Monday, May 2, 2011

What Doomed Osama bin Laden? No Internet!

Looks as if Osama bin Laden's security team thought it would be a bad idea for his 3,000-square foot compound near Islamabad, Pakistan to be wired for Internet or phone service. But you can file this cautiousness under "cure being worse than the disease."

According to a story published today on The Atlantic's website by contributing editor Marc Ambinder, bin Laden's "radio silence" seems to have made his compound just as suspicious as if he'd shared a friends-and-family plan with Ayman al-Zawahiri or was addicted to trolling on

NSA [National Security Agency] figured out, somehow, that there was no telephone or Internet service in the compound. How it did this without Pakistan's knowledge is a secret. The NGIA [National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency] makes the military's maps but also develops their pattern recognition software -- no doubt used to help establish, by February of this year, that the CIA could say with "high probability" that bin Laden and his family were living there.
So there you have it: do without a phone or Internet service to avoid having your chatter picked up and our spooks wonder, "Hmm, what's a guy with a deluxe ultra-secure compound doing without a phone or Internet service?"

Most sobering of all is what this story suggests about the state of technology underlying pattern recognition and probability theory -- and how our intelligence agencies can apply them.

On the other hand, building a conspicuous retirement home for a local folk hero like bin Laden in the suburbs of a city, half a mile from the country's West Point-style military academy, probably wasn't the smartest idea either ... whether or not you decided to skip calling PTCL (Pakistan Telecommunication Company Limited) for their money-saving Super Sunday Offer or awesome UltraNet 50mbps VDSL.

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