Bin Laden letters reveal devotion to family, killing Americans, English-language literature

US government releases newly-translated documents gathered during 2011 raid on Osama bin Laden's Pakistani compound, giving the public insight into the al-Qaida leader's interests, routine.

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May 21, 2015 11:36
3 minute read.
Osama bin-Laden

Osama bin-Laden. (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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The US Office of the Director of National Intelligence released a treasure-trove of previously classified, newly-translated documents on Wednesday, which were brought back in 2011 by navy SEALS following their assassination of Osama bin Laden in an Abbotabad compound - his long-term Pakistani hideout.

The collection of over 100 documents includes correspondences between bin Laden, his family, and other al-Qaida leaders, a list of an extensive digital English-language book collection, an al-Qaida application, and spreadsheets monitoring the ebbs and flows of money within the terror organization.

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The range of documents highlight bin Laden's obsession with attacking Americans, his devotion to his family (numbering four wives and 20 children), and interest in English literature - ranging from think tank reports to Noam Chomsky and Bob Woodward.

Bin Laden had taken a keen interest in conspiracy theories; About half of the books in his English-language digital collection dealt with the matter. One of the newly declassified documents called on al-Qaida members to "avoid talking about the Jews  when talking to the Germans," a still-sore subject in Germany that could play against al-Qaida's interests.

Another document reveals the questionnaire presented to any would-be al-Qaida recruit. Wannabe jihadis were posed with questions such as: "Do you wish to execute a suicide operation?" and "who should we contact in case you became a martyr?"

The collection portrays bin Laden as a leader who was highly observant of the Western world and of emerging technologies, acknowledging the integral role of information technology in the uprising of the Arab Spring and the threat of digital intelligence.

"Computer science is not our science and we are not the ones who invented it," bin Laden said in a letter dated 2010. He urged his counterparts to engage in carrier-based communication as opposed to e-mail based correspondences.

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"Assume that the enemy can see emails," he said, urging others to refrain from sending encrypted messages via e-mail since "the enemy can easily monitor all e-mail traffic."

The then al-Qaida leader obsessively urged his subordinates to launch attacks against Americans. In a letter to jihadis in North Africa, he insisted that focus shift to attacking US embassies and American oil companies in the region; To affiliates in Yemen, he suggested that targeting shift from Yemeni authorities to American subsidiaries.

In an undated letter, bin Laden tells an al-Qaida deputy, “We have to continue with exhausting and depleting them [the Americans] till they become so weak that they can’t overthrow any state that we establish."

Bin Laden's regard to his family is perhaps most surprising in the latest collection of documents, contrasting the brashness of his correspondences with al-Qaida operatives. A series of letters to his many children and wives portray him as a loved and admired family man, yearning to be reunited with his family and concerned with their well-being. 

Bin Laden refers to one of his wives as "the apple of my eye, and the most precious thing I have in this world" in a 2008 dated letter. He grants her permission to remarry should he perish, despite his concern that the two would not be rejoined in the afterlife, since a woman who marries two men is then "given a choice on Judgment Day to be with [only] one of them.”

Unexpectedly, Osama bin Laden appears to have been concerned with climate change, urging leaders in a 2010 letter to refrain from cutting down trees on a large scale. He referred to climate change as cause for drought and flooding in some areas in the region, and urged subordinates to prepare for potential future natural disasters.

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence said in a statement that the release of the documents followed a "rigorous" review by the US government and "aligns with the president's call for increased transparency consistent with national security prerogatives."

The release of these latest declassified reports brings the total number of reports accessible to the public to 120.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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