May 082011

After the killing of Usama bin Laden, there has been a palpable desire for something to see. Having decided not to release photographs of the operation itself, the U. S. government released an assortment of video clips to the news media today, as if to serve that need. While much attention is being visited on bin Laden’s rather routine flub of his lines for a video recording, it seems from one of the other clips that bin Laden was better networked than we were previously told. Given the large satellite dish visible in pictures of the compound, it’s not surprising that he had TV.

bin Laden choosing channels

In this still, I can clearly read channels like al-Jazeera and al-Arabiya but also BBC World and BBC Arabic, Dubai TV and so on. The TV was linked to some kind of modem:

bin Laden's TV set up

Any techies out there know what that is? He certainly made some interesting viewing selections in the clips we have been shown. It appears that he watched the U. S. Congress, as the screen appears to show the House of Representatives in the manner used by the networks when a vote is in progress. And he seems to have watched Hillary Clinton at work:

Here’s the screen in detail:

Hillary Clinton on bin Laden's TV

I can’t be sure it’s her, but it certainly looks like it: it might be quite an old clip, as it looks as if she’s chairing a Senate committee, so it would be before 2009, when she became Secretary of State.

Finally, in this brief but rather remarkable video, we can see that bin Laden had access to reasonably modern computer equipment, like this flat screen monitor:

A computer in bin Laden's compound

The fact that whoever took these pictures wanted to show clips of bin Laden watching himself, as stressed in the media, is open to many interpretations: it may be that this is what bin Laden liked to do, or it may have been a setup for the video shoot.

Taken together, all of this suggests that even the most recent assertions that bin Laden was isolated in his compound seem highly dubious: whether he had direct Internet access or not, he was clearly part of the contemporary communications world. As anyone who has cable knows, there must have been several visits to set up and later update the equipment. All of which suggests that the idea that the entire world was shocked to discover where he had been for the past six years or so cannot be true.

Watch this space:)


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