It has been well-reported that the U.S. government constructed a near-perfect replica of Osama bin Laden's compound prior to the 2011 Navy SEAL raid that took the al Qaeda leader's life, in addition to other smaller models for planning purposes. But now, more than six years after the operation, Code and Dagger can report there were at least two other, lesser known models. They were smaller, built months later and, um, made of gingerbread.
Far from fodder for SEAL training, the gingerbread bin Laden compounds were crafted by some CIA employees as their contribution to the agency's annual gingerbread house contest in December 2011, which itself is part of a government-wide charity initiative called the Combined Federal Campaign, according to CIA spokesperson Jonathan Liu. (The Washington Post made a reference to a gingerbread bin Laden compound in a 2016 report, but it's unclear if that was a reference to the 2011 charity auction.)
The gingerbread models were described in the most recent edition of the CIA's unclassified Studies in Intelligence journal, in an article that dissected the psychological motivations for spies and leakers. The article said that the internet has magnified the so-called "insider threat" because it not only provides countless ways for intelligence community employees to leak or sell information instantly and around the world, but it also can provide a community that encourages and promotes such action.
"In the face of the risks exacerbated or caused by loneliness and alienation, frequent organizationally sponsored events in workplaces -- with people in physical attendance, not virtually present -- have never been more critical to counterintelligence," the article says. "When vulnerable employees are embedded in communities in which they feel they belong and are accepted, the risk of their acting on their vulnerabilities in times of personal crisis is mitigated. They will be less prone to seek connections and relief in the dangerous domains of the Internet or susceptible to relationships offered by those seeking to manipulate and exploit them."
The 2011 gingerbread auction was singled out in the article as a "particularly memorable" example of "significant traditions and community-building" within the intelligence community that could help employees develop closer connections with their colleagues. Liu said the CIA, like many corporations and community organizations, has also hosted internal charity events like talent contests, bake sales and races.
The CIA workers weren't the only ones with the gingerbread bin Laden compound idea. In the 2013-2014 holiday season, an Army intelligence officer reportedly created his own "Gingerbottabad," named after the Pakistani city of Abbottabad where the real compound was located, and shared the creation online.
"Gingerbottabad" went viral, but the CIA's gingerbread houses did not appear to fare as well. Liu said the gingerbread bin Laden compounds, together with a handful of other designs, raised $425 total in 2011. All proceeds went to CFC charities.