Newly Released bin Laden Files Include Trove of Letters, Books — and Issues of FP

The al Qaeda leader had several 2008 issues of Foreign Policy in his Abbottabad hide out.


On the heels of a Seymour Hersh report questioning large elements of the U.S. account of the killing of Osama bin Laden — including whether the raid in fact provided a “treasure trove” of intelligence from the Abbottabad compound — American intelligence officials on Wednesday released a number of documents said to have been seized during the operation. The tranche of documents include letters received and written by the al Qaeda leader, lists of books and articles, and U.S. government documents. Also found: multiple issues of Foreign Policy.

The U.S. government has faced persistent questions about its unwillingness to release material seized during the operation to kill bin Laden, and those questions have intensified on the heels of the Hersh article. U.S. officials have issued full-throated denials of Hersh’s claims that the Pakistani government was sheltering bin Laden, that the operation was carried out with their cooperation, and that the tip-off to bin Laden’s location came not from a diligent CIA investigation but from a Pakistani defector.

The roughly 400 documents released on Wednesday by the Office of the National Director of Intelligence represents the largest single release of purported intelligence obtained during the raid. It includes correspondence between bin Laden and other terror operatives and an eclectic collection of books, including conspiratorial volumes such as Bloodlines of the Illuminati and New Pearl Harbor: Disturbing Questions about the Bush Administration and 9/11, a book that questions official accounts of the attack bin Laden’s organization masterminded.

Also among his collection were books with a left-wing bent, such as Hegemony or Survival: America’s Quest for Global Dominance by Noam Chomsky and Imperial Hubris, by the anti-war activist Michael Scheuer. Other titles were of the more practical variety, such as Guerrilla Air Defense: Antiaircraft Weapons and Techniques for Guerrilla Forces. He also has more mainstream tastes, including Bob Woodward’s bestselling Obama’s Wars.

Bin Laden’s collection of magazines included five issues of Foreign Policy from 2008, clippings from Time and Newsweek, and more specialized publications dealing with terrorism and international security.

The al Qaeda leader also appears to have been an avid reader of U.S. government publications. The material released includes several reports by the Congressional Research Service on al Qaeda, a copy of a speech by former CIA Director Michael Hayden, several Justice Department indictments of alleged terror operatives, and a wide variety of State Department forms having to do with passport applications. Also in his library was The 9/11 Commission Report.

In releasing the material, Jeffrey Anchukaitis, a spokesman for the ODNI, said in a statement that the U.S. intelligence community is continuing to review the material seized at the bin Laden compound for possible release. The 2014 Intelligence Authorization Act required the ODNI to review the documents seized during the bin Laden raid for release to the public.

It is unclear how much material from the raid the U.S. government continues to keep from public view. Immediately after the raid, U.S. Special Forces transferred the material they had obtained to the CIA, in all likelihood in an effort to shield it from the military’s more stringent public disclosure regulations.

That, in turn, has sparked some ongoing Congressional ire. In a statement Wednesday morning, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R.-Calif) praised the move but said “the public deserves more.”

“I look forward to the conclusion of the ongoing efforts to declassify hundreds of remaining Abbottabad reports to meet congressional requirements,” he added.

AFP/AFP/Getty Images

Elias Groll is a staff writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @EliasGroll

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