Early 2003-April 6, 2004) trained there too. [London Times, 5/8/2011]
Operational Link between Bin Laden and Nearby Camps? - The militant group Harkat ul-Mujahedeen has training camps in the Mansehra area as well, and Ibrahim Saeed Ahmed, bin Laden’s trusted courier who lived with him in Abbottabad, had numerous Harkat phone numbers in his cell phone that was confiscated in the US raid that killed bin Laden (see June 23, 2011). He also visited a Jaish-e-Mohammed camp in the Mansehra area at some point. [New York Times, 6/23/2011]
The London Times reports that the US Navy SEALS who raided Osama bin Laden’s Abbottabad compound had a pocket guide to the building’s occupants so specific that it mentioned the types of clothes bin Laden usually wore. One copy of the guide was left behind in the raid that killed bin Laden (see May 2, 2011), and the Times was able to obtain it. The guide lists the names of ages of the people living inside the compound, as well as where they live in the compound and when some of them arrived. Photographs of some people are included. The guide is obviously based on recent information. For instance, it mentions twins born this year to bin Laden’s youngest wife. It also states that bin Laden: “Always wears light-colored shawl kameez with a dark vest. Occasionally wears light-colored prayer cap.” The Times comments that the guide raises new questions about the raid. Some experts suggest that it indicates US intelligence had a mole inside the compound, while other experts suggest it simply shows that the US’s data collection in the months before the raid was extremely thorough, and perhaps used technology “far more sophisticated than hitherto realized.” The Times also notes that after the raid, President Obama “said he had been ‘only 45 per cent to 55 per cent sure that bin Laden was even in the compound.’ [But the guide] indicates US intelligence was certain of his presence.” [London Times, 5/23/2011] Shortly after the raid, the Washington Post published a story claiming that US intelligence monitored bin Laden while he took frequent walks in the courtyard of the compound. This guide suggests that story was accurate (see Shortly After August 2010-May 2, 2011).
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]
The New York Times reports that two unnamed former leaders of Pakistani militant groups are convinced the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, helped hide Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan (see May 2, 2011). One leader spent about 10 years with Harkat ul-Mujahedeen, a Pakistani militant group linked to the courier who lived with bin Laden in his Abbottabad hideout. The other leader was a secret informant for the Pakistani military while working for Pakistani militant groups for about 15 years until a few years ago. The newspaper reports that the two leaders “offered no proof of their belief that bin Laden was under Pakistani military protection. But their views were informed by their years of work with the ISI and their knowledge of how the spy agency routinely handled militant leaders it considered assets—placing them under protective custody in cities, often close to military installations. The treatment amounts to a kind of house arrest, to ensure both the security of the asset and his low profile to avoid embarrassment to his protectors.” [New York Times, 6/23/2011]
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