Portrait Of Bin Laden Emerges In Released Papers

On Thursday, the Army's Combating Terrorism Center at West Point released nearly 200 pages of documents that had been taken from Osama bin Laden's hideaway in Pakistan. The documents were seized by Navy SEALs the night bin Laden was killed. The U.S. government turned a small sample over to the West Point center for analysis. The documents offer a glimpse of bin Laden trying to run al-Qaida while in hiding. Dina Temple-Raston speaks with host Audie Cornish about what the papers reveal about bin Laden.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

And I'm Robert Siegel. First this hour, a look at Osama bin Laden in his own words. One year ago, when Navy SEALs stormed the al-Qaida leader's hideaway in Pakistan, they did more than just kill the world's most wanted terrorist. They spent half an hour collecting hard drives and memory sticks that contained thousands of documents.

CORNISH: Those documents have been translated and analyzed by military terrorism experts. The papers provide new details on how bin Laden ran or tried to run al-Qaida. And now, about 200 pages of letters have been made public - some written by bin Laden; others written to him. NPR's Dina Temple-Raston has been reading through those documents. She joins us now. Hey there, Dina.

DINA TEMPLE-RASTON, BYLINE: Hi there.

CORNISH: So start by explaining what exactly has been released because I understand this isn't - we're not looking at all the documents that were taken from bin Laden's compound.

TEMPLE-RASTON: That's right. This is just a tiny fraction. I mean, to give you an idea, we understand that there's something in the neighborhood of 10,000 documents that were taken from the compound. And this release from the Combating Terrorism Center is just 17 unclassified documents. Some of them went on for dozens of pages. But in terms of discrete documents, there are just 17. So, clearly, there's a lot we haven't seen. I mean, to give you an idea the kind of material the U.S. government hasn't released, we know that some key al-Qaida operatives were killed in drone attacks just weeks after the bin Laden raid, and we've heard that that was connected to some of the information that they found in the compound.

CORNISH: And to get into a little more of the content, I gather that the documents suggest bin Laden was trying to control all the groups affiliated with al-Qaida, not always succeeding.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Exactly. I mean, part of the news to come out of these documents is that bin Laden, clearly, had a lot of discussion with these branches of al-Qaida in Yemen and Iraq and Somalia. And these letters that they released basically keep referring to past letters and other memos and that sort of thing. Yet, you get the sense, you know, that they could communicate really easily. I mean, in some cases, they were asking for editing and suggestions on things they wanted to release to the public. And there had been this sense in the intelligence community before the raid that bin Laden was having a lot of trouble communicating. That he was really isolated. And these documents show that, clearly, he wasn't.

CORNISH: So was he actually telling the affiliates what to do, and do we have any sense about whether they were actually listening?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, you know, he was trying to tell them what to do. It's unclear if they were really listening. In one letter he sent to an affiliate in North Africa, he was admonishing them about all these kidnappings that they were doing. Well, they're still doing those kidnappings. And he sent a really aggressive letter to the head of the Pakistani Taliban and told him to stop the group's indiscriminate killing in Pakistan and stop poaching al-Qaida members. I mean, the tone of all these letters is almost corporate. I was expecting them to be much more polemic, and bin Laden actually sounds like a CEO who doesn't think the subsidiary companies are listening to headquarters enough.

CORNISH: Now, you mentioned Pakistan there. And one big question is that came up after the Navy SEALs' raid last year is whether Pakistan's government was somehow sheltering bin Laden. Do the documents reveal anything of that nature?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, we have to remember that this is an incredibly selected and thin view of the documents, so I don't think it's an accident that Pakistan barely appears. So in these 17 documents, there's no evidence one way or another whether Pakistan knew where bin Laden was hiding.

CORNISH: In our time left, I know that bin Laden actually mentions the media, the American media in these documents. Tell us about that.

TEMPLE-RASTON: One of my favorite parts of this collection is this 21-page treatise from Adam Gadahn. He was that American from California who joined al-Qaida in the 1990s. Gadahn goes into this big analysis of all the different media organizations and which ones are fair and which aren't. He doesn't like Fox News, for example, but he loves ABC News because one time ABC News actually played a video of him on the news. And then he suggests if bin Laden or his second in command at the time, Ayman al-Zawahiri, want to put out a message for the 10th anniversary of 9/11, they just need to give a network an exclusive interview. And if they give an exclusive, they'll get on the air. And Gadahn said the media just can't resist a scoop.

CORNISH: Ah. Dina, thank you so much for talking with us.

TEMPLE-RASTON: You're welcome.

CORNISH: NPR's counterterrorism correspondent Dina Temple-Raston talking about documents found at Osama bin Laden's compound that were released today by the Army's Combating Terrorism Center.

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