WASHINGTON–In the end, Osama Bin Laden was discovered not in a cave tucked in an isolated mountain area, but in a mansion in a heavily secured affluent compound in Abbotabad, Pakistan, a populous city near Islamabad, the capital.
Bin Laden was killed Sunday in an early morning raid was the result of years of intelligence work. The initial tip that led to locating him came from detainees taken into custody after the 9-11 attacks about a courier in Bin Laden’s inner circle, Obama administration officials told reporters in a briefing just after midnight.
The U.S. learned four years ago that Bin Laden was hidden with the help of the courier and his brother. It took two more years for the intelligence community to get the couriers names, senior administration said–and where they lived. One of the couriers was a “protg” of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, a mastermind of the 9-11 attacks. He is being held in the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
In August, 2010, the couriers home in Abbotabad–about 35 miles north of Islamabad–was discovered, in a fortified compound built in 2005, worth $1 million, hidden behind tall security walls topped by barbed wire–and with no internet or phone service. The brothers had no source of income–but their home was eight times larger than their neighbors.
“The area is relatively affluent, with lots of retired military. It’s also insolated from the natural disasters and terrorist attacks that have afflicted other parts of Pakistan. When we saw the compound where the brothers lived, we were shocked by what we saw — an extraordinarily unique compound,” a senior administration official said.
More details on the compound, from the official:
“The compound sits on a large plot of land in an area that was relatively secluded when it was built. It is roughly eight times larger than the other homes in the area.
“When the compound was built in 2005, it was on the outskirts of the town center, at the end of a narrow dirt road. In the last six years, some residential homes have been built nearby. The physical security measures of the compound are extraordinary. It has 12- to 18-foot walls topped with barbed wire.
“Internal wall sections — internal walls sectioned off different portions of the compound to provide extra privacy. Access to the compound is restricted by two security gates, and the residents of the compound burn their trash, unlike their neighbors, who put the trash out for collection.
“The main structure, a three-story building, has few windows facing the outside of the compound. A terrace on the third floor has a seven-foot wall privacy — has a seven-foot privacy wall.
“It’s also noteworthy that the property is valued at approximately $1 million but has no telephone or Internet service connected to it. The brothers had no explainable source of wealth.
“Intelligence analysts concluded that this compound was custom built to hide someone of significance. We soon learned that more people were living at the compound than the two brothers and their families. A third family lived there — one whose size and whose makeup matched the bin Laden family members that we believed most likely to be with Osama bin Laden.
“Our best assessment, based on a large body of reporting from multiple sources, was that bin Laden was living there with several family members, including his youngest wife.
“Everything we saw — the extremely elaborate operational security, the brothers’ background and their behavior, and the location and the design of the compound itself was perfectly consistent with what our experts expected bin Laden’s hideout to look like. Keep in mind that two of bin Laden’s gatekeepers, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Abu Faraj al-Libbi, were arrested in the settled areas of Pakistan.
“Our analysts looked at this from every angle, considering carefully who other than bin Laden could be at the compound. We conducted red team exercises and other forms of alternative analysis to check our work. No other candidate fit the bill as well as bin Laden did.
“So the final conclusion, from an intelligence standpoint, was twofold. We had high confidence that a high-value target was being harbored by the brothers on the compound, and we assessed that there was a strong probability that that person was Osama bin Laden.”