• United States



Elite Navy SEALs secure motherlode of intelligence data during bash and dash

May 04, 20114 mins
Computers and PeripheralsData and Information SecurityEncryption

Geronimo! Elite Navy SEALs took more than bin Laden's body, scoring on an electronic "treasure trove" of intelligence on hard drives, thumb drives, USBs, DVDs and CDs which are currently being harvested for intelligence.

The Navy SEAL assault team should be credited with more than a bash and dash which killed one of the most evil men in history, since they also made off with a “treasure trove” of computer hardware that has been labeled “the motherlode of intelligence.” Several news sources are claiming that the SEALs seized an “electronic bounty” of hard drives, thumb drives, USBs, DVDs and CDs which are currently being harvested for intelligence.

Politico reported that one official said, “They cleaned it out. Can you imagine what’s on Osama bin Laden’s hard drive? It’s going to be great even if only 10 percent of it is actionable.”

The Week broke it down into actual numbers. “The Navy SEALs who stormed Osama bin Laden’s hideout took more than his dead body from the compound: They also took five computers, 10 hard drives, and more than 100 thumb drives, DVDs, and other digital media, not to mention old-fashioned paper records.”

Politico also described what the SEALs were told weeks ago when learning they were chosen to train for this mission.

They were told, ‘We think we found Osama bin Laden, and your job is to kill him,’ an official recalled.

The SEALs started to cheer.

Radioing a commander on Sunday, the team reported the capture with a pre-arranged signal: “Geronimo!”

The terrorist hardware is being analyzed by hundreds of American analysts and intelligence officers at a secret Afghanistan location. The government believes that since bin Laden’s hideout had no internet connection or phone, that some of these removable computer hardware devices could have been used to carry al-Qaida messages back and forth to bin Laden.

White House chief of counter-terrorism, John Brennan, said the U.S. government is interested in uncovering any “insight into any terrorist plot that might be underway so that we can take the measures to stop any type of attack planning. Secondly, we’re trying to look and see whether or not there are leads to other individuals within the organization or insights into their capabilities.”

According to The Guardian‘s source, “Computer forensic specialists can dig through layers of encryption and retrieve data on hard drives. Even if bin Laden had hoped to cover his tracks by deleting files, forensic investigators may still glean valuable evidence.” The encryption in question may be similar to what F-Secure’s Mikko Hypponen tweeted. “Screenshot of Mojahedeen secrets aka Asrar al-Mujahideen, a Windows public key encryption program developed by extremists.”

The CIA is, for once, taking a public victory lap and adding insight to the technical intelligence collection by the CIA sister agencies, “the satellite-running National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency and the eavesdropping National Security Agency.” Hearing anything in-depth about either the CIA or NSA is a pretty rare occurrence.

Yet there is also talk that WikiLeaks publishing the Guantanamo prisoner files last week might have accelerated U.S. plans to attack Osama’s hideaway. The leaked documents suggest that Guantanamo interrogators discovered where Osama bin Laden had been hiding in Abbottabad as long as three years ago.

CIA chief Leon Panetta told TIME that the U.S. is mining the “impressive” data stash that the SEALs snatched before leaving the compound. He also revealed that the NGA photos of two couriers and their families were used by the SEAL team to “identify players in the compound as they made their way toward bin Laden.”

TIME’s magazine cover features a red “X” over bin Laden. Boing Boing reported, “This is the fourth cover in TIME’s history to feature the red “X,” following Adolf Hitler (May 7, 1945), Saddam Hussein (April 21, 2003), and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi (June 19, 2006).”

While I understand the argument that releasing the names of the Navy SEAL heroes might put them in harm’s way due to potentially being targeted by terrorists for retaliation, almost everyone wants to know who they are, who killed bin Laden, and publicly thank the SEALs heroes. Yet the Associated Press reported, “The highly secretive Navy SEAL team that killed Osama bin Laden will likely be honored in the only way such a covert group can be: in private with nobody but themselves and their commanders in the know.”

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ms smith

Ms. Smith (not her real name) is a freelance writer and programmer with a special and somewhat personal interest in IT privacy and security issues. She focuses on the unique challenges of maintaining privacy and security, both for individuals and enterprises. She has worked as a journalist and has also penned many technical papers and guides covering various technologies. Smith is herself a self-described privacy and security freak.