Background Briefing with Senior Intelligence Official at the Pentagon on Intelligence Aspects of the U.S. Operation Involving Osama Bin Laden
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MR. BRYAN WHITMAN (Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs): This is a traditional background briefing, no video or audio from out of here, no photographs please, no taping is permitted by video – by audio device for your note-taking is all. Okay? And, again, the briefer can be referred to and attributed as a senior intelligence official. With that, let’s go ahead and get started.
I’ll turn it over to you.
SR. INTEL OFFICIAL: Thank you all for coming in on a Saturday and especially on Mother’s Day weekend. The operation on Sunday that resulted in the death of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was a culmination of years of intelligence collection and analysis focused on disrupting, dismantling, and defeating al Qaeda.
The United States intelligence community salutes the assault team that courageously carried out a dangerous and imperative mission.
In the wake of this major counterterrorism success, the intelligence community remains squarely focused on the safety of the American people. We will sustain intense pressure on al Qaeda and other terrorist groups. Al Qaeda is damaged by bin Laden’s death, but the group remains dangerous.
As a result of the raid, we’ve acquired the single largest collection of senior terrorist materials ever. We are currently reviewing materials retrieved from bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad. The materials have already provided us some important insights and we expect to learn more about al Qaeda and its affiliates, their plans and intentions, and any threats they currently pose.
If potential threat information is discovered, the United States government will take all necessary measures to protect the American people. The collection of bin Laden compound materials is large and is proving valuable. It will take time, therefore, to perform a thorough review. But we are already disseminating intelligence across the U.S. government based on what we found.
Today I’ll review key points on the confirmation of Osama bin Laden’s identity, describe the task force that has been set up to review the intelligence from bin Laden’s compound and share some of the information we have reviewed thus far. Further, I will distribute some of the video footage collected during the raid. It is highly unlikely that some of this material would have been in the possession of anyone other than Osama bin Laden.
I’ll start by briefly reviewing how we confirmed bin Laden’s identity. First, one of the women of the compound identified him to the assault team as Osama bin Laden. Second, using facial recognition methods, CIA [Central Intelligence Agency] specialists compared photos of the body to known photos of bin Laden and were able to determine with 95 percent certainty that the body was his. This process relies on points of similarity of unique facial features, including the shape and size of an individual’s eyes, ears, and nose.
Third, DNA [deoxyribonucleic acid] analysis conducted separately by Department of Defense and CIA labs has positively identified Osama bin Laden. DNA samples collected from his body were compared to a comprehensive DNA profile derived from bin Laden’s large extended family. Based on that analysis, the DNA is unquestionably his. The possibility of a mistaken identity on the basis of this analysis is approximately one in 11.8 quadrillion. (Laughter.) I’ll let you count the zeroes. (Laughter.)
Fourth, from our initial review of the materials, we assessed that much of this information, including personal correspondence between Osama bin Laden and others, as well as some of the video footage you will see today, would only have been in his possession.
Finally, al Qaeda released its own statement yesterday acknowledging the death of bin Laden. We expected that al Qaeda would issue a statement after his death, but it is noteworthy that the group did not announce a new leader, suggesting it is still trying to deal with bin Laden’s demise.
It’s also noteworthy that they acknowledged his death came in Pakistan. In the past, they have tried to obscure the reality of their presence in that country.
The intelligence community is in the initial stages of exploiting materials that the assault team recovered from the compound. Identifying any imminent threats and plotting is, of course, our top priority.
A multiagency task force led by the CIA has been established to triage, catalogue, and analyze this intelligence. The task force is working around the clock and will draw on the expertise of – and you need to be ready for some acronyms here – the CIA, DHS [Department of Homeland Security], DIA [Defense Intelligence Agency], the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, FBI [Federal Bureau of Investigation], the National Media Exploitation Center, NCTC [National Counterterrorism Center], NGA [National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency], NSA [National Security Agency], and Treasury.
This collection represents the most significant amount of intelligence ever collected from a senior terrorist. It includes digital, audio and video files of varying sizes, printed materials, computer equipment, recording devices and handwritten documents.
The following is a key point: the materials reviewed over the past several days clearly show that bin Laden remained an active leader in al Qaeda, providing strategic, operational and tactical instructions to the group. Though separated from many al Qaeda members who are located in more remote areas of the region, he was far from a figurehead. He was an active player making the recent operation even more essential for our nation’s security.
The materials reviewed thus far reveal that bin Laden continued to direct even tactical details of the group’s management and to encourage plotting. The materials show that bin Laden remained focused on inspiring and engineering international terrorism and specifically on attacking the United States. In fact, one previously unreleased video, which we will show momentarily, is a self-styled message to the United States.
Today and in the future, we won’t necessarily be able to provide regular updates on what this operation yielded. As you can understand, much of what we find will remain classified. The war against al Qaeda and its affiliates continues.
I will quickly walk through details from five of the video clips found among the materials at bin Laden’s compound. Because it would be inappropriate to spread the words of terrorists and the propaganda messages, especially Osama bin Laden’s, we’ve removed audio from the footage you’re about to see. The footage has not been altered in any other way. We are releasing this footage to underscore two main points: first, the videos make clear that bin Laden remained active in al Qaeda’s terrorist propaganda operations, especially in shaping his own image; second, as I noted earlier, it is highly unlikely that some of this footage would have resided anywhere else but with bin Laden.
(The 1st video is playing.)
The first video is a complete yet unreleased bin Laden video. He calls it “A Message to the American People” and we believe it was produced sometime between October 9th and November 5th, 2010. We don’t know why the video hasn’t yet appeared.
In this video, you can see that his beard has been dyed black. In this message he repeats his usual themes by condemning U.S. policy and denigrating capitalism.
Let’s go ahead and stop that one and go to the second, please.
Q: There’s a date in there?
SR. INTEL OFFICIAL: I don’t have a date on that. Oh, I’m sorry. Yes. Between October 9th and November 5th, 2010. Yes.
(The 2nd video is playing.)
The second video clip shows him watching his own images on television. Pardon the long lead time, but we’re going to show this is in its entirety. About a minute or a minute and a half, and we don’t have the exact time on it, is focused squarely on the television.
Q: What’s on the screen? Is that various channels?
SR. INTEL OFFICIAL: It appears to be various channels but it’s unclear if this is –
SR. INTEL OFFICIAL: Right. It’s different channels, right, but we’re – yes.
Q: It – (inaudible) – he’s getting different channels –
SR. INTEL OFFICIAL: We’re unclear if this is live or taped.
Q: Is there a date out there?
SR. INTEL OFFICIAL: Well, you’ll see in a minute that he flips through the various channels but it’s unclear if this is live or taped. Yes.
Q: Is there a date on this?
Q: Do we believe this is from inside the compound where he was taken? Was it just taken from inside the compound or some other location?
SR. INTEL OFFICIAL: We’re looking into that right now. Okay? But it’s unclear – again, I would reiterate that it’s improbable that this kind of footage would be anywhere but with bin Laden. He jealously guarded his image.
Q: Was this at the compound?
SR. INTEL OFFICIAL: Just a second. You can see that in this video bin Laden has not colored or trimmed his beard, suggesting that this practice is one he reserved for films he planned to distribute. You can also see him gesturing to the person recording him to focus on the image on television of bin Laden firing a rifle. Because we can’t say at this time if the footage he’s watching is taped or live, we can’t determine the date of this video.
Q: That’s him with Zawahiri in the video?
SR. INTEL OFFICIAL: Yes, that was him on screen with Zawahiri.
Q: Did you know, if he’s watching TV or a video, a DVD?
SR. INTEL OFFICIAL: I’m not sure if it’s taped or live – it’s still early.
Q: Do we know which room it is?
Q: Do you know which room in the house this is?
SR. INTEL OFFICIAL: Again, we’re going through the analysis right now.
Q: Do we know if it’s in the compound?
SR. INTEL OFFICIAL: We’re working through that.
Q: You don’t know.
SR. INTEL OFFICIAL: Right. At this point we’re still discussing where this footage was taken. But, again, I would reiterate, it’s unlikely that this kind of candid footage of Osama bin Laden would be anywhere else than with him.
Q: (Briefer name deleted), if he’s actively changing channels, that indicates that’s a live satellite box. You can’t change channels on a recorded DVD.
SR. INTEL OFFICIAL: We haven’t reached a final assessment yet, Kim.
Q: Was his beard grey at the time that he was shot? Can you tell us that? Is this fairly contemporary in other words?
SR. INTEL OFFICIAL: His beard was grey.
Q: Was there audio on this one and you guys cut it out of this one too?
SR. INTEL OFFICIAL: There was audio on this.
Q: Are you able to describe what is on the audio, if not – if you’re not able to give us the words to the propaganda video, is he saying to the guy –
SR. INTEL OFFICIAL: I don’t have that available.
Q: You don’t. And can I also ask you – I mean, I noticed that he is moving his left arm. And did you not – maybe I don’t remember accurately but did you not think at some point that he had suffered serious injuries and was unable to move his left arm? Do I remember that wrong?
SR. INTEL OFFICIAL: I mean, I’ve seen the speculation about that. I can’t confirm that from the video.
Q: Was any of that equipment recovered by the U.S. during the raid?
SR. INTEL OFFICIAL: All of this material here seen today was collected during the raid.
Q: Including the television and the satellite box?
SR. INTEL OFFICIAL: Oh, I’m sorry. My apologies. My apologies. I don’t have that information in fact.
SR. INTEL OFFICIAL: All right.
Q: Is at the beginning – (inaudible) – was from – you can’t say that – (inaudible)?
SR. INTEL OFFICIAL: We’re still going through the analysis of where this actually – the footage was taken.
MR. WHITMAN: So let’s go on with that – (inaudible) – we’ll get the questions then.
(The 3rd video is playing.)
SR. INTEL OFFICIAL: Let’s go on to the next video. Yes. Okay. Our last three video clips are short and show rehearsal sessions by the al Qaeda leader. Some are clearly outtakes. The first video shows bin Laden practicing in front of an armoire.
Q: His beard is dyed here – (off mic)?
SR. INTEL OFFICIAL: We believe his beard is dyed.
Q: Do you have a date on this one?
SR. INTEL OFFICIAL: No date on that one. The next video clip shows the beginning of a video session where either he or the filmmaker missed the cue and fumbled the lighting.
(The 4th video is playing.)
Q: In the last one did he mess up on his Arabic?
SR. INTEL OFFICIAL: I’m not sure what the –
Q: Were these videos shot in the compound? Is the backdrop the same – was in the recording?
SR. INTEL OFFICIAL: Our preliminary analysis suggests that the armoire is an armoire that matches one at the compound. Preliminary analysis.
Q: Clip three?
SR. INTEL OFFICIAL: First clip. Or, excuse me.
Q: There’s a different background in the second.
SR. INTEL OFFICIAL: The armoire clip.
Q: The third clip?
Q: Yes. The first of the three short ones.
Q: Yes. Okay.
Q: But the fourth one you’re not sure where that was?
SR. INTEL OFFICIAL: I’m sorry? The fourth –
Q: The fourth clip didn’t have an armoire so we don’t know where that one was taken?
SR. INTEL OFFICIAL: Right. The missed cue. The missed cue. Yes. There’s no armoire in that background.
Q: (Off mic.)
SR. INTEL OFFICIAL: Right. We’re still assessing that one.
(The 5th video is playing.)
And the third clip (5th video) shows an outtake from a practice session in front of a wrinkled sheet. That was probably used as a temporary backdrop.
Q: And no clues to the times that those were shot.
SR. INTEL OFFICIAL: We do not know the dates of these clips we just showed you. As Bryan mentioned, the video files are on DVD. They will be provided at the end of the background briefing. I think there’s enough for one per person.
Q: Is that the extent of the clips that will be provided on the DVD, just those five?
SR. INTEL OFFICIAL: Today. They’re yours to use as you like. Just please source them to the U.S. government. Finally, we will hand out with the DVDs an on-the-record comment from Leon Panetta, director of the CIA. And with that, I will open it up to questions.
Q: (Inaudible) – a few questions. Has any of the data so far produced actionable intelligence that’s led to targeting in the past week? And what has it told you about Osama bin Laden’s daily life in the compound, the number of kids? Did you put together of kids with some of this to brings us a picture?
SR. INTEL OFFICIAL: On actionable intelligence I’m not going to comment on that. The important thing, our top priority is of course to identify any threat information and to disseminate that threat information widely within the U.S. government and, as appropriate, with our foreign partners. Of course, another top priority is to exploit the information to attract leads to other members of al Qaeda. But I’m not going to comment on actionable intelligence.
Q: Daily life.
SR. INTEL OFFICIAL: Daily life – we’re still putting together based on this package a sense of what life might have been like, but I don’t have anything firm to characterize that at this time.
Q: (Briefer name deleted), since the al Qaeda statement confirming bin Laden’s death did not include an announcement about who his successor would be, what does that say about the position of the long-known number two, Ayman al-Zawahiri?
SR. INTEL OFFICIAL: Ayman al-Zawahiri is obviously the presumed successor, but there are strong indications that he is not popular within certain circles of the group. So I believe it’s an open question as to who will take over for Osama bin Laden. It is, of course, anathema to al Qaeda to hold free and fair elections. (Laughter.) But if free and fair elections were held, Zawahiri most likely would have a fight on his hands.
Q: If I could follow up. Since you already know that he’s not popular among certain groups, do you know who is emerging as a possible leader among them?
SR. INTEL OFFICIAL: I wouldn’t want to speculate at this time, Mik. I mean, there are a number of senior al Qaeda officials who could in theory step up. But I wouldn’t want to speculate.
Q: Including al-Awlaki?
SR. INTEL OFFICIAL: I think – you know, there are senior terrorist leaders across the al Qaeda organization and its affiliates who could step up. But, again, it would be speculation.
Q: How often do you have any indication from material you captured about bin Laden being personally in contact with al Qaeda’s affiliates in Yemen or any other affiliates outside of Pakistan?
SR. INTEL OFFICIAL: I’m not going to comment on that today, but suffice it to say the treasure trove of information has provided some golden nuggets of information on communications within the al Qaeda group. And, you know, we hope to get a better sense as exploitation continues.
(A Pentagon fire alarm test occurs with the ringing of a bell over public address system for the entire building for less than 30 seconds.)
Is that the gong?
Q: It’s the lunch bell.
MR. WHITMAN: For those of you who don’t work here regularly, on Saturday this is when we test our fire alarms. (Laughter.)
Q: We’re not done.
MR. WHITMAN: And with that – (laughter) – back to my kids.
Q: Are you old enough to remember the gong show?
SR. INTEL OFFICIAL: Yes. I am in fact. (Laughter.) Should we wait until –
MR. WHITMAN: It could go on a while. He finishes this thing then in another 10 minutes or so we’ll get more dings but we’ll just have time –
SR. INTEL OFFICIAL: I’m used to dings. Okay. I’m sorry. Let’s start over here then we’ll –
Q: Why did you decide to release these particular ones? How much in terms of time – you know, this is X number of minutes out of – what estimate can you give us so how much video you’ve got – you’ve retrieved if you know yet? And why did you release these particular segments?
SR. INTEL OFFICIAL: We are still cataloguing the material. It is a large collection. You know, I can’t give a precise quantity of the collection itself and I can’t tell you how many videos like this are contained within the materials. The one thing that in addition to the threat information that we’re focused on from kind of analytical perspective, as we understand that some of this material at the end of the day – you know, there’s quantity and then there’s quality. And we want to make sure that we methodically process this material so that we get the highest quality intelligence from this collection. Yes, sir.
Q: Could you give a couple of examples – when you say he was in control or attempting to assert control of the organization, can you expand on that a little bit, give us an idea of how he was doing that aside from the volume of information that you recovered?
SR. INTEL OFFICIAL: It’s hard to get specific because, obviously, we’re still fighting al Qaeda. But suffice it to say, this compound in Abbottabad was an active command-and-control center for al Qaeda’s top leader. And it’s clear, as I said in the remarks, that he was not just a strategic thinker for the group. He was active in operational planning and in driving tactical decisions inside al Qaeda.
Q: Two questions: how surprised were you to find out that he was engaged in operational and tactical planning? Was that a surprise? And can you tell us any more of the video of the message to the American people that you put up – even if you can’t show us the audio, was he specifically making threats or in any of this material, were there threats against the United States?
SR. INTEL OFFICIAL: Can you repeat the first question, Barbara?
Q: About the surprise on – were you surprised to find about – because you –
SR. INTEL OFFICIAL: Osama bin Laden declared war on the United States and is responsible for the deaths of thousands of innocents. It was entirely unsurprising to us and it was always our working assumption that he was involved in aspects of al Qaeda’s operational planning.
Q: And anything more, because you mentioned that it was a message to the American people. I think people are going to be very much wanting to know what was he saying. Can you describe it in any way?
SR. INTEL OFFICIAL: Right. He rehashed many of the themes he’s talked about before, criticizing the United States and, as I said before, denigrating capitalism. We’re obviously reviewing these and other materials, other videos to see if there’s any threat information contained within them. I’m unaware personally that this particular video contains any specific or direct threat information but we’re obviously continuing to analyze that video.
Q: Does the evidence continue to support the idea that he was obsessed with mass casualty attacks and also mass transit and planes? And is there evidence that there really had been a shift in ’06 to the recruitment of Americans?
SR. INTEL OFFICIAL: Yes. I’m not going to be able to characterize the ‘06 scenario, Catherine, but I will tell you that in the materials we’ve seen thus far, he appeared to show continuing interest in transportation and infrastructure targets.
Q: Can you talk about any evidence of contacts between Osama bin Laden and Pakistani government officials or other government officials from other Middle Eastern countries, and also members of the bin Laden family? Were there any contacts between bin Laden and the bin Laden family that you found and can talk about that?
SR. INTEL OFFICIAL: I can’t get into the details yet but at this point we have no indication that the Pakistani government was aware that bin Laden was at this compound in Abbottabad. We’re asking some questions and the Pakistanis themselves have said that they’re asking questions of themselves.
The relationship with Pakistan is an important one. It’s also a complicated relationship and it’s important that we find ways in the future to work together, especially on the counterterrorism front. I will note that they have been cooperative in the past on pursuing terrorists inside Pakistan. This is a common fight. Bin Laden is responsible for supporting operations that have killed scores of Pakistanis as well, so there’s a mutual interest in us working together. And we need to find ways to solidify that relationship going forward.
Q: Can you say, though, whether there was evidence –
SR. INTEL OFFICIAL: One follow-up, and then –
Q: – Pakistan – Pakistani officials contact with bin Laden? Can you say whether you’ve found evidence of that?
SR. INTEL OFFICIAL: I am unaware at this point of any Pakistani government knowledge of bin Laden’s whereabouts in Abbottabad.
Q: Not just Pakistani government – anybody from Pakistan?
SR. INTEL OFFICIAL: There – you know, I think another senior U.S. official said earlier this week that there may have been support from within Pakistan, but, you know, that doesn’t necessarily mean the Pakistani government. Okay? So we need to tread carefully here and analyze the information and to see where it takes us. I understand the questions that are being raised and they’re good ones, but again I will repeat at this point I don’t have any indication that the Pakistani government was aware.
Q: Does government – wait a minute. Does government include ISI and military?
SR. INTEL OFFICIAL: Pakistani government. Yep.
Q: When you say that video was called “Message to America” or “Message to the American People,” is that what it said in Arabic? Is that what you were translating, or is that what you guys are calling it? And also, is there a quote that you can give us from it? I know you explained what’s in it, but is there a quote that you can provide us from that video?
SR. INTEL OFFICIAL: Yeah, I am not an Arabic linguist, to be certain.
SR. INTEL OFFICIAL: All right, okay. But, you know, I don’t have that. And in terms of excerpts or transcripts from these videos it is not our intention to release them, as I said. We’re not in the business of spreading the word of al Qaeda and its propaganda.
Q: (Inaudible) – video, was it actually saying “Message to the American People”?
SR. INTEL OFFICIAL: That I don’t know. We need to get the exact translation.
Q: Could we get a translation of that?
SR. INTEL OFFICIAL: We will attempt to, and I’m sure that some of you know some folks who speak Arabic, okay. All right.
Yes, on the corner?
Q: Elisabeth Bumiller from the New York Times.
SR. INTEL OFFICIAL: Elisabeth, how are you?
Q: Just fine. I just wanted to talk logistically. You say he was very much in command and control of this command and control center. Can you just talk practically how he did that without internet and without phone lines? Apparently he used thumb drives to communicate back and forth. Are you –
SR. INTEL OFFICIAL: I’m not going to get into specifics, but, you know, it’s been thought for some time, of course, that he would rely heavily on a courier network. That’s precisely what led us to the compound. So it is probable that the couriers at the compound were supporting his communications with other members of al Qaeda.
Q: (Briefer name deleted), can you say what were the – the frequency with which that was happening at this command and control center? How often were messages showing up?
SR. INTEL OFFICIAL: Something we’re obviously looking at, Greg, but I don’t – I can’t characterize frequency at this point.
Q: Two questions. One, can you elaborate at all on Zawahiri’s unpopularity within al Qaeda, which you mentioned before? What is it that his fellow al Qaeda members don’t like about him?
And secondly, when you talk about bin Laden as running this as a command and control center, can you give any examples of disrupted plots where you could see bin Laden’s direction involved?
SR. INTEL OFFICIAL: I’m going to have to defer on that. I think we need to analyze the intelligence. I wouldn’t get into that. But on Zawahiri, you know, he – to some members of al Qaeda – is extremely controlling, is a micromanager, and is not especially charismatic.
Q: (inaudible) – audio tape of the video of him watching himself, can you tell why he was – what he was saying or why he was watching himself on TV? Is there anything you can glean from that?
Also, of the cell phones that he – that you have, was one of them presumed to be his and were there international calls on that phone?
SR. INTEL OFFICIAL: Yeah, I’m not going to be able to get into that. We’re analyzing these videos right now and haven’t reached any firm conclusions, Jennifer. And in terms of cell phones, I’m just not going to go there.
Yes, in the corner. Yes, sir.
Q: Hi, Kevin Baron, Stars and Stripes. You mentioned targets against infrastructure and things. Were there any targets against U.S troops or the war effort itself? I mean, has there been any – can you characterize any kind of – any kind of backlash or retribution since this raid has happened aimed at the war in Afghanistan.
SR. INTEL OFFICIAL: That’s a good question, something we’re obviously taking a close look at. And I don’t have, you know, a final answer for you on that, but we are reviewing this information closely for threats to the United States and to our interests, to include American troops.
Obviously al Qaeda has American blood on its hands, and that includes American blood in Afghanistan, and we’re going to, you know, on an around the clock basis mine this information for anything that could suggest that there are continuing threats from bin Laden and his inner circle against our troops.
SR. INTEL OFFICIAL: Yes.
Q: Mike Evans from the Times.
SR. INTEL OFFICIAL: Hello, Mike. How are you?
Q: Hi, (briefer name deleted). Can I just ask, you mentioned about the various measures you used for positive identification of Osama.
SR. INTEL OFFICIAL: Yes.
Q: In the 40 minutes that your guys had there – the SEALs had there, did you have any time before he was actually shot that gave you time to tactically interrogate him or to take a blood sample from him while he was still alive or to photograph his eyes while he was still alive? And was the woman who provided the information that it was Osama bin Laden the woman who was shot in the leg?
SR. INTEL OFFICIAL: I’m not going to get into the specifics of what happened inside the compound that night. This briefing is focused on the intelligence aspects of the operation, but, you know, the assault team, you know, certainly engaged in a hostile environment. This is an al Qaeda compound. And I’ll leave it there.
Q: (Briefer name deleted), the information you gained has probably triggered some kind of movement of al Qaeda people around the world. Are you seeing people on the move and can we expect to see any other take-downs in the near future?
SR. INTEL OFFICIAL: That’d be pure speculation on my part, and I wouldn’t want to get into movements of al Qaeda at this point.
Q: (Briefer name deleted), have you asked the ISI – has the U.S. government asked the ISI for names of operatives to compare with names that are seized on this material?
SR. INTEL OFFICIAL: I’m not going to get into discussions with the Pakistanis.
Q: (Inaudible) – hear the audio. Is it different – are these videos different in terms of showing bin Laden’s energy level compared to videos that we’ve seen before?
SR. INTEL OFFICIAL: Oh, gosh. I don’t know how to – I don’t know how to characterize –
SR. INTEL OFFICIAL: I’ll leave that to you. And I’m not going to characterize the sound. Again, I’m not going to comment on any audio related to these tapes.
Q: Can you give us either numbers or at least a better sense of how much material you got – how many thumb drives, discs, computers, whatever you can share?
SR. INTEL OFFICIAL: There’s actually so much material that we’re still trying to accurately quantify it.
Q: Is it fair to say hundreds of items?
Q: Is there anything in the material you found that indicates that he still had his fascination with attacking New York and New York City?
SR. INTEL OFFICIAL: Yeah, I’m not going to get into specific cities or whatnot, but let me just reiterate that what we’ve found so far, he continued to, you know, be strongly interested in plotting attacks against the U.S. homeland.
Q: (Inaudible) – the fact that he dyed his beard, what does that say about his vanity or what do you – or what he thought about his public image?
SR. INTEL OFFICIAL: Well, I won’t comment specifically on dying the beard, but this is clearly an al Qaeda leader who was very interested in his own image. And he took very seriously and engaged very heavily in al Qaeda propaganda operations, so, you know, we’ll have to do some more analysis on that, but our take-away is that he jealously guarded his image.
Q: Is there – you talk about planning. I think he liked to be into the details. Were there – are there specific things – did he have drawings and plans where he was planning to tell people to do certain things? And off the remote one where he was watching the video, are there other videos that are kind of the Obama’s – Osama’s way of life in a compound? Are there other things you haven’t shown us that show him doing things in the compound?
SR. INTEL OFFICIAL: We’re going to review the materials and, you know, we’ll be looking for that kind of thing. I’m not in a position to comment on those at this time.
Q: (Inaudible) – about electronic tripwires within the video and audio materials that could cause them to erase or – I mean, are they advanced enough for that or is that something that –
SR. INTEL OFFICIAL: You know, I’m not in a position to characterize the security of the videos, but I will say that the U.S. government has excellent technical experts who can exploit this material.
Yes, in the back.
Q: Have the Pakistanis talked to you about questioning the – those noncombatants that were there in the compound? At least trying to get access.
SR. INTEL OFFICIAL: I’m not going to talk about discussions with the Pakistanis, but we obviously have some questions.
Q: I have a question about you mentioned the command and control aspect. Is there any indication from what you’ve seen so far that they had a backup for a command and control center if this one in – in this location was compromised in some way that there was a new location that they had picked out?
And also, do you have an estimate in terms of how long the multi-agency task force is going to take to go through this information? Are you planning weeks, months?
SR. INTEL OFFICIAL: It’s going to take some time. I don’t have an accurate timeline for you and I am unaware of an alternate location for a bin Laden command and control center, but that’s obviously something we’re looking for.
Q: Can you talk a little more about the courier network? Obviously picking out two of these particular couriers so close to him must have had some kind of operational impact down the network. Can you talk about the impact of that and is the courier network still a focal point? What else have you gleaned from this particular cache of intel?
SR. INTEL OFFICIAL: I’m not going to comment on specifics. We’re obviously interested in any al Qaeda facilitator, to include couriers.
Q: What makes it obvious that it was command and control?
SR. INTEL OFFICIAL: It’s hard for me to describe precisely given the sensitive nature of the intelligence we gleaned, but what we’ve gone through thus far shows that – again, that he was actively involved in plotting operations and in directing the daily operations of the group. He was not simply someone who was penning al Qaeda strategy. He was throwing operational ideas out there and he was also specifically directing other al Qaeda members. Okay?
Yes, who hasn’t asked a question yet? Yes, sir.
Q: Have you found any evidence of linked with al Qaeda and other terrorist outfits in the region like Lashkar-e-Taiba or Jaish-e-Mohammed?
SR. INTEL OFFICIAL: We’re obviously looking closely for those links. I’m not in a position to say at this time.
Q: And have you also shared any information with India? A moment ago you said you are sharing information with foreign countries. Any information that you have shared with the Indian government so far?
SR. INTEL OFFICIAL: We have shared information with foreign countries, but I’m not going to say which ones.
Q: Was there any medical equipment like a dialysis machine or anything –
SR. INTEL OFFICIAL: I’m not going to get into the specifics.
Q: Were there any links to banks?
SR. INTEL OFFICIAL: We’re obviously looking at al Qaeda financing as an important factor and we’re obviously looking for any insight into how al Qaeda funds its operations.
MR. WHITMAN: As we were trying to – (inaudible) – no reason to get into a frenzy here, but as you know we’re getting to the point where our senior intelligence official is saying that that’s information that’s going to have to come from further assessment and things that we’re not going to be commenting on, so in the last couple of minutes here let’s see if we can’t get to a few of those people who haven’t had an opportunity to ask a question, but we’re going to take maybe four or five more and then bring it to a close, okay?
Q: (Inaudible) – we used to hear that he was sick and getting some doctors to treat him with dialysis and kidney problems and all that. Was it propaganda or do you still believe that somebody was hiding some information about him or it was true? And finally, if Raymond Davis case when it went through there these couple of weeks, did it help or hurt or this operation was underway even during Raymond Davis case?
SR. INTEL OFFICIAL: I’m sorry, the last part?
Q: The Raymond Davis case.
SR. INTEL OFFICIAL: Yes, I’m familiar with that one.
Q: If this operation was still underway, or it – all this happened after Raymond Davis case.
SR. INTEL OFFICIAL: The intelligence case that led us to this compound, you know, started forming last summer around August, okay?
Q: (Inaudible) – illness?
SR. INTEL OFFICIAL: Yeah, I’m not going to get into those – that speculation. You know, obviously it’s something of interest, but then again our top priority is any threat information and secondly leads to other al Qaeda terrorists. You know, the secondary questions will come later.
Q: Do you still – finally, do you still believe really – (inaudible) – that up until last days of death he was running his al Qaeda mission and nobody in the Pakistani government knew because he was delivering messages and all these messengers and all that?
SR. INTEL OFFICIAL: I think I’ve said what I’ve said on Pakistan.
Q: For years it was said that bin Laden was hiding in the tribal regions of Pakistan or Afghanistan and that, you know, A.Q. core wasn’t necessarily operational – that it had been denigrated. So – I mean, how is this not somewhat of an intelligence failure that, you know, you find out that bin Laden was operational and was command and control?
SR. INTEL OFFICIAL: If anyone defines this as an intelligence failure, I’ll be happy to have that argument. This is the greatest intelligence success perhaps of a generation. This is a hunt for a top al Qaeda leader that has spanned nearly 10 years. And this government, our intelligence community, and counterterrorism agencies have expended relentless effort to pursue leads on Osama bin Laden. This has always been a top priority. And this is a classic and historic intelligence success.
Intelligence cases aren’t built overnight. And it took a great deal of precision work, and persistence and perseverance on the part of collectors and analysts over many years to piece together the intelligence case that led to the raid. This was a circumstantial case up until the very end – a very strong one. But the intelligence picture didn’t become clear, obviously, until last Sunday.
Q: Can you tell us what the overall impact has been on al Qaeda? Are they knocked back on their heels? Are they in disarray? What has been the read so far?
Q: And is Awlaki a possible successor as part of that?
SR. INTEL OFFICIAL: I think we addressed Awlaki before, but –
Q: -- to bin Laden? Is that shown in the records?
SR. INTEL OFFICIAL: I can’t say specifically at this point whether that’s in the records, per se, or in the documents, but, you know, it would be highly unsurprising if bin Laden didn’t know about Anwar al-Awlaki.
Q: Right, but back to the overall impact, are they really set back on their heels? Are they in disarray? What’s the take so far?
SR. INTEL OFFICIAL: They’ve been on their heels for some time, Mik. I mean, they’ve suffered extensive damage, and the fact that bin Laden is off the streets only exacerbates that damage for them, and that’s good for the United States and our allies.
Q: So can al Qaeda – (Briefer name deleted), can al Qaeda survive?
SR. INTEL OFFICIAL: I guess we’ll go to maybe two or three more questions. Yes, in the back. Yes?
Q: Did you – (inaudible) – the materials from the compound which you – only you, the people were left in the compound. Is it a choice – a technical choice? I mean, what happened in the immediate aftermath of the raid to all those people who still alive in the compound?
SR. INTEL OFFICIAL: Repeat that, sir. I’m sorry.
Q: I’m sorry. You choose to pick up all the technical materials that was n the compound for intelligence purposes, but you left all the people who were still alive in the compound. You didn’t want to bring people with you to interrogate them. Why? Is it a technical choice?
SR. INTEL OFFICIAL: There was one objective for this mission and it was to find Osama bin Laden. And if that – and if he wasn’t there to get out.
MR. WHITMAN: Come on, guys. Come on. Everybody settle down. We’re going to take one more question. It needs to be a question that really can help all of you in this room. (Laughter.) Some insight that hasn’t been asked yet and not just kind of another way of asking the same question that our senior defense official – our senior intelligence official has either answered or declined to answer. Who has that probing, final question.
Q: We all do.
MR. WHITMAN: All right, so we’re going to do two. We’re going to – we’re going to do Bill and we’re going to do Barbara and close down.
Q: You’ve said frequently that al Qaeda was trying to get weapons of mass destruction. The U.S. government has said that. Is there any indication from what you found that al Qaeda was pursuing nuclear, biological, chemical, radiological –
SR. INTEL OFFICIAL: That’s obviously a top priority as we exploit these materials. You know, I don’t have anything on that to report today, but we’re focused squarely on that because obviously that would fall squarely into the threat category.
Q: My probing and insightful question –
MR. WHITMAN: It has to be good because you’ve got the last one.
Q: It might be. With respect, why do you have someone in this room taking photographs of us – this lady over here in black. Why was she standing up taking pictures of us?
MR. WHITMAN: That was your question? Those photographs are for the agency and for the official. They’re not public records, so don’t worry about that. So we won’t let that be the last question since it wasn’t real probing, but we will –
MR. WHITMAN: You didn’t get a question in? You got a question in. Let’s go.
Q: Did you glean anything about the relationship between al Qaeda and the Taliban and did you find any American contacts in those phones?
SR. INTEL OFFICIAL: It’s a good question and one that we’re trying to seek answers on one way or the other.
MR. WHITMAN: Ladies and gentlemen, I want to think you again. No. I want to thank you again for showing up today.
SR. INTEL OFFICIAL: Thank you. I appreciate it.
[At the conclusion of the briefing, DVDs with the five video segments were handed out to the press corps along with the following ON THE RECORD statement from Leon E. Panetta, Director of the Central Intelligence Agency:
“This mission goes to the heart of what the CIA is all about: protecting America and building a better world for our children. It demonstrates the perseverance, skill, and sheer courage of the men and women who stand watch for our nation, day in and day out. And it is a model of seamless collaboration, both within the Intelligence Community and with the US military. The material found in the compound only further confirms how important it was to go after Bin Laden. Since 9/11, this is what the American people have expected of us. In this critical operation, we delivered.”]