WASHINGTON — Osama bin Laden kept a personal journal in which he contemplated how to kill as many Americans as possible, including possible terrorist attacks against Los Angeles, Chicago and Washington, D.C., according to published reports.
The handwritten journal was discovered in a vast cache of digital and printed material that was hauled away from bin Laden's hideout after U.S. Navy SEALs killed him last week in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Here, as relayed by unnamed U.S. officials to news organizations, are some of the details found in those materials:
• In one particularly macabre bit of mathematics, bin Laden's writings showed him musing over just how many Americans he must kill to force the United States to withdraw from the Arab world, the Associated Press reported. He concluded that the smaller, scattered attacks since 9/11 had not been enough. He tells his disciples that only a body count of thousands would shift U.S. policy.
• He urged followers to recruit non-Muslims who are "oppressed in the United States,'' according to the Washington Post, particularly African-Americans and Hispanics.
• He was well aware of U.S. counterterrorist efforts and schooled his followers in working around them, AP reported. Don't limit attacks to New York City, he said in his writings. Consider other areas such as Los Angeles or smaller cities.
• He schemed about ways to sow political dissent in Washington and play political figures against one another, AP also said.
Though he was out of the public eye and al-Qaida seemed to be weakening, bin Laden never yielded control of his worldwide organization. According to AP, two officials said the documents reveal his hand at work in every recent major al-Qaida threat, including plots in Europe last year that had travelers and embassies on high alert.
The information shatters the government's conventional thinking about bin Laden, who had been regarded for years as mostly an inspirational figurehead whose years in hiding made him too marginalized to maintain operational control of the organization he founded.
Instead, bin Laden was communicating from his compound in Pakistan with al-Qaida's offshoots, including the Yemen branch that has emerged as the leading threat to the United States, AP said the documents indicate. Though there is no evidence that he was behind the attempted Christmas Day 2009 bombing of a Detroit-bound airliner or the nearly successful attack on cargo planes heading for Chicago and Philadelphia, it's now clear that they bear some of bin Laden's hallmarks.
Bin Laden was also in touch frequently with Ayman al-Zawahri, the Egyptian physician who has long functioned as bin Laden's second in command, as well as Atiyah Abd al-Rahman, a Libyan operative who is the latest to fill the organization's vulnerable No. 3 slot, the Post reported.
The communications were in missives sent via plug-in computer storage devices called flash drives. The devices were ferried to bin Laden's compound by couriers, a process that is slow but exceptionally difficult to track.
Intelligence officials have not identified any new targets or plots in their analysis of the 100 or so flash drives and five computers, AP reported. Last week, the FBI and Homeland Security Department warned law enforcement officials nationwide to be on alert for possible attacks against trains, though officials said there was no specific plot.
According to AP, officials have not yet seen any indication that bin Laden had the ability to coordinate timing of attacks across the various al-Qaida affiliates in Pakistan, Yemen, Algeria, Iraq and Somalia, and it is also unclear from bin Laden's documents how much the affiliate groups relied on his guidance. The Yemen group, for instance, has embraced the smaller-scale attacks that bin Laden's writings indicate he regarded as unsuccessful. The Yemen branch had already surpassed his central operation as al-Qaida's leading fundraising, propaganda and operational arm.
The messages to Rahman, a Libyan in his mid 30s, have drawn special interest. Rahman joined bin Laden in Afghanistan as a teenager in the 1980s and "has gained considerable stature in al-Qaida as an explosives expert and Islamic scholar," according to a State Department website that offers a $1 million reward for information leading to him.
U.S. officials believe Rahman took over the role as al-Qaida's No. 3 figure after Sheikh Said al-Masri was killed in a strike from a CIA drone in Pakistan's tribal area in May 2010, said a former Pentagon official. Rahman is believed to be in Pakistan.
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Also this week, members of Congress and other officials have had a chance to examine photos of bin Laden's corpse, which President Barack Obama has decided not to release publicly. Bin Laden was shot in the head and chest. Florida Sen. Bill Nelson reviewed the photos Thursday. "There is no doubt in my mind — nor should there be in anyone else's — that we got the terrorist who orchestrated the insane and murderous acts that took place on Sept. 11, 2001," the Democrat said after visiting CIA headquarters in Langley, Va.
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On Thursday, Sen. John McCain said on the Senate floor that none of the crucial information that led the CIA to bin Laden came from coercive interrogation techniques.
McCain, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said he asked CIA director Leon Panetta "for the facts.'' The Arizona senator said, "In short, it was not torture or cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment of detainees that got us the major leads that ultimately enabled our intelligence community to find Osama bin Laden."
What McCain did not mention, though, is that in his letter to the senator, Panetta reiterated his assertion that some information about bin Laden's courier, Abu Ahmed, came from detainees who were subject to enhanced interrogation techniques.