Letters written by Osama Bin Laden in his final years depict a man who wrote love letters to his wife, was concerned about the focus of al Qaeda splinter groups in Africa, and was dedicated to waging attacks on the US, according to a trove of new documents released today by the US Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), a week after veteran journalist Seymour Hersh questioned the government's account of Bin Laden's death.
The government declassified a total of 103 documents in the latest Bin Laden-related dump, including letters sent by the al Qaeda founder to his family and other leaders of the militant network. The collection also includes a list of books and reports Bin Laden kept in his home collection in the years leading up to his 2011 assassination carried out by US Navy SEALs in Pakistan.
In a letter to his wife included in the now public collection of correspondences, Bin Laden expresses affection, telling her she is the apple of his eye and the most important thing in the world to him. He asks for forgiveness for his shortcomings, and even permits her to marry after he dies, although he stresses that she is the wife he wants in "paradise."
Reflecting on his own mortality, Bin Laden includes a will in the letter, describing his last wishes and hopes for the family. He tells his wife she can return to her family after he dies, while asking that she marry their daughters to mujahadeen and stressing that his son must conduct jihad.
In a separate letter, the al Qaeda leader advised North African Islamist militants to focus their efforts on attacking US targets instead of concentrating on the creation of an Islamic state. He wrote specific correspondences discussing things like the Abid Naseer terrorism trial, tips for ending the revolution in Yemen, and an undated message to Muslims following an annual US State of the Union Address. He also referred to the Arab Spring events that rippled through the Middle East in 2011 as the Muslim world's "most important events" in hundreds of years.
The literature the Navy SEAL's mission uncovered from Bin Laden's home includes titles like "Obama's Wars" by investigative journalist Bob Woodward, academic papers, and material from American think tanks.
Intelligence Committee chairman and US Congressman Jack Langer said in a statement on Wednesday that the Bin Laden document release was in the best interest of the American people.
"In the May 1, 2011 raid that killed Usama Bin Laden, the U.S. collected a treasure trove of documents and files," Langer said. "It is in the interest of the American public for citizens, academics, journalists, and historians to have the opportunity to read and understand Bin Laden's documents."
Langer noted that the Obama administration declassified 17 intelligence reports in 2012 and others had been issued for court cases, but that he has continued to push for further declassifications.
"Today's release of 86 new reports by the Director of National Intelligence — bringing the total number of declassified reports to 120 — is a step in the right direction," Langer said in the statement. "I look forward to the conclusion of the ongoing efforts to declassify the hundreds of remaining Abbottabad reports to meet congressional requirements."
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While the newly revealed documents provide a unique look at the al Qaeda leader's life in hiding, the timing of the release is intriguing. It comes one week after Seymour Hersh published his investigative report in the London Review of Books refuting the White House's account of the mission that took out Bin Laden. In the report, Hersh claims the mastermind of the September 11 attacks had been in Pakistani intelligence custody for years in the Abbottabad compound where the mission took place — not hiding out, off the grid, where he had to be tracked down with CIA intelligence, as the Obama administration has claimed.
Notably, in the controversial article, Hersh writes that the US reports about a treasure trove of al Qaeda documents and materials uncovered at the compound during the May 2, 2011 mission were "fabrications."
The veteran journalist's article was almost immediately refuted by officials and fellow reporters alike. On May 11, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said the story was "riddled with inaccuracies and outright falsehoods," while former CIA deputy director Mike Morell claimed every sentence was wrong.
In response to VICE News' request for a comment on the timing of the document leak, Hersh replied by writing in an email, "you gotta be kidding me." In a follow-up email, he mockingly referred to himself as a plagiarist and an asset of Pakistan's intelligence community. While he said he preferred to keep his thoughts on the matter to himself, Hersh added that he was sure the SEAL team had time to browse through Bin Laden's library during their mission.
"Perhaps each picked out his favorite book and read excerpts to the others guys on the squad," he said.
According to information provided in the ODNI report, titled "Bin Laden's Bookshelf," the intelligence community is set to review hundreds of additional documents soon and will explore the possibility for declassification. A White House-backed interagency task force is reportedly looking at all of the documents retrieved from Bin Laden's Abbottabad compound, with plans to release any documents that will not have an impact on al Qaeda-related operations currently underway.
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