Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Osama Bin Laden's "hidden compound"

It is hard to know what really happened yesterday. The NYT was reporting that 79 american commandos went on the compound, but other news outlets spoke of two dozens, or forty. Also, the number of helicopters vary across newspapers.
It is hard to knowwhat is going to happen in the next couple of months or even in the long-run(it doesn't matter, it matters).

So, basically, I have nothing to say. However, there was something interesting related to what I mentioned a couple of days ago about the choice of the day to kill people or announce unpopular changes in market regulations. Basically, the story is:
- you want to kill someone because she's going to say something you don't like
- you don't want people to know you did: it must appear as a natural death
- If you do it the day before she says the thing you don't like, the death looks suspicious
- So you would kill her earlier
- But if the police anticipates that, you might look less suspicious if you do the killing the day before.

Now, the story about Osama bin Laden's compound is maybe something similar. Abbottabad is inside Pakistan, and the compound was meters away from a military academy(pictures from here)

The descriptions of the city make it sound as a touristic place:
Surrounded by green hills, it is renowned for its trees and parks. It's a popular retirement place for officers in the Pakistani army, partly because of its military academy, but also because of its agreeable climate. During British rule, the Imperial Gazeteer of India described it as "picturesquely situated," 4,120 feet above sea level.
Now, obviously, everybody discusses the implication of the Pakistani secret service an the knowledge they had of OBL's location.
John O. Brennan, the top White House counterterrorism adviser, said there were many questions about how the sprawling compound “was able to be there for so many years with Bin Laden resident there and it didn’t come to the attention of the local authorities.”
There are reasons to doubt that(and probably more reasons to believe that). One reason is that the compound was not an outlier in Abbottabad's landscape:
number 25 is not much different from the largish houses across the potato fields opposite
Also, imagine that you're the man in charge of the army in Pakistan, and you are considered by some to be the man actually in charge of the country.
Most embarrassing for Pakistan's most powerful man, General Ashfaq Kayani, the chief of staff, is that he was just across the field from number 25 just last week, boasting at the military academy that Pakistan had broken the back of terrorism. 
Another simple possibility for the location of the compound in plain sight, and near a military academy, is just that nobody would think of looking for Osama Bin Laden there, when he was supposed to be in Afghanistan, in a cave. From what I understood, he might have been there for 6 years(of course, there is a lot of uncertainty on the details, as I said in the introduction//UPDATE: From the twitter thing:  @RobertMackey: ISI official told the BBC that Bin Laden's wife said they had only been in the compound a few months, not 5 years.), so that might have been a good idea. The general question is: where do you hide if you're a guy that some really organized people are looking for? An interesting interview of Malcolm Nance by Rachel, a former US Navy Senior Chief, by Rachel Maddow, was referring to the tactic as something we've often seen: Khaled Sheik Mohammed, one of the architect of the 9/11 attacks, had an apartment in Rawalpindi next to a military center(by the way, Rawalpindi is quite close to Islamabad and Abbottabad. And by quite, I mean quite). You'll notice on the map, if you click through, the city of Faisalabad, where Abu Zubaydah was arrested in 2002(the case against Zubaydah is quite controversial). This city is also densely populated(with almost 3 million people). The interview:

Another "fancy" data point comes from some Auschwitz escapees,

[O]ne day, Fred Wetzler approached Rudi Vrba with a plan that seemed plausible.
Fred described a pile of wooden planks stacked outside the camp perimeter waiting to be used for construction of a new facility. Fred said he knew of four prisoners planning to hide in a cavity in the middle of the wood pile.

This choice of location, as the choice of time for political assassinations or unpopular announcements, is quite interesting, IMHO.
Also, you want to watch the first sequence of the Daily Show yesterday:

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