Christina Lamb – The Australian May 23, 2011
THE US Navy SEALs who killed Osama bin Laden were carrying a pocket guide to the occupants of his compound that was so detailed it suggests the CIA may have had a mole inside.
The document, left behind in the compound and obtained by The Sunday Times, lists the names and ages of those who were present, including bin Laden’s wives, children and grandchildren.
It details where they lived in the compound and when some of them arrived. It also suggests bin Laden had fathered twins in the compound. It refers to “two unidentified children” born this year to his youngest wife Amal, 28.
Even the clothing worn by the 54-year-old al-Qa’ida leader is described. “Always wears light-coloured shawal (sic) kameez with a dark vest,” it says. “Occasionally wears light-coloured prayer cap.”
The document raises new questions about how bin Laden was tracked down in what President Barack Obama described as “one of the greatest intelligence successes in American history”.
After the mission Mr Obama said he had been “only 45 per cent to 55 per cent sure that bin Laden was even in the compound”. The document, which is said to have been carried by all the SEALs on the mission, indicates US intelligence was certain of his presence.
US officials have said that information on the compound was put together over months from a variety of sources, including a nearby CIA safe-house set up as a listening post, imagery from satellites and unmanned drones, and reports from their own agents.
But there is far more detail than seems possible from these methods – unless US drone technology is far more sophisticated than hitherto realised.
Some Pakistani officials say the briefing points to the presence of a mole in the compound.
“I think someone from inside may have given information,” said Rehman Malik, the Interior Minister and former head of Pakistan’s Federal Investigation Agency. “If the Americans didn’t have definitive information, they couldn’t have gone straight to the room where bin Laden was.”
One side of the document is printed with a familiar photograph of the al-Qa’ida leader as well as a new picture of Amal – only the second known photograph of her – and an age-enhanced image of his son Khalid. From the other side stares the flabby courier Arshad Khan, looking older than the 33 years stated. There is also a description of his brother, another courier.
The two elder Saudi wives have accused Amal, who is from Yemen, of betraying bin Laden, either by supplying information or by allowing herself to be tracked to the compound.
However, Glenn Carle, a CIA officer who interrogated another senior al-Qa’ida figure before retiring four years ago, said it was more likely the information had come from a variety of sources.
“Is it possible there was a source inside? Yes,” he said. “But it’s also possible this was built up from a mosaic of painstakingly put together information.”
The document also bears details that suggest there may be more to the story of how bin Laden was tracked down.
It reveals for the first time that the two courier brothers moved to Abbottabad in 2006 from Mardan, a city about 100km west, that is still home to thousands of Afghan refugees.
It was in Mardan that Abu Faraj al-Libbi, the al-Qa’ida No 3, was captured in May 2005. According to his Guantanamo detainee assessment published on WikiLeaks, he was caught while waiting for a courier. He had previously been living in Abbottabad.
The Sunday Times has learnt that an employee at Abbottabad post office was tracked after he received suspiciously large cash transfers. He led investigators to Umar Patek, one of the Bali bombers, arrested in Abbottabad in January. All these arrests in the same area seem more than coincidence.
“It is quite possible a false or partial narrative was given of how bin Laden was found,” said a CIA official. “Intelligence can only function in silence and in the dark – protecting source and method is very important.”
The garrison town of Abbottabad might seem an odd place to choose for a hiding place, given its proximity to the prestigious Kakul military academy. Bin Laden’s presence there has led US officials to accuse Pakistan’s intelligence services of “complicity or incompetence”.
The accusations, along with outrage that the US sent commandos on a raid inside Pakistan without informing them, have prompted a tide of angry anti-Americanism, particularly in Pakistan’s military barracks.
Pakistani officials fear that among the intelligence trove taken from the compound will be found something compromising.
Yesterday deputy CIA chief Michael Morell and Marc Grossman, special envoy to the region, were holding meetings in Islamabad to work out concrete steps to crack down on terrorism.