"We have significantly improved our intelligence collection, analysis, and coordination when it comes to foreign targets in foreign lands," says Amy Zegart, an associate professor at the University of California at Los Angeles's School of Public Affairs and a Clinton administration National Security Council staff member.
As described by Central Intelligence Agency chief Leon Panetta, the intelligence operation that found bin Laden involved CIA agents, National Security Agency satellites, and Defense Department special ops forces, all working together over a period of years to patiently assemble fragmentary information. It was a model operation of the sort modern warfare may require.
In today's world, bytes can be as deadly as bullets, says Rick "Ozzie" Nelson, director of the Homeland Security and Counterterrorism program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C. Just look at the bin Laden operation itself. The longest and most difficult part of the attack was finding the Al Qaeda leader in the first place. The assault on his compound was not easy, but it required only a few dozen personnel with relatively light weapons.
"In the cold war, we didn't need a lot of actionable intelligence. We knew where the Soviet Army was – what we needed was firepower," says Mr. Nelson. "In this war against Al Qaeda, we need a lot of intelligence. We don't need a lot of firepower."