July 23, 2009— -- Osama bin Laden's son has been dead for months, U.S. officials believe, but the CIA has tried to keep it a secret as a way of "messing with al-Qaeda."
Saad bin Laden was likely killed in a Predator drone strike earlier this year in Pakistan, though U.S. officials cannot say for sure.
Determining whether Saad bin Laden was killed in a drone attack will be difficult. If he was a victim of a missile attack, it will be unlikely that there will ever be any DNA testing to confirm his death.
However, U.S. officials have received indications - electronic chatter and reports from the ground - that Saad was killed several months ago.
U.S. officials do not believe Saad was a senior figure in his father's organization. He was a "small player with a big name," says the U.S. official. "He has never been a major operation figure."
But he was important enough for the Iranian government to have held him for several years under house arrest after 9/11, as well as other senior al Qaeda leaders.
Last year, ABC News reported exclusively that U.S. intelligence had intercepted secret contacts between al Qaeda leadership in Pakistan and Iran about freeing al Qaeda figures under house arrest in Iran, including Saad bin Laden. The talks apparently paid off - intelligence officials believe he and some of the others were allowed to leave Iran sometime over the past year.
U.S. intelligence believes other, more important, al Qaeda figures remain in Iran under some form of house arrest. Among those believed to be in Iran is Saif al Adel, a suspect in the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Adel is on the FBI's list of Most Wanted Terrorists with a $5 million bounty for information leading to his capture.
News of his death was first reported by National Public Radio.