WASHINGTON — The U.S. government this week is releasing the list of English-language texts that were recovered from Osama bin Laden's Pakistan compound after the U.S. raid that killed the al-Qaeda leader in 2011.
The list is the first public accounting by the government of the English-language section of the trove of materials found in the compound. The release of the list along with another tranche of materials from the compound that are being declassified marks the fourth time since the 2011 raid that killed the 9/11 mastermind that the government has made public some of the documents found after the raid. The list, embargoed until Wednesday morning and provided in advance to BuzzFeed News, includes volumes by Massachusetts Institute of Technology linguist Noam Chomsky, former intelligence official and antiwar activist Michael Scheuer, conspiracy texts about 9/11 and the Illuminati, and a book by Bob Woodward. Bin Laden had these materials in digital files. The list also includes numerous materials about France, including information on France's economy and defense, as well as materials that analysts think were probably used by other residents of the compound — including a suicide prevention manual.
"This release contains a list of primarily English-language materials that the U.S. Intelligence Community assesses informed Usama bin Ladin’s understanding of the West, and thus informed his strategy to impact the West’s decision making — a collection of documents we nicknamed 'Bin Ladin’s Bookshelf,'" Office of the Director of National Intelligence spokesperson Jeffrey Anchukaitis said. "U.S. Intelligence Community analysts believe Usama bin Ladin’s English-language proficiency was more than sufficient to read and comprehend these documents, and other open sources suggest the same."
"The files in 'Bin Laden’s Bookshelf' represent only the English-language reading material found among Adobe Acrobat PDF files recovered from the Abbottabad compound" after Navy SEALS raided the compound and killed bin Laden, a senior intelligence official who has analyzed the list and who is not authorized to speak on the record said in an email. "The vast majority of the PDFs were months-to-years’ worth of digitized or scanned issues – a page at a time – of (Arabic-language) al-Hayat and al-Quds al-Arabi newspapers. The 'Bookshelf' are all of the English-language PDF files we found except duplicate files and about a dozen weapons and bombmaking manuals that we will not release due to the nature of their contents."
"In terms of the materials that are there, some of the things that we’ve found to be of note were that bin Laden was probably an avid conspiracy theorist," the senior intelligence official said in a phone call. "Of the 38 full-length English-language books he had in his possession, about half of them were conspiracy theory books" about the Illuminati, Freemasons, and other conspiracy topics. Texts listed on the "bookshelf" include Bloodlines of the Illuminati by the American conspiracy theorist Fritz Springmeier; The New Pearl Harbor: Disturbing Questions About the Bush Administration and 9/11 by the 9/11 conspiracy theorist David Ray Griffin; and The Secrets of the Federal Reserve, a book by the Holocaust denier and anti-Semite Eustace Mullins.
The list also includes materials from congressional hearings about Project MKUltra, the so-called "mind control" program conducted by the CIA in the 1950s and 1960s. Also on the list: maps of Iranian nuclear sites.
Intriguingly, the list includes "Is It the Heart You Are Asking?" by Dr. Islam Sobhi al-Mazeny, which is a suicide prevention guide. According to the senior intelligence official, analysts do not believe that this belonged to bin Laden himself, but instead that it was intended "for use with one of his own family members who also lived on the compound."
The process of declassifying the documents from the bin Laden raid has been a subject of controversy in the four years since the raid. Congress and the media have pressured the administration to declassify the material, which it has been slow to do. The Intelligence Authorization Act of 2014 required that the director of national intelligence conduct a declassification review of documents from the compound and publicly release those that had been declassified.
The intelligence community is now releasing two tranches of material recovered from the compound; the "bookshelf" this week, and a second tranche of material that is being declassified.
The second part is "not publicly available information" and "follows an
interagency review. With DNI approval, the CIA spearheaded a rigorous interagency review of the classified documents under the auspices of the National Security Council staff. That effort began last October and continues as we speak," Anchukaitis said. "We’re only releasing a part of the overall review on Wednesday."
According to a press release being put out by ODNI on Wednesday, "All documents whose publication will not hurt ongoing operations against al-Qa‘ida or their affiliates will be released."
The release of these documents comes a week after investigative journalist Seymour Hersh's controversial article published last week in the London Review of Books that alleged that the U.S. government colluded with Pakistan to stage the raid on the Abbottabad compound, and that in fact Pakistan had known bin Laden's whereabouts for years. In the story, Hersh alleged that the documents the government said it had recovered from the compound had been fakes. Anchukaitis said that the timing of the release this week has "nothing to do" with Hersh's story, but that "We do though know that this process was taking a long time. Once a document is declassified it can’t become reclassified and the IC needs to insure that all the documents declassified will not hinder efforts to keep the nation safe."
Documents from the raid have become public only a few times before this: 17 letters dated between 2006 and 2011 that were given to the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point in 2012, 150 pages of documents that became public as part of a terrorism case in New York in 2013, and one document was used by German prosecutors at the terrorism trial of Abdeladim el-Kebir. The documents that were entered into evidence in the trial of Abid Naseer in New York consisted mostly of communications between bin Laden and his inner circle and suggested that bin Laden still took an involved role in the operations of al-Qaeda in his last years despite being in hiding.
Rosie Gray is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, D.C. Gray reports on politics and foreign policy.
Contact Rosie Gray at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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