The cellphone of Osama bin Laden’s trusted courier, which was recovered in the raid that killed both men in Pakistan last month, contained contacts to a militant group that is a longtime asset of Pakistan’s intelligence agency, senior American officials who have been briefed on the findings say.
The discovery indicates that Bin Laden used the group, Harakat-ul-Mujahedeen, as part of his support network inside the country, the officials and others said. But it also raised tantalizing questions about whether the group and others like it helped shelter and support Bin Laden on behalf of Pakistan’s spy agency, given that it had mentored Harakat and allowed it to operate in Pakistan for at least 20 years, the officials and analysts said.
In tracing the calls on the cellphone, American analysts have determined that Harakat commanders had called Pakistani intelligence officials, the senior American officials said. One said they had met. The officials added that the contacts were not necessarily about Bin Laden and his protection and that there was no “smoking gun” showing that Pakistan’s spy agency had protected Bin Laden.
But the cellphone numbers provide one of the most intriguing leads yet in the hunt for the answer to an urgent and vexing question for Washington: How was it that Bin Laden was able to live comfortably for years in Abbottabad, a town dominated by the Pakistani military and only a three-hour drive from Islamabad, the capital?
“It’s a serious lead,” said one American official, who has been briefed in broad terms on the cellphone analysis. “It’s an avenue we’re investigating.”
The revelation also provides a potentially critical piece of the puzzle about Bin Laden’s secret odyssey after he slipped away from American forces in the Tora Bora region of Afghanistan nearly 10 years ago. It may help answer how and why Bin Laden or his protectors chose Abbottabad, where he was killed in a raid by a Navy Seals team on May 2.
FBI agent George Piro was driving south on the Fairfax County Parkway when his cell phone rang on Christmas Eve 2003. He knew immediately it was something big: “It was my section chief—my boss’s boss,” Piro says. The mission was quickly explained: Just months after returning from his first wartime deployment to Iraq, he was being ordered back. He had a new assignment: to interrogate Saddam Hussein.
“The primary purpose was intelligence, yet we also had to be aware of his history,” Piro recalls. “You couldn’t ignore the atrocities that Saddam committed, and it was clear that he might face prosecution for them.” The question of jurisdiction hadn’t been settled—whether Saddam could face a US trial, an international trial, or an Iraqi trial. That meant that the whole team had to be able to testify in a variety of settings. Agents also interrogated other high-value detainees, such as Chemical Ali and Tariq Aziz, to gather insights into Saddam and, as Piro says, “other information that could either corroborate or contradict what Saddam was telling us.”
First the team needed to take control. Because Saddam was believed to speak some English, his guards were replaced by Puerto Rican National Guard troops who were told to talk only in Spanish. Saddam wouldn’t be able to communicate with anyone but Piro. “Every interaction had to be controlled,” Piro says. “All of these things were imposed on him slowly, forcing him to ask me for things.”
The most expensive public enemy in American history died Sunday from two bullets.
As we mark Osama bin Laden’s death, what’s striking is how much he cost our nation—and how little we’ve gained from our fight against him. By conservative estimates, bin Laden cost the United States at least $3 trillion over the past 15 years, counting the disruptions he wrought on the domestic economy, the wars and heightened security triggered by the terrorist attacks he engineered, and the direct efforts to hunt him down.
Relations with Pakistan could get rough — they had to know bin Laden was there (in Abbottabad) His million-dollar compound was less than 40 miles from Pakistan’s capital. That’s like escaping Washington, D.C. by hiding out in Baltimore. …And it turns out bin Laden was hiding out just 1,000 yards from the prestigious Kakul Military Academy, the ‘West Point of Pakistan.’ Now, in (the Pakistanis’) defense, the compound had very high walls, so they may have seen their neighbor only from the eyes up — like Wilson, from Home Improvement.
— STEPHEN COLBERT, The Colbert Report (via inothernews)