Passport

Osama bin Laden Was a Francophile

Among the documents recovered from bin Laden's Pakistani compound in 2011 were 19 publications regarding France.

AMMAN, JORDAN - SEPTEMBER 10:  This is a still image taken from a video tape aired on Al-Jazeerah station September 10, 2003 that shows Al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden in an unspecified location. The video tape, the first video image of bin Laden in about two years, was aired on the eve of the second anniversary of the September 11 attacks.  (Photo by Salah Malkawi/Getty Images)
AMMAN, JORDAN - SEPTEMBER 10: This is a still image taken from a video tape aired on Al-Jazeerah station September 10, 2003 that shows Al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden in an unspecified location. The video tape, the first video image of bin Laden in about two years, was aired on the eve of the second anniversary of the September 11 attacks. (Photo by Salah Malkawi/Getty Images)

When Navy SEALs stormed Osama bin Laden’s Pakistani compound in 2011, they found enough publications on France for the Director of National Intelligence to combine all of the materials into their own separate category when a bulk of recovered documents were released to the public Wednesday.

In other words, if his taste in books is to be believed, bin Laden was a full-blown Francophile. He seems to have taken an interest in everything French, ranging from economic surveys to academic history books and news reports.

Among the materials acquired in the 2011 raid were the 245-page clunker Economic and Social Conditions in France during the 18th Century, originally written in French by academic Henri Sée in 1927 and published in English by Batoche Books in 2004. Bin Laden appears to have had the English copy.

The SEALs also found a call for submissions to French Culture, Politics, and Society Journal, a peer-reviewed publication. Whether bin Laden was considering submitting commentary on Sée’s book to the journal, which publishes “refereed research articles, timely essays, and reviews of books,” the world may never know.

On his bookshelf were two publications that implied he might have greatly admired France’s defense acquisition program, or at least have been interested in learning more about it. One was a 1992 U.S. congressional assessment of France’s restructuring of the defense industry, and the other a 2009 policy brief on France’s weapons acquisitions policies published by the Center for New American Security.

He also had a copy of “Nuclear France Abroad,” a 41-page deep-dive into France’s nuclear history published in 2009, and a separate breakdown of French radioactive waste management programs from 2008. This was in addition to a list of French shipping companies and a description of the French water programs, as well as the Canadian government’s profile of France. If it is the same profile published on the Canadian government’s website today, it would have been a great place for bin Laden to double-check that yes, the capital of France is still Paris, and the currency is indeed the Euro.

The remaining texts are overwhelmingly concerned with France’s economy. In addition to Sée’s book there were academic papers questioning France’s role in the Great Depression, a 2009 economic survey of the country, 2011 economic “update” published by Rabobank, and even what appears to be an academic journal paper on French wage inequality.

One prominent French-related omission: any issues of Charlie Hebdo, the satirical magazine attacked earlier this year by militants who killed 12 people and claimed affiliation with al Qaeda’s Yemeni affiliate.

Salah Malkawi/Getty Images

Siobhán O’Grady is a freelance journalist working across sub-Saharan Africa. She previously worked as a staff writer at Foreign Policy. @siobhan_ogrady

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