The Bin Laden diaries: inside the home of al-Qaeda’s mastermind

The CIA has recently released a massive trove of files belonging to deceased Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. The data, which has been classified for the past six years, was confiscated during the raid on Bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan in May 2011. The data has been analyzed thoroughly in an attempt to understand the character of America’s number one enemy; the man behind the deaths of over 3,000 Americans on a fateful day in September 2001.

The stash contains over 470,000 documents, including photographs, memos, video recordings, and audio files. Visitors to the CIA’s website have exceeded hundreds of thousands. The web page of the Abbottabad files has been jammed due to the traffic.

The released material reveals much about Bin Laden’s personality and character. A personal memoir was apparently written by his daughter while he lived out his final days consuming television and YouTube and opining on world events.
On the page titled “A session with the family”, his daughter transcribed a dialogue that had taken place at that Bin Laden household that evening. Family members talked about events in the Arab world, and the father offered his analyses on the “Arab Spring.” There were some questions from Bin Laden’s daughters Mariam and Sumayah, and some interactions with his wife, Umm Hamza, and son Khalid. Osama Bin Laden spoke discussed the situation in Libya during the phase of the overthrow of Gaddafi, as well as the situations in Iraq and the Arabian Peninsula. He warned that the Gulf monarchies were exploiting the rise in oil to $200 per barrel to preserve their territory from the wave of revolutions.

It seems that Bin Laden had mixed emotions about events in the Arab world at the height of the revolutions. On one hand, he was pleased with the potential fall of the regimes. “The fall of all regimes is an interest of the Umma,” he said. He conveyed satisfaction with the channel Al-Jazeera, which he believed was seeking to contribute to overthrowing the regimes in the region. On the other hand, he was also following the news with concern, fearing that the results would not prove favorably to him. Bin Laden’s memoirs included his analysis of the revolutions. One prescient example concerned the situation in Sudan. He said he would not expect much internal turbulence because of the Sudanese tendency towards “peace.” On the other hand, his analysis of North Africa proved incorrect: He said that all the regimes in the area countries would fall if Qadhafi fell.

The diary pays close attention to the situation in Libya, perhaps because it was the burning topic at the time or because conditions there appeared promising for Al-Qaeda. Bin Laden’s observations included a careful reading of Qadhafi’s body language and analysis of his character. Bin Laden said that Qadhafi was “emotionally exhausted, and when he spoke, he was not normal. He seemed to be taking tranquilizers.” More than once he described Qadhafi as a crazy person.

The memoirs described the Saudi-Iranian situation as “difficult,” pointing out that Iran had more than one head with differing opinions: Khamenei, the Revolutionary Guard, and the Shura Council. Bin Laden believed a war between Saudi Arabia and Iran would have serious consequences for the region.

Bin Laden’s vision of the future of the Arab region seemed to fluctuate between optimism and pessimism. One day, he titled his diary, “The news is sweeter than honey.” He wrote of the promising new “happy land of Yemen”. On other days he observed that the Arab nation is disappointing because of the disruption of minds, and that the region is on the verge of famine and disasters due to population growth and lack of plans for advancement.

It is clear that Bin Laden also took an interest in interpreting dreams. He spoke repeatedly of his own dreams, as well as those of his son Khaled and other members of the organization. One of the most interesting dreams concerned former Saudi Interior Minister Prince Nayef bin Abdul Aziz. The prince appeared in the dream in military attire — as a friend, not an enemy. Bin Laden’s interpretation: “Al Saud is quicker than us in moving towards the mujahideen and the committed youth!” Apocalyptic themes also occupied Bin Laden’s mind. He discussed the “Mahdi,” the “Dajjal,” and Jesus and his return to earth. Bin Laden thought Judgement Day was imminent.

Many observers and specialists have pointed out that Bin Laden was very charismatic, and used his charm to sway viewers of his recorded messages. His diaries reveal that he was aware of the importance of language to manipulate the masses. He wrote, “One of the Orientalists says that Arabs are fascinated by rhetoric more than the truth.”

The 228-page journal is only a small part of the documents that were found by the CIA in Bin Laden’s home. They also retrieved his personal computer, which revealed various aspects of his personality. Videos in his library included Hollywood animation films such as Ice Age, Tom and Jerry, Wallace and Gromit, Chicken Little, Antz. British comic Rowan Atkinson’s “Mr. Bean,” and the viral YouTube video “Charlie bit my finger.” It cannot be confirmed whether these items were watched by Bin Laden himself or members of his family. But due to the extreme sensitivity associated with use of his personal computer, he likely either watched it himself or played it for his children. The world’s most haunted terrorist would most likely not risk allowing his family members to surf the Internet.