Terror Files: What’s on Osama Bin Laden's Private Bookshelf

US releases "sizeable tranche" of documents recovered from al Qaeda leader.

ByABC News
May 20, 2015, 10:11 AM

— -- The U.S. government today released dozens of documents recovered from the special operations raid that killed al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, including now declassified correspondences from bin Laden and 39-English language books in which the terror leader apparently took interest.

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence released the documents online today, calling them "Bin Laden's Bookshelf," after what it called a “rigorous interagency review” in an effort to “align[] with the President’s call for increased transparency…”

The material includes think tank reports, software and technical manuals for computer programs, and Arabic-language letters to bin Laden’s apparent associates, including other suspected terrorists wanted by the U.S. In releasing the documents, the ODNI said they are only publishing those which “will not hurt ongoing operations against al-Qa‘ida [al Qaeda] or their affiliates.” For documents in Arabic, the ODNI posted English translations of the documents alongside the originals.

Carrying Out Terror Attacks, Avoiding Detection

One document is a kind of bureaucratic application manual for new would-be jihadists that includes the question “Do you wish to execute a suicide operation?”

In the case when such operations failed, bin Laden took note of how and why in another document in which it is noted how the aspiring bombers were caught or killed.

Some documents show how security-conscious the al Qaeda leader and his followers were. In one letter, an individual identified as “brother Azmarai” writes that “we should be careful not to send big secrets by email.”

“We should assume that the enemy can see these emails and only send through email information that can bring no harm if the enemy reads it,” the letter says. “Computer science is not our science and we are not the ones who invented it.”

Azmarai goes on to advise the recipient to only change houses on cloudy days – possibly to avoid detection by overhead surveillance.

Bin Laden Saw Opportunity in Arab Spring

In one letter, bin Laden appeared to cheer on the Arab Spring as it was erupted across the Middle East and north Africa. The movement began in late 2010 and continued through 2011 -- well past bin Laden's death in May of that year.

“I believe that the end is going to be for the benefit of Muslims soon,” he purportedly wrote. “These events are very great and grand… Things are moving in the direction of getting the land of the Muslims out from under the dominance of the U.S. Americans are very worried about successive revolutions.”

In that letter, bin Laden writes to a man identified as Shaykh Mahmud that “our [the mujahideen’s] greatest duty is to provide guidance.”

“We should also be gentle and compassionate toward those who were misguided for many decades,” he writes.

Former CIA Deputy Director Michael Morrell recently wrote in a new book that the CIA badly underestimated al Qaeda’s ability to take advantage of the chaos and power vacuum caused by the Arab Spring.

Reading About Himself: Bin Laden Had Think Tank Reports on Terror

Portions of the bin Laden document trove have previously been released, once by the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point and once through a terror trial in New York. When bin Laden was killed in May 2011, officials described recovering a “treasure trove” of material on al Qaeda from its late leader.

Think tank reports from groups like West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center, Chatham House and the Jamestown Foundation were also discovered – almost all apparently focusing on terrorism.

Religious texts include a copy of the Koran and other Islamic texts, but also “Profiles of bishops in the Church of England.” A few maps recovered from the compound show bin Laden had an apparent interest in Iran, especially Iranian nuclear sites.

The English-Language Books

Among the books recovered from the Abbottabad compound were non-fiction works about the CIA, terrorism and U.S. military history and politics, including Bob Woodward’s “Obama’s Wars”. Bin Laden appeared to read what Western analysts thought about al Qaeda and some conspiracy theory-themed works about 9/11. In the mid-2000s Bin Laden was also apparently a reader of Western current events magazines such as Foreign Policy and Newsweek, especially when cover articles focused on al Qaeda and America’s response.

PHOTO: On May 20, 2015, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence released a list of 39 English-language books recovered during the raid that killed Osama bin Ladin.
On May 20, 2015, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence released a list of 39 English-language books recovered during the raid that killed Osama bin Ladin.

The full list of books:

  • The 2030 Spike by Colin Mason
  • A Brief Guide to Understanding Islam by I. A. Ibrahim
  • America’s Strategic Blunders by Willard Matthias
  • America’s “War on Terrorism” by Michel Chossudovsky
  • Al-Qaeda’s Online Media Strategies: From Abu Reuter to Irhabi 007 by Hanna Rogan
  • The Best Democracy Money Can Buy by Greg Palast
  • The Best Enemy Money Can Buy by Anthony Sutton
  • Black Box Voting, Ballot Tampering in the 21st Century by Bev Harris
  • Bloodlines of the Illuminati by Fritz Springmeier
  • Bounding the Global War on Terror by Jeffrey Record
  • Checking Iran’s Nuclear Ambitions by Henry Sokolski and Patrick Clawson
  • Christianity and Islam in Spain 756-1031 A.D. by C. R. Haines
  • Civil Democratic Islam: Partners, Resources, and Strategies by Cheryl Benard
  • Confessions of an Economic Hit Man by John Perkins
  • Conspirators’ Hierarchy: The Committee of 300 by John Coleman
  • Crossing the Rubicon by Michael Ruppert
  • Fortifying Pakistan: The Role of U.S. Internal Security Assistance (only the book’s introduction) by C. Christine Fair and Peter Chalk
  • Guerilla Air Defense: Antiaircraft Weapons and Techniques for Guerilla Forces by James Crabtree
  • Handbook of International Law by Anthony Aust
  • Hegemony or Survival: America’s Quest for Global Dominance by Noam Chomsky
  • Imperial Hubris by Michael Scheuer
  • In Pursuit of Allah’s Pleasure by Asim Abdul Maajid, Esaam-ud-Deen and Dr. Naahah Ibrahim
  • International Relations Theory and the Asia-Pacific by John Ikenberry and Michael Mastandano
  • Killing Hope: U.S. Military and CIA Interventions since World War II by William Blum
  • Military Intelligence Blunders by John Hughes-Wilson
  • Project MKULTRA, the CIA’s program of research in behavioral modification. Joint hearing before the Select Committee on Intelligence and the Subcommittee on Health and Scientific Research of the Committee on Human Resources, United States Senate, Ninety-fifth Congress, first session, August 3, 1977. United States. Congress. Senate. Select Committee on Intelligence.
  • Necessary Illusions: Thought Control in Democratic Societies by Noam Chomsky
  • New Pearl Harbor: Disturbing Questions about the Bush Administration and 9/11 by David Ray Griffin
  • New Political Religions, or Analysis of Modern Terrorism by Barry Cooper
  • Obama’s Wars by Bob Woodward
  • Oxford History of Modern War by Charles Townsend
  • The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers by Paul Kennedy
  • Rogue State: A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower by William Blum
  • The Secret Teachings of All Ages by Manly Hall (1928)
  • Secrets of the Federal Reserve by Eustace Mullins
  • The Taking of America 1-2-3 by Richard Sprague
  • Unfinished Business, U.S. Overseas Military Presence in the 21st Century by Michael O’Hanlon
  • The U.S. and Vietnam 1787-1941 by Robert Hopkins Miller
  • “Website Claims Steve Jackson Games Foretold 9/11,” article posted on ICV2.com (this file contained only a single saved web page)

CLICK HERE to see the full release.

ABC News' Cindy Smith, James Gordon Meek, Justin Fishel, Mustafa Hameed and Sarah Kolinovsky contributed to this report.