While President Barack Obama's administration prepares to annually declassify the number of people and businesses covered by National Security Agency surveillance, the Washington Post this week divulged details on NSA targeting that helped exterminate al-Qa'ida head honcho Osama bin Laden. The revelation comes from classified documents leaked by NSA-contractor-turned-fugitive Edward Snowden; the documents detail US intelligence budgets for 2013 and only make brief reference to the events surrounding the offensive.
The May 2011 assault on the compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan in which Bin Laden was killed, is marked as a banner success for US intelligence and the Obama administration. The Post article describes how the documents exposed some of the methods employed by the various agencies involved, including a group of satellites aimed at Pakistan in order to collect electronic and signals intelligence about al-Qa'ida whereabouts. Leading up to the operation, NSA tracked cell phone use of al-Qa'ida operatives and the National Reconnaissance Office collected almost 400 images of the location. Central Intelligence Agency analysts combined that data with other reporting to locate Bin Laden's hideout. A team of US Navy SEALs conducted the strike and, in the hours afterward, Defense Intelligence Agency analysts confirmed the corpse indeed was Bin Laden. Despite employing the full arsenal of tools and techniques, intelligence provides analysis (not evidence), and US intelligence officials reported to the President that the odds were 40/60 that Bin Laden would be present.
Flown up with the satellites, an RQ-170 stealth drone collected electronic transmissions and the CIA recruited individuals to try using DNA evidence to identify Bin Laden or his relatives. A Pakistani doctor and public health workers attempted to obtain blood samples through a vaccination program.
The doctor, Shakil Afridi, is currently confined in a Peshawar jail while awaiting a new trial. Thursday, a Pakistani appeals court overturned a 33-year jail sentence convicting the doctor of "conspiring against the state" by providing funds and medical help to a banned militant group, Lashkar-e-Islam. Afridi denies the charges.
Washington has been vocal about Afridi's heroism in the Bin Laden raids and Congress withheld $33 million in aid (assigning $1 million per year of Afridi's original sentence). Islamabad considers the US operation illegal, which puts a spotlight on Pakistani officials for not taking action, and they consider the doctor a traitor for his involvement. Health workers and vaccination teams have been the victims of increased threats and even killings in the aftermath.
UK officials reported on Friday that the Snowden-leaked documents confiscated this week at Heathrow airport include over 58,000 classified British files. The documents apparently contain revealing, identifying details of British intelligence workers in-country and abroad. London assesses, based on Snowden's travel record, that the data was exposed to foreign governments. The materials were obtained under special terrorism authorities from David Miranda who was en route to Brazil. Miranda is the boyfriend of Glen Greenwald, British journalist and the mouthpiece for most of Snowden's leaks.[Image via US Government.]