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

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.”