Osama bin Laden, 9/11 mastermind, Al Qaeda leader – and bookworm?
On Wednesday, the Obama administration declassified more than 400 letters, reports, and articles, including 39 books, seized at the compound in Pakistan where Mr. bin Laden was killed in a 2011 raid, offering a rare glimpse into the former Al Qaeda leader's interests.
If the books found in bin Laden's secret compound are any indication, he appears to have been a keen reader, intent on understanding America, finding his enemy's vulnerabilities, and reading what Western analysts had to say about terrorism and groups like Al Qaeda.
Among the books on bin Laden's bookshelf were Bob Woodward's 2010 book, "Obama's Wars," a 2003 book entitled "America's Strategic Blunders," and "The Rise and Fall of Great Powers," by Paul Kennedy.
In a twist of irony, Bin Laden's bookshelf included, "Imperial Hubris: Why the West is Losing the War on Terror," by Michael Scheuer, the former head of the CIA unit responsible for tracking Bin Laden. The book details Bin Laden's motives and techniques, and faults US counterterrorism programs.
And as The Washington Post points out: "In perhaps an indirect acknowledgment of Al-Qaeda’s struggle to survive CIA drone strikes," Bin Laden also had "a book on antiaircraft weapons and techniques for guerrilla forces.”
Bin Laden could understand and read at least a basic level of English, according to US officials, as reported by The Washington Post. His collection, dominated by non-fiction titles, included materials in English and in Arabic.
And if his book collection is any indication, Bin Laden's interests were wide-ranging.
There were the expected books – "America’s “War on Terrorism,” by Michel Chossudovsky, and "Bounding the Global War on Terror," by Jeffrey Record.
More interesting, perhaps, are the unexpected books like, “Profiles of Bishops in the Church of England," “A Brief Guide to Understanding Islam," a Noam Chomsky book on thought control, and books on the Vietnam War and on ballot tampering in the US.
The newly declassified materials also include letters bin Laden appears to have sent to Al Qaeda lieutenants, religious texts, think tank studies, software manuals, and news articles.
“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," Rep. Devin Nunes of Calif., chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, said in releasing the materials.