Jackpot: U.S. finds huge amount of data on Bin Laden’s computers

posted at 9:18 pm on May 2, 2011 by Allahpundit

Would you care for some whipped cream and sprinkles on your sundae?

The assault force of Navy SEALs snatched a trove of computer drives and disks during their weekend raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound, yielding what a U.S. official called “the mother lode of intelligence.”

The special operations forces grabbed personal computers, thumb drives and electronic equipment during the lightning raid that killed bin Laden, officials told POLITICO…

Hundreds of people are going through it now,” an official said, adding that intelligence operatives back in Washington are very excited to find out what they have.

“It’s going to be great even if only 10 percent of it is actionable,” the official said.

Follow the link for tantalizing details about how the SEALs encountered Bin Laden in the compound and their reaction when they were told what the mission was. Who’s next on the hit list once we’re done analyzing the data? You guessed it:

Does bin Laden’s demise mean the death of al-Qaeda? CIA analysts won’t go that far. But they have concluded that the operation “will accelerate its demise,” and that the battered organization is now at a “tipping point” that could lead to collapse.

The hidden trophy of Sunday’s raid: The JSOC team captured intelligence materials from the compound that might reveal the location of Ayman al-Zawahiri, the organization’s new commander. “That’s where we’re going next,” says one U.S. official involved in planning the operation.

So at last, after fully a decade of wondering, we’ll have an answer to the question I asked in this post: Did Bin Laden have an actual job with Al Qaeda anymore or was he basically just being cc’d on messages and offering “spiritual encouragement”? Stories have popped up on the wires from time to time alleging that he’s still giving battlefield orders. Some that we’ve blogged were murky yet spectacular, like this one from Newsweek in 2007 alleging a power struggle between OBL and Zawahiri. More recently, in the fall of last year, U.S. officials claimed that Bin Laden had dispatched his couriers with instructions for a Mumbai-style attack in Europe or America. That report emerged in October — which we now know was after U.S. intelligence had already zeroed in on him in his Abbottabad compound. Wouldn’t surprise me if the hard drives confirm their suspicions.

According to Dianne Feinstein, he might have been living at the compound for the past six years. Six years. And somehow, supposedly, nobody knew.

Update: Was it even longer than six years? Was he there all along?

U.S. officials say detainees held at Guantanamo helped lead them to the courier.

In one early clue, according to a secret Pentagon cable made public by Wikileaks, senior Al Qaeda commander Abu al Libi told interrogators he became “the official messenger” for bin Laden and for a year in 2003 “moved his family to Abbottabad, Pakistan” — the city near Islamabad where bin Laden was killed Sunday.

Update: You know, I’m actually less interested in who Osama was talking to within Al Qaeda than who he was talking to within Pakistani intelligence. Let the probe begin:

Obama administration officials said Monday they would probe whether Pakistani authorities helped al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden stay in hiding for years, one day after he was killed by U.S. special forces at an outsize mansion complex located in the same city as Pakistan’s top military academy…

He didn’t specify which agencies of Pakistan’s government would be investigated. But privately, administration officials said the U.S. would have to probe for the possible involvement of Pakistan’s spy service and the military. “There are only so many agencies in the government that might have been involved,” said an official…

[An] ISI official acknowledged that Pakistanis are embarrassed by the raid. “It’s unfortunate, but we did not know about the people resident in that compound,” said the official. “That is a negative fallout that we have to live with.”


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Has Sandy Berger been called in yet to “sanitize” the information?

Roy Rogers on May 3, 2011 at 3:05 PM

The courier that was killed was also al Qaida’s computer expert. He trained Mohamed Atta, for example, before he went to the US for 9/11. So there is the potential for there being a lot of important information on those disks besides stuff directly relating to Osama including how AQ communicates, what their procedures are, what other instructions they have been given, etc.

But why they released this information is absolutely beyond me unless Obama just can’t resist putting all his “victories” on display in order to get re-elected even if they foil future gains.

crosspatch on May 3, 2011 at 3:35 PM

Is anyone else concerned about how much information is being released regarding the computers, files etc., that were found in OBL’S compound? Shouldn’t our government be more careful about what is being reported for National Security’s sake? What good is the intel on Al Qaeda if they know we have it? It’s as though Obama cannot help himself, and has to get all this info. out so the world will see how wonderful a leader he is.

Susanboo on May 3, 2011 at 3:45 PM

They have known about OBL for months, and weeks of his exact location…now what information do you have that says we were not in general location to watch others?
You seem to know a lot about our counter-intelligence, what background do you have?
You are stating that in this instance you have more knowledge and information than our intelligence officers…it will be interesting to see what background you have.
Everything said, was said for a specific reason, this isn’t “loose lips”…we were surveying this compound for months, and details of the plan for weeks, and no one said one thing…don’t you think they have a better plan and sense of operation than you do?
I personally think the operation was flawless (sans a mechanical failure), and it was carried out in the utmost secrecy, I think they have shown they have a pretty good idea, maybe even better than yours…hard for you to accept.
Maybe you should send an email to our CIA and educate them, sounds like they need your experience.

right2bright on May 3, 2011 at 10:54 AM

Gotta love the long winded ad hominem attack.

fossten on May 3, 2011 at 3:48 PM

I am pretty sure our intelligence folks got the recent “Encryption Times” magazine you got and are in the know… perhaps a little more in the know… you know?

There are whole-drive hardware encryption systems available right now that require you to submit the encryption passphrase to the drive at boot time. The passphrase is used to generate an encryption key for subsequent operations. If you get that passphrase wrong, you’ll get pure garbage out of the drive. You will never know whether the hard drive simply has random bytes written to it, or whether the data is encrypted in this way.

And there’s nothing the spooks at Langley can do about it, unless the drive manufacturer built them a back door. If you’re really paranoid, you put in a software whole-drive encryption on top of the hardware system. There can’t be any back doors to the ones I’m thinking of, because they’re open source and a back door would have been caught by the FLOSS community. One of them even has a special mode that puts a second encryption system in place in such a way that it is absolutely impossible to know it’s there. Even for the pro spooks.

The Monster on May 3, 2011 at 3:56 PM

fossten on May 3, 2011 at 3:48 PM

How about this….fossten, you are a fool.
Short, sweet, to the point, and accurate…

right2bright on May 3, 2011 at 3:57 PM

Hopefully we can finally find out once and for all if he was an Arsenal supporter.

lexhamfox on May 3, 2011 at 2:13 PM

All along I’ve said that if he really wanted to prove he was still alive in a video he made, all he would have to do is have his courier smuggle in a relatively recent newspaper and he could hold up the front page.

Now that it turns out he was living in a metro area, getting such a newspaper, even a foreign one, would be much easier than having to deliver it to a cave someplace.

Del Dolemonte on May 3, 2011 at 4:05 PM

Aw, they’ve been tracking him from his I-phone for quite a while now.

Don L on May 3, 2011 at 4:07 PM

Is anyone else concerned about how much information is being released regarding the computers, files etc., that were found in OBL’S compound? Shouldn’t our government be more careful about what is being reported for National Security’s sake? What good is the intel on Al Qaeda if they know we have it? It’s as though Obama cannot help himself, and has to get all this info. out so the world will see how wonderful a leader he is.

Susanboo on May 3, 2011 at 3:45 PM

Seems to me we should also be very worried about how some of this intel material will be handled-after all, Holder’s law firm had previously defended terrorists. His past record shows he does not have much interest in National Security.

Now he’s Attorney General, and anything goes. I’m sure he can’t wait to get his hands on the stuff.

Del Dolemonte on May 3, 2011 at 4:09 PM

Susanboo on May 3, 2011 at 3:45 PM

They probably just putting it out there to see if any rabbits break cover or change their routines.

Christien on May 3, 2011 at 4:17 PM

The hidden trophy of Sunday’s raid: The JSOC team captured intelligence materials from the compound that might reveal the location of Ayman al-Zawahiri, the organization’s new commander. “That’s where we’re going next,” says one U.S. official involved in planning the operation.

I’m glad this administration is managing this “hidden trophy” professionally rather than diminishing its value by bragging about it for political advantage.

elfman on May 3, 2011 at 4:40 PM

There are whole-drive hardware encryption systems available right now that require you to submit the encryption passphrase to the drive at boot time. The passphrase is used to generate an encryption key for subsequent operations. If you get that passphrase wrong, you’ll get pure garbage out of the drive. You will never know whether the hard drive simply has random bytes written to it, or whether the data is encrypted in this way.

And there’s nothing the spooks at Langley can do about it

The Monster on May 3, 2011 at 3:56 PM

Please, just remove the disk platters and access them on a slave drive that can’t right. How difficult could that be?

elfman on May 3, 2011 at 4:47 PM

I thought OBL had a clan of henchmen around him that werre supposed to kill him in the event of a raid like this. Apparently not, or they was all waxed in the process. However, one would think that OBL would have committed suicide knowing that his number was up. If he was on the target for 40 looong minutes before the SEALs busted in and delivered him to never never land, then he had plenty of time to think about busting a cap in his own head and denying the SEALs the pleasure of capping him themselves.

ah well!

ted c on May 3, 2011 at 4:51 PM

Say, did they check to see whether OBL contributed to Obama’s 2008 campaign?

BuckeyeSam on May 3, 2011 at 4:51 PM

Susanboo on May 3, 2011 at 3:45 PM

What they ought to tell us, they don’t. What they ought not to tell us, they do.

BuckeyeSam on May 3, 2011 at 4:53 PM

The JSOC team captured intelligence materials from the compound that might reveal the location of Ayman al-Zawahiri, the organization’s new commander. “That’s where we’re going next,” says one U.S. official involved in planning the operation.

I am guessing he is no longer there. Back to square one.

bopbottle on May 3, 2011 at 4:53 PM

Is anyone else concerned about how much information is being released regarding the computers, files etc….
Susanboo on May 3, 2011 at 3:45 PM


An excellent point.
-
Like a Dilbert cartoon I can see it now: Obama is pushing his underlings for immediate analysis of the captured info who in turn are pressing the military, NSA, CIA,etc. leadership and so on down the line to the interpreters and analysts who of course would be completely oblivious to the urgency of their tasks, would it not be for The One.

diogenes on May 3, 2011 at 4:58 PM

Saw this on another blog by a poster named Topnife and find it VERY interesting -

Now we are faced with an entirely new set of questionable and wildly inconsistent data, regarding the attack on Osama bin Laden. We’re all eager to believe that we finally have killed the SOB, BUT:

* An eradication of Osama bin Laden would be a very important achievement, politically, for President Obama, whose popularity has been waning steadily.

* An attack was carried out by our Seal Teams, on a fortified mansion in Abbottabad, apparently based upon a supposition that Osama bin Laden was hiding within.

* It was reported that 40 military personnel attacked in two Blackhawk helicopters (Carney news conference 5/3). Blackhawk (UH-60) specifications indicate it can carry 14 troops, indicating a serious overload going in.

* One of the helicopters was disabled, and then destroyed. Therefore, the one remaining helicopter, with a capacity of 14, supposedly transported 40 troops and the body of the victim.

* It has been reported by White House sources that there were no guards or security personnel defending the compound, yet bin Laden has always been observed to be surrounded by a large security detail. If the victim was OBL, where were his security guards?

* Five persons, including one woman, were killed (two couriers, bin Laden’s son and his wife, and bin Laden himself. Mr. Carney stated 5/3 that “bin Laden was not armed”, yet he was shot in the chest and in the head, and killed. (I’m happy for him, but shooting an unarmed man is contrary to usual rules of engagement).

* If there were no security guards, and just two “couriers”, and bin Laden was not armed, with whom did the Seals have a fire-fight for 40 minutes? Two couriers against 40 Seals for 40 minutes?

* Ostensibly, bin Laden was identified by DNA analysis, based upon comparison to DNA obtained from his sister in the past. DNA analysis for conclusive identification (multiple loci) has required an extensive timeline, on the order of several weeks in the past, and while technology has undoubtedly improved, it is difficult to imagine this being carried out in a crowded and vastly overloaded Blackhawk, or in the basic medical labs available on an aircraft carrier (I’ve served on two). The body was allegedly flown to the U.S.S. Carl Vinson, from which the body was deep-sixed, just a few hours later. Is it now standard practice to carry DNA analysis labs on all aircraft carriers, as well as spectra of Ms. Bin Laden’s DNA for comparison purposes?

* Evidence thus far presented includes a photograph of a bed without any information to confirm its location, red stains consistent with blood on the floor, an at least questionable assertion that identification was made by DNA analysis, and immediate disposal of the body with no chance of recovery or re-examination, apparently without benefit of autopsy (aircraft carriers do not have pathologists on board). One has to ponder the need for the peculiar haste with which the evidence was destroyed.

Here we go again! Osama bin Laden has been declared dead several times before. Let’s hope that he doesn’t pop up next week on al Jazeera holding today’s copy of the New York Times.

HalJordan on May 3, 2011 at 4:59 PM

Please, just remove the disk platters and access them on a slave drive that can’t right. How difficult could that be?

elfman on May 3, 2011 at 4:47 PM

In the case of hardware encryption, the encryption/decryption happens at the hardware controller level. The data on the platters is still encrypted.

DarkCurrent on May 3, 2011 at 5:11 PM

Please, just remove the disk platters and access them on a slave drive that can’t right. How difficult could that be?

Depending on the operating system and method used to encrypt the data, it can be extremely difficult or very easy.

The easiest to crack would be encrypted data in regular files on a regular filesystem.

The most difficult would be encrypted data in an encrypted filesystem where even the disk metadata is encrypted. Reading such a device would look like an unformatted drive. You would not even be able to find the directory or be sure there even is a directory. If you use some esoteric filesystem (any filesystem than the standard) and a non-standard block size, with a strong encryption system, it could take a very long time to crack those drives.

crosspatch on May 3, 2011 at 5:16 PM

Saw this on another blog by a poster named Topnife and find it VERY interesting -

Now we are faced with an entirely new set of questionable and wildly inconsistent data, regarding the attack on Osama bin Laden. We’re all eager to believe that we finally have killed the SOB, BUT:

* An eradication of Osama bin Laden would be a very important achievement, politically, for President Obama, whose popularity has been waning steadily.

* An attack was carried out by our Seal Teams, on a fortified mansion in Abbottabad, apparently based upon a supposition that Osama bin Laden was hiding within.

* It was reported that 40 military personnel attacked in two Blackhawk helicopters (Carney news conference 5/3). Blackhawk (UH-60) specifications indicate it can carry 14 troops, indicating a serious overload going in.

* One of the helicopters was disabled, and then destroyed. Therefore, the one remaining helicopter, with a capacity of 14, supposedly transported 40 troops and the body of the victim.

There were reportedly 4 helicopters total, two that landed at the compound initially and two held in reserve. The personnel from the disabled helicopter were extracted by one of the reserves. It seems likely the 40 troops includes personnel on the two helicopters that landed at the compound initially as well as those aboard the reserve helicopters. 40 people total in 4 helicopters.

* It has been reported by White House sources that there were no guards or security personnel defending the compound, yet bin Laden has always been observed to be surrounded by a large security detail. If the victim was OBL, where were his security guards?

* Five persons, including one woman, were killed (two couriers, bin Laden’s son and his wife, and bin Laden himself. Mr. Carney stated 5/3 that “bin Laden was not armed”, yet he was shot in the chest and in the head, and killed. (I’m happy for him, but shooting an unarmed man is contrary to usual rules of engagement).

* If there were no security guards, and just two “couriers”, and bin Laden was not armed, with whom did the Seals have a fire-fight for 40 minutes? Two couriers against 40 Seals for 40 minutes?

40 minutes is the total time on site, not just the firefight phase.

* Ostensibly, bin Laden was identified by DNA analysis, based upon comparison to DNA obtained from his sister in the past. DNA analysis for conclusive identification (multiple loci) has required an extensive timeline, on the order of several weeks in the past, and while technology has undoubtedly improved, it is difficult to imagine this being carried out in a crowded and vastly overloaded Blackhawk, or in the basic medical labs available on an aircraft carrier (I’ve served on two). The body was allegedly flown to the U.S.S. Carl Vinson, from which the body was deep-sixed, just a few hours later. Is it now standard practice to carry DNA analysis labs on all aircraft carriers, as well as spectra of Ms. Bin Laden’s DNA for comparison purposes?

* Evidence thus far presented includes a photograph of a bed without any information to confirm its location, red stains consistent with blood on the floor, an at least questionable assertion that identification was made by DNA analysis, and immediate disposal of the body with no chance of recovery or re-examination, apparently without benefit of autopsy (aircraft carriers do not have pathologists on board). One has to ponder the need for the peculiar haste with which the evidence was destroyed.

Here we go again! Osama bin Laden has been declared dead several times before. Let’s hope that he doesn’t pop up next week on al Jazeera holding today’s copy of the New York Times.

HalJordan on May 3, 2011 at 4:59 PM

Perhaps they were prepared to perform an initial mtDNA analysis on board ship.

DarkCurrent on May 3, 2011 at 5:20 PM

And to expand a bit on my previous comment, it is like attempting to decrypt a letter when you don’t even know the language of the plain text. It is hard to tell if you have decrypted it if you don’t even know what decrypted output would look like. So if you don’t even know which filesystem is in use or what block size is used, it can be very hard.

If they simply encrypt data in a standard filesystem where you can still tell that there are files there and what size they are, etc (you can see the files in a folder but can’t make sense out of the file contents). That is a much easier problem to crack.

crosspatch on May 3, 2011 at 5:21 PM

DarkCurrent on May 3, 2011 at 5:20 PM

Who really cares at this point. I believe the man is dead, that is all we need to do. We don’t need to know a single detail beyond that. I don’t really care how many were there, how they got there, what they did when they were there and whether or not everyone’s stories add up.

All I care about is that bin Laden is dead. In fact, I would just as soon see the entire story disappear now. There is no point in continuing to talk about it, really.

crosspatch on May 3, 2011 at 5:24 PM

About this “huge amount of data” they took with them…

It would be reasonable to assume that said data might include a lot more details about the planning that went into the 9/11 attacks. Shouldn’t at least some of said info, once it is verified, be released to the American public? That will be up to O’bama and Holder, presumably.

Likewise, what if something else turns up in that huge amount of data? Say, perhaps, that bin Laden was in fact in cahoots with Saddam Hussein? After all, he was formally charged by the Clinton Administration in 1998, and their indictment listed that as one of their primary reasons.

Suppose there is smoking gun info there, for example, that confirms the claims made on PBS’s Frontline in 2002 that foreign terrorists practiced hijacking airliners at Salman Pak outside of Baghdad in the late 1990s?

What I am asking is simple: if this treasure trove of data in any way, shape or form vindicates the previous Republican Administration, will any of that info ever be made public by Holder?

I sincerely doubt it.

Del Dolemonte on May 3, 2011 at 5:30 PM

The Monster on May 3, 2011 at 3:56 PM

I agree you both know what you are talking about and there are high levels of encryption. But the fact a “trove of information was found” (at least what was released) tells me they accessed some pretty significant things and might not have had such high level of encryption and/or was cracked.

Cheers

Odie1941 on May 3, 2011 at 5:32 PM

elfman on May 3, 2011 at 4:47 PM

crosspatch on May 3, 2011 at 5:16 PM

I know very little about encryption, I presume that the NSA would first need to remount the platters in something capable of reading them without writing, take samples at various location and run their decryption algorithms on them until something legible emerges. That of course won’t work on samples that contain programs, video, etc…, only where text is present. I understand your point crosspatch that reading the data would be OS dependent so the difficulty would be multiplied by the number of ways OSs write to disk.. I presume that once the key is discovered, it can be programed into the hardware and the disk is accessible. I don’t know NSA’s capabilities. Hour’s? Weeks? Who knows?

elfman on May 3, 2011 at 5:44 PM


‘Kay…one teensy little niggling item that keeps pecking at my brain: I thought I heard, very early on that one of the biggest problems in tracking bin Laden and learning where he was, was that he was using NO communication other than the couriers…IOW: No computers, no internet, no tv, no cell phone…”No phone no lights no motor car, not a single luxury.”
But yet there’s a treasure trove of intel on all kinds of hard drives and schtuff? Sorry, Chewy is scratching head with a hind foot, and it has nothing to do with fleas.

Chewy the Lab on May 3, 2011 at 6:23 PM

Bragging about the secret intel you just got sounds amateurish to me. Not to mention stupid and counterproductive.

Anything goes, for winning in 2012, I guess.

petefrt on May 3, 2011 at 6:56 PM

Some thoughts,
When you neutralize a perp all you say neutralized.Is he dead?Yes.Stop.
Bury em at sea, OK but leave out the fluff,washed em wrapped him, slid him,no shrine wanted,STOP.
Blabber about what you find will make 90% of the stuff old news.Our enemy has been outa the house since yesterday and is in a new safe place. These people are not ignorant ragheads, they are very clever in hiding out.
The bunch in the WH are media hounds and really stupid to tell what they found. The reason we did well in WW II was a lot of scholars cracked the Enigma machine as well as the Jap codes,we did not tell Hitler we had his toy nor did the NYT tell Tojo we has his codes,This is a bunch of armatures
Damn good thing they were not on duty in 1941.
Lastly I guess they do not know yet that.
“Loose Lips Sink Ships.”

Col.John Wm. Reed on May 3, 2011 at 6:56 PM

So how is the propaganda arm of AQ going to explain to the troops that Osama wasn’t living in a cave all these years, living on nuts and berries – sacrificing all for the cause?

GarandFan on May 3, 2011 at 7:07 PM

For a man who took great care not to have telephones or communications of any sort in his compound, hence the use of couriers, to have computer laptops full of data inside his house seems extremely inconsistent behavior for the most wanted man on the planet. Especially after the whole world knew we how used Printers to track Saddam Hussein.

Why tell all our enemies we have all this Intel, to give them time to “CUT” loose ends.

Either this operation took place a long time ago or we really got bunk.

Egfrow on May 4, 2011 at 1:41 AM

Comment pages: 1 2 3