Documents: Bin Laden worried he wasn’t in control
By Ashley Fantz, CNN
(CNN) – A trove of documents the U.S. Navy SEALs took from the Pakistan compound where they killed Osama bin Laden in 2011 was published Thursday morning on the website of the Combating Terrorism Center.
The papers paint a picture of a terror mastermind who had grown increasingly worried he could not get control of the many al Qaeda affiliates that had sprung up across the globe. Yet bin Laden, the papers reveal, still had grand ambitions for al Qaeda, and he wanted to see another major terror attack in the United States.
The documents also reveal bin Laden as a man of vain impulses — such as dying his hair. They show him joking about having multiple wives yet being concerned for one of them, and especially worried about his children’s safety. He seemed to appreciate that he was enemy No. 1 in the West.
The Combating Terrorism Center at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, New York, posted the original Arabic-language notes on its site. CNN is reviewing the documents and will update this report.
The documents were found on the five computers, dozens of hard drives and more than 100 storage devices, such as thumb drives and discs. U.S. officials have described the cache as the single largest collection of senior terrorist material ever obtained. It included digital, audio and video files, printed materials, recording devices and handwritten documents.
CNN terrorism analyst Peter Bergen had access to some of the materials while researching his new book, “Manhunt: The Ten-Year Search for Bin Laden From 9/11 to Abbottabad.”
“The documents paint a portrait of a man who was simultaneously an inveterate micromanager, but was also someone almost delusional in his belief that his organization could still force a change in American foreign policies in the Muslim world if only he could get another big attack” in the United States, Bergen said this week.
Bin Laden appreciated that al Qaeda’s brand name was in deep trouble, in particular, because the group and its affiliates had killed so many civilians.
Bin Laden warned smaller splinter groups against attaching themselves to the al Qaeda franchise.
“Rather than a source of strength, bin Laden was burdened by what he viewed as the incompetence of the ‘affiliates,’ including their lack of political acumen to win public support, their media campaigns and their poorly planned operations which resulted in the unnecessary deaths of thousands of Muslims,” according to an analysis by the Combating Terrorism Center posted Thursday.
“He was at pains advising them to abort domestic attacks and … instead focus on the United States, ‘our desired goal.’ “
Bergen’s reporting stresses that bin Laden was chiefly concerned about franchise activities.
“On (August) 7, 2010, he wrote to the leader of the brutal al-Shabaab militia in Somalia to warn that declaring itself part of al Qaeda would only attract enemies and make it harder to raise money from rich Arabs,” Bergen notes.
But seven months later, al-Shabaab did just that, announcing a merger with the organization now headed by Ayman al-Zawahiri.
A U.S. intelligence bulletin obtained by CNN after the two terror groups announced the merger suggested that relationship could “undermine” efforts by al-Shabaab supporters in the United States.
They also contain advice to the leader of Al-Shabaab not to identify his group as being part of the larger terrorist network so it wouldn’t put off potential financial donors.
Bin Laden “was frustrated by what he viewed as the incompetence of the affiliates, including their failure to win public support as well as their poorly planned operations that resulted in the deaths of thousands of Muslims,” said Lt. Col. Liam Collins, acting director of the Combating Terrorism Center and one of the authors of the center’s analysis.
Unlike the terror leader’s public statements “focusing on the corrupt governments in the Muslim world as well as enemies such as the United States,” Collins said, bin Laden’s “private letters lamented at Muslims’ suffering at the hands of his jihadi brothers.”
Nothing could conclusively be gleaned about Pakistan’s possible involvement with bin Laden in the documents, he said.
“There are no explicit references to any institutional Pakistani support for al Qaeda or its operatives,” he said.
The papers reveal intimate details about bin Laden’s personal life and concerns.
Bin Laden wrote about his son Hamza and Hamza’s mother, asking that their security be given extra care. Bin Laden suspected they were under watch.
He wrote: “Regarding my son Hamzah and his mother, I wish you take all the security precautions that were mentioned before in order to disrupt surveillance on him. He should move only when the clouds are heavy.
“As for Hamzah, if you find my companion that we talked about, please send him (to) Peshawar and the surrounding area and ask him to arrange a house that can hold two families in addition to his family. He should stay there with Hamzah,” bin Laden wrote. “If you did not find him yet, then please have a trusted Pakistani brother accompany him. Make sure to tell Hamzah that I am of the opinion that he needs to get out of (Waziristan) if he is there, and he should not go there if he is not there. …”
Michael Birmingham, a spokesman for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, would not say this week what percentage of the overall material is being made public.
However, Birmingham said some documents will remain classified for security and operational reasons. Others will not be released because they have been determined to be limited in substantive value or are what Birmingham described as “household clutter” — written materials on mundane issues.
CNN’s Pam Benson and Joe Sterling contributed to this report.