The U.S. intelligence community wheeled out one of its prized possessions Wednesday -- a scale model of the notorious Pakistan compound where Usama bin Laden spent the last few years of his life in hiding.
The model made its public debut in one of the Pentagon's busiest hallways, drawing the attention of gawkers and passers-by. It was built in six weeks by the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency and used by military and intelligence leaders to plan the daring nighttime raid on May 2, 2010, that killed the Al Qaeda leader.
And this model is not short on detail.
It's scale is an exact 1 inch to 7 feet. Every tree, bush, wall, animal pen, trash can and physical structure in the model existed at one time at the original compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. (The actual compound was torn down by Pakistani authorities earlier this year.)
Even the red van parked out front and the white Land Cruiser parked inside were vehicles often seen at the real compound. Remember, it was the courier that eventually led intelligence officials to bin Laden's hideout.
Everything in the model was based on details learned about the actual hideout, said Greg Glewwe, one of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency officials presenting the display at the Pentagon. "Nothing you see would have been included if we didn't see it there."
Glewwe said the replica was built using satellite imagery, along with other classified intelligence assets, presumably pictures from drones and CIA ground surveillance. Exact measurements were gleaned from a process called photogenic measurement, which in part involves measuring shadows to determine height of individual structures.
A U.S. official familiar with the internal planning and execution of the attack said the mock-up was "an instrumental device in planning the raid that killed Usama bin Laden."
This official said the model was made several months ahead of the raid and was first assessed by the CIA and other intelligence agencies. Then, when a decision was made to involve the military, the model was used to brief top officials. Adm. Mike Mullen, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. James Cartwright, Mullen's deputy, and Adm. William McCraven, head of Special Operations Command, all studied the model in the initial planning stages.
Finally, this official said, the model was used to brief the team of Navy SEALs and special operators who flew in and finished the job.
So it's fair to conclude that this miniature structure, which will reside permanently at the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, played a rather large role in American history.