What to Expect from Bin Laden's Hard Drives

U.S. officials are giddy about what they call the "mother lode of intelligence"

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The Navy SEALs who raided Osama bin Laden's hideout Sunday tapped into the "mother lode of intelligence," according to a U.S. official speaking to Politico.  It took only seconds to kill bin Laden. Afterwards, the spec-ops forces gathered memory sticks, personal computers, CDs, DVDs and hard drives from his compound before lifting off. What can we expect to gain from this information and how is it being processed? Here's what intelligence officials have leaked to the press so far:

Financial Support Information Is Key  Being able to track Al-Qaeda's money trail is one of the most attractive prospects of the new data trove, report Matthew Mosk and Brian Ross at ABC News. "Wealthy financiers whose donations helped support the bin Laden terror network now have reason to be nervous," they write. A senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations tells ABC that Al-Qaeda's support generally comes from a handful of deep-pocketed donors. "If people have been giving money, and they don't know yet whether their name is being identified in this intelligence, or that their name might be on a list of potential donors, they might have real reason to worry."

Discovering Future Attacks "Investigators will be looking first for any sign of attacks being planned, then for anything that leads them to other top operatives of the terrorist network," reports CNN's wire staff. "A task force was being set up at the CIA to comb through the evidence seized in the raid, according to a senior intelligence official who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity."

Intelligence Officials Are Very Optimistic “Can you imagine what’s on Osama bin Laden’s hard drive?” one official says to Politico's Mike Allen. "They cleaned it out." Allen says officials are "savoring" the intelligence coup and, already, a team of "hundreds of people" are sifting through the data trove. An official tells CNN the data cache was larger than expected.

Conflicting Reports  It's not clear yet how valuable the information is. An official told ABC News that "the quantity of the material was not as encouraging as its quality," suggesting that there isn't a vast among of data. However, an official told Politico "“It’s going to be great even if only 10 percent of it is actionable.”

Accessing the Data Gizmodo's Jesus Diaz muses about whether or not bin Laden encrypted the trove of information, concluding that it probably doesn't matter either way.

Even if it is, the US intelligence agencies have the necessary computing power and the expertise to crack the information open, even if the terrorists are using the AES-256 standard. You can be sure that, if there are any encrypted files, they are now being processed by supercomputers at CIA's headquarters. The only question is how fast they can access the information. That's the critical part: the fastest they get it, the more actionable that information would be, leading to the fast capture or killing of other leaders and operatives in the al Qaeda network.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.