KSM visited them in 2003, bringing his family along and staying for two weeks. A month later, he was picked up in Rawalpindi in a joint U.S.-Pakistani operation. The bin Ladens split up after KSM's arrest, meeting later in the small city of Haripur, where they lived in a relatively small home for two years. Amal gave birth to two children in a local hospital.
As the commission's report points out, the ISI had sole custody of bin Laden's surviving family members for five months before the commission questioned them. Yet the ISI failed to pursue any of these leads. It did not track down where bin Laden's wives lived in Pakistan, who arranged for their stay and transportation or whether or not their stories were corroborated by other evidence.
Bin Laden's oldest -- and reportedly his favorite -- wife, Khairiah, lived in Iranian custody from 2002 until 2010. After the American invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, she fled there with other members of bin Laden's family, including his son Saad bin Laden. How she got into Pakistan is still a major question. As the report points out, one possibility is that the Iranian government and al Qaeda arranged to exchange an Iranian diplomat for Khairiah. At any rate, Khairiah arrived in Pakistan in 2010 and travelled through Quetta to Waziristan. From there, she received a message from bin Laden inviting her to Abbottabad, where she arrived only three months before the raid that killed her husband.
Since there are no regular checkpoints on the highways connecting cities like Quetta and Islamabad, it is understandable that the police -- wholly underpaid and overstretched -- were not able to intercept Khairiah or bin Laden's other wives as they moved around Pakistan. But each of these movements required a support network on the ground: drivers, guides, safe houses. The ISI, the only institution in the country capable of tracing such a network, failed to do so.
And Abbottabad itself should have been on the ISI's radar as a hotbed of al Qaeda's activity.
In 2005, the ISI had helped capture Abu Farraj al-Libbi, the man that replaced Mohammed as al Qaeda's third in command, and they knew he had lived in Abbottabad starting in 2003. They had even tried to capture him at one point in a raid a few miles from bin Laden's home. Al-Libbi likely needed a local support network. The report points out that if the ISI had any more information about al-Libbi's stay in Abbottabad, they did not see fit to share it with the commission.
Also connected to Abbottabad was Umar Patek, an al Qaeda operative that helped plan the 2002 bombings in Bali, who traveled to the city in early 2011. The ISI claims he was only stopping there on his way to Afghanistan, but as the commission points out, he was more likely there to meet with bin Laden. Patek was captured in Abbottabad just two months before the bin Laden killing, and he was in Pakistani custody for four months afterwards. Yet, according to the commission's report, the ISI apparently failed to extract any useful information from Patek about the al Qaeda network in Abbottabad.
The commission blames the ISI for the fact that none of these leads were followed up on, saying civilians were unaware of Abbottabad's connections to al Qaeda. The ISI, in contrast, was "well aware of their presence but unwilling to share information."
The report also contains the extensive, candid testimony of Ahmad Shuja Pasha, the then head of the ISI (although one page is mysteriously missing from the leaked copy), It amounts to a damning illustration of why Pakistan's counterterrorism policy has failed.
Pakistan has lost 50,000 people -- including thousands of soldiers that were answerable to men like Pasha -- to terrorist attacks since 2004. Yet Pasha seemed to be stuck in another world when talking to the commission. He rightly pointed out that ISI was overburdened, but then blamed those who dared to criticize his agency's role in securing Pakistan, repeating the tired narrative that "the first line of national defense" was being attacked by "emotional" people that could be bought with "money, women, and alcohol."
To be sure, the United States has not worked well with the ISI, which some American officials claim have helped militants escape in the past. As the report points out, "there was never any trust between the two intelligence organizations ... [just an] understanding due to overlapping interests."
When, after years of silence, U.S. officials raised the prospect of bin Laden living in Pakistan in 2010, the ISI asked for details and offered to help. They never got a reply. At one point, the CIA gave the ISI four phone numbers to track, but did not disclose that they were related to bin Laden's handlers. As a result, the ISI failed to track the numbers, thinking the issue was of low importance.
Pasha, echoing a number of Pakistani military leaders, complained that there was not enough legal cover for his agency to detain and investigate suspected militants. The commission dismissed this, saying "in a democracy, an intelligence organization must be accountable and answerable to political oversight."
If Pakistanis were looking for insight into the bin Laden saga from the ISI, they did not get any. In fact, the problem the commission uncovered was one that has been known to Pakistanis for some time now. The ISI, which "neither had constitutional or legal authority, nor the necessary expertise and competence," for counterterrorism, was taking up the responsibility of civilian institutions that were "even less competent," because they had no long-term experience running the country. "The premier intelligence institution's religiosity replaced accountability at the expense of professional competence," the report concludes.
In other words, Pakistanis cannot depend on agencies like the ISI -- which either through incompetence or outright complicity failed to track down bin Laden -- to defend its borders, whether the threat is coming from a U.S. raid, or a Taliban suicide bomber. Pakistani civilians, who have just voted in historic elections, must own their own counterterrorism policy. In the end, they are the ones that stand to lose the most.