Friday, June 17, 2011


Above the Tearline: Surveillance of bin Laden's Courier | STRATFOR

Vice President of Intelligence Fred Burton examines the sophisticated surveillance operation that led to the raid on Osama bin Laden’s safe house in Pakistan.

In this week’s Above the Tearline, we thought we’d take a look at the highly sophisticated surveillance operation that took place many weeks before the SEAL Team Six takedown of the Osama bin Laden safe house.

In the aftermath of the bin Laden takedown, most of the mainstream media has been focused on the brilliant SEAL Team Six assault on the compound. What we would like to take a look at is the highly sophisticated CIA surveillance operation that took place on the courier, who was bin Laden’s lifeline to the free world. Trade craft wise, the surveillance of the courier is the brilliance in this operation in my assessment, meaning you had to set up a standalone safe house in country for a CIA team to operate it in without the knowledge of the Pakistani government. In essence you’re operating behind enemy lines.

One of the other concepts of operating a unilateral surveillance team in a foreign country is the notion of third-party intelligence services trying to figure out what you’re doing. Such as the Indian Intelligence Bureau, the Russian SVR, as well as the very aggressive intelligence capabilities of and organizations such as al Qaeda getting wind of what your team could be doing. The personnel operating in this surveillance team are on a very dangerous mission. In essence, if caught they are committing crimes against Pakistan and they are on their own. They’re operating - the term is black - in country so the U.S. would not acknowledge any activities on the part of our government if the surveillance team had been picked up before the bin Laden operation went down.

The courier was operationally very secure. For example he would remove his cell phone battery so the cell phone could not have been used to track his movements to the compound. And think about the surveillance team and the ability to follow that man without getting caught. At any point along this operation if the courier saw the surveillance team, the operation would’ve been blown. I know from first-hand experience in the Ramzi Yousef case, the mastermind of the first World Trade Center bombing, that elements within the Pakistani ISI cannot be trusted so this is why the CIA decided to put together a unilateral operation once they had the lead on the courier. And the logistics, and the care and feeding and the backstop of what took place to get this team into country to surveil all the courier from many, many weeks before the bin Laden operation is probably the most brilliant CIA surveillance operation in quite some time.


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