The U.S. official said that DNA comparisons with samples taken from known relatives prove with near-perfect certainty that the man killed at the Pakistani compound was the al-Qaeda leader. The chance of a false positive from the DNA testing is “approximately one in 11.8 quadrillion,” the intelligence official said.
Perhaps the most intriguing of the videos released shows bin Laden, apparently squatting on the floor in a cold room, watching television news clips of himself. He is wearing a black stocking cap instead of his standard white headgear, and gripping a remote. On the screen is a menu of channels including al-Jazeera and al-Arabiya.
The camera zooms in on his face — his beard gray instead of dyed black — then pans back to show the al-Qaeda leader watching scenes of himself in familiar news footage: brandishing an automatic rifle, navigating a rocky trail.
The intelligence official said it was unclear when the video was recorded and that bin Laden’s beard was similarly gray when he was killed.
The most polished video, said to have been aimed at the United States, appears to have been recorded last October or November, according to preliminary analysis done by the CIA.
Bin Laden’s location in the videos has not been determined, the official said, although in one he appears before a wood-paneled armoire that the CIA thinks is a piece of furniture from the compound where he was killed.
The remaining videos show what appear to be practice sessions in which bin Laden glances down and then back at the camera, reading remarks before a wrinkled sheet, as colleagues fumble with the lighting.
The administration has not provided a catalogue of the recovered materials, but officials have said that more than 100 disks and flash drives were seized. Those devices appear to have been the conduits for bin Laden’s communications with al-Qaeda followers, smuggled out of the compound by two couriers who were also killed during the raid by the Navy SEALs.
The official declined to say how frequently bin Laden relayed messages to followers in this manner, or whether the data indicate that he was in contact with other leading al-Qaeda figures including his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, or the U.S.-born cleric Anwar al-Aulaqi, now based in Yemen.
Aulaqi was the target of an apparently unsuccessful U.S. drone strike Thursday.
“The materials reviewed over the past several days clearly show that bin Laden remained an active leader,” continuing to provide direction even on “tactical details” of operations, the official said.
Bin Laden’s compound was in the Pakistani city of Abbottabad, which serves as a base for military garrisons and is the home of the country’s top military academy. The location has fueled suspicion that Pakistan’s intelligence service was complicit in protecting bin Laden.
The senior U.S. intelligence official said that after a preliminary review of the seized material, “we have no indication that the Pakistani government was aware that bin Laden was at this compound in Abbottabad.”
But the official indicated that the CIA and other agencies are exploring the data and the names that have surfaced in the records for any Pakistani government links. “We’re asking some questions, and the Pakistanis . . . are asking questions of themselves,” the official said.