Saturday, July 2, 2011

Bin Laden Document Trove Reveals Strain On Al-Qaeda

Via The Washington Post -

Toward the end of his decade in hiding, Osama bin Laden was spending as much time exchanging messages about al-Qaeda’s struggles as he was plotting ways for the terrorist network to reassert its strength.

Over the past year, the al-Qaeda leader fielded e-mails from followers lamenting the toll being taken by CIA drone “explosions” as well as the network’s financial plight, according to U.S. officials who have completed an exhaustive review of the trove of bin Laden files collected at his compound after the May 2 U.S. raid that killed him.

Bin Laden approved the creation of a counterintelligence unit to root out traitors and spies, only to receive a complaint in mid-2010 from the unit’s leader that it was losing the “espionage war” and couldn’t function on its paltry budget.


Analysts at the CIA and other agencies are likely to continue poring over the bin Laden files for years. But the multi-agency task force that was set up to review what officials have described as the largest cache of terrorism records recovered to date finished its job and was disbanded last month.

“We believe the materials will continue to yield new insights on al-Qaeda for years to come,” said a U.S. counterterrorism official familiar with the task force’s work. “But the task force is done.”

The group produced more than 400 intelligence reports in a span of six weeks and prompted public warnings of al-Qaeda plots against trains and other targets. U.S. officials said the findings also triggered a small number of operations overseas, including arrests of suspects who are named or described in e-mails that bin Laden received.

But officials said that the main value of the data is in enabling analysts to construct a more comprehensive portrait of al-Qaeda and that many of the most recent files found on bin Laden’s computers depict an organization beset by mounting problems even as its leader remained singularly focused on delivering a follow-up to the Sept. 11, 2001, strikes.

“The trove makes it clear that bin Laden’s primary goal — you can call it an obsession — was to attack the U.S. homeland,” said a senior U.S. counterterrorism official. “He pushed for this every way he could.”


Bin Laden’s messages were mostly composed on computers, then smuggled out on small disks or thumb drives by couriers, who would then copy the contents into e-mails that could be sent securely to followers — whether they were mere miles from bin Laden’s compound or overseas.

The analytic task force was based at a CIA facility in Northern Virginia. Officials declined to disclose the current location of the more than 15 computers and 100 storage devices recovered from the bin Laden compound, except to say that they are in FBI custody.

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