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FBI on War Footing After bin Laden's Death

Working with the British, combing through a treasure trove of evidence left at the terrorist's compound.


FBI Director Robert Mueller testifies during a House Commerce, Justice, State and Judiciary Subcommittee hearing on Capitol Hill March 17, 2004 in Washington, DC. The hearing focused on the FBI's 2005 appropriations. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

The death of Osama bin Laden and the expectation of a trove of intelligence derived from his computers has caused the FBI to ramp up its efforts to prevent a terrorist attack. 

The bureau is “back on a post-9/11 war footing,” a senior counterterrorism official said on Tuesday. The official sought anonymity because they are not authorized to speak with the press.


Within hours of President Obama’s announcement Sunday night that the U.S. intelligence community had confirmed the identity of bin Laden’s body, FBI officials briefed field offices via secure videoconference calls.


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Agents will push ahead stagnant prosecutions as a means of mitigating the potential for lone-wolf terrorists to strike out of frustration or revenge, the official said. Field offices have been authorized to expand their surveillance and monitoring to include hundreds of subjects. Potential terrorism suspects might be arrested on valid charges not related to terrorism to keep them off the streets, officials said.


"The FBI and its law-enforcement partners are strengthening efforts to gather and analyze intelligence, recognizing the bin Laden death may create the potential for some to react against the U.S. or U.S. interests," said Paul Bresson, an FBI spokesman. "While there are no specific, bin Laden-related threats at this time, every logical and prudent step is being taken to mitigate any developing threats."

The FBI expects a deluge of intelligence from not only bin Laden’s computers but other evidence found at his compound in Pakistan. Officials want to be ready to resolve those “exploitation leads,” as they’re called, as quickly as possible.

The moves do not suggest an undue danger. Several counterterrorism and intelligence officials said that no solid intelligence relating to attacks inside the U.S. has been detected by the country’s enormous network of spies, electronic ears, and cameras.

Still, America's counterterrorism presence is being stepped up.

  • In New York, the police are swabbing backpacks and shoulder bags and using Sabre 4000 chemical and biological agent detectors at subway entrances.
  • In Washington, the Secret Service has visibly stepped up security around the Naval Observatory, where Vice President Joe Biden lives. 
  • All U.S. military bases worldwide are on a heightened state of alert, and civilian employees at some sensitive facilities have been told not to come into work.

Bin Laden’s computer, multiple hard drives, discs, thumb drives, and paper files are now in the possession of a joint Defense Intelligence Agency/CIA document exploitation team at an undisclosed location near Bagram, Afghanistan.

A special cadre of British computer exploitation experts is helping to suck the data off hard drives. That data is being fed, in real time, to the National Counterterrorism Center in Tysons Corner, Va., and the Special Operations Command’s Targeting Center in Rosslyn, Va., as well as to the CIA’s counterterrorism center, the National Security Agency, and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency.

The doctrine the military uses to defeat terrorist networks is summed up by the initials F3EAD—Find, Fix, Finish (i.e., find 'em and capture or kill 'em), Exploit, Analyze, and Disseminate. The final three verbs refer to the process that allows mission planners to move faster than the enemy in adapting to the situation after the kill—the process that begins with the exploitation of the information gleaned from the raid.

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As the FBI steps up its activities domestically, the military is expanding its footprint within Pakistan, a military official said Monday. A large number of special forces and special operations troops are ready to enter the country, tracking down leads derived from intelligence before bin Laden’s death and ready to pounce on information disseminated from his media cache. The activities are being lightly coordinated with the Pakistani government, which is eager to impress upon American officials that it is not protecting al-Qaida leaders.

Elsewhere, a multinational special operations team conducted ground raids in Somalia, capturing several leaders of the country’s al-Qaida splinter group, al-Shabaab, according to foreign press reports. Two American officials were not able to confirm these accounts.

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