WASHINGTON - In an other embarrassing revelation for Pakistani intelligence agencies, US officials said that CIA maintained a safe house in Abbottabad for a small team of spies who conducted extensive surveillance on slain Osama bin Laden's compound for months before President Barack Obama signed an order to kill the al-Qaeda chief.
The secret CIA facility relied on Pakistani informants and other sources to help assemble a "pattern of life" portrait of the occupants and daily activities at the compound where bin Laden was found, the Washington Post reported citing unnamed officials.
The CIA safe house near bin Laden's hideout did not play a role in the raid of the US Special Forces on May 2 and has since been shut down, in part because of concerns about the safety of CIA assets in the aftermath, but also because the agency's work was considered finished, the report said.
"The CIA's job was to find and fix," a US official, using Special Operations forces terminology for the identification and location of a high-value target was quoted as saying by the newspaper.
"The intelligence work was as complete as it was going to be, and it was the militarys turn to finish the target," the official was quoted as saying by The Washington Post.
According to The New York Times, observing from behind mirrored glass, CIA officers used cameras with telephoto lenses and infrared imaging equipment to study the compound, and they used sensitive eavesdropping equipment to try to pick up voices from inside the house and to intercept cellphone calls.
A satellite used radar searched for possible escape tunnels.
"Still, the spying operation had its limits: American officials would see a tall man occasionally take walks through the compound's courtyard, but they were never able to confirm the man was bin Laden.
The CIA surveillance team took pains to avoid detection not only by the suspected al-Qaeda operatives they were watching but by Pakistani intelligence and the local police," the NYT added.
U.
S.
officials provided new details on bin Ladens final moments, saying the al-Qaeda leader was first spotted by U.
S.
forces in the doorway of his room on the compounds third floor, according to The Washington Post.
Bin Laden then turned and retreated into the room before being shot twice in the head and in the chest.
U.
S.
commandos later found an AK-47 and a pistol in the room.
He was retreating, a move that was regarded as resistance, a U.
S.
official briefed on the operation wasc quoted as saying.
You dont know why hes retreating, what hes doing when he goes back in there.
Is he getting a weapon? Does he have a [suicide] vest? Despite what officials described as an extraordinarily concentrated collection effort leading up to the operation, no U.
S.
spy agency was ever able to capture a photograph of bin Laden at the compound before the raid, or a recording of the voice of the mysterious male figure whose family occupied the structures top two floors, the Post said.
Indeed, current and former U.
S.
intelligence officials said that bin Laden employed remarkable discipline in his efforts to evade detection.
Youve got to give him credit for his tradecraft, said a former senior CIA official who played a leading role in the manhunt.
When spotted by surveillance drones a decade earlier, bin Laden had bodyguards, multiple SUVs and things like that.
He abandoned all of that.
The officials also outlined emerging theories as to why bin Laden apparently selected the Pakistani military garrison city of Abbottabad as the place that afforded him the greatest chance to stay alive.
The discovery of bin Laden in Abbottabad has raised suspicion that he was placed there and being protected by elements of the Pakistani military and intelligence service, but U.
S.
officials said they have seen no conclusive evidence that was the case.
The city offered a number of advantages for the al-Qaeda leader, officials said.
Chief among them is that Abbottabad, deep inside Pakistans borders, is a safe distance from the tribal regions that are patrolled by armed U.
S.
drones.
U.
S.
officials said they are convinced that bin Laden, who had long immersed himself among the Pashtun tribes along the border with Afghanistan, was driven from that part of the country by the escalating drone campaign.
Even five years ago things were dropping from the sky in Pakistans tribal region, a U.
S.
official said.
He probably felt that if he could conceal his presence [in Abbottabad] it would be an unlikely area for the United States to pursue him.
Strikes by conventional U.
S.
aircraft would have carried enormous risks, both because Pakistan has invested heavily in air detection and defense systems to counter any threat posed by India and because of the perils of an errant strike.
All it has to be is about 1,000 yards off and it hits the Pakistan Military Academy, said a CIA veteran of Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The city is also home to two regimental compounds, and suburbs occupied by military families.
U.
S.
officials said there were also disadvantages for bin Laden in residing in Abbottabad, including the fact that the area is relatively welcoming to outsiders, including Pakistanis on vacation, military families being transferred to bases there, and even U.
S.
soldiers who have at times been sent to Abbottabad to train Pakistani troops.
Abbottabad is not a place where Islamic extremists went, because it wasnt a stronghold, said the former U.
S.
intelligence official involved in the bin Laden pursuit.
They preferred places like Peshawar, Quetta or Karachi.
When analysts would consider likely locations for the al-Qaeda chief, the official said, Abbottabad wouldnt be on that list.
The CIA took advantage of that atmosphere to send case officers and recruited informants into Abbottabad undetected, and set up a safe house that functioned as its base.
That is an Achilles heel for bin Laden, because anybody can go to Abbottabad, the former CIA official said.
It makes it easier for the CIA to operate.
U.
S.
officials declined to say how many case officers or informants used the facility, but they stressed that the effort required extraordinary caution because of the fear that bin Laden and those sheltering him might vanish again if spooked.
The CIA began to focus on the compound last summer after years of painstaking effort to penetrate a small network of couriers with ties to the al-Qaeda leader.
Once the most important of those couriers led them to the Abbottabad compound, the conspicuous nature of the complex sent up alarms that it might have been built for bin Laden himself.
The place was three stories high and you could watch it from a variety of angles, the former official said.
Moving into the custom-made compound, the former official said, was his biggest mistake.
When a team of two dozen commandos arrived at the site Monday, one of bin Ladens couriers was the only one to open fire, officials said.
They had to blow through some doors and walls, said the U.
S.
official briefed on the raid.
One door they opened up only to find a [cement] wall behind it.
The SEALs encountered no other armed opposition as they ascended to the top floor, where bin Laden was found.
He was in the doorway and then retreated, and thats where the operators moved in, the senior U.
S.
official said.