May 4, 2011

After the raid: Mining the haul

Erica Werner and Kimberly Dozier, The Associated Press

WASHINGTON — With Osama bin Laden dead and buried, U.S. officials are starting to explore the computer files, flash drives, DVDs and documents that U.S. commandos hauled out of his Pakistani compound hideaway, hopeful that the intelligence trove will yield insights that point the way to other al-Qaida leaders.

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Pakistani security officials leave after the examining the house today where al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden was killed in Abbottabad, Pakistan.

AP

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The Navy SEALS who staged the daring raid on bin Laden's compound, now resting at Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington, also confiscated phone numbers from bin Laden's body that could provide new leads for investigators.

The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., took note today of the small snippets of information that eventually paved a pathway to bin Laden, and expressed similar hopes for this new trove.

"Small pieces of information can be critically important," Rogers said on ABC's "Good Morning America. But he added: "I would be very cautious until we actually know what we have." Rogers said it would be a big task to go through the cache, which includes encrypted materials and writings in Arabic.

The CIA has set up a task force to review the material from the highest level of al-Qaida's leadership, providing a rare opportunity for U.S. intelligence. When a midlevel terrorist is captured, his bosses know exactly what information might be compromised and can change plans. When the boss is taken, everything might be compromised but nobody knows for sure.

Bin Laden's hideout was in the Pakistani garrison town of Abbottabad, the same city where Indonesian terror suspect Umar Patek was arrested in January.

Indonesian officials said Patek, who is suspected in the 2002 Bali bombings that killed 202 people, was in Pakistan to meet with bin Laden when he was arrested. But a senior U.S. counterterrorism official said today that Patek's visit to Abbottabad appeared to be coincidental, and there was no indication the two men met.

The White House on Tuesday gave a more complete picture of the assault — and corrected some key details from earlier official accounts.

White House officials initially suggested bin Laden had been holding a weapon and perhaps firing at U.S. forces. The corrected account raised questions about whether the Americans ever planned to take him alive, or simply were out to kill him.

Panetta told "PBS NewsHour" that bin Laden "made some threatening moves" that "represented a clear threat to our guys" but was not more specific about what the unarmed terrorist did as the commandos engaged others at the compound in a firefight and burst into their prey's room.

"I don't think he had a lot of time to say anything," Panetta said. "It was a firefight going up that compound. ... This was all split-second action on the part of the SEALs."

Panetta underscored that Obama had given permission to kill the terrorist leader: "The authority here was to kill bin Laden," he said. "And obviously, under the rules of engagement, if he had in fact thrown up his hands, surrendered and didn't appear to be representing any kind of threat, then they were to capture him. But they had full authority to kill him."

The revised account of bin Laden's final moments was one of many official details that have changed since he was killed in the nighttime raid early Monday morning. Officials also incorrectly said bin Laden's wife died in gunfire while serving as his human shield. That actually was the wife of a bin Laden aide, and she was just caught in crossfire, the White House said Tuesday.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney attributed those discrepancies to the fog of war, saying the information was coming in bit by bit and was still being reviewed. Nevertheless, the contradictory statements may raise suspicions about the White House's version of events, given that no independent account from another source is likely to emerge. The only non-U.S. witnesses to survive the raid are in Pakistani custody.

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