Bin Laden’s Secrets Revealed

You no doubt recall that the Navy Seals who executed Osama bin Laden also made off with a treasure trove of al Qaeda documents. Whatever happened to them? The Telegraph recounts the story:

With their strict 30-minute deadline almost up, the Seals requested more time on the ground because they had found “a whole s— ton of computers and electronic gear on the second floor”.

Permission was granted, and during the next 18 minutes more than 470,000 files were recovered, including “nearly 6,000 Arabic pages of internal al-Qaeda communiqués that were never intended for public consumption”. But for the Seals’ “courageous efforts” during those perilous additional minutes, writes Nelly Lahoud, the Bin Laden papers would never have come to light.

The papers have now been declassified and analyzed. There is no shocking news, but much that is of interest. In a handwritten note, bin Laden explained how he got the idea for 9/11:

In the note he explains that he had been reading a news report about the disgruntled pilot al-Batouty who deliberately crashed EgyptAir Flight 990 from New York to Cairo off the New England coast, killing 217 people, on October 31 1999. Turning to his associates, Bin Laden asked: “Why didn’t he crash it into a financial tower?”

One important inference is that, contrary to the claims of Taliban apologists, Mullah Omar and the Taliban’s leaders were in on the 9/11 attacks in advance:

Most commentators have assumed that the Taliban leader Mullah Omar did not know about 9/11 in advance. We learn, however, from Bin Laden’s handwritten notes, that “consultation with other [Jihadist] groups, including the Taliban, preceded the international attacks al-Qaeda orchestrated from Afghanistan”. The bombings in East Africa in 1998, for example, were “supported by everyone”.

Moreover, Lahoud suspects that al-Qaeda’s assassination of Ahmed Shah Massoud, a Taliban enemy, on the eve of 9/11 was not a coincidence, but a quid pro quo for Mullah Omar approving the attack on America.

Bin Laden and the Taliban miscalculated by underestimating the likely response to the 9/11 attacks by the U.S. government:

The miscalculation by al-Qaeda and its allies was not to anticipate that America would respond by launching a full-scale war on Afghanistan. The “worst they had envisaged”, writes Lahoud, was “limited US airstrikes”.

Where could they have gotten that idea? From Bill Clinton.

The bin Laden papers indicate that al Qaeda wanted to pull off more spectacular attacks after Tora Bora, but was unable to do so:

[F]rom 2004, Bin Laden worked tirelessly to rebuild his shattered organisation and at the time of his death was planning another “spectacular”: a coordinated attack on supertankers carrying oil to the United States. He hoped to choke off a third of America’s oil supply, thus producing an economic meltdown and public protests that would lead to a change in US foreign policy.

But al Qaeda no longer had the resources to do much. Bin Laden’s grandiose self-image found no counterpart in reality.

The American response to 9/11 was a great policy success that now is taken too much for granted. We would be living in a very different world if stateless terrorist groups had been able to execute major attacks over the last 20 years, as opposed to sporadically inspiring forlorn ideologues to carry out one or two man operations. The fact that we have not seen a repeat of 9/11–let alone multiple repeats, or something worse–is a credit to George W. Bush and his administration, and to American intelligence and law enforcement agencies.

More at the link, including how bin Laden and his family escaped detection for so long, and how the CIA protected the source of its intelligence on bin Laden’s whereabouts.

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