In the early-morning hours of May 2, 2011, a small team of American military and intelligence professionals landed inside the high white walls of a mysterious compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. The team’s mission, code-named Operation Neptune Spear, had two primary objectives: capture or kill Osama bin Laden and gather as much intelligence as possible about the al Qaeda leader and his network. A bullet to bin Laden’s head accomplished the first; the quick work of the Sensitive Site Exploitation team accomplished the second.
Then of course we have the CBS EXCLUSIVE by their very own “Dan Blather.” How much credibility do we need? LOL !
It was quite a haul: 10 hard drives, nearly 100 thumb drives and a dozen cellphones. There were DVDs, audio and video tapes, data cards, reams of handwritten materials, newspapers and magazines. At a Pentagon briefing days after the raid, a senior military intelligence official described it as “the single largest collection of senior terrorist materials ever.”
The United States had gotten its hands on al Qaeda’s playbook—its recent history, its current operations, its future plans. An interagency team led by the Central Intelligence Agency got the first look at the cache. They performed a hasty scrub—a “triage”—on a small sliver of the document collection, looking for actionable intelligence. According to Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, the team produced more than 400 separate reports based on information in the documents.
But it is what happened next that is truly stunning: nothing. The analysis of the materials—the “document exploitation,” in the parlance of intelligence professionals—came to an abrupt stop. According to five senior U.S. intelligence officials, the documents sat largely untouched for months—perhaps as long as a year.
In spring 2012, a year after the raid that killed bin Laden and six months before the 2012 presidential election, the Obama administration launched a concerted campaign to persuade the American people who the long war with al Qaeda was ending. In a speech commemorating the anniversary of the raid, John Brennan , Mr. Obama’s top counter terrorism adviser and later his CIA director, predicted the imminent demise of al Qaeda. The next day, on May 1, 2012, Mr. Obama made a bold claim: “The goal that I set—to defeat al Qaeda and deny it a chance to rebuild—is now within our reach.”
The White House provided 17 handpicked documents to the Combatting Terror Center at the West Point military academy, where a team of analysts reached the conclusion the Obama administration wanted. Bin Laden, they found, had been isolated and relatively powerless, a sad and lonely man sitting atop a crumbling terror network.
It was a reassuring portrayal. It was also wrong. And those responsible for winning the war—as opposed to an election—couldn’t afford to engage in such dangerous self-delusion.
“The leadership down at Central Command wanted to know what were we learning from these documents,” says Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn, the former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, according to the transcript of an interview with Fox News anchor Bret Baier for a coming Fox News Reporting special. “We were still facing a growing al Qaeda threat. And it was not just Pakistan and Afghanistan and Iraq. But we saw it growing in Yemen. We clearly saw it growing still in East Africa.” The threat “wasn’t going away,” he adds, “and we wanted to know: What can we learn from these documents?”
After a pitched bureaucratic battle, a small team of analysts from the Defense Intelligence Agency and Centcom was given time-limited, read-only access to the documents. The DIA team began producing analyses reflecting what they were seeing in the documents.
At precisely the time Mr. Obama was campaigning on the imminent death of al Qaeda, those with access to the bin Laden documents were seeing, in bin Laden’s own words, that the opposite was true. Says Lt. Gen. Flynn: “By that time, they probably had grown by about—I’d say close to doubling by that time. And we knew that.”
This wasn’t what the Obama White House wanted to hear. So the administration cut off DIA access to the documents and instructed DIA officials to stop producing analyses based on them.
Even this limited glimpse into the broader set of documents revealed the problems with the administration’s claims about al Qaeda. Bin Laden had clear control of al Qaeda and was intimately involved in day-to-day management. More important, given the dramatic growth of the terror threat in the years since, the documents showed that bin Laden had expansion plans. Lt. Gen. Flynn says bin Laden was giving direction to “members of the wider al Qaeda leadership team, if you will, that went all the way to places like West Africa where we see a problem today with Boko Haram and [al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb], all the way back into the things that were going on in Afghanistan and Pakistan.” Bin Laden advised them on everything from specific operations in Europe to the types of crops his minions should plant in East Africa.
To date, the public has seen only two dozen of the 1.5 million documents captured in Abbottabad. “It’s a thimble-full,” says Derek Harvey, a senior intelligence official who helped lead the DIA analysis of the bin Laden collection.
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Disclaimer: This was not written by Lorra B.