Bill Warren has spent years searching for shipwrecks, usually in the hope of finding treasure. But his next mission is to locate and raise a much more contemporary object that is bound to place him at the center of controversy: the body of Osama bin Laden.
Warren hopes to depart for the Arabian Sea in 2-3 weeks. He does not have a PR team and his expedition has not been widely publicized, but it has received exposure from some major networks -- including ABC -- in the United States and abroad.
The mission, once it gets started, will stir more emotions and attract a flood of criticism. But as the shipwreck explorer expert reiterrated recently on a Southern California radio show, he wants to raise the body to produce evidence that the former Al Qaeda leader was, in fact, killed and buried at sea by sailors aboard the USS Carl Vinson.
Of course, Warren also acknowledged that he intends to profit from the expedition by various means, including a possible sale of the body to Bin Laden family members.
In a telephone interview, Warren revealed that he has been contacted, via email, by people claiming to be relatives of the infamous terrorist, who was killed recently by U.S. special forces. "They didn't identify who they were, but they said if you can find the body we would make it worth your while," Warren said. "There were no dollar figures."
Warren's salvage highlights include locating the renowned treasure wreck, Verelst, off Mauritius; and the British ship, Port Royal, which carried would-be U.S. colonists and sank in 1670 off the Bahamas.
The "Hunt for the Proof" Bin Laden expedition, he said, will involve a documentary team and renowned DNA expert Ryan Lehto. Lehto confirmed by telephone that he has been in touch with Warren and intends to make the voyage. The scientist added that if a body or even its teeth are found, he'd be able to learn whether the body is that of Bin Laden.
Warren said he has obtained what he believes to be credible information regarding the approximate area where the burial-at-sea occurred.
His team will use high-tech sonar scanners that deliver computerized colored visuals, which reveal foreign objects on the ocean floor. The body is said to be in a rubber- or lead-lined bag.
"If we see what looks like a cigar on the bottom, it would probably be his body," Warren said, adding that a remotely operated vehicle would be used to retrieve the body.
The explorer, who believes his chances of locating the body are greater than 50%, is hoping a documentary on this unusual and macabre expedition will serve as "a springboard" to a reality-type TV series about his salvaging adventures.
As the yet-to-be announced departure date draws closer, however, he admits to experiencing bouts of paranoia.
"I'm hoping I don't have problems with Al Qaeda coming out there, or even here," said Warren, who lives in Southern California. "And with my government ... I know the government doesn't want me out there doing it, but I don't know if legally they can stop me."
Warren added that it could take days or weeks to locate the body, and that he's still not sure what he'll do with the body if it is located and raised.
"I think this is a great mystery and I'm going to find out -- if we can find him -- if it's really him, through photographs, video and DNA," the explorer said. "After that I don't know."