How The CIA Really Caught Bin Laden’s Trail


bin-laden4A new documentary has startling new information.

Early on in Greg Barker’s documentary, Manhunt, about the CIA’s search for Osama bin Laden, the CIA analyst responsible for the “Bin Laden Determined to Attack United States” briefing for President Bush, Cindy Storer, is not a fan of those who criticized the agency before September 11 for failing to connect the dots.

“Connect the dots? Everything on the page was black,” she says. That is, the problem before 9/11, as she saw it, was the agency was awash in information and unable to figure out how to effectively and efficiently turn it into effective, actionable intelligence. It’s a sobering reminder as we hear lawmakers begin to criticize intelligence agencies for a failure of dot-connecting before the Boston marathon bombing. In hindsight, it’s very easy to see which dots should have been connected, and how, and it’s just as easy to make assumptions about how we would have reacted had certain dots been connected. But that’s ALL guesswork. No one really knows and the rest are just demagogues.

The film focuses on the agency’s successful hunt for bin Laden, which you might look at as an example of good dot-connecting. But really, we don’t know how much we don’t know. At one point, though, the C.I.A.’s senior al Qaeda targeting analyst in Iraq, Nada Bakos, provides new information about how the CIA figured out that bin Laden had a single, favored courier, a nugget that, in retrospect, was critical to the chain of intelligence that ended in Abbottabad.

Some backstory: In 2004, bin Laden was very worried that al Qaeda was losing momentum in Iraq because Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi the self-appointed leader of al Qaeda in Iraq, was bombing Muslims indiscriminately. Bin Laden sends a letter that the CIA later gets its hand on; it implores Zarqawi to stop killing Muslims. Zarqawi ignores the letter. Bin Laden gets upset. The CIA figures out that bin Laden is about to send an envoy to Iraq to personally supervise al Qaeda there. His name is Hassan Ghul.

Read more at The Week.

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