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National Counterterrorism Center: How A Little-Known Spy Agency Helped Track Down Osama Bin Laden

HuffPost- David Wood
First Posted: 05/ 2/11 06:14 PM ET Updated: 05/ 2/11 07:55 PM ET

A little-known spy agency in Washington helped track the hour-by-hour movements of the al Qaeda courier who inadvertently led a Navy SEALs assault team directly to Osama bin Laden on Sunday, where they killed the terrorist mastermind with two precision shots to the head.

For eight months, after analysts tentatively identified a spacious walled compound near Islamabad, Pakistan, as a possible bin Laden hideout, an array of satellites and unmanned drones kept an unblinking, day-night “staring eye’’ watch, tracking individuals’ movements in and out, and following “individuals of interest’’ as they traveled across the region.

The data was continuously downloaded to an Air Force ground station housed in a nondescript hangar at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia, where teams of analysts pored over the “take’’ and streamed it live to intelligence analysis cells at the CIA, the National Security Agency and the National Counterterrorism Center.

The NCTC, housed in an innocuous office building in Rosslyn, Va., just across the Potomac River from Washington proper, operates far from the spotlight that illuminates even the secretive CIA, but it played a pivotal role in the bin Laden manhunt.

Working with the military’s Joint Special Operations Command Targeting and Analysis Center, located at Langley, and with the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency up the river in Bethesda, Md., the NCTC analysts helped develop what the military calls a “common operating picture.’’ In layman’s terms, that amounted to a detailed four-dimensional “map’’ of the bin Laden compound and its occupants and their patterns of living and working.

The data enabled JSOC’s commandos to build, in a remote section of the U.S. air base at Bagram, Afghanistan, a full-scale replica of the al Qaeda compound at Abbottabad, an hour’s drive north of Islamabad. In constant rehearsals at the mock-up, they perfected the timing and the tactics used in Sunday’s raid.

NCTC officials declined to comment publicly on the agency’s operations or the work that led to bin Laden’s death on Sunday.

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