Monday, September 2, 2013

New Details Emerge On The Surveillance Technology Used To Hunt Osama Bin Laden

National Security Agency Headquarters

Wikimedia Commons

All the technology in the world doesn't beat a knock on the door.

New documents detail the sophisticated, if only partially successful, surveillance technology used to hunt and kill the most wanted terrorist on earth.

Before the Obama administration sent Navy SEALS to raid the Abbottabad, Pakistan, compound, where Osama bin Laden was hiding, assorted government agencies deployed technologies such as stealth drones; satellites that took high-res and infrared images of the compound from space; phone tracking; and a co-opted vaccination program to hunt the mastermind behind the September 11, 2001, attacks, according to documents leaked by former government contractor Edward Snowden.

Craig Whitlock and Barton Gellman, writing in the Washington Post, discuss the breadth of the surveillance techniques used:

... [T]he U.S. government employed virtually every tool in its enormous surveillance apparatus to locate bin Laden. For more than a decade, bin Laden had stymied all efforts to find him by making certain he did not leave a direct electronic trail. He steadfastly avoided phones and e-mail, relying on face-to-face communications with a few couriers and middlemen.

So U.S. intelligence tried to get creative:

In addition to the satellites, the government flew an advanced stealth drone, the RQ-170, over Pakistan to eavesdrop on electronic transmissions. The CIA also recruited a Pakistani doctor and other public health workers to try to obtain blood samples from people living in the Abbottabad compound as part of a vaccination program to determine whether the residents might be related to bin Laden.

Despite all the advanced technology used in the hunt, intelligence officials only estimated a "40 percent to 60 percent" chance that bin Laden was at the Abbottabad compound. A drone strike or a bombing mission could have destroyed the compound, but it would have left no conclusive evidence that bin Laden had ever been there. Instead, Obama chose to send in Navy SEALs, both to minimize civilian casualties and to confirm that it was, in fact, bin Laden in that compound.

The full article, as well as other details disclosed in a leaked "black budget" from the intelligence community, show how modern technology can track an, ahem, Enemy of the State, but with only like 40 to 60 percent accuracy.


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