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Osama Bin Laden's Low-Tech Lifestyle Finally Caught Up with Him Osama Bin Laden's Low-Tech Lifestyle Finally Caught Up with Him

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Technology / NATIONAL SECURITY

Osama Bin Laden's Low-Tech Lifestyle Finally Caught Up with Him

The hideout of Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad stood out for its lack of telephone and Internet connections.(FAROOQ NAEEM/AFP/Getty Images)

photo of Josh Smith
May 2, 2011

Osama bin Laden’s bid to disconnect himself may have finally been his downfall.

The al-Qaida leader, killed in a shootout in a grubby but large and well-defended villa, had gone decidedly low-tech for more than a decade. Once an avid user of satellite phones, bin Laden stopped after a near-miss in 1998. He had more lately relied on old-fashioned couriers to get his message out and learn about what was going on.

It did work, for a long time.

 


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For years, the most sophisticated satellites, smart bombs, and electronic monitoring equipment couldn’t find America’s most wanted.

With bin Laden effectively invisible to the United States’ electronic eavesdropping programs, intelligence agencies focused on tracking his human connections. And four years ago that focus finally began to pay off.

According to senior administration officials who briefed reporters on Sunday night, detainees fingered one of bin Laden’s couriers four years ago, and two years ago the courier was traced to Pakistan. In 2010, intelligence officials discovered the man’s residence in Abbottabad, about 35 miles north of Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad.

And in the end, it just looked too odd for a big home, even in rural Pakistan, to have no telephone or Internet service.

"It's... noteworthy that the property is valued at approximately $1 million but has no telephone or Internet service connected to it," a senior administration official told reporters.

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