The real story of how the US found bin Laden raises some key questions, namely:
- Why did the Saudis pay the Pakistanis to keep bin Laden?
- Why did the Pakistani's cooperate?
- Did the ISI run the safe house itself or did it use a third party?
- How permeable was the safe house?
A key to understanding why Saudi Arabia would finance bin Laden's hideout is clarifying what the Saudis were actually paying for. Bin Laden was esentially being kept under house arrest. His contact with the outside world was controlled and he was not allowed to leave the compound without Pakistani approval.
It is unknown if they ever let him out.
The recent puff piece in the New Yorker giving the Obama administrations' fanciful version of mission to take out OBL, included a very interesting detail:
...security precautions were in place. A locked metal gate blocked the base of the staircase leading to the second floor, making the downstairs room feel like a cage.
Now the author assumed that the gate was to keep people out of OBL's upstairs apartment, but it's my understanding that it was to keep OBL inside.
The Saudis were in a very precarious situation with no good answers. OBL was a Saudi who had sworn to overthrow the House of Saud, but he had widespread support among the Wahhabists whose acquiesence is critical for the stability of the Saudi state. And he was the US public enemy number one. Paying off a third party to keep him under wraps might have been the best solution for handling such an uncomfortable problem.
Yes, the Saudis were sheltering, but at the same time they were apparently trying to keep him on a tight rope. An interesting side question is under what conditions were the Pakistanis supposed to be holding OBL? Did the Saudis stipulate that he be allowed or not be allowed contact with the outside world and did the Pakistanis honor the Saudi wishes or do their own thing?
Now why the Pakistanis cooperated seems that it would have been a better option that having OBL running around loose in Waziristan and the tribal areas, constantly provoking US pressure and raids and potentially acting to destabilize Pakistan.
And of course, there was the money.
I assume that since the Pakistanis didn't want to risk getting caught housing OBL, they used a cutout or rather a thrid party to hide behind. Given tight relationship between Harakat and the ISI, they would be at the top of my list of suspects. The New York Times reported that OBL's courier's cell phone had multiple calls to Harakat and suggested the benefits OBL would have in having Harakat as part of his in-country support network.
How permeable was the safe house? Regular release of audios indicates OBL was able to get information out. The recent wave of encounters between top Qaeda leaders and Predator drones suggests that the US recently acquired significant intelligence on Qaeda leadership and its whereabouts. There have also been numerous reports about valuable intelligence coming from OBL's computer drives. It's probably very safe to assume the safe house leaked like OBL's body after the SEAL encounter.
Then the interesting question becomes was this the intent and understanding of the Saudi benefactors? (Did those guys ever check up on their outsourced prison? At least the US black sites/detention did have a contract monitoring system in theory...)
Or did the ISI allow OBL to remain active, all the while keeping tabs on all information passed through that grate between the floors?
Did the ISI ever leak actionable intelligence gleaned this way to the US?
I doubt we will ever have definitive answers.