It's not just Osama bin Laden's hard drive and digital files from which U.S. intelligence analysts and translators are racing to harvest secrets. They've also got bin Laden's handwritten diary. The short notebook is short on juicy gossip — "There doesn’t seem to be anything in there like, 'I had trouble with one of my wives today,'" one official tells National Journal — but it does outline bin Laden's goals and strategies for al Qaeda. Here, the five best bits from bin Laden's journal and the intel trove:
1. He wanted to mass-murder Americans on Sept. 11, 2011
Bin Laden hammered his junior associates to stay focused on the U.S., and to a lesser extent Europe, and kill lots of people at one time. "In one particularly macabre bit of mathematics," says the AP, "bin Laden's writings show him musing over just how many Americans he must kill to force the U.S. to withdraw from the Arab world." His conclusion: A death count on par with 9/11 or higher. His diary also suggests specific dates, like this Sept. 11 and the Fourth of July, and he urged jihadists to target railroads and focus on the West Coast and Midwest, not just New York City.
2. But Joe Biden wasn't on Osama's hit list
Topping the list of bin Laden's key targets is President Obama, followed by U.S. military leaders including the defense secretary and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. A note specifies that the vice-president is "not an important target because that position has less weight," an official tells ProPublica's Sebastian Rotella. In other words, says Jeff Neumann at Gawker, "[bin Laden] thought Joe Biden wasn't worth the time or effort to target."
3. Messing with D.C. was a major obsession
In his diary, Osama also played political strategist, mulling over attacks that would prevent Obama from being re-elected, while conceding that "the alternative [a GOP president] could be worse," a U.S. official says. He also hatched lower-level schemes to sow political dissent in Washington, D.C., playing individual politicians against one another, an official tells the AP.
4. Osama micromanaged al Qaeda
The terrorist ringleader wasn't just a figurehead. He was a Mafia capo–like "micromanager," unidentified U.S. officials say. Using couriers to transport portable flash drives, "he was down in the weeds as far as best operatives, best targets, best timing." Bin Laden also retained his authority over al Qaeda factions in Yemen, Pakistan, Somalia, Algeria, and Iraq. It's unclear if Osama's top deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri, can keep the often locally focused offshoots united under the al Qaeda banner.
5. And he ridiculed some of his underlings' ideas
Osama seemed to have the most conflict with Yemen-based al Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). He nixed the idea of putting Yemeni-American Anwar al-Awlaki in charge, and derided Inspire, AQAP's glossy English-language magazine. Specifically, he griped about an article urging jihadists to weld "blades" to the grill of their trucks and "mow down the enemies of Allah." Bin Laden "complains that this tactical proposal promotes indiscriminate slaughter," an official tells ProPublica, which he says is "not something that reflects what al Qaeda does." I wish he could explain, says Spencer Ackerman at Wired, "why flying planes packed with people into crowded office buildings isn't indiscriminate slaughter."
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- How to be the most productive person in your office — and still get home by 5:30 p.m.
- 43 TV shows to watch in 2014
- How our botched understanding of 'science' ruins everything
- The science of sex: 4 harsh truths about dating and mating
- 4 simple steaks you can cook in a pan
- 6 things the happiest families all have in common
- Why does Fareed Zakaria still have a job?
- 7 tips for keeping your man (from the 1950s)
- Does solar energy have a battery problem?
Subscribe to the Week