How Osama bin Laden sent emails without the US finding him

By on May 13, 2011, 7:00 AM

Osama bin Laden sent thousands of emails to his various operatives around the world without Internet or a phone line at home, as he feared he would be discovered by the US government. The terrorist created a very painstaking system to pull of the feat, according to a counterterrorism official and a second person briefed on the US investigation cited by the Associated Press.

In his hideout, Osama bin Laden would type out his emails on his computer and save them to a thumb-sized flash drive. He then passed the flash drive to a trusted courier, who would proceed to a distant Internet café, presumably a different one every time. Once there, the courier would plug the memory drive into a computer, copy bin Laden's messages into emails, and send them to whoever his boss had specified. Reversing the process, the courier would copy any incoming emails to the flash drive and return to the compound, where bin Laden would read his messages offline.

For years, the system, which was built on discipline and trust, helped bin Laden stay in touch with his various contacts around the world. His enemies were unable to trace him because he did not leave any digital fingerprints behind.

The US always suspected bin Laden was communicating through couriers, but did not anticipate the breadth of his communications: Navy SEALs hauled away roughly 100 flash memory drives after they killed bin Laden earlier this month. Officials say they appear to still contain bin Laden's back-and-forth communications, including email addresses, phone numbers, and thousands of messages.




User Comments: 29

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Guest said:

Painstaking ? Whatever. Maybe if it was everyday day to day business would this way of emailing be a pain.

This is just the obvious way in which to do cover your tracks. I am sure someone must of figured out his routine way before.

At least he didnt have to go through all the spam and phishing emails, he had his lacky do it for him.

He only got caught when he was verifying his Playstation network details to see if his account was ok.

PinothyJ said:

Guest said:

He only got caught when he was verifying his Playstation network details to see if his account was ok.

Quick, TechSpot! A Guest actually contributes something worthwhile (and admittingly, rather funny) content to the news articles!

:P...

PinothyJ said:

Guest said:

He only got caught when he was verifying his Playstation network details to see if his account was ok.

Quick, TechSpot! A Guest actually contributes something worthwhile (and admittingly, rather funny) content to the news articles!

:P...

NeoFryBoy said:

Wow. Yeah, that sounds reeeeeeeally "painstaking." Clearly the research was thorough.

Benny26 Benny26, TechSpot Paladin, said:

Not all glamour is it this "Warlording" business..?

I didn't realise copy and pasting was such hard work.

Wagan8r Wagan8r said:

I think that computer illiterate turd just didn't know how to send an email!

HaMsTeYr HaMsTeYr said:

Not exactly new though, that joke got around fast as soon as news of osama's (so called) death surfaced...

I read it on a site as "Osama Bin Laden really shouldn't have used his real address on PSN." lol.

Meehhhh.... Back on topic, I've actually seen this being done in a movie quite some time ago, though I can't seem to remember what... Though Ironically, I somehow remember the movie being about terrorists as well getting information around that way =_= Was a pretty old-ish film too.

I wonder if today's hollywood is taking away the thinking for the terrorists. >.>

Lokalaskurar Lokalaskurar said:

Being honest, this sounds like the most basic way of getting your messages out. But there is always a big risk when lackeys are involved (betrayers everywhere!).

hamsteyr said:

I wonder if today's hollywood is taking away the thinking for the terrorists. >.>

You don't think it's the other way around? :P

gwailo247, TechSpot Chancellor, said:

Had only Newegg.pk conducted a bit of research into who was buying all those flash drives, this could have been resolved years ago.

Guest said:

What a croc of S*&t as if the ppl who knew about this would talk.

Archean Archean, TechSpot Paladin, said:

Flash drives can be bought very cheaply and anonymously almost anywhere, so I don't think that would have helped; however, more 'intelligent' and 'easy' way to find him would have been to get suspicious of a man living with 'three wives' as that doesn't happen often enough (if at all in this part of the world).

gwailo247, TechSpot Chancellor, said:

Archean said:

Flash drives can be bought very cheaply and anonymously almost anywhere, so I don't think that would have helped; however, more 'intelligent' and 'easy' way to find him would have been to get suspicious of a man living with 'three wives' as that doesn't happen often enough (if at all in this part of the world).

Arabs are typified as being good negotiators, I'm sure he would have bought in bulk rather than paying retail each and every instance. And Newegg.pk is going online as a CIA front next week to prevent it from happening ever again (and hopefully helping to ease some of the budget problems in the process.)

Guest said:

That joke has a beard longer than Osama himself.

Hasbean said:

If only they didn't put two bullets into his head and then throw him into the sea, they could have just asked him in his court trial....Oh sorry that's called justice, not american justice, my bad.

hellokitty[hk] hellokitty[hk], I'm a TechSpot Evangelist, said:

That doesn't sound elaborate to me?

Superpeter Superpeter said:

"Officials say they appear to still contain bin Laden's back-and-forth communications, including email addresses, phone numbers, and thousands of messages"

Sucks to be these people....They're coming 4 ya!!

krayzie said:

i guess he never knew what proxies are lol

treetops treetops said:

Nearly copy pasted from yahoo news, at least you didn't act as surprised by this simple tactic as the other writer. You could have just said bin laden used flash drives to send emails and we would have filled in the rest. The breadth of his communication? He used flash drives any 10 year old could think of this plan.

Richy2k9 said:

pinothyj said:

Guest said:

He only got caught when he was verifying his Playstation network details to see if his account was ok.

Quick, TechSpot! A Guest actually contributes something worthwhile (and admittingly, rather funny) content to the news articles!

:P...

hello ...

too bad i can't thumb you two up here

sorry, this is a serious topic, have no more comments ... :P

cheers!

fpsgamerJR62 said:

What's so "painstaking" about his methods ? It's not like he had to use a manual typewriter or write it on a paper scroll and sent it via messenger on horseback or, if you have to go back a few hundred years, carrier pigeons.

Guest said:

Quote:

wagan8r said:

on May 13, 2011 9:35 AM "I think that computer illiterate turd just didn't know how to send an email!"

Not standing up for him but I think he was a little bit more intelligent than that..he did manage to avoid capture/assassination for 10 years while carrying a huge ransom and being pursued by the government, military, etc..and if you know anything about him you'd know hes wasn't just a common, everyday person. Feels good to be typing wasn't there instead of not!

I suppose you could've just been attempting humor..failed.

Honestly I think he didn't practice a more elaborate/cryptic system because he didn't think it necessary..imo its hard to imagine he didn't have protection from at least a single govt. or other major sources too .

Guest said:

Just VPN and go Incognito in Chrome, jeez Bin Laden...

Archean Archean, TechSpot Paladin, said:

@Guest # 22

A little history lesson for you.

OBL was 'created' by US with help of ME friends to defeat the other evil empire i.e. USSR. For a very long period of time he was considered to be a 'valuable friend' by US, because he was 'used' for guarding their interests, I remember some time in 1980s there was a news item that OBL visited CIA headquarters. Only when he 'rebelled' against the americans in mid 90s that he was branded as terrorist.

The very same story is being repeated in Libya now, where, Abdul Hakeem Hasdi and his fellow killers are being touted as 'liberators / freedom fighters' because they are serving imperial interests, how? Well, first, they have promised to give control over their oil to west (e.g. France has been promised 35% share).

So the long and the short of it, such characters are created, then branded as terrorists and killed according to empire's needs.

Edit:

In fact, Al Hasdi was caught by americans in early part of the first decade of 21st century, declaring that he is an Al Qaeda operative, he spent more then 6 years in prison (read Gitmo); now the same guy is being funded by CIA/Nato members; I wonder if there was some sort of a deal involved in his release bits of which I quoted above.

dividebyzero dividebyzero, trainee n00b, said:

For a very long period of time [Osama bin Laden] was considered to be a 'valuable friend' by US, because he was 'used' for guarding their interests...

At least he's in esteemed/vilified company...

Noriega, Saddam Hussein, Pinochet, Batista, Ngo Dinh Diem, Pol Pot, Zia Ul-Haq, Rafael Trujillo, Roberto Suazo Cordova, Somoza (x2), Suharto, Muhammed Reza Pahlevi, Stroessner....

[/sarcasm]

Archean Archean, TechSpot Paladin, said:

Oh you spent some time coming up with the list

Include Musharraf, Hussain, Mubarak, Saud family, Saleh (whatever he is), Ali, and I forgot the name but that person was involved in bombings/terrorist activities and killings in Cuba he was thoroughly funded by CIA for those bombings etc. I am sure list will get longer if we dig bit further.

dividebyzero dividebyzero, trainee n00b, said:

Oh you spent some time coming up with the list

Oh, about five minutes I think. A couple of which were spent Googling the spelling of the Shah's name. I would think that most of these guys are fairly well known

Could be a long list, though I culled any that could be seen as fighters in an "ideological struggle" (Chiang Kai Shek, any number of S.E.Asian and African strongarm fruit-salad wearers), since arguably, the alternatives are/were less than squeaky clean themselves.

Archean Archean, TechSpot Paladin, said:

Well to top this all off, they are now saying they found 'porn' collection of OBL.

So in a nutshell porn have a universal appeal even amongst the 'so called fundamentalists / terrorists'.

It was found in a wooden box in bin Laden's bedroom and was referred to as "huge" and "extensive" by officials.

dividebyzero dividebyzero, trainee n00b, said:

Well to top this all off, they are now saying they found 'porn' collection of OBL.

I knew they would :

****SPOILER****

OBL's Porn is through the one-way trapdoor, down the ladder (Press S), past the bacon smoking room (check the partially hidden alcove for health pickup), through the wine cellar ( AKS-74U in Pinot Noir rack. Press E to use) and down the left corridor. Porn collection is behind the altar of the David Hasselhoff shrine.

Cue cutscene. Level complete.

Guest said:

Ah, the trusted sneaker net.

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