- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Anyone who had contactwith Osama bin Laden should be worried about becoming the next target of a U.S. commando raid, a former CIA official said, citing thecomputer equipment that Navy SEALs grabbed on their deadly raid of his compound in Pakistan.

Tyler Drumheller, who worked on CIA counterterrorism programs, said the computers and other material will provide vital leads to help track down other al Qaeda leaders in Afghanistan, Pakistan and further afield.

“There will be information on how they communicate and how al Qaeda central communicates with the affiliates,” he told The Washington Times on Tuesday.

Everyone who had been in contact with bin Laden will now have to worry that their identity, hiding place or communications channels might now be known to U.S. intelligence.

“They don’t know what was found at the compound. … Anyone who has been in touch with him, they don’t know if their name or some other information about them was there,” Mr. Drumheller said.

“It doesn’t matter whether [the information] was found or not. These guys tend to work from a worst-case scenario,” he added, explaining that bin Laden’s associates will have to assume that their security has been compromised.

Those doubts could cause major disruptions to al Qaeda’s already shaky leadership structure, which has been under relentless assault by U.S. drones in its haven in the tribal areas of Pakistan on the mountainous Afghan frontier.

They are also likely to expose themselves to U.S. surveillance.

“These events always lead to activity. There’ll be people trying to communicate, people moving around,” Mr. Drumheller said.

Obama administration officials told reporters Tuesday that intelligence experts are collecting information from computers and other data sources seized by the Navy commandos after killing bin Laden.

“The exploitation of the information [recovered at bin Laden’s compound] is ongoing,” White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan said.

Intelligence agencies are looking for information about plotting for terror attacks “that may be under way [and] leads to other al Qaeda officials as well as what type of support system [bin Laden] might have had in Pakistan,” Mr. Brennan added.

“He was in this compound for the past five or six years. We know that he had released videos and audios. We know that he was in contact with some senior al Qaeda officials.

“So what we’re trying to do now is to understand what he has been involved in over the past several years, exploit whatever information we were able to get at the compound … to continue our efforts to destroy al Qaeda.”

Mr. Brennan vowed “to pursue every lead,” and “to continue to pummel the rest of al Qaeda.”

The highest-value target remaining among al Qaeda’s leadership is Ayman al-Zawahiri, the man widely believed to be his deputy and designated successor.

Mr. Brennan said “our latest information” was that al-Zawhiri is in “Pakistan or Afghanistan.” He noted “speculation that Zawahiri and other senior officials remain hunkered down” in the tribal areas.

Al-Zawahiri is believed to have married into a powerful Pashtun tribe there, which would grant him protection under an ancient tribal code of hospitality known as Pashtunwali.

Raheel Khan, bureau chief for Radio Free Europe’s Pashto-language service, said there are more immediate reasons why local leaders might be sheltering him.

Many foreign fighters in the tribal areas “have very strong links” with extremists there, he told The Times.

“It is not because of marriage. They share a common ideology. They see themselves as fighting a common enemy.”

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, also noted the links that al Qaeda has in the tribal areas.

Many analysts have observed a convergence among al Qaeda, local tribal extremist groups such as the Haqqani network and Kashmiri terrorist groups such as Lashkar e-Taiba.

“One of the things that has been happening and particularly in the … area has been a kind of loose metamorphosis between these terrorist groups,” Mrs. Feinstein, California Democrat, told reporters at the Capitol.

“So how they regroup, where they go from here, what kind of act of vengeance they take is something that all has to be considered and considered very carefully.”lyn

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