WASHINGTON — Intelligence experts will mine the secrets of Osama bin Laden as they sort through a trove of material seized during the deadly raid on his Pakistan compound. The documents have already shown the world’s most wanted terrorist was actively involved in planning and directing al-Qaida’s plots.
Notes and computer material gathered by Navy SEALs after the pre-dawn raid last Monday, local time, revealed bin Laden’s home was a command-and-control center for the terrorist network, said a senior U.S. intelligence official who briefed reporters Saturday and insisted his name not be used.
Bin Laden was eager to strike American cities again and discussed ways to attack trains, officials said, though it appeared that plan never progressed beyond early discussions.
“The material found in the compound only further confirms how important it was to go after bin Laden,” said CIA director Leon Panetta in a statement. “Since 9/11, this is what the American people have expected of us. In this critical operation, we delivered.”
A handful of videos released Saturday show bin Laden appearing hunched and tired, seated on the floor, watching television, wrapped in a wool blanket and wearing a knit cap. Out-takes of his propaganda tapes show that they were heavily scripted affairs. He dyed and trimmed his beard for the cameras, then shot and reshot his remarks until the timing and lighting were just right. The new material shows bin Laden in a much more candid, unflattering light than the rare propaganda videos that trickled out during his life portraying him as a charismatic religious figure unfazed at being the target of a worldwide manhunt.
The new videos picture a shabby, makeshift office in which bin Laden watched newscasts of himself from a tiny television perched atop a rickety old desk cluttered with wires.
Officials said the clips shown to reporters were just part of the largest collection of senior terrorist materials ever collected. The evidence seized during the raid also includes phone numbers and documents that officials hope will help break the back of the organization behind the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
The videos showing “out-takes” — the miscues by bin-Laden that were destined for the cutting-room floor — were offered as further proof of bin Laden’s death. President Barack Obama decided this week not to release photos of bin Laden’s body, which were deemed too gruesome to reveal and could be used as anti-American propaganda. The U.S. has said it confirmed bin Laden’s death using DNA.
By selecting unflattering clips of bin Laden, the U.S. is trying to shatter the image he worked so hard to craft.
One video clearly shows the terror leader choosing and changing channels with a remote control, which he points at what appears to be a satellite cable box. U.S. officials have previously said there was a satellite dish for television reception but no Internet or phone lines ran to the house. Cellphones were prohibited on the compound.
It’s unclear how many tapes were taken from the house, and U.S. officials say they’re scouring the intelligence so quickly it has not even been catalogued and counted.
Among the material handed out was an al-Qaida propaganda video, apparently intended for public release, entitled “Message to the American People,” likely filmed sometime last fall, the official said. Bin Laden has not released a video since 2007, and officials were not sure why this one had not been released.
The official said the short taped message denigrated capitalism and included anti-American messages similar to his previous tapes, but he refused to say if it included a direct threat against the United States. The government released the video without sound because it did not want to disseminate a terrorist message.
Al-Qaida has confirmed the death of its founder, but did not announce a successor.