1. Headline
  1. Headline
Image: Guard at bin Laden compound
Akhtar Soomro  /  Reuters
A policeman stands guard outside the compound where al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden was killed in Abbottabad on Monday.
By
NBC News and msnbc.com
updated 5/4/2011 7:15:09 PM ET 2011-05-04T23:15:09

People in the Pakistan compound where Osama bin Laden was killed were using cell phones to communicate, creating a gaping security hole in the defenses they created to protect the al-Qaida leader, two senior U.S. officials told NBC News on Wednesday.

The assault team seized five cell phones from individuals, dead and alive, in the compound, the officials said. None of the cell phones belonged to bin Laden, they said, and he did not use cell phones. The phones were in addition to 10 hard drives, five computers and more than 100 thumb drives.

    1. AP sources: Raiders knew mission a one-shot deal
    2. Slate: Is bin Laden's 'porn' worse than his terrorism?
    3. SEAL-mania grips US in wake of bin Laden raid
    4. Kerry: US-Pakistan alliance at 'critical moment'
    5. Bin Laden was logged off, but not al-Qaida
    6. US shows off warship that buried bin Laden
    7. NYT: Cities nationwide heighten vigilance on terror
    8. Pakistan threatens to cut NATO's supply line

The NSA intercepted cell phone calls by the couriers and family members for months, the officials, as part of the 24/7 surveillance of the compound. Along with the overhead imagery, the intelligence derived from the cell phones permitted the US to learn the "patterns of life" at the compound, meaning who came and went and who had responsibility for security.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the courier who used the nom de guerre Abu Ahmad al Kuwaiti, whose real name has not been made public, and others in the compound used cell phones to communicate.

"They didn’t use land lines or the Internet, but they did use something else, cell phones," said the official.

Bin Laden's voice was never heard on cell phone conversations intercepted by the NSA during surveillance prior to Sunday's raid, the official said.

'Thousands of documents' also recovered
On Tuesday, U.S. officials told NBC that "thousands of documents" were recovered that could help the U.S. "destroy al-Qaida."

NBC News reported that the documents — in both paper and electronic form on computers and portable computer drives — were recovered Sunday when a U.S. commando team raided the three-story compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, and killed bin Laden, 54, the founder of the Islamist network that killed more than 3,000 people in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States.

U.S. officials confirmed Tuesday that 10 hard drives, five computers and more than 100 storage devices were recovered from the compound. The specific numbers were first reported by CNN.

U.S. officials would not discuss details of what might be in the papers and on the computer drives, including whether the material was encrypted. But in an interview with NBC News' Brian Williams, CIA Director Leon Panetta said, "The reality is that we picked up an awful lot of information there at the compound."

A senior U.S. official told NBC News on Wednesday that an initial examination of the computers and other digital devices retrieved from the compound indicate they "contain very valuable information."

  1. Stories from
    1. Cara Delevingne Is a Master of Disguise (Sorta): See Her Paparazzi-Dodging Masks
    2. Jennifer Hudson Has an Unusual Plan to Become an 'EGOT'
    3. Big Brother's Frankie Grande Is Headed to Broadway
    4. NHL Suspends L.A. Kings' Slava Voynov on Domestic Violence Suspicion
    5. Kamara James, Olympic Fencer Who Battled Schizophrenia, Dies at 29

Asked if any al-Qaida donor information was stored on the devices, the official said only that it was "entirely possible."

The U.S. has long sought lists of donors to the al-Qaida cause, mainly believed to be private individuals in the Gulf states, who have financed its terror operations.

A senior official gave this account of what was done with the material:

White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters Tuesday that the information was believed to break down into three categories:

  • "Evidence of planned attacks."
  • "Information that could lead to other high-value targets or networks that we don't know about."
  • "The sustaining network for bin Laden himself in Pakistan — what allowed him to live in that compound as long as he did."

John Brennan, President Barack Obama's chief counterterrorism coordinator, said Tuesday that the material could specifically "give us insights into al-Qaida's network — where other senior commanders and officials might be."

"We're moving with great dispatch to make sure that we're able to mine that for whatever insights it gives us so that we can continue to destroy al-Qaida," Brennan said in an interview on msnbc TV's "Morning Joe."

Intelligence could be biggest win from raid
The materials could turn out to be "as important (as), if not more important than, the actual killing of bin Laden," Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, a Washington-based policy institute, said in an interview with The Toronto Star.

What is learned from the compound will likely extend beyond the documents to include human intelligence.

Video: Engel: al-Qaida 'franchises' will continue

U.S. officials strongly denied reports that U.S. commandos may have taken one of bin Laden's sons with them, but that doesn't mean he or other family members still couldn't provide valuable material.

Among those discovered in the compound was one of bin Laden's wives, who survived a gunshot wound in her leg, Carney said. She has been taken into custody by Pakistani authorities, who have not allowed U.S. officials to question her.

In his interview with NBC News, Panetta confirmed that relatives of bin Laden were in Pakistani custody and said the U.S. had been assured that it would "have access to those individuals."

Panetta said that combined with the computer data, "the ability to continue questioning the family" could yield significant leads "regarding threats, regarding the location of other high-value targets and regarding the kind of operations that we need to conduct against these terrorists."

The U.S. has profited in the past from extensive intelligence harvested from the computers of al-Qaida operatives.

The most notable previous bonanza that has publicly been revealed was uncovered in July 2004, when al-Qaida computer expert Mohammed Naeem Noor Khan was captured in Pakistan. His laptop computer provided a trove of information and more than 1,000 compact disk drives that were found in his apartment.

U.S. officials said the materials included details of al-Qaida surveillance of Heathrow Airport in London and financial institutions in New York, Newark, N.J., and Washington, as well as details of possible planned al-Qaida attacks in New York Harbor.

By Robert Windrem of NBC News and Alex Johnson of msnbc.com. Jim Miklaszewski of NBC News contributed to this report.

Video: Obama, citing security, won’t release bin Laden photo

  1. Closed captioning of: Obama, citing security, won’t release bin Laden photo

    >>> good evening. the president has made his decision. the united states will not release photos showing osama bin laden after death. the white house knows this will mean no proof of death, and that's already fueling doubts and rumors and conspiracy theories, but the president said he has his reasons. he made them clear today. at the same time, all of the americans in uniform who were on the successful high-stakes raid are now being debriefed as they tell their version of what happened in the compound behind the high walls, the story of bin laden 's death continues to change around the edges. we want to start off tonight at the white house with our chief white house correspondent, chuck todd . good evening.

    >> reporter: good evening, brian. hoping to shut down what was becoming a divisive debate, the president decided national security concerns in deciding against releasing the dead bin laden photos. honoring wounded warriors at the white house , he praised u.s. forces for taking out osama bin laden .

    >> thanks to the courage and predecisionen of the forces, the terrorists learned that america does not forget. america will insure that justice is done.

    >> but for those who want to see the evidence of that justice, they'll have to wait. press secretary jay carney quotes the president from an interview with cbs today.

    >>> it's important for us to make sure that very graphic photos of somebody who was shot in the head are not floating around as an incitement of additional violence of a propaganda tool. that's not who we are. we do not trot this stuff out for trophies.

    >> cia director leon panetta said this to brian williams yesterday.

    >> we got bin laden , and i think we have to reveal to the rest of the world the fact that we were able to get him and kill him.

    >> there's also division on capitol hill .

    >> my opinion is it's not necessary to do so.

    >> reporter: and no shortage of opinion loin wheonline where news stirred the pot on the page. it goes to credibility. here in the middle east , the internet is buzzing with doubt, and so are the newspaper headlines. there are facebrook groups popping up as well with names like osama bin laden is not dead. all of this just in the last couple of days. and for some back home, an argument to release those photos. osama bin laden has been a phantom for a decade, and i think not releasing that photo allows him to remain a phantom.

    >> reporter: three people who said they saw the photos yesterday are backing off the claim. i can tell you this, administration sources tell me no senator has been shown a photo so far.

    >> chuck todd starting us off at the white house . thanks.

Photos: The compound

loading photos...
  1. Pakistani boys while demolition takes place on the compound where Osama bin Laden was slain in 2011 in the northwestern town of Abbottabad on Feb. 26, 2012.

    More photos from Abbottabad one year after Osama bin Laden (Aamir Qureshi / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. An aerial view shows the residential area of Abbottabad, Pakistan, where Osama bin Laden was found and killed by U.S. commandos. (Asif Hassan / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. A general view of the town of Abbottabad, May 6. Bin Laden was living in a large house close to a military academy in this garrison town, a two-and-a-half hour-drive from the capital, Islamabad. (Khaqan Khawer / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Supporters of Pakistani religious party Jamaat-e-Islami rally to condemn the killing of bin Laden, in Abbottabad on May 6. (Aqeel Ahmed / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. A Pakistani woman photographs her daughter on May , at a gate of the compound where bin Laden was caught and killed. (Aqeel Ahmed / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. School girls pass by armed Pakistani policemen guarding the sealed entrance to the compound in Abbottabad, May 5, in which bin Laden had been living. (MD Nadeem / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Part of a damaged helicopter rests in the compound after U.S. Navy SEAL commandos killed bin Laden, May 2, in a photo made available on May 4. (Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Boys herd sheep past the compound where U.S. Navy SEAL commandos killed Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad May 5. (Akhtar Soomro / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Pakistani security officials arrive at the Osama bin Laden compound in Abbottabad on Wednesday, May 4. (Aamir Qureshi / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Local residents gather outside a burned section of bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad. (Aamir Qureshi / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. A Pakistani police officer gestures at a checkpoint along a road leading to a house where bin Laden was captured and killed in Abbottabad. Area residents were still confused and suspicious about bin Laden's death, which took place before dawn on Monday. (Anjum Naveed / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Pakistani children look out from a high vantage point at bin Laden's compound on Tuesday, May 3. (Aqeel Ahmed / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Pakistan army troops remove canvas screens from outside the compound's house. (Anjum Naveed / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Neighbors and news media gather around the compound, right, after authorities ease security around the property. (Aqeel Ahmed / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. A satellite image, taken June 15, 2005, shows the Abbottabad compound, center, where bin Laden was killed in on Monday. (DigitalGlobe via Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. A Pakistani soldier secures the compound. (T. Mughal / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. The compound is seen in flames after it was attacked early May 2 in this still image taken from cellphone video footage. (Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Part of a damaged U.S. MH-60 helicopter lies the compound. The helicopter was destroyed by U.S. forces after a mechanical failure left it unable to take off. (Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. A still image from video obtained by ABC News shows blood stains in the interior of the house where bin Laden was killed. (ABC News via Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Aerial views released by the Department of Defense show the area in Abbottabad in 2004, left, before the house was built, and in 2011, right. (Department of Defense via Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. A graphic released by the Department of Defense shows the compound where bin Laden was killed. (Department of Defense via Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Pakistani soldiers and police officers patrol near the house, background, where bin Laden had lived. (Anjum Naveed / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. The hideout of bin Laden is seen the day after his death. (Farooq Naeem / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Students look toward the compound from a nearby religious school in Abbottabad. (Faisal Mahmood / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. Pakistani security officials survey the walls of the compound where bin Laden was killed. The outer walls were between 10 and 18 feet high. (MD Nadeem / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. Pakistani soldiers stand guard near the compound May 2. (Anjum Naveed / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. Boys collect pieces of metal from a wheat field outside bin Laden's house, seen in the background, on May 3. People showed off small parts of what appeared to be a U.S. helicopter that the U.S. says malfunctioned and was blown up by the American team as it retreated. (Anjum Naveed / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. Pakistani security officials stand guard at the main entrance to the compound on May 3. (MD Nadeem / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. An image from video seized from the walled compound of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, and released by the U.S. Department of Defense, shows Osama bin Laden watching TV. He is said to have spent his last weeks in a house divided, amid wives riven by suspicions. On the top floor, sharing his bedroom, was his youngest wife and favorite. The trouble came when his eldest wife showed up and moved into the bedroom on the floor below. (Department of Defense via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  1. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  2. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  3. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  4. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  1. Image:
    Aamir Qureshi / AFP - Getty Images
    Above: Slideshow (29) After the raid: Inside bin Laden's compound - The compound
  2. Image:
    Timothy A. Clary / AFP - Getty Images
    Slideshow (81) After the raid: Inside bin Laden's compound - World reaction
  3. Image:
    Timothy A. Clary / AFP - Getty Images
    Slideshow (81) World reacts to death of Osama bin Laden - World reaction
  4. Image:
    Aamir Qureshi / AFP - Getty Images
    Slideshow (29) World reacts to death of Osama bin Laden - The compound
  5. Image: Protest against US drone strikes in Pakistan
    Shahzaib Akber / EPA
    Slideshow (154) Pakistan: A nation in turmoil - 2013
  6. Image: PAKISTAN-NEW YEAR
    Arif Ali / AFP - Getty Images
    Slideshow (160) Pakistan: A nation in turmoil - 2012
  1. Image: A man, injured from the site of a bomb explosion, is brought to a hospital for treatment in Quetta
    Naseer Ahmed / Reuters
    Slideshow (193) Pakistan: A nation in turmoil - 2011
  2. Image: Supporters of various religious parties take a part in a rally in support of the Pakistani blasphemy law in Karachi
    Athar Hussain / Reuters
    Slideshow (123) Pakistan: A nation in turmoil - 2010
  3. Image: Activists of Pakistani Islamist organisa
    Tariq Mahmood / AFP - Getty Images
    Slideshow (56) Pakistan: A nation in turmoil - 2009

Timeline: A timeline of Osama bin Laden's life

Considered enemy No. 1 by the U.S., the Saudi millionaire is the perpetrator behind the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Click on key dates to learn more about the founder of al-Qaida, an international terror network.

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,

Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments

More on TODAY.com

  1. Car owners warned about exploding air bags

    video The federal government is urging nearly 5 million people to get the air bags in their cars repaired because they pose a potentially deadly risk in the event of an accident. NBC’s Tom Costello reports.

    10/21/2014 11:36:09 AM +00:00 2014-10-21T11:36:09
  1. Getty Images

    Jenna Bush Hager, celebs remember Oscar de la Renta with adoration

    10/21/2014 1:36:20 PM +00:00 2014-10-21T13:36:20
  1. Chris Jackson / Getty Images

    Kate's back! Duchess Kate appears for first time since pregnancy news

    10/21/2014 11:57:43 AM +00:00 2014-10-21T11:57:43