Intelligence Gains from Osama Bin Laden's Compound

Intelligence Gains from Osama Bin Laden's Compound

Data seized from Osama bin Laden's compound offer new details about al-Qaida: What the intelligence community is learning, and how it may be used to revamp U.S. security.

American intelligence analysts are just beginning to sift through the scores of data retrieved from Osama bin Laden’s compound. National Security Adviser Thomas Donilon called it the largest intelligence haul ever from a senior terrorist. When U.S. Navy Seals killed bin Laden last Sunday, they seized documents, videos, computers and handwritten notes. On Saturday, the Pentagon released videos of bin Laden that showed him watching himself on TV and rehearsing lines. A look at newly gathered intelligence and how it could make the U.S. safer.


Bruce Hoffman

director of the Center for Peace and Security Studies at Georgetown University; senior fellow at the U.S. Military Academy’s Combating Terrorism Center; author of “Inside Terrorism.”

David Ignatius

columnist, The Washington Post; contributes to “Post Partisan” blog on

Glenn Carle

career CIA clandestine services officer; deputy national intelligence officer for Transnational Threats; author of "The Interrogator"

Frank Cilluffo

director, Homeland Security Policy Institute at George Washington University.

Program Highlights

A "Treasure Trove" of Intelligence Information

Following the raid on Osama bin Laden's compound earlier this month that killed the al-Qaida leader, the Obama administration has said that the amount of intelligence information the U.S. was able to obtain amounts to a small library of potentially useful material.

Several clips from tapes that bin Laden made and that the White House has released are probably the only pieces of that information from the compound that the public will see. In the tapes, bin Laden is watching coverage of himself on television and seems to be practicing statements for future recordings.

"What we can learn about bin Laden from this footage that we might not have known before?" Diane asked.

There was broad agreement that the tapes themselves did not reveal much new information about bin Laden, but Washington Post columnist David Ignatius said that some of the other information specialists gathered makes it clear that al-Qaida was still planning operations, with a possible focus on the tenth anniversary of 9/11.

Imminent Threats

The first thing that intelligence officials would have looked for within the material from bin Laden's compound was evidence of any imminent threats, said Frank Cilluffo of the Homeland Security Policy Institute at George Washington University.

Cilluffo added that he had a concern that the White House was releasing too much information about the circumstances surrounding bin Laden's killing. For instance, the Obama administration acknowledged that bin Laden had both cash and phone numbers on his person at the time of his death. "Any detail could compromise our capacities..." in regard to future intelligence-gathering, Cilluffo said. For example, other al-Qaida members may make it a practice not to carry that information with them after hearing about bin Laden, he said.

Questioning of Witnesses

There was some difference of opinion among the guests about what the U.S.'s intentions might have been as far as questioning the other people who were living with bin Laden at the compound.

Bruce Hoffman, director of the Center for Peace and Security Studies at Georgetown University, said he thinks that if one of the U.S. helicopters hadn't been disabled early in the mission, the U.S. would have tried to take the women and children away with them from the compound for questioning. But Ignatius disagreed, saying he would "be surprised" if that was the U.S.'s intent. Ignatius said such a move would only further inflame emotions in the Arab world.

But Ignatius also said that one of the main reasons the U.S. would want to interrogate bin Laden's associates at the compound would be to try to determine what kind of support the al-Qaida leader was receiving in Pakistan and who exactly was providing it - two areas that President Obama has said are still unknowns.

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