NSNS – Washington – Top officials in Pakistan’s Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) have known since 2003 that a plot of land was being converted to a villa to hide Osama bin Laden, according to US and Western European intelligence sources.
These intelligence sources say former ISI officers sympathetic to Al Qaeda funneled money to procure the land and construct the large villa in Abbottabad was through several Saudi charities, some with close ties to top officials of the Saudi General Intelligence Directorate (GID). According to these sources, ISI has been the go between for the Saudis and the Taliban since the 1990s. Construction of the Bin Laden villa was completed in 2005 with the full knowledge of former ISI officials who actually lived close to the facility.
US intelligence sources tell NSNS that they suspect bin Laden may have been staying as a guest in safe houses provided by several retired ISI officers, all with the full knowledge of the Pakistani government, for years prior to the villa being completed. “It now looks like he was escorted out of Tora Bora to a safe haven amongst the Pakistani intelligence elite and protected all these years,” a US intelligence source told NSNS.
One Defense Intelligence Agency official, who asked not to be identified, said that, in an agreement with the Bush Administration, any suspicious activity inside Pakistan would be investigated by ISI. The official said, “They (ISI) covered their ass by claiming to send a team to the construction site in 2003 that found nothing.”
GID and ISI have worked together for decades supporting the Taliban and played a major role in bringing Bin Laden to Afghanistan to work with the Taliban during its war with the Soviet Union. The United States also aided in that effort and allowed vast amounts of US aid to the Afghan mujahedeen to be diverted to Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program. The Saudi aid to the Taliban and Al Qaeda has continued through ISI. Many members of the Saudi royal family share Osama bin Laden’s devotion to Wahhabism. According to French intelligence sources, ISI agreed to provide Bin Laden shelter if he did not initiate terrorist operations inside Pakistan or encourage attacks against the royal family in Saudi Arabia.
Claims that the identification of a courier for Bin Laden came from the waterboarding of Khalid Sheik Mohammed are false, NSNS has learned. In fact, according to CIA sources, KSM told his American interrogators in post waterboarding interrogations that the name they had was known to him but was not an Al Qaeda member. It was KSM’s dismissal of the nom de guerre of Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti that caused the CIA task force to become suspicious and redouble its efforts to track down the true name of the courier who would end up dying with Bin Laden Monday morning.
Another key Al Qaeda official named Hassan Ghul was arrested and captured in Iraq in 2004. It was Ghul who told the CIA that al-Kuwaiti was Bin Laden’s key contact to the outside world. This information caused the CIA to begin a desperate search to find out the courier’s real name and location.
As the compound was being completed, the CIA identified the courier’s true identity – a Kuwaiti-born Pakistani national named Sheikh Abu Ahmed. Had the CIA had good relations with Pakistani intelligence, they would have learned Sheikh Abu Ahmed had settled comfortably in the bucolic city of Abbottabad as another important guest of ISI.
In the summer of 2010, Ahmed made a telephone call intercepted by the Defense Intelligence Agency. The CIA threw every resource they had finding and following Ahmed. In early August 2010, a drone tracked Ahmed to Abbottabad and the walled fortress that ISI had never told US intelligence about. For DIA and CIA officers, the lack of communications intelligence coming from the villa was another confirmation that this was probably where Bin Laden was being hidden.
Under orders from President Obama, no further intelligence was shared with our allies, including Pakistan, as planning and training for the operation began. The intelligence intranet stopped receiving new entries on Bin Laden’s whereabouts. More calls with Ahmed were intercepted as the Navy Seal Teams and Air Force stealth bomber crews prepared for whatever operation the President would decide.
Bin Laden turned out to be correct about Ahmed’s loyalty. He died defending the Al Qaeda leader.
“Although the events of Sunday were not a joint operation, a decade of cooperation and partnership between the United States and Pakistan led up to the elimination of Osama bin Laden as a continuing threat to the civilized world,” President Zardari wrote in an opinion piece for The Washington Post. Zardari said, “He was not anywhere we had anticipated he would be, but now he is gone.”
According to US intelligence sources, Zardari has no real influence over either his military or intelligence service and can hold onto power only with their cooperation. US counter-terrorism Chief John Brennan said in a briefing after the raid that it is “inconceivable” Bin Laden could have lived so close to the heart of Pakistan’s military community without the knowledge of the government.
A source in American military intelligence told NSNS, “The Pakistanis not only offered no assistance to the United States but actually protected Bin Laden by sending the CIA and DIA down a series of false trails for years. The real test came last summer when we were confident we had identified Bin Laden’s real location and ISI continually suggested we refocus in the mountains again.”
Sources in British, French and American intelligence have compiled dossiers on those current and former Pakistani intelligence officers suspected of sheltering of Bin Laden since 2002. Many of these officers live in the Abbottabad area, popular with ISI retirees. Despite repeated complaints to the government of Pakistan that went up to the presidential level, US officials were repeatedly told that pressing the Pakistan intelligence service for Bin Laden’s whereabouts in Pakistan would simply result in violence against moderates inside their government.