Pakistan has agreed to allow the CIA to send a forensics team to examine the compound where Osama bin Laden was killed, giving the agency permission to use sophisticated equipment in a search for al-Qaeda materials that might have been hidden inside walls or buried at the site, U.S. officials said.
The arrangement would allow the CIA for the first time to enter a complex that it had previously scrutinized only from a distance, using satellites, stealth drones and spies operating from a nearby safe house that was shuttered when bin Laden was killed.
U.S. officials said a CIA team is expected to arrive at the compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, within days, and that the objective is to scrub the site for items that were not recovered by American commandos during the raid or Pakistani security forces who secured the facility in the aftermath.
“The assault team was there for only 40 minutes,” a U.S. official said. The aim is to return to the site “to do another, more thorough, look.” The officials, like others interviewed, spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters.
CIA Deputy Director Michael J. Morell negotiated access to the Abbottabad site during a trip to Islamabad last week, when he met with the head of Pakistan’s main intelligence service, Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha, officials said.
Pakistan’s agreement is seen as an encouraging sign that the two spy services will continue cooperating despite anger in Islamabad over the American operation to kill bin Laden, and a series of recent ruptures between the CIA and its Pakistani counterpart.
Pakistan has also agreed to allow the CIA to examine materials that Pakistan’s security forces have recovered from the compound, officials said. The agency has also asked Pakistan’s spy agency, known as the Inter-Services Intelligence directorate, for assistance in analyzing some of the records that were seized in the raid and brought to a CIA document exploitation facility in Northern Virginia.
In particular, U.S. officials said that the CIA is seeking help in deciphering references to names of individuals and places. U.S. intelligence officials have described the stash of material recovered from the bin Laden compound as the largest intelligence haul ever recovered relating to al-Qaeda or any other terrorist network.
The materials include dozens of computer storage devices as well as thousands of pages of paper.
Even so, U.S. officials said they want to be sure that other material has not been overlooked. The CIA plans involve the use of infrared cameras and other devices capable of identifying materials embedded behind walls, inside safes or underground.
Pakistan agreed in part because it does not have such equipment, officials said, and breaking through portions of the structure to conduct a search might risk destroying any materials hidden inside.
The agency also has equipment that could be used to recover information that has been burned or otherwise damaged. U.S. officials have said that residents burned their trash inside the compound’s walls.
U.S. officials said they have seen no evidence that there were tunnels underneath the compound. Indeed, one official said that the CIA and other U.S. spy agencies concluded before the May 2 raid that there were not likely to be any underground escape routes for bin Laden because the water table in Abbottabad is so close to the surface.
The CIA has already been given access to three of bin Laden’s wives who were taken into custody by Pakistan after the raid. But officials said none of them has been cooperative with U.S. interrogators or provided meaningful intelligence.