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New Intelligence from Osama bin Laden's Diary

 

Overview

Additional information has been analyzed from the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan last week that shows how bin Laden was pressing his followers to (1) seek new ideas for targeting the US, (2) shift focus from larger cities like New York City to smaller ones throughout the country, and (3) target various transportation modes such as trains and planes.  Also of significance is the information that bin Laden wanted his followers to conduct another single attack that would lead to thousands of American deaths, similar to the scale ofbin laden compound 9/11.  Additionally, bin Laden had criticized an article titled “The Ultimate Mowing Machine”, written in al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula’s English-language magazine “Inspire”, which advocated the use of a farm vehicle with blades attached to carry out an attack.  Bin Laden said he did not endorse this tactic as it is not reflective of what al Qaeda does.  This information was cited from his private, handwritten journal, other documents and computer files, leading analysts to further conclude that he was very much a driving force behind al Qaeda’s operations in recent years.  To date, no new, imminent plots have been discovered in this collected information.

Key Points

  • Bin Laden emphasized how the smaller scale attacks in the aftermath of 9/11 were not significant enough to shift US policy in the Arab world and lead the US to withdraw from the Arab world.    But given how most of the recent attacks and plots against Western interests have been on a much smaller scale, the organization’s actual operational capabilities have apparently been degraded.
  • News articles describe the communications found in the raid as “missives” from flash drives, which were carried to and from bin Laden via couriers.  This was part of his method for communicating through e-mail that went undetected by the US intelligence community.  This is a notable point for understanding al Qaeda communication security tradecraft.
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Implications

Overall, it appears that bin Laden’s directions to his followers were more “big picture” guidance, and less along the lines of tactical, operational details.  Missing from the communication materials collected in the bin Laden raid is how much the al Qaeda affiliates and operatives followed his guidance.  Additionally, there is conflicting reports about whether bin Laden could have helped directly plan recent terror attacks against Western interests. 

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