Leaks reveal the US government used LinkedIn to locate Osama bin Laden

In 2013, whistle-blowing patriot/traitor Edward Snowden leaked classified government documents detailing surveillance efforts by the NSA on citizens in the US and abroad. The sheer size of the leak means that many important documents are still being analysed and reported. Fresh controversy has emerged today as new documents reveal the surprising role of the social networking website LinkedIn in the location and death of terrorist leader Osama bin Laden.

On May 2, 2011, Osama bin Laden was killed in Pakistan by United States Navy SEALs of the U.S. Naval Special Warfare Development Group in a CIA-operation called “Neptune Spear”. Over the years, the White House has described in TV interviews and press conferences a detailed clue-by-clue hunt for the most wanted terrorist in the world involving interrogations and satellite surveillance. The leaked documents reveal that the public account of the facts isn’t true and that the NSA was using social networking websites in an effort to locate the most wanted terrorist in the world.

The documents describe how the average social network provides the NSA with useful information about travelling habits, social connections, and which Game of Thrones character you are, but provides little information when a person chooses to vanish from society entirely. This is where LinkedIn came in. One government official that worked with the NSA to secretly gather the private, intimate details of the American population decided LinkedIn was too creepy and intrusive. After several unsuccessful attempts to quit LinkedIn, she took to extreme measures such as deleting her email address, moving to another state, and even changing her name. Inspired by her inability to escape the reach of LinkedIn, she proposed a plan to the CIA for locating the world’s most wanted terrorist.

Osama

Leaked images of Osama bin Laden in hiding. Image by Francisco J. Ramírez.

Previous efforts to use websites to locate bin Laden had failed because Al-Qaeda operatives are relatively tech-savvy. Upon going underground, all of bin Laden’s personal accounts were permanently deleted leaving no connection to him through websites like Twitter or Facebook. LinkedIn, however, specialises in the ability to locate and communicate with ex-users long after they have chosen to quit the service. In early 2011, the CIA had LinkedIn begin sending Osama bin Laden requests to reconnect.

The company attempted to contact bin Laden by email at first but these accounts were also closed when he went underground. The lengthy documents describe some of LinkedIn’s more secretive techniques including desert smoke signals and the use of messages in bottles to contact users that may have escaped to island hideaways. The breakthrough came when the US military tracked a promising pigeon message sent by LinkedIn to a remote location in Pakistan and the rest is history.

Edward Snowden spoke to us from his temporary asylum in Russia:

"Once again we have evidence of the government lying when the public deserve to know the truth. And don’t get me started on burying him at sea. We did that with Megatron in Transformers and look how that turned out?"

We reached out to the White House for a quote but received no reply.

We did, however, receive a response from LinkedIn before actually asking for one:

"It’s true that the US military used our services in order to track down terrorist leader Osama bin Laden. We hadn’t gone public with this information as the operation was obviously sensitive and there was an agreement with the CIA and NSA to keep their efforts under wraps.

However, now that details are out there we do take pride in our ability to locate users wherever they are; it’s an area of expertise where the other social networking websites are still playing catch up. And how are you anyway, Jennifer? We miss you! Have you thought about coming back to us? Many of your close contacts are already using LinkedIn to build their networks and opportunities."