Thousands of bin Laden e-mails revealed

10:30, May 14, 2011      

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OSAMA bin Laden managed to send e-mails while in hiding, using intermediaries and inexpensive computer disks and leaving no digital fingerprint for United States eavesdroppers to find.

His system was painstaking and slow, but it worked, and it allowed him to become a prolific e-mail writer despite not having Internet or phone lines running to his compound.

His methods frustrated Western efforts to trace him through cyberspace.

Bin Laden's system was built on discipline and trust. But it also left behind an extensive archive of e-mail exchanges for the US to scour. The trove of electronic records pulled out of his compound after he was killed last week is revealing thousands of messages and potentially hundreds of e-mail addresses.

Holed up in his walled compound in northeast Pakistan, bin Laden would type a message on his computer, then save it to a thumb-sized flash drive. He then passed the flash drive to a trusted courier, who would head for a distant Internet cafe.

At that location, the courier would plug the memory drive into a computer, copy bin Laden's message into an e-mail and send it. Reversing the process, the courier would copy any incoming e-mail to the flash drive and return to the compound, where bin Laden would read his messages offline.

It was a slow process. But so meticulous that even veteran intelligence officials marveled at bin Laden's ability to maintain it for so long.

The US always suspected bin Laden was communicating through couriers but did not anticipate the breadth of his communications as revealed by the materials he left behind.

Navy SEALs hauled away roughly 100 flash memory drives after they killed bin Laden, and officials said they appear to archive the back-and-forth communication between bin Laden and his associates around the world.

Al-Qaida operatives are known to change e-mail addresses, so it's unclear how many are still active since bin Laden's death. But the long list of electronic addresses and phone numbers in the e-mails is expected to touch off a flurry of national security letters and subpoenas to Internet service providers.

The Justice Department is already coming off a year in which it significantly increased the number of national security letters, which allow the FBI to quickly demand information from companies and others without asking a judge to formally issue a subpoena.

Source: Shanghai Daily/agencies
 
 
     
 
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(Editor:梁军)

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