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.
The full list of books:
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.