In a bid to shred the Bush administration’s rationale for secret eavedropping due to prior media leaks, the Washington Post puts out a timeline of reports to debunk the long-held assertion that the media tipped off Osama Bin Laden that his satellite phone was being tracked and recorded (thanks Jake!):
Bergen noted that as early as 1997, bin Laden’s men were very concerned about electronic surveillance. “They scanned us electronically,” he said, because they were worried that anyone meeting with bin Laden “might have some tracking device from some intelligence agency.” In 1996, the Chechen insurgent leader Dzhokhar Dudayev was killed by a Russian missile that locked in to his satellite phone signal.
That same day, CBS reported that bin Laden used a satellite phone to give a television interview. USA Today ran a profile of bin Laden on the same day as the Washington Times’s article, quoting a former U.S. official about his “fondness for his cell phone.”
It was not until Sept. 7, 1998 — after bin Laden apparently stopped using his phone — that a newspaper reported that the United States had intercepted his phone calls and obtained his voiceprint. U.S. authorities “used their communications intercept capacity to pick up calls placed by bin Laden on his Inmarsat satellite phone, despite his apparent use of electronic ‘scramblers,’ ” the Los Angeles Times reported.
It seems like there’s not much way to verify exactly why OBL actually stopped using his phone, but the argument is compelling that he probably put two and two together after cruise missiles nearly killed him a day before in August 1998. I suppose the argument could be made that secret eavesdropping would have maybe nabbed him, but considering the wariness demonstrated by Al Qaida, this sounds more like a case of mixed signals in placing blame by the government.