How bin Laden evaded the US for years

2011-05-05 09:20

Washington - The dramatic raid on Osama bin Laden's compound in a Pakistani town this week capped a decade-long manhunt, but it also revealed just how wrong the US had been about where the world's most wanted terrorist was hiding.

Time and again, the nation's top national security officials told each other and the world that their best intelligence suggested that bin Laden was living along the mountainous, ungoverned border of Pakistan and Afghanistan.

"I have an excellent idea of where he is," CIA Director Porter Goss said in 2005.

"I believe he is in the tribal region of Pakistan," Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell said in July 2007.

"This is a man on the run from a cave," White House homeland security adviser Frances Townsend said two months later.

"All I can tell you is that it's in the tribal areas. That's all we know, that he's located in that vicinity. The terrain is very difficult. He obviously has tremendous security around him," CIA Director Leon Panetta said in June 2010.

Probably watched television

In reality, bin Laden was living comfortably in the bustling town of Abbottabad, known for its good schools and relative affluence.

He was living in a walled compound in a military town, hundreds of kilometres from the mountainous, lawless tribal regions. There were no heavily armed security guards, as some intelligence officials assumed there would be.

Thanks to a satellite dish, which officials believe was for television reception only, bin Laden would have been able watch American security forces chase him around the wrong part of the country.

"I was surprised that Osama bin Laden was found in what is essentially a suburb of Islamabad," former national security adviser and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said on Tuesday as news of the daring pre-dawn helicopter raid dominated the news.

America's belief that bin Laden was hiding on the Pakistani frontier was based on two assumptions, former intelligence officials said. The first was that bin Laden would stay close to his devotees for protection, and al-Qaeda has thrived in the tribal areas of North and South Waziristan. The second was that if bin Laden had ventured into more civilized areas, his presence would be noticeable, first by locals and then by Pakistani and US intelligence services.

But bin Laden realised that there are two primary ways the US catches terrorists: From electronic surveillance and spies. And for years, he managed to distance himself from both.

No strain

He kept phone and internet lines out of his house. Rather than employ legions of armed guards whose patrols could be noticed by satellites, he surrounded himself with high walls and only his most trusted aides. The US could interrogate his foot soldiers and managers all it wanted. He'd still be safe.

Soon, the idea of bin Laden hiding in a cave become part of his mythology. And with so little intelligence coming in, the CIA's best analysts continued to say bin Laden was probably in the tribal regions. Occasionally there were indications to the contrary, but they were never anything solid.

In 2007, for instance, when bin Laden issued a video, some in the CIA's Counterterrorism Centre believed his face did not show the strain of someone who had endured years of airstrikes, moving furtively across rough terrain, former senior intelligence officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss secret intelligence.

In hindsight, they were right. By then, bin Laden had likely been living in Abbottabad for roughly two years, with easy access to groceries and medicine.

But at the time, that hunch didn't prove anything. Bin Laden would be well fed, protected and cared for, even along the hostile border with Afghanistan, the analysts concluded. With no reliable informants and no electronic surveillance, there was simply not enough to change the prevailing wisdom.

Some in the Counterterrorism Centre believed bin Laden was hiding in Dir, a far-flung town on Pakistan's northern border.

Need for explanation

"There were many of us who felt increasingly that the Waziristan leads were drying up rapidly," said Rob Dannenberg, the Counterterrorism Centre's former chief of operations. "As our technical and human coverage increased in that part of the world, as challenging as it might have been, I think a lot us of felt that it wasn't feasible that he was going to be able hide in that type of environment."

Goss said he was always confident that bin Laden was in northern Pakistan but never had any indication he was in a densely populated area so far to the east.

"It was not the circumstance I thought was the likely one. It was further down the list," Goss said in a telephone interview on Wednesday. "That fact, to me, needs more explanation."

US officials have raised questions about whether their Pakistani counterparts knew, or should have known, that bin Laden was hiding in a town that's home to the country's military academy. Pakistan officials have flatly denied that and say they, too, were caught by surprise.

"It is shockingly embarrassing," former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf told MSNBC on Wednesday.

While the CIA was wrong about the location of bin Laden's hideout, it was absolutely right about how the US would someday get the terrorist mastermind. CIA officers believed for years that bin Laden's vulnerability was his reliance on couriers.

Courier's identity

In fact, sometime in 2006 or 2007, the agency all but stopped chasing reported bin Laden sightings, which had always been dead ends, and made the couriers the primary focus of their hunt, a former senior intelligence official said.

It was around that time that the CIA had learned the true identity of a trusted courier known by the nom de guerre Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti. Piecing together intelligence gathered from captured terrorists over the course of several years, the agency was confident that if it found al-Kuwaiti, it could be the best shot at finding bin Laden.

Finally, in the middle of last year, al-Kuwaiti was caught on a wiretap. He was far from bin Laden's compound, but it was enough to put the CIA on his tail. Last fall, he unwittingly led the agency to bin Laden's doorstep.

When President Barack Obama announced bin Laden's death, former officials said the years of fruitless searches were wiped away.

"People in the agency aren't used to seeing their work in a favourable light on Page One," former CIA Director Michael Hayden said on Wednesday. "After this kind of work, this painstaking attention to detail, it's really heartening for them to see the reward for it on the battlefield, and the reward in the minds and heart of the countrymen."

Goss said he got a courtesy call on Sunday, cryptically telling him to watch the news that night. He said it was clear what was about to be announced.

"My feeling was it was certainly worth the wait," he said.

  • wesleywt - 2011-05-05 09:40

    Binny isn't dead. He is with Tupac and Biggy.

      The All Seeing Eye - 2011-05-05 09:47

      No he isn't. He is with Elvis. He music is alot bettter then Tupac and Biggy Binny would rather blow himself self up then listen to those two all day.

      Pure_Darkie - 2011-05-05 10:00

      @ The all Seeing eye Elvis was a thief with as much creativity as a brick granted he had the voice but he stole all his best work from black musicians who were oppressed at the time. Screw Elvis

      tbone - 2011-05-05 10:27

      @Pure_Darkie. The local black occupiers coming from the north sat on the biggest gold deposit in the world and didnt know what to do with it until the white man came and gave it value. Its not what you have, its how you use it that counts!

      Pure_Darkie - 2011-05-05 12:38

      @tbone hence he was a thief and should not be in any hall of fame. so if u for example create a new app and i take it and sell it to blackberry is it not intellectual property theft?

      vambozha mutemi - 2011-05-05 12:39

      yeah was abducted by Jack Bauer from 24...must be at CTU headquarters

      Zambezi - 2011-05-05 13:41

      na,you guys got it all wrong. He be under a tree smoking a bit o' the green weed with 'ol Bob Marly mon.

      hollochris - 2011-05-06 06:36

      he be chasin virgins in paradise..they be runnin like hell...methinks.

  • Comrade Mike - 2011-05-05 09:49

    He must be the greatest hide and go seek champion of all time. Undefeated for 10 years.

      Realist - 2011-05-05 10:48

      He was at the White house

      dante - 2011-05-05 14:27

      He studied Sun Tsu book on the Art of War - Keep your friends close but your enemies even closer. 800 meter from the Army

  • Clint Brash - 2011-05-05 09:50

    Why did they not try Chris Rock's approach and tell Osama's wife he was sleeping with another woman / man. But 20:00 that same day she would have led them straight to Osama....

      saturnz - 2011-05-05 10:03

      but he had five wives

      63Starlight - 2011-05-05 10:51

      @ Clint Brash, sweetie, he is allowed to sleep with other women. He has a few to choose from. ;-)

      Realist - 2011-05-05 11:02

      @63 starlight Thats a bit dof.... He isnt allowed to sleep with other women doffius...he is allowed to sleep with his wives...of which is allowed to have a maximum of four, providing he can provide equally for each of them, equally right up to a grain of sand... Problem 1....He wouldnt have been able to provide equally for them...cos one would be in America... Problem 2....He woudl have had wives, he was homosexual..after growing a beard and wearing a turban at teh instruction of the american government, he had no option but to stop teh he started whacking mountain goats in Pakistan...

  • BinLaden - 2011-05-05 09:54

    no..Im with Elvis !!

  • Zuwaad - 2011-05-05 09:58

    10 years later. a Trillion dollars spent. Thousands of soldiers dead. And th US finally found Bin Laden ...... In his House !!!!

      Gorilla - 2011-05-05 10:02

      Good thing they didn't send the hawks... they would have shot the people next door.

      Zuwaad - 2011-05-05 10:39

      Osama would have bribed the hawks

  • nic - 2011-05-05 09:58

    So much for 'America is watching you'!!...from what we hear, satelites can read car number plates...well if it took them 10 years to find BL with all the time, money and resources invested, it goes to show that this world is a big place and hiding from big Papa is quite easy...even if youre the most wanted man in the world!!

      Realist - 2011-05-05 10:51

      The guy was a trained CIA agent, do you really believe that he is/was who teh americans told you he was? You cant be serious...

      bullocks - 2011-05-05 12:03

      How would you like to find a guy with a beard, wearing a dress and a towel on his head in a country where 50 million people dress the same way !

      NO-BULL - 2011-05-06 10:20

      ...look for the one with the trail of blood behind him...?

  • K1d - 2011-05-05 10:00

    So much intelligence, so little sense or wisdom. America - Tupac,Biggy,Elvis,Chris Rock...huh.

  • Tharien Olivier - 2011-05-05 10:06

    This is an excellent example of a lengthy article written about nothing really. Except that the CIA was wrong in their public statements. Maybe on purpose.

  • Lekker Jan - 2011-05-05 10:07

    US intelligence knew where he was all along. Obama just needed something to pickup a bit of support for his current campaign. Remember the previous no.1 international criminal,Radovan Karadžic? There is no way on earth that the US could not have known where he was all along.

      Born To Fish - 2011-05-05 10:43

      I just love all these theories! He was dead years ago! That is why they wont release a picture!

      NO-BULL - 2011-05-06 10:23

      @Born to Fish You, my friend, are a real idiot! Dead all along? What's wrong with you? He's not even dead now! Next month he is going to stick his head out of the ground and go: "What? Who? Sorry, I was stuck with my head in the sand to hide from all those drones going around. Who's dead?" :P

  • kevino - 2011-05-05 10:16

    Bin Laden was the leader of a fanatical bunch of "soldiers" who are not well trained and ill equipped. Their only strength is their commitment to the cause. In contrast, the USA is allegedly the most powerful nation in the world, with the most sophisticated military hardware and well trained troops. Yet it took them 10 years to find him. Doesn't say much for the USA

  • Muhammud - 2011-05-05 10:17

    if u want to be a fugitive whose on the run its easy.. dont use phones or internet. live in a high wall near military academy and the capital e.g pretoria.. and burn your trash and tell your courier to never use the phone...

      C S - 2011-05-05 10:28

      Why does that sound so familiar??? I think someone who saw his ass this week tried that same trick .... now he is shark bait .... not so clever after all ....

      Born To Fish - 2011-05-05 10:39

      Sounds like you are describing the Union buildings.

  • JR - 2011-05-05 10:33

    Obama and kie new where is was from October 2010. Why did he now order to have him killed? His rating was at lowest and election cumming up it suited him. Nobel prize for Piece ..... ga

  • Captain Jack - 2011-05-05 11:26

    Let’s face it people, it is all about the famous Jerry McGuire saying – “Show me the MONEY!!!” Hunting Bun Laden just cost too much and the world has given up the hope that the Yanks would ever catch him. So, if we take it that with the American economy in the dire state it is and the huge deficit they facing, they had to cut the defense budget and there was simply just not enough money to prolong the war in Afghanistan any longer. Bin Laden was either killed long ago and the Yanks needed the rest of the world to believe he was alive so that they could justify their actions in Afghanistan and Iraq or he is not dead and they simply just gave up because it is costing them a fortune which quite frankly they just cannot afford any longer. Either way, it explains why he was "buried at sea" - it eliminates the possibility of exhuming the body to prove the truth and sooner rather than later we will see the Americans exit Afghanistan.

  • Ke maketse - 2011-05-05 11:43

    From reading this article one gets the sense that Bin Laden has been hiding at this house for all the 10yrs they were looking for him. I do not believe that for a second. He must have more than one hideout.

  • Ashoka - 2011-05-05 11:45

    Just curious: who owned this compound, or property?

  • edmead - 2011-05-05 11:45

    WILL THERE BE 20 VIRGINS WAITING ON HIM WHEREVER HE IS OR WILL IT BE 20 MERMAIDS ? with nearly half a dozen wives he might be a tad tired to service all these nubile women.

      madmax - 2011-05-05 13:21

      Nope, it's gonna be 20 shemales

  • Bellator - 2011-05-05 12:13

    Considering the almost limitless resources spent on this manhunt it is impossible to believe he could evade this manhunt for so long especially with his blatant half effort.. One wonders what really goes on behind the what we are told..

  • ajay.magan - 2011-05-05 12:15

    hi last words where oh bumma

  • vusi22 - 2011-05-05 12:26

    CIA was patient like a vulture

  • Jack - 2011-05-05 13:12


  • Evelyn - 2011-05-05 13:23

    For all the pain and suffering Bin Laden got what he deserved may all the people who died in the 911 rest in peace

      sherwood - 2011-05-05 15:17

      evelyn get ur head out the sand. 911 was orchestarted by the US Govt/CIA/MOSSAD...US media has indoctrinated us All!!

      suj - 2011-05-05 22:39

      When was it proven that 9/11 was ordered by bin laden ?

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  • Zakhele - 2011-05-05 23:44

    I just wish bin Laden should have listened to my advice. I told him immediately after he escaped from the mountains of Afganistan that the best place for himn to hide was the USA right next to the White house and the Pentagon. All he needed do was shave his beard and put a bit of fat and he would have been able to accomplish his mission. It was a sure case that the Americans would look for him everywhere except in the USA rught next to his hunters. I am surprised that everybody is suprised that he lived in a densely populated area. Had he being found in America next to George Bush's parents's house would people have said the US was lying all along that it was looking for bin Laden?

  • Noname - 2011-05-06 09:22

    Worldwide death of the planet celebrates the most wanted man, does anyone have a reason to cry - his 12-year daughter, who watched his father's destruction with your own eyes! Moreover, she said that everything was different than the Americans show! "Daddy was arrested alive,. And then they shot him. Then his body was dragged into the helicopter, "said the little girl AlArabíja television, citing a senior Pakistani official. How exactly Geronimo operations are underway, it is still a question, the White House as often about 180 degrees. The first report should have stated that bin Laden was killed during a firefight. Now the CIA director acknowledged that, although resisted, but was not armed. Lately was arrested because he refused to surrender, he did not hand over your head or you chose to lie down, as the Arabic-speaking agents required. On the contrary, apparently tried to reach for the gun. Then immediately clattered two shots ... In addition to son Khaled and two brothers died in the raid woman bin Laden used as a living shield. It was not, however, for any of his wives. One of them was shot during the event only in the leg. I find that article on news in overseas, you access by link, only what you have to, use google translator. Link

  • Noname - 2011-05-06 09:50

    Very interesting BBC’s killer documentary called “The Power of Nightmares“. Top CIA officials openly admit, Al-qaeda is a total and complete fabrication, never having existed at any time. The Bush administration needed a reason that complied with the Laws so they could go after “the bad guy of their choice” namely laws that had been set in place to protect us from mobs and “criminal organizations” such as the Mafia. They paid Jamal al Fadl, hundreds of thousands of dollars to back the U.S. Government’s story of Al-qaeda, a “group” or criminal organization they could “legally” go after.

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