Letters Show Bin Laden Feared Drone Strikes

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WASHINGTON (CNN) — The dire impact of CIA drone missile strikes against suspected terrorists in Pakistan certainly did not go unnoticed by Osama bin Laden, prompting the al Qaeda leader to repeatedly warn associates to take appropriate security measures, according to documents seized during the raid on the al Qaeda leader’s Pakistan compound last year.

The letters written by bin Laden were among a number of documents released to the public on Thursday by West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center.

In an October 2010 letter to Atiyya Abdul Rahman, al Qaeda’s top operational planner, bin Laden noted the experience the United States had in using drones to monitor activities in the tribal areas of Pakistan where many of al Qaeda’s core members operated.

“They can distinguish between houses frequented by men at a higher rate than usual. Also, the visiting person might be tracked without him knowing,” he wrote.

Drones had primarily been used for surveillance purposes in Pakistan, but in 2004, the CIA upped the ante by firing the first missile from a drone at a terrorist target in Waziristan. Hundreds of attacks have been launched since then.

In a May 2010 message to Rahman, bin Laden wrote, “I had mentioned in several previous messages … the importance of the exit from Waziristan of the brother leaders, especially the ones that have media exposure. I stress this matter to you and that you choose distant locations to which to move them, away from aircraft, photography and bombardment while taking all security precautions.”

He offered advice on where to live in Pakistan: “Kunar is more fortified due to its rougher terrain and many mountains, rivers and trees, and it can accommodate hundreds of the brothers without being spotted by the enemy. This will defend the brothers from the aircraft …”

Bin Laden explained in an April 2011 letter to Rahman that people should live on the outskirts of cities so they will be less obvious and reduce the security dangers. For those in cities he had a particular worry: “And one of the important security issues in the cities is controlling children, by not getting out of the house except for extreme necessity like medical care, and teaching them local language; and they do not get to the yard of the house without an adult who will control the volume of their voices.”

Bin Laden suggested other ways to improve security. On transportation, he warned about traveling in cars and added, “A warning to the brothers: they should not meet on the road and move in their cars because many of them got targeted while they were meeting on the road.”

He recommended the timing for movement: “He should move only when the clouds are heavy.”

He indicated how often they should meet: “The brother should visit you no more than once or twice a week.”

Bin Laden wrote about the need to use code words and aliases and said, “Remind your deputies that all communication with others should be done through letters.”

He even warned his colleagues to get rid of the bag that money might be exchanged in because the bag might have a tracking chip.

Sometimes his instructions were quite detailed. In the April 2011 letter to Rahman, bin Laden spoke about how a message to his son should be handled. “This thumb drive contains a phone number of one of our brothers contained in the message for Hamzah, so please do not copy the message for Hamzah and after Hamzah copies the phone number on paper, destroy the card for fear of compromise.”

Bin Laden gave some very precise directions to Rahman in the May 2010 letter concerning the possible arrival into Pakistan of some al Qaeda members who had been held in Iran.

“They will go to the tunnel between Kuhat and Peshawar, and arrange a meeting between them and another brother,” he wrote. “The meeting must be precise in timing and it will be inside the tunnel, and they will change cars inside the tunnel, so they will ride the car with the brother and they will meet instead of the car they were riding in, and the brothers who are going to drive the car must be instructed on the strict adherence to the timings.”

He continued with instructions saying there should be additional car changes, the movement should happen when it is overcast, and they should get rid of everything they received from Iran, “like baggage or anything, even as small as a needle, as there are eavesdropping chips that are developed to be so small, that they can even be put inside a medical syringe.”

Five days before he was killed in the Navy SEALS raid on his Abbottabad compound, bin Laden wrote to Rahman, “we with the grace of Allah have been adhering to these precautions for nine years and we haven’t heard that any of the brothers were arrested after the events (a possible reference to the 9/11 attacks) while adhering to the precautions…”

Rahman, who rose to the number two position after bin Laden’s death, was struck down last August by a drone missile strike in the mountains of Pakistan.

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