U.S. intelligence officials estimate that Osama bin Laden had been living in the $1 million Abbottabad compound where he was killed for up to six years, according to Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Dianne Feinstein. “That’s what we estimate at this stage,” Feinstein told TIME. Bin Laden “could have been there for five or six years.”
The California Democrat said this fact is troubling evidence that the Pakistani government may be engaging in “duplicitous behavior” in its relationship with the U.S. “It would be very difficult to live there for up to five or six years and no one know you’re there,” she said. “I would have a hard time believing that they did not know.”
As the elation following bin Laden’s death settles in, Congress is beginning to grapple with some tough questions about Pakistan and bin Laden. It is sure to be a key topic when Central Intelligence Agency Director Leon Panetta and Admiral William McRaven, commander of the Joint Special Operations Command, brief a joint session of Congress on Tuesday or Wednesday. “They’ve been a good ally at times and a not-so-good ally at times,” said Senator Saxby Chambliss, the top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee. “They need to be honest with us. We’re providing financial aid as well as other aid to Pakistan and we’ve had a very rocky relationship with the current Pakistani government.”
Feinstein first heard of the Abbottabad compound in a briefing in early December, 2010. “We were briefed about suspicions about the size, about the structure of the compound, about the absence of people going in or out,” Feinstein said. “We were actually shown overhead long distance photos from the air and we were essentially told that there were suspicions, serious suspicions, that this may be the place where Osama bin Laden was and that there was a 24/7 oversight of this compound.”
“We don’t know exactly how long he was there, but obviously he’d been able to get away with it for some period of time and that may have given him a false sense of security,” Chambiss added. “That may have worked to our advantage.”
Though there may have been a reference to the compound in one of WikiLeaks’ classified document dumps, there wasn’t a serious concern that the information had become widely known through that source, a Feinstein aide said.
Feinstein and Chambliss differed on how helpful information obtained through “enhanced interrogation techniques” was in finding bin Laden. “Suffice it to say, this does exhibit the importance of the operation in Guantanamo from an interrogation standpoint,” Chambliss told TIME. “It emphasizes why the CIA needs to be involved in the interrogation process… It’s the CIA that’s going to follow these individuals for years as they did here with respect to information gleaned from Kahlid Sheikh Mohammed in this case. The specifics of the information gleaned from him have taken time to follow through on and by following through on that information we were able to pick up additional leads on where bin Laden was.”
Feinstein was adamant that no information obtained by waterboarding led to Abbottabad. “We’re doing a report on detention and interrogation, which is the Democratic majority report, and we’ve gone through over three million cables, pages, documents going back and I do not believe that there is any evidence that this came from waterboarding,” she said. “We’re still looking into it, but so far, no.”
Panetta called both Feinstein and Chambliss on Saturday to give them a heads-up that something big could be happening. Panetta “spoke very cryptically, so I really didn’t cotton on that it was Osama bin Laden,” Feinstein said. “He said it was a matter that we’ve discussed, and so I really didn’t know which one” until “about 5:30ish California time on Sunday… that’s when he told me that Osama bin Laden was dead.” That begs the question: What other matters of such magnitude have they been discussing?