It seemed an innocuous, catch-up phone call.
Last year Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti, the pseudonym for a Pakistani known to U.S. intelligence as the main courier for Osama bin Laden, took a call from an old friend.
Kuwaiti’s response was vague but heavy with portent: “I’m back with the people I was with before.”
When U.S. intelligence officials learned of this exchange, they knew they had reached a key moment in their decade-long search for al-Qaeda’s founder.
U.S. intelligence agencies had been searching for Kuwaiti for at least four years; they tracked Kuwaiti to the compound.
U.S. officials were stunned to realize that whenever Kuwaiti or others left the compound to make a call, they drove some 90 minutes away before even placing a battery in a cellphone. Turning on the phone made it susceptible to the kind of electronic surveillance that the residents of the compound clearly wished to avoid.
As intelligence officials scrutinized images of the compound, they saw that a man emerged most days to stroll the grounds of the courtyard for an hour or two. The man walked back and forth, day after day, and soon analysts began calling him “the pacer.”
CIA Director Leon E. Panetta told Obama and other top national security officials that the general rule in gathering intelligence was to keep going until a target such as the Abbottabad compound ran dry.
Panetta said that point had been reached, arguing that those tracking the compound were seeing "the pacer" nearly every day...
The agency established a safe house in Abbottabad for a small team that monitored the compound in the months leading up to the raid.
Panetta designated Navy Vice Adm. William H. McRaven, who had headed the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) for nearly three years, to devise a boots-on-the ground plan for the special forces that became known as “the McRaven option.”
McRaven had increased the intensity of Special Operations raids, especially in Afghanistan. During his first two years as head of JSOC, the “jackpot rate” — when the strikes got their intended target — jumped from 35 percent to more than 80 percent.
His decision to assign the operation to the Navy SEALs, a Special Operations unit with extensive experience in raids on high-value targets, was critical. SEALs have a tradition of moving in and out fast, often killing everyone they encounter at a target site. Most members of the SEAL team in the bin Laden raid had been deployed to war zones a dozen or more times.
The president approved the raid at 8:20 a.m. Friday.
The White House initially said bin Laden was shot and killed because he was engaged in a firefight and resisted. Later, White House press secretary Jay Carney said bin Laden was not armed...
A senior Special Operations official said that SEALs would avoid providing more details about the raid, to prevent the disclosure of methods central to their success.
SEALs scooped up dozens of thumb drives and several computer hard drives that are now being scrutinized for information about al-Qaeda...
In the White House Situation Room on Sunday night, the president and his national security team watched a soundless video feed of the raid.
Panetta CIA memo dated 4/29/2011