Monday, May 2, 2011

Hi-Tech Surveillance Plus Old-Fashioned Intelligence Work Found Osama Bin Laden

Sept. 11 accelerated a shift to personal tracking that culminated last week when U.S. Navy SEALs gunned down Osama bin Laden in his Pakistani compound. Over the last decade, technologies that monitored phone calls, engaged in complex computer searches and provided constant drone surveillance isolated, disabled, and finally found the world's most wanted man.

More than simply finding bin Laden, advanced surveillance technology boxed in the al-Qaida leader. He knew that the U.S. could track his phone calls, watch his Internet traffic and follow his movements, so he avoided electronic communication and travel at all costs. That fear of technology turned bin Laden into a stationary target, and led him to create of a compound whose absence of incoming phone lines actually made it easier to identify...

Computer power has increased so substantially that the U.S. National Security Agency can -- and does -- search nearly all of the world's phone and email traffic for specific keywords, said John Pike, director of and an expert on defense technology and policy. When not listening, the U.S watches. Drone aircraft fill the sky by the hundreds, allowing American intelligence officers to follow targets of interest on a camera feed every minute of every day, Pike told InnovationNewsDaily. Some even credit a specially designed persistent camera system called "Gorgon Stare" for single-handedly reducing the scale of violence in Iraq.

The advances in computer and drone technology have also drastically reduced the cost of running wiretapping and airborne surveillance every hour of every day. The intelligence aspect of the operation that finally found bin Laden likely only cost a few million dollars, Pike said, a cost far below the expense of a single day of combat in Iraq or Afghanistan.

When combined, these two technologies allow intelligence officials to take the classic police procedures of wiretapping and stake outs and expand both to a global reach.

"Persistent surveillance [by drone aircraft], in particular, is the modern equivalent of good old- fashioned police work," Pike said. "It's a stakeout, isn't it? In the good old days, you'd park across the street and order in pizza. Well, the drone doesn’t need pizza." (more)