Infographic: Taking Down Terrorists


With the death of Osama bin Laden last month, there's been a renewed interest in how the United States takes down its high-profile targets. The mastermind behind the September 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon was not shot by a rogue assassin, but by one member of an elite squad of Navy SEALs that trained for years. And that team of trained killers was created and put into action by a series of decisions by legislators, as this new infographic from explains.

Infographics are always a bit of a hodgepodge of statistics culled from a variety of sources. Here, we sort through the clutter and pull out some of our favorite facts and figures:

  • There were 2,376 wiretaps ordered in 2009 and more than 90 percent of those orders targeted cellphones.
  • CIA field agents are trained to operate a range of sophisticated equipment for surveillance purposes, including telephoto lens cameras, eavesdropping devices, infrared imaging equipment and radar satellites.
  • Special mission units carry small arms, including M4s, M16s and SIG P226 pistols. It was likely one of these three units that was used to kill bin Laden.
  • As both the architect of general counterterrorist initiatives and the final word on specific actions, the president often puts forth new legislation before its voted on by Congress.
  • President Obama made finding bin Laden his "top priority" in the fight against terrorism after he was elected in 2008. Obama also made the decision to launch a tactical strike on the suspected bin Laden compound rather than bombing it with drones. Experts put the likelihood of bin Laden's being present in the compound at between 40 and 60 percent.
  • Fifteen Congressmen were part of Obama's closed council on the bin Laden operation in the months leading up to it.

Check out more Infographics on the Technology Channel.


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Nicholas Jackson is a former associate editor at The Atlantic.

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