That’s how a U.S. official, speaking anonymously with Politico, described the cache of computers and thumb drives Navy SEALS seized from Osama Bin Laden’s Abbotabad crib. Former State Department official Richard Haas told the Toronto Star that this “intelligence harvest” could be “as important if not more important than the actual killing of bin Laden.”
He may be speaking too soon. Remember—OBL was careful enough to forego both phone lines and an Internet hookup to his compound. Assuming he was still active in al-Qaeda communications over the past few years, he would have had to physically hustle USB keys and hard drives in and out of his bunker. If he was that careful, wouldn’t he take the precaution of encrypting his communications as well?
As The Register speculates, such encryption might nevertheless be cracked by the US military—especially if Bin Laden used al-Qaeda’s homebrew scrambler “Mojahedeen Secrets” (no joke).
As tantalizing as the data seizure may be to the hundreds of intelligence agents poring over the drives right now, all involved may want to temper their expectations. We’ve yet to receive any indication that bin Laden has been doing anything but cowering in recent years, and it’s entirely possible that he’s completely out of the jihadi loop.
Given the recent discovery of pungent weed crops by the Abbotabad compound and reports of frequent munchie-runs by OBL’s cronies, America’s best data-crackers may find nothing on the drives but a copy of Super Smash Brothers PC and a badly dubbed torrent of the Lord of the Rings trilogy.