60The greatest manhunt in history began to draw to a close when a field agent jotted down a license plate on a vehicle. That’s according to a New York Times article from May 3, 2011, a few days after a Navy SEAL commando team stormed a large secured residence in an affluent neighborhood in Pakistan and killed Osama Bin Laden, titular head of the international terrorist organization, Al Qaeda.

Pakistani agents working for the Central Intelligence Agency spotted a white Suzuki driving through Peshawar, Pakistan. One of the agents wrote down the vehicle’s license plate number. Like every mechanized nation in the world, Pakistan requires vehicle owners to carry registration information, including the owner’s name and address. It was this information that eventually identified the trusted courier to the Al Qaeda chief. Extensive field investigation, surveillance, and electronic communications intercepts eventually led to the address where Bin Laden had been living in middle class seclusion and semi-luxury for years.

It was a great intelligence and military victory. The man behind the murders of thousands of innocent people and the most significant attack on American soil was brought to justice by good old-fashioned intelligence gathering and investigation.

What can lawyers learn from this exercise? Here are some takeaways:

  • Events happen in real time; they are documented in cyberspace only after the fact. If you want to know what someone is doing, you must be in a position to see or monitor his or her activities. Finding historical information on the Internet is a matter of a few keystrokes. Finding out a respondent husband is meeting a co-worker for drinks and romance is a matter of real time field investigation.
  • It doesn’t take much information to begin to unravel a mystery. A single cell phone number can lead to a previously unidentified defendant or party. That phone number not only provides a name, but also provides an address.  That address can lead to vehicles registered at that location, and those vehicles can lead to relationships that were previously unknown or only suspected.
  • While private attorneys don’t have access to the technology or the warrantless searches of a clandestine federal agency, they do have the power of the subpoena and the resources of capable investigators who are skilled at finding information that may not require a subpoena to obtain.
  • Waterboarding is a highly controversial means of extracting information, with opinions split on its value. For private attorneys, valuable case information can be obtained through a few low-tech telephone calls or emails to the right people. Intelligence agencies call this the “HUMINT” (human intelligence) factor — developed sources in key positions or in a position of access to critical information.  Legal investigators rely on developed sources inside government agencies, corporate bureaucracies, or in specialized knowledge fields or industries.
  • Fitting developed information into the proper context is another critical skill. Not all information is immediately relevant to the investigation. For instance, which vehicle to follow, which number to contact, and which potential witness to interview are all decisions that often require a skilled investigator with experience to determine the next “right” move.
  • And finally, gathering information is time consuming and sometimes costly. It took eight months from the time a field agent took down the license plate on a non-descript Suzuki until the President ordered the SEAL team to storm the Bin Laden compound. However, every American will agree that the time and expense required was well worth the return on the investment.

When your case or client requires a competent and results-driven investigation, call the experienced professionals at Complete Legal Investigation. We can provide you with the specific information you need to move your case forward successfully.