Manhunt by Peter Bergen - Excerpt

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The gripping account of the decade-long hunt for the world's most wanted man.It was only a week before 9/11 that Peter Bergen turned in the manuscript of Holy War, Inc., the story of Osama bin Laden--whom Bergen had once interviewed in a mud hut in Afghanistan--and his declaration of war on America. The book became a New York Times bestseller and the essential portrait of the most formidable terrorist enterprise of our time. Now, in Manhunt, Bergen picks up the thread with this taut yet panoramic account of the pursuit and killing of bin Laden. Here are riveting new details of bin Laden’s flight after the crushing defeat of the Taliban to Tora Bora, where American forces came startlingly close to capturing him, and of the fugitive leader’s attempts to find a secure hiding place. As the only journalist to gain access to bin Laden’s Abbottabad compound before the Pakistani government demolished it, Bergen paints a vivid picture of bin Laden’s grim, Spartan life in hiding and his struggle to maintain control of al-Qaeda even as American drones systematically picked off his key lieutenants. Half a world away, CIA analysts haunted by the intelligence failures that led to 9/11 and the WMD fiasco pored over the tiniest of clues before homing in on the man they called "the Kuwaiti"--who led them to a peculiar building with twelve-foot-high walls and security cameras less than a mile from a Pakistani military academy. This was the courier who would unwittingly steer them to bin Laden, now a prisoner of his own making but still plotting to devastate the United States. Bergen takes us inside the Situation Room, where President Obama considers the COAs (courses of action) presented by his war council and receives conflicting advice from his top advisors before deciding to risk the raid that would change history--and then inside the Joint Special Operations Command, whose "secret warriors," the SEALs, would execute Operation Neptune Spear. From the moment two Black Hawks take off from Afghanistan until bin Laden utters his last words, Manhunt reads like a thriller.Based on exhaustive research and unprecedented access to White House officials, CIA analysts, Pakistani intelligence, and the military, this is the definitive account of ten years in pursuit of bin Laden and of the twilight of al-Qaeda.To read more about Manhunt or Peter Bergen please visit Crown Publishing at

Text of Manhunt by Peter Bergen - Excerpt

Copyright 2012 by Peter L. Bergen All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Crown Publishers, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York. CROWN and the Crown colophon are registered trademarks of Random House, Inc. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Bergen, Peter L., 1962 Manhunt : the ten-year search for Bin Laden from 9/11 to Abbott abad / Peter L. Bergen. 1st ed. Includes bibliographical references and index. 1. Bin Laden, Osama, 19572011. 2. Qaida (Organization) 3. TerroristsSaudi Arabia. 4. Fugitives from justiceUnited States. 5. TerrorismUnited States Prevention. 6. Special operations (Military science)United States. 7. War on Terrorism, 20012009. I. Title. HV6430.B55B473 2012 363.325'16092dc23 2012004258 ISBN 978-0-307-95557-9 eISBN 978-0-307-95558-6 PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA Maps by Gene Thorp Jacket design by Ben Wiseman Jacket art by Universal History Archive/Getty Images Author photograph: CNN/Brent Stirton 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1




T WAS NOT UNTIL 2010 that the CIA had a series of significant breakthroughs regarding the Kuwaiti, the elusive courier. Earlier,

with the help of a third country that officials wont identify, the Agency had been able to tie him to his real name, Ibrahim Saeed Ahmed. Still, his whereabouts remained unknown. Then, in June 2010, the Kuwaiti and his brother both made changes in the way they communicated on cell phones that suddenly opened up the possibility of the geolocation of their phones. Knowing this, the Agency painstakingly reviewed reams of captured phone conversations of the Kuwaitis family and circle of associates. Around this time the CIA conducted a joint operation with Pakistans military intelligence service on phone numbers associated with an al-Qaeda facilitation network. The Pakistanis did not know that some of these numbers were linked to Abu Ahmed alKuwaiti, but they could tell that one of the suspects in the network was speaking in a mix of both Arabic and Pashto, the language of northwest Pakistan, which was unusual. This suspects phones were also switched off most of the time and were turned back on only in122

ANATOMY OF A LEADand around the city of Peshawar in northern Pakistan, not far from the Afghan border. Finally, in the summer, the Kuwaiti received a call from an old friend in the Persian Gulf, a man being monitored by U.S. intelligence. Weve missed you. Where have you been? asked the friend. Im back with the people I was with before, the Kuwaiti responded elliptically. There was a tense pause in the conversation as the friend mulled this over. May God facilitate, the caller fi nally said, likely realizing that the Kuwaiti was back in bin Ladens inner circle. CIA officials took this call as confi rmation that the Kuwaiti was still likely working with al-Qaeda, something they had not been entirely sure about. The National Security Agency was listening to this exchange and, through geolocation technologies, was able to zero in on the Kuwaitis cell phone in northwestern Pakistan. But to find out where the Kuwaiti lived by monitoring his cell phone would go only so far. The courier practiced rigorous operational security and was always careful to insert the battery in his phone and to turn it on only when he was at least an hours drive away from the Abbottabad compound where he and bin Laden were living. And Pakistan was a country of 180 million people. In August 2010 a Pakistani asset working for the CIA tracked the Kuwaiti to Peshawar, where bin Laden had founded al-Qaeda more than two decades earlier. In the years that bin Laden had been residing in the Abbottabad compound, the Kuwaiti regularly passed through Peshawar, the gateway to the Pakistani tribal regions where al-Qaeda had regrouped after 9/11. Once the CIA asset had identified the Kuwaitis distinctive white Suzuki Jeep with a spare tire on its back in Peshawar, he was able to follow him as he drove home to Abbottabad, more than two hours drive to the east. The large com123

MANHUNTpound where the Kuwaiti fi nally alighted immediately drew interest at the Agency because it didnt have phone or Internet service, suggesting that its owners wanted to stay off the grid. No one at the Agency believed that the courier would actually be living with bin Laden. CIA officials thought that they would track the courier to his home and then there would be another round of surveillance to see if he would then lead them to bin Ladens hiding place. But there was something about the Abbottabad compound that piqued their interest. One official remembers her reaction when she fi rst saw the compound: Holy Toledo! Who in al-Qaeda would the group spend this kind of money on? Officials calculated that the compound and the land it stood on were worth several hundred thousand dollarsabout the cost of the 9/11 operation. In late August 2010 the top officials in the CIAs Counterterrorism Center briefed Panetta about the new bin Laden lead, telling him, Weve been tracking suspected couriers, people whove got historic ties to bin Laden, and we tracked them back to a place that looks like a fortress. This got Panettas attention. A fortress? Tell me about that fortress, he said. The CIA officials described a compound ringed with twelve-foot-high walls, and one section having eighteen-foot-high walls, and a top-floor balcony on one of the buildings shielded by seven-foot-high walls. They told Panetta the residents of the compound burned their own trash. This is very strange, Panetta said. Its very mysterious. It requires deeper investigation. I want every possible operational avenue explored to get inside that compound.

PANETTA BRIEFED PRESIDENT OBAMA and his key national security advisors about this development in the Oval Office, saying, We


ANATOMY OF A LEADhave the couriers name and we have his location in a place called Abbottabad and maybe, just maybe, bin Laden might be there as well. Panetta showed the group satellite imagery of the compound and compared the area where the compound sat to Leesburg, Virginiaa pleasant historic town thirty miles northwest of Washington. Obama recalls that Panetta was cautious in saying that they could say defi nitively this was where bin Laden was. My feeling at the time was: interested, but cautious. Tony Blinken, a low-key lawyer who had worked for Bill Clinton on his National Security Council staff and was now Vice President Joe Bidens top national security advisor, recalls both real interest and some skepticism among the officials listening to Panetta. This wouldnt have been brought to the president if it wasnt serious, Blinken says, but there had obviously been instances in the past when we really thought we were hot on the trail, and then for one reason or another we werent. And so I think it was a real interest, but also we didnt want to make too much of it. Over the next several months, Panetta became increasingly annoyedsome CIA officials even say pissedabout what he believed was a lack of creativity among the bin Laden hunters. I want to know whats going on inside that compound, Panett a demanded. I dont want to just surveil it from the outside. I want to get inside there, I want to get clarity on what is happening there. Leaders of the Counterterrorism Center were instructed to show Panetta any of the ideas for observing the compound they came up witheven those they discarded. He urged them to consider every form of espionage, including getting into sewage lines and implanting devices, putting a telescope in the mountains two kilometers away, even putting a camera on a tree inside the compound walls. The Counterterrorism Center officials came back to him, dismissing one approach


MANHUNTafter another as too risky or not workable. A few weeks after Panetta suggested putting a camera on a tree inside the compound, the Kuwaiti chopped down the tree in question. Finally, in the late fall, Jeremy Bash, Panettas chief of staff, gathered together the bin Laden hunters at the Agency and said, Give the director twenty-five operational activities that you could use to get into the compound, or to learn what is happening there, and dont be afraid of making some of them kind of creative. The bin Laden hunters came back with a chart with thirty-eight ideas. Some were outlandish. One idea was to throw in foul-smelling stink bombs to flush out the occupants of the compound. Another was to play on the presumed religious fanaticism of the compounds inhabitants and broadcast from loudspeakers outside the compound what purported to be the Voice of Allah, saying, You are commanded to come out into the street! Other more plausible ideas included coming up with some technology that would enable the Agency to spy on the occupants using the small satellite dish connected to the compounds sole television, or from a nearby CIA safe house, where agents would pick up the sounds and energy emissions that would result if bin Laden decided to record a new videotape. After Panetta was confident that the team had exhausted every possible approach, they narrowed it down to three or four avenues. One creative, if ethically questionable, tactic was to recruit Shakil Afridi, a Pakistani doctor from the tribal regions, to mount a bogus vaccination program in and around bin Ladens neighborhood. The idea was to get access to the compound, take samples of the residents blood, and then match those with known samples of bin Laden family DNA that were in the Agencys possession. In March, Dr. Afridi traveled to Abbottabad, telling locals that he had funds to start a free hepatitis B vaccination drive. So as not to arouse sus126

ANATOMY OF A LEADpicion, Afridi recruited nurses and health workers to administer the vaccinations starting in a poor neighborhood on the o