Sunday afternoon’s raid by U.S. forces that killed Osama bin Laden was the “culmination of years of careful and highly advanced intelligence work,” senior administration officials said in a conference call, describing the genesis of an operation that sounded like it was right out of a “Mission Impossible” movie.
Some time after Sept. 11, detainees held by the U.S. told interrogators about a man believed to work as a courier for bin Laden, senior administration officials said. The man was described by detainees as a protégé of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, and “one of the few Al Qaeda couriers trusted by bin laden.”
Initially, intelligence officials only had the man’s nickname, but they discovered his real name four years ago.
Two years ago, intelligence officials began to identify areas of Pakistan where the courier and his brother operated, and the great security precautions the two men took aroused U.S. suspicions.
Last August, intelligence officials tracked the men to their residence in Abbottabad, Pakistan, a relatively wealthy town 35 miles north of Islamabad where many retired military officers live.
“When we saw the compound where the brothers lived, we were shocked by what we saw,” a senior administration official said.
The compound was eight times larger than any other home in the area. It was surrounded by walls measuring 12 feet to 18 feet that were topped with barbed wire. There were additional inner walls that sectioned off parts of the compound and entry was restricted by two security gates. And the residents burned their trash instead of leaving it outside for pickup. There was a three-story house on the site, with a 7-foot privacy wall on the top floor.