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back to article How bin Laden thwarted US electronic surveillance

Osama bin Laden didn't have a phone or internet connection, but for years he was a prolific user of email who frustrated Western efforts to track him by saving messages to a thumb drive and having them sent from a distant internet cafe, the Associated Press reports. The process was so tedious that even veteran intelligence …

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Joke

The recession is over in the Middle East

At least for moving companies and plastic surgeons.

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Not much different to UUCP then...

... just using a mechanical link.

Still faster than regular post.

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Only tedious by comparison, I think

The way he was doing it doesn't sound like it'd be any slower than postal mail, at worst. It seems tedious to us because we regard postal mail as a quaint and adorable holdover from a millennium in which people in the developed world were mostly more or less human.

Besides, so what if it is tedious? Being shot dead in your own home is probably pretty damn exciting, if perhaps only briefly, but I don't know that I'd consider it *preferable*.

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Not even

I made the mistake to create a few mailing lists with a small company that was later gobbled by Yahoo!, for personal projects involving semi-anonymous 1-way communication (nothing pedorrist, it's all about art *), and I can tell you, sending USB drives by courrier has to be less tedious than solving the captcha required by Yahoo to send e-mails to multiple hidden recipients!

*and doesn't even involve nudity. So innocent, I won't even post this anon. Except for the shame of not managing these mailing lists locally; but again, for semi-anonymous stuff people tend to trust adresses in @yahoo.* more than those in @diegeekdie.co.cc

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First!

Also RFC1149...

http://tools.ietf.org/html/rfc1149

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Thumb Down

Second!

No... wait...

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I might have given a thumbs up for the RFC1149 post, but...

...down for anyone doing a 'first'

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Big Brother

Of course...

"The cache of messages is so big that the government has enlisted Arabic speakers from around the intelligence community to pore over them."

Of course, at least here in the States, Arabic translators of the GLBT persuasion need not apply...

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Flame

Or

Anyone in the USA that can speak Arabic has already been locked up as a "terrorist"

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Alien

Not only GLBT

but Arabic speaking Jews as well.

After 9/11 they refused the services of those Jews, originally from Arab count0ries, so as not to offend the Muslims working with the FBI; but some of those Muslims objected, anyway, to interrogating other Muslims and refused to record the "interviews".

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WTF?

The icon says it all

"...but some of those Muslims objected, anyway, to interrogating other Muslims ..."

So they thought they were being hired to translate between Finnish and English, and perform interviews only Vietnamese?

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Only tedious for the runner

For Bin Laden it wouldn't be much different to clicking send and waiting for a reply

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Anonymous Coward

Yes, but...

I guess, Osama didn't surf much on the interwebs then...

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Joke

Over...

...an AOL connection? :)

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Osama?

AC, let me guess, you're an American Republican, right?

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Anonymous Coward

@Wyrdness

Neither am I 'merkin nor republican but it's funny how you came to this conclusion.

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Happy

web broswe

"I guess, Osama didn't surf much on the interwebs then"

Lucky for the runner!

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Anonymous Coward

You heard it here first.

The next tool for intelligence agencies will be thumb drives with GPS receivers hidden in them.

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Happy

If they did that,

...and I was a "Terrorist" (TM) I would gladly go around armed with a pack of these and a pack of blu-tack and start sticking them to random vehicles, dogs collars etc :)

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The title is required, and must contain letters and/or digits.

Leave my dog collar alone please...

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Black Helicopters

Re: You heard it here first.

...and Wi-Fi!

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Black Helicopters

@Jim Booth

Even better, put them in Geocaching sites!

Obviously it's a "dead drop" and the security services can spend ages watching them and then following the people who a) pick them up and b) leave stuff behind...

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Joke

To the good side ...

... OBL did receive regular notice of the deaths of heretofore unknown distant relatives mostly Nigerian Oil Ministers with huge cash estates stuck in-country.

He lived for ten years, and my spam filter has been throwing them out for as long ... How could I have been sooooooo stupid!

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FAIL

not encrypted then?

A few days ago, an El Reg article speculated that the trove of data would be mostly useless due of encryption, but apparently OBL had considered it too much hassle -- just like most normal computer uses do (unless forced to to use a performance-killing encrypted laptop drive by corporate security).

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WTF?

Tedious?

That is absolutely not tedious, actually quite straightforward and intelligence services should be ashamed if they were really fooled by that strategy. I believe this is called sneakernet, it's been around for ages, and it's always been used by intel / underground types.

How is it more tedious than sending regular snail-mail? Yet my grandparents, prolific mailers, have "maintained it for" the past 32 years (and repordely longer, my memories from before that are a bit hazy though, possibly due to my not being born at the time). I'm glad to learn today that my grandparents' tenacity would blow the mind of the world's best intel brains.

Seriously, that attempt to excuse the delay in finding OBL by presenting him as an evil genius is ridiculous.

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Not fooled

The intelligence services weren't 'fooled' by the strategy - in fact, it's this very strategy that revealed his location.

All the Americans did was identify his trusted courier and follow him.

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Happy

Sneakernet

Sandalsnet, in this case?

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Big Brother

sounds like Oz

About as fast as Oz ISP, especailly bigswamp, which has been oozing even more slowly that usual lately. Might be the spooks searching for global warming denialists, since thats the latest threat to all right minded panic merchants.

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FAIL

oops

no/weak encryption on the thumb drives then? Oh dear.

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Yeah

We used floppys when we ran a sneaker-net in the bad old days. I suppose bin Laden's mildly updated version would be called driver-net or something.

So on to the important question, is this "trusted courier" like plain courier... you know, non-kerned serif?

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@Eddy Ito

Awesome font gag

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JDX
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"so tedious that even veteran intelligence officials have marveled

One might hope intelligence officials would have more patience than that. A courier has to travel between 2 places... oh the tedium.

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BAck in the days of floppies

This method used to be called "Sneakernet"

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FAIL

Non story?

If you were one of the world's most hunted men, you'd hardly be sending messages from your own PC would you? It used to be called a "dead letterbox" and has existed for as long as espionage has.

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Coat

quick!

Hire tha courier to work for our Government Departments. He knows how 'not' to loose a USB stick withimportant data on it.

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Headmaster

Loose, lose...

...oh why do I even bother?

I believe you mean "lose". "Loose" means not tight.

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Headmaster

luo

information wants to be free!

conjugate 100 times: luein - luo, lueis, luei, luomen, luete, luousi

loose is also a verb, so perhaps he did mean 'intentionally to loose' as in 'to set free' or 'to unbind' rather than 'unintentionally to misplace'

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Degrees of Security

The real question is how were the emails transfered?

Were they plaintext on the USB key, or were they pre-encrypted by Osama himself using PGP or something similar.

Even if they can't decrypt the messages themselves, the haul must include a long list of email accounts which can now be monitored and access logs probed to better understand what remains of the organisation.

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Stop

Re: Degrees of Security

It doesn't matter, it seems they were never intercepted, or if they were their significance was not realised. After all, why would one of the world's most wanted terrorist organisations communicate with thumb drives?

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Funny...

That's how Stallman works too, I understand :)

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Black Helicopters

Knuth is even more extreme

Knuth stopped using email at the start of 1990. He must be up to something!

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Well

At least it made him less likely to send a spur of the moment angry email to anybody

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Pause for thought

"At least it made him less likely to send a spur of the moment angry email to anybody"

Hmm, yes... you wouldn't want that, Osama bin Laden getting angry with you and sending you a recklessly worded e-mail. What could be worse than that.

Incidentally, I haven't heard of these fellows using biological or chemical weapons, is it against their religion? If you don't count persuading stupid farm kids to carry suicide bombs as a biological weapon. Imagine for instance if they went about spreading foot and mouth disease amongst livestock., which I presume they didn't, it spread like it did because that's what happens. Or swine flu. Of course they very much don't like swine, but is that all that stopped them?

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Hmm

It doesn't sound very secure, unless the courier was using a different internet cafe every time. Otherwise the authorities could catch the guy by keeping a watch on the place. And if all such places were "driveable" from Bin Laden's home, that raises other tracability questions. Also there is no mention of encryption. I guess we won't know the truth until perhaps 50 years from now.

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WTF?

Well, er...

I see you've discovered the minor flaw in the plausibility of this story.

It really makes no sense at all. If it was supposed to be the same Internet cafe every time - that's obviously pants when you have the NSA supposedly monitoring everyone and everything.

If it was a different cafe, you're right - "driveable" gives anyone watching a good hint about the geographical location of the source.

The system would be more successful if you had a chain of couriers who could pass encrypted mails to each other and email them from different countries.

But if you're going to do that, you may as well skip the email part and simply pass the thumb drives around by hand and/or by post, with a standard pick-up point.

If you were really clever and had the kind of huge and terrifying James Bond Villain network of minions Bin Laden was supposed to have, you could use each courier exactly once.

But running some guy in an old car ragged driving to the same cafe each time - "Hello Muhammad - your usual this week?" - isn't exactly the epitome of cyber tradecraft.

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then why have a satellite (or WiFi) dish ?

This USB drives stuff doesn't make any sense. Especially that there seems to have been some sort of remote connection with some sort of dish, but that doesn't look to the sky:

http://joequinn.net/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/osama-compound-satellite.jpg

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Stop

Plausibility

I agree, but I can't see why anyone bothers to speculate. Almost everything that we plebs know about Osama Bin Laden - including his very existence - originates with the US intelligence services. That's not, experience suggests, a very reliable source.

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Grenade

Actually

Osama's response times sound to be on a par with the piss-awful Outlook system which the Thought Police oblige us to use here in the Tower of Barad-dûr. Note to lusers: please do not use poncy stationery effects as it may result in a prolonged experiment to determine the exact temperature at which you rface catches fire.

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Pint

Normal

Maybe Bin Laden had never sat in front of a computer connected to the internet before, and just understood that "this is how email works".

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Welcome

Bet this happens...

How long until USB thumb drives are labelled as instruments of terrorism - just like bottles of any liquid over 100ml?

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