History Podcasts

Osama Bin Laden

Osama Bin Laden

The Bin Laden Raid: Inside the Situation Room Photo

In the universe of historic photographs, few are more iconic this this image of key White House policymakers watching and waiting for confirmation that SEAL Team Six had succeeded in capturing or killing Osama bin Laden. Although this photo is known as the “Situation Room” ...read more

8 Facts About Osama bin Laden's Final Hideout

It took nearly a decade following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C. for American intelligence authorities to realize that al Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden—mastermind of the 9/11 plot—hadn’t been skulking in a cave or a remote tribal ...read more

Why Did US Forces Bury Osama Bin Laden’s Body at Sea?

On May 2, 2011, the United States military killed and buried Osama bin Laden, the al Qaeda leader behind the 9/11 attacks. U.S. Special Forces took him out during a raid on the compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan where he and some of his family were hiding out. After identifying his ...read more

How SEAL Team Six Took Out Osama bin Laden

On May 2, 2011, U.S. Special Forces raided an al-Qaeda compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, and killed the world’s most wanted terrorist: Osama bin Laden. The entire operation, which lasted only 40 minutes from start to finish, was the culmination of years of calculated planning ...read more

The Birth of SEAL Team Six

After more than 3,000 Marines were killed in the Battle of Tarawa (November 1943), it became clear that the U.S. military was in need of better pre-invasion intelligence. Enter the Naval Combat Demolition Units and Underwater Demolition Teams (UDTs), the forerunners of today’s ...read more

Osama bin Laden

On May 1, 2011, American soldiers killed al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden at his compound near Islamabad, Pakistan. Intelligence officials believe bin Laden was responsible for many deadly acts of terrorism, including the 1998 bombings of the U.S. Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania ...read more


Why Did It Take 10 Years to Get bin Laden?

Questions about President Obama’s ever-changing narrative on Osama bin Laden’s reported assassination and rampant speculation that at least some Pakistani officials may have been involved in hiding the terrorist leader have been swirling around the internet in recent days. But there’s another important angle that has received less attention: Assuming bin Laden really was killed over the weekend — his death has been reported on numerous occasions by credible sources since 2001 — how could it take so long for the most powerful governments in the world to find one man?

The U.S. surveillance apparatus has the ability to track and monitor just about everything. It possesses the most expensive and sophisticated technology in the world, capable of tracking down everything from the origin of a steak at the grocery store to a telephone call in the most remote desert on earth. Is it possible that one of the most recognizable men on the planet — a former U.S. asset whose soldiers were armed and trained by the U.S. government — could have eluded detection for more than a decade? If so, how?

The answer, as with almost everything about bin Laden, is rife with mystery, uncertainty, and misinformation. Numerous authorities have claimed that bin Laden was assisted by various governments. And as The New American reported on May 3, the bulk of the accusations are currently being leveled at officials in Pakistan.

But others believe any culprits responsible for helping — or at least allowing — bin Laden to escape capture could be much closer to home. And an impressive amount of evidence would seem to point in that direction, too. Reporter and author Paul Joseph Watson, among others, compiled a large sample of sources, including some from the federal government itself, that lend credence to the possibility.

After the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Africa that were blamed on bin Laden got him placed on the FBI‘s Most Wanted list, but before the September 11 attacks, American authorities had him in their sights at least three times, according to the U.S. government’s National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States. But each time bin Laden was within reach, some excuse was offered as to why nothing was done.

And after 9/11, the pattern persisted. U.S. forces had bin Laden cornered in the mountains of Tora Bora after the United States and NATO invaded Afghanistan in late 2001. It would have been a relatively simple matter to capture the trapped terrorist. But to the surprise of analysts, American forces and others, bin Laden was allowed to escape unscathed.

A Senate report explains some of the details in its summary. With bin Laden trapped, &ldquocalls for reinforcements to launch an assault were rejected. Requests were also turned down for U.S. troops to block the mountain paths leading to sanctuary a few miles away in Pakistan,&rdquo the document states. &ldquoThe vast array of American military power … was kept on the sidelines.&rdquo

And according to the Senate report, the decision not to get bin Laden or even stop him from escaping was made by then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and his top commander, Gen. Tommy Franks. Despite subsequent Bush administration protestations to the contrary, &ldquothe review of existing literature, unclassified government records and interviews with central participants underlying this report removes any lingering doubts and makes it clear that Osama bin Laden was within our grasp at Tora Bora,&rdquo the Senate report concluded.

It all happened again in August of 2007, according to retired Army Colonel David Hunt. In a piece for Fox News, Hunt asserted that the U.S. government was watching bin Laden as he traveled in a convoy.

&ldquoWe had his butt, on camera, on satellite. We were listening to his conversations. We had the world’s best hunters/killers — Seal Team 6 — nearby. We had the world class Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) coordinating with the CIA and other agencies. We had unmanned drones overhead with missiles on their wings we had the best Air Force on the planet, begging to drop one on the terrorist. We had him in our sights we had done it,&rdquo Hunt wrote. &ldquoUnbelievably, and in my opinion, criminally, we did not kill [Osama] bin Laden.&rdquo

Hunt suggested incompetence was to blame. Other observers, however, have charged that more sinister motives were behind the apparently startling revelations that bin Laden has consistently been allowed to escape. Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-N.Y), for example, accused then-President George W. Bush of &ldquointentionally&rdquo allowing bin Laden to elude capture to justify the invasion of Iraq. Some analysts even suggested U.S. intelligence has known all along where bin Laden was because, contrary to popular belief, he may have still been an American asset.

George W. Bush eventually announced in 2006 that bin Laden was no longer a priority — “if he’s alive at all.” But during Obama’s speech announcing the supposed extrajudicial assassination, the president said he ordered his CIA boss to make capturing or killing bin Laden the agency’s &ldquotop priority.&rdquo

Then, last August, according to Obama, he was briefed on a &ldquopossible&rdquo lead. &ldquoIt took many months to run this thread to ground,&rdquo he claimed during his May 1 speech. &ldquoFinally, last week, I determined that we had enough intelligence to take action.&rdquo

It was unclear why exactly it took so long to raid the compound, especially when the U.S. government has become famous for dropping bombs first and asking questions later. Unfortunately, the administration has offered little in the way of explanations — even as it continues to alter its narrative about bin Laden’s assassination.

The whole truth about how bin Laden managed to avoid capture for more than a decade — assuming he really was still alive — may never be publicly known. But as questions and suspicions continue to mount, analysts expect that pressure for answers will likely grow stronger.


4. Bin Laden Didn’t Even Live In Abbottabad

In the London Telegraph, Abbottabad resident Bashir Qureshi dismissed the idea that bin Laden and his family lived in the area. Though the raid blew out the windows on his house, he still dismissed the idea, saying “Nobody believes it. We've never seen any Arabs around here, he was not here."

The Pakistani press didn’t help. Newspapers in the country allege the raid was set up so U.S. forces would have an excuse to enter Pakistan. Former ISI officials seconded that idea in Western media, noting that someone was killed and removed by the U.S. forces during the raid, but it wasn’t bin Laden. The real bin Laden was already dead, they said, and the U.S. knew it … they just didn’t know where he died.


Full text: bin Laden's 'letter to America'

Online document: the full text of Osama bin Laden's "letter to the American people", reported in today's Observer. The letter first appeared on the internet in Arabic and has since been translated and circulated by Islamists in Britain.

In the Name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful,

"Permission to fight (against disbelievers) is given to those (believers) who are fought against, because they have been wronged and surely, Allah is Able to give them (believers) victory" [Quran 22:39]

"Those who believe, fight in the Cause of Allah, and those who disbelieve, fight in the cause of Taghut (anything worshipped other than Allah e.g. Satan). So fight you against the friends of Satan ever feeble is indeed the plot of Satan."[Quran 4:76]

Some American writers have published articles under the title 'On what basis are we fighting?' These articles have generated a number of responses, some of which adhered to the truth and were based on Islamic Law, and others which have not. Here we wanted to outline the truth - as an explanation and warning - hoping for Allah's reward, seeking success and support from Him.

While seeking Allah's help, we form our reply based on two questions directed at the Americans:

(Q1) Why are we fighting and opposing you?
Q2)What are we calling you to, and what do we want from you?

As for the first question: Why are we fighting and opposing you? The answer is very simple:

(1) Because you attacked us and continue to attack us.

a) You attacked us in Palestine:

(i) Palestine, which has sunk under military occupation for more than 80 years. The British handed over Palestine, with your help and your support, to the Jews, who have occupied it for more than 50 years years overflowing with oppression, tyranny, crimes, killing, expulsion, destruction and devastation. The creation and continuation of Israel is one of the greatest crimes, and you are the leaders of its criminals. And of course there is no need to explain and prove the degree of American support for Israel. The creation of Israel is a crime which must be erased. Each and every person whose hands have become polluted in the contribution towards this crime must pay its*price, and pay for it heavily.

(ii) It brings us both laughter and tears to see that you have not yet tired of repeating your fabricated lies that the Jews have a historical right to Palestine, as it was promised to them in the Torah. Anyone who disputes with them on this alleged fact is accused of anti-semitism. This is one of the most fallacious, widely-circulated fabrications in history. The people of Palestine are pure Arabs and original Semites. It is the Muslims who are the inheritors of Moses (peace be upon him) and the inheritors of the real Torah that has not been changed. Muslims believe in all of the Prophets, including Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Muhammad, peace and blessings of Allah be upon them all. If the followers of Moses have been promised a right to Palestine in the Torah, then the Muslims are the most worthy nation of this.

When the Muslims conquered Palestine and drove out the Romans, Palestine and Jerusalem returned to Islaam, the religion of all the Prophets peace be upon them. Therefore, the call to a historical right to Palestine cannot be raised against the Islamic Ummah that believes in all the Prophets of Allah (peace and blessings be upon them) - and we make no distinction between them.

(iii) The blood pouring out of Palestine must be equally revenged. You must know that the Palestinians do not cry alone their women are not widowed alone their sons are not orphaned alone.

(b) You attacked us in Somalia you supported the Russian atrocities against us in Chechnya, the Indian oppression against us in Kashmir, and the Jewish aggression against us in Lebanon.

(c) Under your supervision, consent and orders, the governments of our countries which act as your agents, attack us on a daily basis

(i) These governments prevent our people from establishing the Islamic Shariah, using violence and lies to do so.

(ii) These governments give us a taste of humiliation, and places us in a large prison of fear and subdual.

(iii) These governments steal our Ummah's wealth and sell them to you at a paltry price.

(iv) These governments have surrendered to the Jews, and handed them most of Palestine, acknowledging the existence of their state over the dismembered limbs of their own people.

(v) The removal of these governments is an obligation upon us, and a necessary step to free the Ummah, to make the Shariah the supreme law and to regain Palestine. And our fight against these governments is not separate from out fight against you.

(d) You steal our wealth and oil at paltry prices because of you international influence and military threats. This theft is indeed the biggest theft ever witnessed by mankind in the history of the world.

(e) Your forces occupy our countries you spread your military bases throughout them you corrupt our lands, and you besiege our sanctities, to protect the security of the Jews and to ensure the continuity of your pillage of our treasures.

(f) You have starved the Muslims of Iraq, where children die every day. It is a wonder that more than 1.5 million Iraqi children have died as a result of your sanctions, and you did not show concern. Yet when 3000 of your people died, the entire world rises and has not yet sat down.

(g) You have supported the Jews in their idea that Jerusalem is their eternal capital, and agreed to move your embassy there. With your help and under your protection, the Israelis are planning to destroy the Al-Aqsa mosque. Under the protection of your weapons, Sharon entered the Al-Aqsa mosque, to pollute it as a preparation to capture and destroy it.

(2) These tragedies and calamities are only a few examples of your oppression and aggression against us. It is commanded by our religion and intellect that the oppressed have a right to return the aggression. Do not await anything from us but Jihad, resistance and revenge. Is it in any way rational to expect that after America has attacked us for more than half a century, that we will then leave her to live in security and peace.

(3) You may then dispute that all the above does not justify aggression against civilians, for crimes they did not commit and offenses in which they did not partake:

(a) This argument contradicts your continuous repetition that America is the land of freedom, and its leaders in this world. Therefore, the American people are the ones who choose their government by way of their own free will a choice which stems from their agreement to its policies. Thus the American people have chosen, consented to, and affirmed their support for the Israeli oppression of the Palestinians, the occupation and usurpation of their land, and its continuous killing, torture, punishment and expulsion of the Palestinians. The American people have the ability and choice to refuse the policies of their Government and even to change it if they want.

(b) The American people are the ones who pay the taxes which fund the planes that bomb us in Afghanistan, the tanks that strike and destroy our homes in Palestine, the armies which occupy our lands in the Arabian Gulf, and the fleets which ensure the blockade of Iraq. These tax dollars are given to Israel for it to continue to attack us and penetrate our lands. So the American people are the ones who fund the attacks against us, and they are the ones who oversee the expenditure of these monies in the way they wish, through their elected candidates.

(c) Also the American army is part of the American people. It is this very same people who are shamelessly helping the Jews fight against us.

(d) The American people are the ones who employ both their men and their women in the American Forces which attack us.

(e) This is why the American people cannot be not innocent of all the crimes committed by the Americans and Jews against us.

(f) Allah, the Almighty, legislated the permission and the option to take revenge. Thus, if we are attacked, then we have the right to attack back. Whoever has destroyed our villages and towns, then we have the right to destroy their villages and towns. Whoever has stolen our wealth, then we have the right to destroy their economy. And whoever has killed our civilians, then we have the right to kill theirs.

The American Government and press still refuses to answer the question:

Why did they attack us in New York and Washington?

If Sharon is a man of peace in the eyes of Bush, then we are also men of peace. America does not understand the language of manners and principles, so we are addressing it using the language it understands.

(Q2) As for the second question that we want to answer: What are we calling you to, and what do we want from you?

(1) The first thing that we are calling you to is Islam.

(a) The religion of the Unification of God of freedom from associating partners with Him, and rejection of this of complete love of Him, the Exalted of complete submission to His Laws and of the discarding of all the opinions, orders, theories and religions which contradict with the religion He sent down to His Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). Islam is the religion of all the prophets, and makes no distinction between them - peace be upon them all.

It is to this religion that we call you the seal of all the previous religions. It is the religion of Unification of God, sincerity, the best of manners, righteousness, mercy, honour, purity, and piety. It is the religion of showing kindness to others, establishing justice between them, granting them their rights, and defending the oppressed and the persecuted. It is the religion of enjoining the good and forbidding the evil with the hand, tongue and heart. It is the religion of Jihad in the way of Allah so that Allah's Word and religion reign Supreme. And it is the religion of unity and agreement on the obedience to Allah, and total equality between all people, without regarding their colour, sex, or language.

(b) It is the religion whose book - the Quran - will remained preserved and unchanged, after the other Divine books and messages have been changed. The Quran is the miracle until the Day of Judgment. Allah has challenged anyone to bring a book like the Quran or even ten verses like it.

(2) The second thing we call you to, is to stop your oppression, lies, immorality and debauchery that has spread among you.

(a) We call you to be a people of manners, principles, honour, and purity to reject the immoral acts of fornication, homosexuality, intoxicants, gambling's, and trading with interest.

We call you to all of this that you may be freed from that which you have become caught up in that you may be freed from the deceptive lies that you are a great nation, that your leaders spread amongst you to conceal from you the despicable state to which you have reached.

(b) It is saddening to tell you that you are the worst civilization witnessed by the history of mankind:

(i) You are the nation who, rather than ruling by the Shariah of Allah in its Constitution and Laws, choose to invent your own laws as you will and desire. You separate religion from your policies, contradicting the pure nature which affirms Absolute Authority to the Lord and your Creator. You flee from the embarrassing question posed to you: How is it possible for Allah the Almighty to create His creation, grant them power over all the creatures and land, grant them all the amenities of life, and then deny them that which they are most in need of: knowledge of the laws which govern their lives?

(ii) You are the nation that permits Usury, which has been forbidden by all the religions. Yet you build your economy and investments on Usury. As a result of this, in all its different forms and guises, the Jews have taken control of your economy, through which they have then taken control of your media, and now control all aspects of your life making you their servants and achieving their aims at your expense precisely what Benjamin Franklin warned you against.

(iii) You are a nation that permits the production, trading and usage of intoxicants. You also permit drugs, and only forbid the trade of them, even though your nation is the largest consumer of them.

(iv) You are a nation that permits acts of immorality, and you consider them to be pillars of personal freedom. You have continued to sink down this abyss from level to level until incest has spread amongst you, in the face of which neither your sense of honour nor your laws object.

Who can forget your President Clinton's immoral acts committed in the official Oval office? After that you did not even bring him to account, other than that he 'made a mistake', after which everything passed with no punishment. Is there a worse kind of event for which your name will go down in history and remembered by nations?

(v) You are a nation that permits gambling in its all forms. The companies practice this as well, resulting in the investments becoming active and the criminals becoming rich.

(vi) You are a nation that exploits women like consumer products or advertising tools calling upon customers to purchase them. You use women to serve passengers, visitors, and strangers to increase your profit margins. You then rant that you support the liberation of women.

(vii) You are a nation that practices the trade of sex in all its forms, directly and indirectly. Giant corporations and establishments are established on this, under the name of art, entertainment, tourism and freedom, and other deceptive names you attribute to it.

(viii) And because of all this, you have been described in history as a nation that spreads diseases that were unknown to man in the past. Go ahead and boast to the nations of man, that you brought them AIDS as a Satanic American Invention.

(xi) You have destroyed nature with your industrial waste and gases more than any other nation in history. Despite this, you refuse to sign the Kyoto agreement so that you can secure the profit of your greedy companies and*industries.

(x) Your law is the law of the rich and wealthy people, who hold sway in their political parties, and fund their election campaigns with their gifts. Behind them stand the Jews, who control your policies, media and economy.

(xi) That which you are singled out for in the history of mankind, is that you have used your force to destroy mankind more than any other nation in history not to defend principles and values, but to hasten to secure your interests and profits. You who dropped a nuclear bomb on Japan, even though Japan was ready to negotiate an end to the war. How many acts of oppression, tyranny and injustice have you carried out, O callers to freedom?

(xii) Let us not forget one of your major characteristics: your duality in both manners and values your hypocrisy in manners and principles. All*manners, principles and values have two scales: one for you and one for the others.

(a)The freedom and democracy that you call to is for yourselves and for white race only as for the rest of the world, you impose upon them your monstrous, destructive policies and Governments, which you call the 'American friends'. Yet you prevent them from establishing democracies. When the Islamic party in Algeria wanted to practice democracy and they won the election, you unleashed your agents in the Algerian army onto them, and to attack them with tanks and guns, to imprison them and torture them - a new lesson from the 'American book of democracy'.

(b)Your policy on prohibiting and forcibly removing weapons of mass destruction to ensure world peace: it only applies to those countries which you do not permit to possess such weapons. As for the countries you consent to, such as Israel, then they are allowed to keep and use such weapons to defend their security. Anyone else who you suspect might be manufacturing or keeping these kinds of weapons, you call them criminals and you take military action against them.

(c)You are the last ones to respect the resolutions and policies of International Law, yet you claim to want to selectively punish anyone else who does the same. Israel has for more than 50 years been pushing UN resolutions and rules against the wall with the full support of America.

(d)As for the war criminals which you censure and form criminal courts for - you shamelessly ask that your own are granted immunity!! However, history will not forget the war crimes that you committed against the Muslims and the rest of the world those you have killed in Japan, Afghanistan, Somalia, Lebanon and Iraq will remain a shame that you will never be able to escape. It will suffice to remind you of your latest war crimes in Afghanistan, in which densely populated innocent civilian villages were destroyed, bombs were dropped on mosques causing the roof of the mosque to come crashing down on the heads of the Muslims praying inside. You are the ones who broke the agreement with the Mujahideen when they left Qunduz, bombing them in Jangi fort, and killing more than 1,000 of your prisoners through suffocation and thirst. Allah alone knows how many people have died by torture at the hands of you and your agents. Your planes remain in the Afghan skies, looking for anyone remotely suspicious.

(e)You have claimed to be the vanguards of Human Rights, and your Ministry of Foreign affairs issues annual reports containing statistics of those countries that violate any Human Rights. However, all these things vanished when the Mujahideen hit you, and you then implemented the methods of the same documented governments that you used to curse. In America, you captured thousands the Muslims and Arabs, took them into custody with neither reason, court trial, nor even disclosing their names. You issued newer, harsher laws.

What happens in Guatanamo is a historical embarrassment to America and its values, and it screams into your faces - you hypocrites, "What is the value of your signature on any agreement or treaty?"

(3) What we call you to thirdly is to take an honest stance with yourselves - and I doubt you will do so - to discover that you are a nation without principles or manners, and that the values and principles to you are something which you merely demand from others, not that which you yourself must adhere to.

(4) We also advise you to stop supporting Israel, and to end your support of the Indians in Kashmir, the Russians against the Chechens and to also cease supporting the Manila Government against the Muslims in Southern Philippines.

(5) We also advise you to pack your luggage and get out of our lands. We desire for your goodness, guidance, and righteousness, so do not force us to send you back as cargo in coffins.

(6) Sixthly, we call upon you to end your support of the corrupt leaders in our countries. Do not interfere in our politics and method of education. Leave us alone, or else expect us in New York and Washington.

(7) We also call you to deal with us and interact with us on the basis of mutual interests and benefits, rather than the policies of sub dual, theft and occupation, and not to continue your policy of supporting the Jews because this will result in more disasters for you.

If you fail to respond to all these conditions, then prepare for fight with the Islamic Nation. The Nation of Monotheism, that puts complete trust on Allah and fears none other than Him. The Nation which is addressed by its Quran with the words: "Do you fear them? Allah has more right that you should fear Him if you are believers. Fight against them so that Allah will punish them by your hands and disgrace them and give you victory over them and heal the breasts of believing people. And remove the anger of their (believers') hearts. Allah accepts the repentance of whom He wills. Allah is All-Knowing, All-Wise." [Quran9:13-1]

The Nation of honour and respect:

"But honour, power and glory belong to Allah, and to His Messenger (Muhammad- peace be upon him) and to the believers." [Quran 63:8]

"So do not become weak (against your enemy), nor be sad, and you will be*superior ( in victory )if you are indeed (true) believers" [Quran 3:139]

The Nation of Martyrdom the Nation that desires death more than you desire life:

"Think not of those who are killed in the way of Allah as dead. Nay, they are alive with their Lord, and they are being provided for. They rejoice in what Allah has bestowed upon them from His bounty and rejoice for the sake of those who have not yet joined them, but are left behind (not yet martyred) that on them no fear shall come, nor shall they grieve. They rejoice in a grace and a bounty from Allah, and that Allah will not waste the reward of the believers." [Quran 3:169-171]

The Nation of victory and success that Allah has promised:

"It is He Who has sent His Messenger (Muhammad peace be upon him) with guidance and the religion of truth (Islam), to make it victorious over all other religions even though the Polytheists hate it." [Quran 61:9]

"Allah has decreed that 'Verily it is I and My Messengers who shall be victorious.' Verily Allah is All-Powerful, All-Mighty." [Quran 58:21]

The Islamic Nation that was able to dismiss and destroy the previous evil Empires like yourself the Nation that rejects your attacks, wishes to remove your evils, and is prepared to fight you. You are well aware that the Islamic Nation, from the very core of its soul, despises your haughtiness and arrogance.

If the Americans refuse to listen to our advice and the goodness, guidance and righteousness that we call them to, then be aware that you will lose this Crusade Bush began, just like the other previous Crusades in which you were humiliated by the hands of the Mujahideen, fleeing to your home in great silence and disgrace. If the Americans do not respond, then their fate will be that of the Soviets who fled from Afghanistan to deal with their military defeat, political breakup, ideological downfall, and economic bankruptcy.

This is our message to the Americans, as an answer to theirs. Do they now know why we fight them and over which form of ignorance, by the permission of Allah, we shall be victorious?


The Untold Story of the Hunt for Osama Bin Laden

It has been 10 years since May 2, 2011, the night a top-secret SEAL raid took out notorious terrorist and 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden at his hideout in Abbottabad, Pakistan. You may think you know the story of bin Laden and the ten-year manhunt that ended in his death, but you've probably seen it like this before. In Revealed: The Hunt for Osama bin Laden, the 9/11 Museum and the History Channel team up to present never-before-seen interviews and previously classified material. Film co-producers Clifford Chanin and Jessica Chen join Left of Boom to explain why every American should know this story.

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The following is an edited transcript of this episode of Left of Boom:

Welcome back to Left of Boom. I'm your host, Military.com managing editor Hope Hodge Seck. Today's episode is a treat. We'll be talking to Clifford Chanin and Jessica Chen, executive producer and co-producer of Revealed: The Hunt for Bin Ladin, a brand-new documentary premiering now on the History Channel. It's the 10-year anniversary of Operation Neptune spear, the May 2, 2011 SEAL raid that ended the life of 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden. This new project includes interviews with past U.S. presidents, senior decision-making officials and the SEALs themselves to present a new picture of events that changed American history forever. After hearing this episode, I promise you'll want to check it out for yourself. So without further ado, let's get into it. Cliff and Jess, welcome to the show.

Great to be here. Thanks, Hope.

It's hard to believe it has been 10 years since the bin Laden raid. The operation itself was one of the earlier world events to be live-tweeted. I remember there was a guy near Abbottabad who heard helicopters and started tweeting about what he was hearing and seeing. And since then reporting on what happened there has been abundant. You've got everything from Zero Dark 30 to the man who ostensibly fired the kill shot at bin Laden, who has accumulated some fame in his own right. But this project goes a whole lot deeper than all of that. How did it come about?

Well, it was more than five years ago in fact that we first started talking about this as an exhibition. We have a special exhibitions gallery in the museum. And we have done a couple of shows prior to this. But certainly the raid and the end of bin Laden's life is also the end of a major chapter in the 9/11 story. It's not the end of the threat. It's not the end of the 9/11 story itself. But it certainly is an important moment in that overall story. And so we began developing this as an exhibition. And in the course of that development, the relationships we had with the military and the intelligence folks had really developed through a set of other programs at the museum. And so we were getting access to people and to objects that could be shown in the exhibition that actually went far beyond what we'd originally imagined. It was hard to imagine this originally, because everything was still classified, essentially. So we didn't even know what we were asking for in most cases. But as we began to get access to people, including some still active in the intelligence community, people who were part of the hunt, who were there for the conclusion of the hunt. We put together for the exhibition, I think it was a very, very powerful narrative in the context of an exhibition that was only a tiny fraction of what we had gathered through the interview process. And so we decided that for the 10th anniversary of the raid, it would be a very powerful film. We added even after the exhibition opened, a number of very important interviews that fleshed out the story beyond what the exhibition could tell. And so it was a bit of a rush, and doing things under COVID is, as everybody knows, at least very different, if not crazy, but we did manage and get it to completion. And here we are Sunday night, May 2, History Channel, I'm doing the plug . And that's the short version of the story.

Where do you start? What are the first phone calls that you make to kind of open the doors to as you said, to this previously undisclosed information?

I'll let Jess tell about these programs that I mentioned before, because they turn out to be absolutely critical in establishing a level of confidence and trust between the museum and these broader agencies. So I think Jess should pick up the beginnings of the story. And then we can talk about, you know, how we actually tried to figure out what the story should be.

Sure, thanks, Cliff. So at the museum, the museum opened in 2014. But even before that, it really benefited from a really strong relationship with a lot of the agencies that not only responded immediately after 9/11, but kind of took up the work after 9/11 to combat terrorism and also to do the work that continues to keep this nation safe. And so those groups not only provided assets for the exhibition, but have continued to come to the museum, especially with new recruits and with new staffers who are interested in understanding how 9/11 fits into their institutional history. These visits have actually become very cool programs that we offer to what we call professional groups. And these are groups that are comprised of intelligence agencies, aw enforcement agencies, military and government professionals who are really kind of diving into their museum experience with a very personal connection, but also a mission-oriented sense of the story for us at the museum, not only in the museum work that we do, but also thinking about this film. It's largely stemming from these relationships that have been built over time, not only with the people who were part of making the museum happen, but also the people who continue to bring new people through the museum.

It's incredible. What do you think are the biggest misconceptions most Americans have about the story of Osama bin Laden in the way that his narrative intertwines with the United States?

Well, you know, it's a really interesting question. It came to such a definitive conclusion on May 2, 2011, people could get the impression that there was kind of a straight-line outcome here, that this was all forordained, and this was just how it was going to turn out. And I would say, that's anything but the truth. The first issue is what our focus on bin Laden was before 9/11, which wasn't widely concentrated across the national security community. Obviously, there were people who were focused on al-Qaida and understood the threat and understood that in 1996 and 1998, when bin Laden issues fatwas justifying attacks against the United States, against American civilians in the second fatwa, that, you know, that is an important threat. But there were other things going on in the world. And even those earlier attacks and the embassies in Africa in 1998, the Cole in 2000, as tragic and impactful as they were, it did not really transform the sense of the threat. And that, of course, was what happened on 9/11. And so, to me, the interesting part, and I think we present this in some fascinating detail, how do you hunt for someone who's hiding from you who could be anywhere in the world? And who's actually quite good at hiding? I was talking about this one of the intelligence analysts at one point, and she said, Well, you know, Ted Kaczynski was hiding in the United States, our own country, I think it was 17 years, and we couldn't find him. So you know, why would it have been easier to find Osama bin Laden, and then even when the lead gets us pointed at that compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, where ultimately he was found, there's never any assurance, it's no more than a circumstantial case, that this may be somewhat important, but there's no guarantee it's Osama bin Laden. And so every step of the way has risk. Every step of the way has a calculation about, Is this real? And if we act as though it's real, and it turns out not to be real, what are the consequences of that going to be? I mean, just imagine everything that happens on that raid happens exactly the same way. And it's not Osama bin Laden. You know, it's some drug dealer, we're not going to invade Pakistani territory for a drug dealer. So how do we deal with that? And so one thing after another, which in retrospect, seemed like a very logical progression, none of it, none of it was except, and it's a remarkable credit to their work. But the intelligence professionals who drove this hunt, said, Yes, we can't give you a written guarantee. But this is what the conclusion leads us to determine.

I'm gonna add to what Cliff just said, and kind of characterize it in my own personal experience. I was starting eighth grade on 9/11. And then I was in New York, having just graduated from college, when the raid, the successful operation was announced. And I think for a lot of people who are my age, and who kind of, these two moments kind of form the bookends of our adulthood or growing up into adulthood, I think that it's hard to kind of link the first moment to this moment. The film itself kind of traces these bookmarks. You know, it starts with intelligence, it goes to policy, and then it goes to the military raid. And I think we forget just how committed many people were after 9/11 to finding this person that was that was really hard to find. And I think what the film does is, it helps people to understand that the motivation and the drive to bring justice did not go away, even though they couldn't find him, and that there were real personal sacrifices made along the way. I'm really hopeful that for my peers to watch this film, and to understand just how committed everybody was to seeing this through.

I really resonate with that. I think we're of a very similar age. I think I was also in eighth grade when the attacks happened. I think that really puts it in context. They were key moments. Guess I'll just ask you both to expand on that. So when you have this wealth of information and all these exhibits, and all of this documentation, how do you then make decisions for how to organize it to tell and frame a story, especially when you've got the constraints of time?

So it was shaped a little bit by the exhibition, although the film is very different than the exhibition. And I do want to say, again, just a brief plug, the exhibition itself, the museum is open, the 9/11 museum is open, we've just reopened the bin Laden special exhibition. So I hope people who are thinking of traveling to New York might consider coming to see it if they can. We're offering online virtual tours of the museum and the exhibition as well. So 911 memorial.org, our website is the place to go looking for that. Sorry for diverging from your question. But the most powerful factor in shaping this, from the very beginning, we alluded to this before, but it's very unusual, curatorially speaking, we never had a sense in advance of what objects and which people we would have available to us to tell the story. So we would make requests based on these relationships that just described earlier, of these intelligence agencies initially, just to say, look, were planning to do this exhibition, we'd like to be able to talk to you about what might be available for us. And those agencies are bound by the classification rules, obviously. And even though, you know, many of the key public figures who were involved in this had spoken about the raid and wrote wrote about the raid, technically it was still classified. So anything that they were going to make available to us had to go through an internal process within each of these agencies, and the agencies have different processes with different considerations. And on top of which we never knew how long it would take, or what the criteria for decision would be, as to whether or not we could get something. So that was, that was curious. But we did manage to get these meetings that particularly on the intelligence side, where we go in, and we'd say, Well, here's the point in the story that we're trying to make, we're trying to tell, for example, that, you know, there was this massive effort to find as much intelligence as you could by partnering the intelligence agencies on the battlefield with the military, just do these raids and sweeps and process all this intelligence in real time. So you can really make it actionable as soon as possible. Okay. That's a good point, right? What could demonstrate that. So we are museum curators who don't know what the objects are, and the people were asking our intelligence professionals who don't know what museum curators need. So, you know, we would really try to be very specific in their requests. And inevitably, what happened was, we'd be in these meetings, you know, in these secret bunkers. And you know, you have to be screened to get in with a pass and an escort and you're never, you're never alone. And we'd be sitting in these rooms. And we'd make a point, this is what this is the kind of thing we want. And you could see, they began looking at each other. And you could see the eyes communicating there, maybe a little smile here and there. But they wouldn't say anything in front of us. Because what they were thinking of offering us was still classified. And so the question was, A, is this really the answer to the question of what they're looking for? Well, we can't ask them. And B, if it is the answer to the question of what they're looking for, can we get it cleared and give it to them? So the process was very elaborate. Internally, the only thing I will add is, it's very clear to me and we became, you know, friends with some of the folks in the agencies who became our internal advocates. So there were people who, for a variety of reasons thought, this story should be told the 9/11 Museum is the place to tell it, and I, Person X, who have access to the process, who understand what's being asked for, who know the people who are involved in making these decisions, I am going to be the internal advocate for this project inside my agency. I don't think this happens, really, if we don't have a handful of those key people. I can't thank them personally, well, I thank them personally, but I can't thank them publicly, for exactly the same reasons that I've described in the beginning of this story. But that really is the key doing this, because they all are knit into this story together. They know one another, they trust one another. They work together. And they would vouch for us with some of the other folks who may have retired or whatever it was, Would you be willing to sit down for an interview with them? And that's how the process really unfolded.

To pick up where Cliff leaves off. You know, now you have all these relationships, all of these advocates and what sometimes feels like a landslide of connections of details, of stories to tell. I think Cliff and I both have kind of threads in the story that we felt very personally convicted to bring to light. You know, there, there are some things that are explained that that I think I'd leave it to Cliff to kind of flesh out in more detail that have never been kind of discussed publicly before. But I think for me, you know, something that was incredibly important when evaluating how to take all of this material and put it in a film, which, although it's, it's a full-length film, felt a little short at the end, because we're trying to stuff so much stuff into it. For me, it was really understanding how can we convey the humanity and the human cost at every step in the story. So the film opens, really, with an understanding of 9/11, and the human loss on 9/11. And then you go through a hunt that is marked by people who are incredibly human. I hope we've captured them, kind of their frustration, but also their commitment, and even their human sacrifice in terms of seeing this through policymakers, when they're discussing the hunt, the odds that Cliff described earlier, really thinking about the people who are going to be doing this and what they're putting, those people in that situation that they're asking them to expose themselves to, and then the military members who take on kind of the risk and see the mission through. And so I think, because of all the interviews with so many generous, unseen individuals, we're able to kind of get a sense of the people that the real people who kind of were involved in the story, and I hope we've done a good job and kind of lending some some of their personalities to tell the story.

Man, I can't wait to see it. What sorts of things are easier to understand and analyze and contextualize, with the benefit of 10 years of hindsight?

Well, I do think there was an awareness in the community at large, that one of the failures of 9/11 was the lack of communication across agencies, and between the intelligence and the military world. And they tried to fix that right away. And because of, you know, tradition and culture, and just the different approaches, that wasn't an easy fix. But once we were fighting in Afghanistan, and then in Iraq, it was something they realized, you just had to do it, because you were losing service members on the battlefield there. And there was always a sense that al-Qaida was still out there, bin Laden was still out there, and didn't know what they were planning. But you knew they were planning something, and so you know, that prospect of another catastrophe, or simply not doing enough to protect American military personnel on the battlefield, that really broke down a lot of barriers. And it's a remarkable story, because, you know, the techniques, the practices that were sort of implemented over years before the raid in Pakistan, were the very same techniques and practices that were applied to solve this problem of what's going on in that compound. And so even though it was from the distance factor, and from the political factor of going into an allied sovereign nation without their permission, and conducting a military operation, in the heart of a populated area, the people who knew how to do this, were confident that they could do it, and they had done things like this enough and work together enough that, you know, it was more complicated, certainly, and more risky because of the factors involved. But you know, as one of the SEALs says in one of the interviews, that a raid is a raid is a raid. You know, we know how to do this. It's really, you know, a remarkable piece. And the aviation piece of this is also something that -- the whole mission was about four hours. Forty minutes of that mission, were on the ground, which means more than three hours, the operators were basically passengers on what one of the SEALs called a ginormous bus. And so the success of the mission is in the hands of the pilots, and how they conduct themselves and how they're prepared for this and what they know about the conditions that they're flying in all of this interaction. And all of the key actors had worked with one another on other missions before they knew one another, they trusted one another. And so again, that period, through war, of really developing expertise and trust, I think it was key to what would ultimately happen and what the U.S. military has learned about how to conduct these kinds of operations.

To build on that, are there indicators that events would play out differently if they happen today? You talked about the need to communicate better. I know that's not a problem that probably will ever be fully solved.

You know, the thing that The experts always say is that the threat changes. And so 9/11 was a product of al-Qaida, which was at that point, a structured administrated centralized organization, with, for a terrorist group, you know, reasonably efficient command and control. The years since have seen that central structure come under enormous pressure and break in many ways. But the threat has splintered into other groups that may be connected with al-Qaida or not, may have been inspired by al-Qaida may have said al-Qaida didn't go far enough, as the Islamic State did. Or that you might have these so called "lone actor" terrorists who radicalize online or through personal contacts with people and decide on their own as some ideologists of the Jihad have urged them, just to attack people where you can. I mean, we don't want to have a centralized structure anymore, or we can't sustain a centralized structure anymore. But it doesn't change what the mission needs to be. That threat changes. Therefore, how we study it, how we understand it has to change, and how we respond to it has to change.

One aspect of the way the story is told, and you've already referred to this, is there are these educational materials for high schoolers to discuss 911 and the hunt for bin Laden and Operation Neptune Spear. Today's high schoolers obviously have no memory of 9/11, which is a little bit shocking for older Millennials like me to contemplate. And in fact, there are even soldiers and Marines and service members who have deployed to Afghanistan with no memory of 9/11, which is the nexus for the start of this war. Why was it so important to provide an entry point for high schoolers into this material?

For me, I think so much of and I'm also speaking from an older Millennial perspective, but our department or my department in the museum is focused on education. And I lean on my colleagues and their expertise to work specifically with students. But I think all of us on the education team feel really strongly that the world that we live in today is shaped so much by the events of 9/11 and the events that followed, I think it's important to contextualize it because we understand that the leadership lessons, the incredible stories of courage and of commitment, that they have resonances with what is going on in the world today. And I think that trying to engage students, and trying to kind of connect them with the importance of understanding our shared history is just so, so important and so central, as they think about, you know, where they're going to be in the next 10 years.

You know, this is the 10th anniversary of the bin Laden raid, but it's also the 20th anniversary, this September, of 9/11. Twenty years is the span of a generation. Think about it. I mean, nobody who's in high school was even born when 9/11 happened. And if you're in college, you may have been born, but you were a year or two old and you're not going to remember it. And so it's a funny thing that happens with history and a museum like ours. When we started this project, and I go way back to, I wasn't in junior high school when this happened. So the thought was, well, everybody knows this story. So you know, what's going to make our presentation of the story compelling? Well, 20 years pass, and that assumption is completely out the window. Not everybody knows this story. In fact, every day, more people don't know this story. And so the challenge for the museum of telling this story, and as Jess says, explaining just how significant this moment in history was, and continues to be. Now that becomes, I think, frankly, more than we imagined it 15 years ago, that becomes central to the mission of our current-day museum and will only grow in importance every day. I mean, think about, it's not just the attack and the vulnerability. It's the response of this country. I mean, I don't know if you guys remember. But, you know, this country came together across all divides, across all barriers, I mean, all the things we're struggling with as a society today, were wiped away by the common solidarity and feeling that service was spontaneously the outcome of Americans reactions to 9/11. Not just Americans, people around the world. If we're thinking about where we are today, look back and ask the question, what was it that gave us this kind of resilience and solidarity 20 years ago? What's missing? What can we do about it now? Because it's better to be like that than it is to be at each other's throats. And so, you know, that's how the mission of the museum evolves. It's always rooted in 9/11 and telling that story, but there's no fixed point where you can say Hey, okay, this is over, let's turn the page. It just doesn't happen like that.

I have one final question that I hope that both of you will answer in your own way. What larger story do you think all the events that you cover in this documentary, and the accompanying presentation, tell us about America?

I think, you know, going back to personal experience again, and also I was on the West Coast when 9/11 happened, and now have spent most of my adult life on the East Coast. So I consider myself a New Yorker. But I think the breadth of characters of people who undertake this work is pretty remarkable, you know, something that I can say without necessarily speaking to specific identities, but the number of women who are involved in this work and who take on, you know, risk and responsibility. I'm hopeful that, that when people watch this film, that they're going to see something in it that reminds them of themselves and where they are in life and how they can contribute to society, but can also just recognize the importance of working together. And this is just to kind of pick up on what Cliff was just saying, that almost everybody who we interviewed for this film, mentioned, at some point in their interview, just looking back and thinking how remarkable it is when everybody learns how to place trust in one another when everyone works together, when everyone is committed to a common purpose. And I think that obviously can be applied into situations that are not exactly like this, but even the environments that all of us work in and live in. That's kind of that that's where I where I land on the film.

Yeah, I agree. You know, as we've gotten to know some of the folks involved, it's very obvious that they disagree about things, they don't all see the world the same way. And yet, when they were required to do something for the common good, the only factor was how to succeed in doing that task. Everything else was secondary. And it's been my good fortune to see some of those relationships in action, to see how they relate to one another, in spite of whatever other differences that are much, much smaller in importance than the things they have in common. But in spite of their differences, there is a sense of mutual recognition in the idea that they went through this together, they took the risks together, they understood that the most important thing in these circumstances is to be able to count on the other person you're working with, regardless of anything else. And every one of them came through for everybody else when they needed to. That's just a remarkable story. And it is really what it is to offer the best of your service on behalf of your country. And really on behalf of the common humanity that you know, you share with everyone else who's involved in this. And of course, for the families of the 9/11 victims, for the victims themselves who were killed. I mean, that focal point of the mission, never faltered through the hunt, when they weren't finding anybody when they didn't know where to look. All of that drove them onward to this, you know, remarkable, remarkable success story.

Well, thank you both so much for being here today. This documentary, as you said, comes out May 2, what are the different ways that people can watch?

Well, the History Channel is going to be premiering it through your cable provider. As of May 3, it's available through histories, website and digital platforms. And you have to sign on with your cable login information. And it's also available for sale through various streaming partners that provide History Channel broadcasts

Fantastic. Thank you so much for your time.

Thanks for joining us for this special episode of Left of Boom. I'd love to hear your thoughts on "The Hunt for Bin Laden." Send me an email at [email protected] and let me know what you think of the documentary and presentation. You can also pitch me ideas for future shows while you're at it. If you're not subscribed to the podcast, please go ahead and do it now so you don't miss a future episode. And leave us a rating and review to so other people can find us. And remember that you can get all the news and information you need about your military community every day at Military.com.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

Welcome back to Left of Boom. I'm your host, Military.com managing editor Hope Hodge Seck. Today's episode is a treat. We'll be talking to Clifford Chanin and Jessica Chen, executive producer and co-producer of Revealed: The Hunt for Bin Ladin, a brand-new documentary premiering now on the History Channel. It's the 10-year anniversary of Operation Neptune spear, the May 2, 2011 SEAL raid that ended the life of 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden. This new project includes interviews with past U.S. presidents, senior decision-making officials and the SEALs themselves to present a new picture of events that changed American history forever. After hearing this episode, I promise you'll want to check it out for yourself. So without further ado, let's get into it. Cliff and Jess, welcome to the show.

Great to be here. Thanks, Hope.

It's hard to believe it has been 10 years since the bin Laden raid. The operation itself was one of the earlier world events to be live-tweeted. I remember there was a guy near Abbottabad who heard helicopters and started tweeting about what he was hearing and seeing. And since then reporting on what happened there has been abundant. You've got everything from Zero Dark 30 to the man who ostensibly fired the kill shot at bin Laden, who has accumulated some fame in his own right. But this project goes a whole lot deeper than all of that. How did it come about?

Well, it was more than five years ago in fact that we first started talking about this as an exhibition. We have a special exhibitions gallery in the museum. And we have done a couple of shows prior to this. But certainly the raid and the end of bin Laden's life isn also the end of a major chapter in the 9/11 story. It's not the end of the threat. It's not the end of the 9/11 story itself. But it certainly is an important moment in that overall story. And so we began developing this as an exhibition. And in the course of that development, the relationships we had with the military and the intelligence folks had really developed through a set of other programs at the museum. And so we were getting access to people and to objects that could be shown in the exhibition that actually went far beyond what we'd originally imagined. It was hard to imagine this originally, because everything was still classified, essentially. So we didn't even know what we were asking for in most cases. But as we began to get access to people, including some still active in the intelligence community, people who were part of the hunt, who were there for the conclusion of the hunt. We put together for the exhibition, I think it was a very, very powerful narrative in the context of an exhibition that was only a tiny fraction of what we had gathered through the interview process. And so we decided that for the 10th anniversary of the raid, it would be a very powerful film. We added even after the exhibition opened, a number of very important interviews that fleshed out the story beyond what the exhibition could tell. And so it was a bit of a rush, and doing things under COVID is, as everybody knows, at least very different, if not crazy, but we did manage and get it to completion. And here we are Sunday night, May 2, History Channel, I'm doing the plug . And that's the short version of the story.

Where do you start? What are the first phone calls that you make to kind of open the doors to as you said, to this previously undisclosed information?

I'll let Jess tell about these programs that I mentioned before, because they turn out to be absolutely critical in establishing a level of confidence and trust between the museum and these broader agencies. So I think Jess should pick up the beginnings of the story. And then we can talk about, you know, how we actually tried to figure out what the what the story should be.

Sure, thanks, Cliff. So at the museum, the museum opened in 2014. But even before that, it really benefited from a really strong relationship with a lot of the agencies that not only responded immediately after 9/11, but kind of took up the work after 9/11 to combat terrorism and also to do the work that continues to keep this nation safe. And so those groups not only provided assets for the exhibition, but have continued to come to the museum, especially with new recruits and with new staffers who are interested in understanding how 9/11 fits into their institutional history. These visits have actually become very cool programs that we offer to what we call professional groups. And these are groups that are comprised of intelligence agencies, aw enforcement agencies, military and government professionals who are really kind of diving into their museum experience with a very personal connection, but also a mission-oriented sense of the story for us at the museum, not only in the museum work that we do, but also thinking about this film. It's largely stemming from these relationships that have been built over time, not only with the people who were part of making the museum happen, but also the people who continue to bring new people through the museum.

It's incredible. What do you think are the biggest misconceptions most Americans have about the story of Osama bin Laden in the way that his narrative intertwines with the United States?

Well, you know, it's a really interesting question. It came to such a definitive conclusion on May 2, 2011, people could get the impression that there was kind of a straight-line outcome here, that this was all forordained, and this was just how it was going to turn out. And I would say, that's anything but the truth. The first issue is what our focus on bin Laden was before 9/11, which wasn't widely concentrated across the national security community. Obviously, there were people who were focused on al-Qaida and understood the threat and understood that in 1996 and 1998, when bin Laden issues fatwas justifying attacks against the United States, against American civilians in the second fatwa, that, you know, that is an important threat. But there were other things going on in the world. And even those earlier attacks and the embassies in Africa in 1998, the Cole in 2000, as tragic and impactful as they were, it did not really transform the sense of the threat. And that, of course, was what happened on 9/11. And so, to me, the interesting part, and I think we present this in some fascinating detail, how do you hunt for someone who's hiding from you who could be anywhere in the world? And who's actually quite good at hiding? I was talking about this one of the intelligence analysts at one point, and she said, Well, you know, Ted Kaczynski was hiding in the United States, our own country, I think it was 17 years, and we couldn't find him. So you know, why would it have been easier to find Osama bin Laden, and then even when the lead gets us pointed at that compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, where ultimately he was found, there's never any assurance, it's no more than a circumstantial case, that this may be somewhat important, but there's no guarantee it's Osama bin Laden. And so every step of the way has risk. Every step of the way has a calculation about, Is this real? And if we act as though it's real, and it turns out not to be real, what are the consequences of that going to be? I mean, just imagine everything that happens on that raid happens exactly the same way. And it's not Osama bin Laden. You know, it's some drug dealer, we're not going to invade Pakistani territory for a drug dealer. So how do we deal with that? And so one thing after another, which in retrospect, seemed like a very logical progression, none of it, none of it was except, and it's a remarkable credit to their work. But the intelligence professionals who drove this hunt, said, Yes, we can't give you a written guarantee. But this is what the conclusion leads us to determine.

I'm gonna add to what Cliff just said, and kind of characterize it in my own personal experience. I was starting eighth grade on 9/11. And then I was in New York, having just graduated from college, when the raid, the successful operation was announced. And I think for a lot of people who are my age, and who kind of, these two moments kind of form the bookends of our adulthood or growing up into adulthood, I think that it's hard to kind of link the first moment to this moment. The film itself kind of traces these bookmarks. You know, it starts with intelligence, it goes to policy, and then it goes to the military raid. And I think we forget just how committed many people were after 9/11 to finding this person that was that was really hard to find. And I think what the film does is, it helps people to understand that the motivation and the drive to bring justice did not go away, even though they couldn't find him, and that there were real personal sacrifices made along the way. I'm really hopeful that for my peers to watch this film, and to understand just how committed everybody was to seeing this through.

I really resonate with that. I think we're of a very similar age. I think I was also in eighth grade when the attacks happened. I think that really puts it in context. They were key moments. Guess I'll just ask you both to expand on that. So when you have this wealth of information and all these exhibits, and all of this documentation, how do you then make decisions for how to organize it to tell and frame a story, especially when you've got the constraints of time?

So it was shaped a little bit by the exhibition, although the film is very different than the exhibition. And I do want to say, again, just a brief plug, the exhibition itself, the museum is open, the 9/11 museum is open, we've just reopened the bin Laden special exhibition. So I hope people who are thinking of traveling to New York might consider coming to see it if they can. We're offering online virtual tours of the museum and the exhibition as well. So 911 memorial.org, our website is the place to go looking for that. Sorry for diverging from your question. But the most powerful factor in shaping this, from the very beginning, we alluded to this before, but it's very unusual, curatorially speaking, we never had a sense in advance of what objects and which people we would have available to us to tell the story. So we would make requests based on these relationships that just described earlier, of these intelligence agencies initially, just to say, look, were planning to do this exhibition, we'd like to be able to talk to you about what might be available for us. And those agencies are bound by the classification rules, obviously. And even though, you know, many of the key public figures who were involved in this had spoken about the raid and wrote wrote about the raid, technically it was still classified. So anything that they were going to make available to us had to go through an internal process within each of these agencies, and the agencies have different processes with different considerations. And on top of which we never knew how long it would take, or what the criteria for decision would be, as to whether or not we could get something. So that was, that was curious. But we did manage to get these meetings that particularly on the intelligence side, where we go in, and we'd say, Well, here's the point in the story that we're trying to make, we're trying to tell, for example, that, you know, there was this massive effort to find as much intelligence as you could by partnering the intelligence agencies on the battlefield with the military, just do these raids and sweeps and process all this intelligence in real time. So you can really make it actionable as soon as possible. Okay. That's a good point, right? What could demonstrate that. So we are museum curators who don't know what the objects are, and the people were asking our intelligence professionals who don't know what museum curators need. So, you know, we would really try to be very specific in their requests. And inevitably, what happened was, we'd be in these meetings, you know, in these secret bunkers. And you know, you have to be screened to get in with a pass and an escort and you're never, you're never alone. And we'd be sitting in these rooms. And we'd make a point, this is what this is the kind of thing we want. And you could see, they began looking at each other. And you could see the eyes communicating there, maybe a little smile here and there. But they wouldn't say anything in front of us. Because what they were thinking of offering us was still classified. And so the question was, A, is this really the answer to the question of what they're looking for? Well, we can't ask them. And B, if it is the answer to the question of what they're looking for, can we get it cleared and give it to them? So the process was very elaborate. Internally, the only thing I will add is, it's very clear to me and we became, you know, friends with some of the folks in the agencies who became our internal advocates. So there were people who, for a variety of reasons thought, this story should be told the 9/11 Museum is the place to tell it, and I, Person X, who have access to the process, who understand what's being asked for, who know the people who are involved in making these decisions, I am going to be the internal advocate for this project inside my agency. I don't think this happens, really, if we don't have a handful of those key people. I can't thank them personally, well, I thank them personally, but I can't thank them publicly, for exactly the same reasons that I've described in the beginning of this story. But that really is the key doing this, because they all are knit into this story together. They know one another, they trust one another. They work together. And they would vouch for us with some of the other folks who may have retired or whatever it was, Would you be willing to sit down for an interview with them? And that's how the process really unfolded.

To pick up where Cliff leaves off. You know, now you have all these relationships, all of these advocates and what sometimes feels like a landslide of connections of details, of stories to tell. I think Cliff and I both have kind of threads in the story that we felt very personally convicted to bring to light. You know, there, there are some things that are explained that that I think I'd leave it to Cliff to kind of flesh out in more detail that have never been kind of discussed publicly before. But I think for me, you know, something that was incredibly important when evaluating how to take all of this material and put it in a film, which, although it's, it's a full-length film, felt a little short at the end, because we're trying to stuff so much stuff into it. For me, it was really understanding how can we convey the humanity and the human cost at every step in the story. So the film opens, really, with an understanding of 9/11, and the human loss on 9/11. And then you go through a hunt that is marked by people who are incredibly human. I hope we've captured them, kind of their frustration, but also their commitment, and even their human sacrifice in terms of seeing this through policymakers, when they're discussing the hunt, the odds that Cliff described earlier, really thinking about the people who are going to be doing this and what they're putting, those people in that situation that they're asking them to expose themselves to, and then the military members who take on kind of the risk and see the mission through. And so I think, because of all the interviews with so many generous, unseen individuals, we're able to kind of get a sense of the people that the real people who kind of were involved in the story, and I hope we've done a good job and kind of lending some some of their personalities to tell the story.

Man, I can't wait to see it. What sorts of things are easier to understand and analyze and contextualize, with the benefit of 10 years of hindsight?

Well, I do think there was an awareness in the community at large, that one of the failures of 9/11 was the lack of communication across agencies, and between the intelligence and the military world. And they tried to fix that right away. And because of, you know, tradition and culture, and just the different approaches, that wasn't an easy fix. But once we were fighting in Afghanistan, and then in Iraq, it was something they realized, you just had to do it, because you were losing service members on the battlefield there. And there was always a sense that al-Qaida was still out there, bin Laden was still out there, and didn't know what they were planning. But you knew they were planning something, and so you know, that prospect of another catastrophe, or simply not doing enough to protect American military personnel on the battlefield, that really broke down a lot of barriers. And it's a remarkable story, because, you know, the techniques, the practices that were sort of implemented over years before the raid in Pakistan, were the very same techniques and practices that were applied to solve this problem of what's going on in that compound. And so even though it was from the distance factor, and from the political factor of going into an allied sovereign nation without their permission, and conducting a military operation, in the heart of a populated area, the people who knew how to do this, were confident that they could do it, and they had done things like this enough and work together enough that, you know, it was more complicated, certainly, and more risky because of the factors involved. But you know, as one of the SEALs says in one of the interviews, that a raid is a raid is a raid. You know, we know how to do this. It's really, you know, a remarkable piece. And the aviation piece of this is also something that -- the whole mission was about four hours. Forty minutes of that mission, were on the ground, which means more than three hours, the operators were basically passengers on what one of the SEALs called a ginormous bus. And so the success of the mission is in the hands of the pilots, and how they conduct themselves and how they're prepared for this and what they know about the conditions that they're flying in all of this interaction. And all of the key actors had worked with one another on other missions before they knew one another, they trusted one another. And so again, that period, through war, of really developing expertise and trust, I think it was key to what would ultimately happen and what the U.S. military has learned about how to conduct these kinds of operations.

To build on that, are there indicators that events would play out differently if they happen today? You talked about the need to communicate better. I know that's not a problem that probably will ever be fully solved.

You know, the thing that The experts always say is that the threat changes. And so 9/11 was a product of al-Qaida, which was at that point, a structured administrated centralized organization, with, for a terrorist group, you know, reasonably efficient command and control. The years since have seen that central structure come under enormous pressure and break in many ways. But the threat has splintered into other groups that may be connected with al-Qaida or not, may have been inspired by al-Qaida may have said al-Qaida didn't go far enough, as the Islamic State did. Or that you might have these so called "lone actor" terrorists who radicalize online or through personal contacts with people and decide on their own as some ideologists of the Jihad have urged them, just to attack people where you can. I mean, we don't want to have a centralized structure anymore, or we can't sustain a centralized structure anymore. But it doesn't change what the mission needs to be. That threat changes. Therefore, how we study it, how we understand it has to change, and how we respond to it has to change.

One aspect of the way the story is told, and you've already referred to this, is there are these educational materials for high schoolers to discuss 911 and the hunt for bin Laden and Operation Neptune Spear. Today's high schoolers obviously have no memory of 9/11, which is a little bit shocking for older Millennials like me to contemplate. And in fact, there are even soldiers and Marines and service members who have deployed to Afghanistan with no memory of 9/11, which is the nexus for the start of this war. Why was it so important to provide an entry point for high schoolers into this material?

For me, I think so much of and I'm also speaking from an older Millennial perspective, but our department or my department in the museum is focused on education. And I lean on my colleagues and their expertise to work specifically with students. But I think all of us on the education team feel really strongly that the world that we live in today is shaped so much by the events of 9/11 and the events that followed, I think it's important to contextualize it because we understand that the leadership lessons, the incredible stories of courage and of commitment, that they have resonances with what is going on in the world today. And I think that trying to engage students, and trying to kind of connect them with the importance of understanding our shared history is just so, so important and so central, as they think about, you know, where they're going to be in the next 10 years.

You know, this is the 10th anniversary of the bin Laden raid, but it's also the 20th anniversary, this September, of 9/11. Twenty years is the span of a generation. Think about it. I mean, nobody who's in high school was even born when 9/11 happened. And if you're in college, you may have been born, but you were a year or two old and you're not going to remember it. And so it's a funny thing that happens with history and a museum like ours. When we started this project, and I go way back to, I wasn't in junior high school when this happened. So the thought was, well, everybody knows this story. So you know, what's going to make our presentation of the story compelling? Well, 20 years pass, and that assumption is completely out the window. Not everybody knows this story. In fact, every day, more people don't know this story. And so the challenge for the museum of telling this story, and as Jess says, explaining just how significant this moment in history was, and continues to be. Now that becomes, I think, frankly, more than we imagined it 15 years ago, that becomes central to the mission of our current-day museum and will only grow in importance every day. I mean, think about, it's not just the attack and the vulnerability. It's the response of this country. I mean, I don't know if you guys remember. But, you know, this country came together across all divides, across all barriers, I mean, all the things we're struggling with as a society today, were wiped away by the common solidarity and feeling that service was spontaneously the outcome of Americans reactions to 9/11. Not just Americans, people around the world. If we're thinking about where we are today, look back and ask the question, what was it that gave us this kind of resilience and solidarity 20 years ago? What's missing? What can we do about it now? Because it's better to be like that than it is to be at each other's throats. And so, you know, that's how the mission of the museum evolves. It's always rooted in 9/11 and telling that story, but there's no fixed point where you can say Hey, okay, this is over, let's turn the page. It just doesn't happen like that.

I have one final question that I hope that both of you will answer in your own way. What larger story do you think all the events that you cover in this documentary, and the accompanying presentation, tell us about America?

I think, you know, going back to personal experience again, and also I was on the West Coast when 9/11 happened, and now have spent most of my adult life on the East Coast. So I consider myself a New Yorker. But I think the breadth of characters of people who undertake this work is pretty remarkable, you know, something that I can say without necessarily speaking to specific identities, but the the number of women who are involved in this work and who take on, you know, risk and responsibility. I'm hopeful that, that when people watch this film, that they're going to see something in it that reminds them of themselves and where they they are in life and how they can contribute to society, but can also just recognize the importance of working together. And this is just to kind of pick up on what Cliff was just saying, that almost everybody who we interviewed for this film, mentioned, at some point in their interview, just looking back and thinking how remarkable it is when everybody learns how to place trust in one another when everyone works together, when everyone is committed to a common purpose. And I think that obviously can be applied into situations that are not exactly like this, but even the environments that all of us work in and live in. That's kind of that that's where I where I land on the film.

Yeah, I agree. You know, as we've gotten to know some of the folks involved, it's very obvious that they disagree about things, they don't all see the world the same way. And yet, when they were required to do something for the common good, the only factor was how to succeed in doing that task. Everything else was secondary. And it's been my good fortune to see some of those relationships in action, to see how they relate to one another, in spite of whatever other differences that are much, much smaller in importance than the things they have in common. But in spite of their differences, there is a sense of mutual recognition in the idea that they went through this together, they took the risks together, they understood that the most important thing in these circumstances is to be able to count on the other person you're working with, regardless of anything else. And every one of them came through for everybody else when they needed to. That's just a remarkable story. And it is really what it is to offer the best of your service on behalf of your country. And really on behalf of the common humanity that you know, you share with everyone else who's involved in this. And of course, for the families of the 9/11 victims, for the victims themselves who were killed. I mean, that focal point of the mission, never faltered through the hunt, when they weren't finding anybody when they didn't know where to look. All of that drove them onward to this, you know, remarkable, remarkable success story.

Well, thank you both so much for being here today. This documentary, as you said, comes out May 2, what are the different ways that people can watch?

Well, the History Channel is going to be premiering it through their your cable provider. As of May 3, it's available through histories, website and digital platforms. And you have to sign on with your cable login information. And it's also available for sale through various streaming partners that provide History Channel broadcasts


Contents

Osama bin Mohammed bin Awad bin Laden was born in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. [8] In a 1998 interview, Al Jazeera, he gave his birth date as 10 March 1957. His father was Mohammed bin Laden, from Yemen. [9] Before World War I, Mohammed had emigrated from Hadhramaut, on the south coast of Yemen, to the Red Sea port of Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, where he began to work as a porter. Starting his own business in 1930, Mohammed built his fortune as a building contractor for the Saudi royal family during the 1950s. [10] Though there is no definitive account of the number of children born to Mohammed bin Laden, it is generally put at 58. [11] Mohammed bin Laden was married 22 times, although to no more than four women at a time per Sharia law. Osama was the only son of Mohammed bin Laden and his tenth wife, Hamida al-Attas, née Alia Ghanem, [12] who was born in Syria. [13]

Bin Laden's parents divorced soon after he was born, according to Khaled M. Batarfi, a senior editor at the Al Madina newspaper in Jeddah who knew him during the 1970s. Bin Laden's mother then married a man named Muhammad al-Attas, who worked at the bin Laden company. The couple had four children, and bin Laden lived in the new household with three half-brothers and one half-sister. [12]

Osama bin Laden was raised as a devout Sunni Muslim. [14] Bin Laden's father ensured that he was regularly attending school. Bin Laden attended schools with some Western curricula and culture. No evidence has been found that he ever received full-time education in a religious madrassa. He was likely educated for some of his primary school years in Syria and that may have been in connection to his mother's frequent visits to Latakia, Syria. By the time bin Laden was an 8th grader, "he was a solid if unspectacular student". His mother remembered that he was "not an A student. He would pass exams with average grades." [15]

In the mid-1960s, around age 10, bin Laden briefly attended Brummana High School, a Quaker institution in Brummana, Lebanon, along with several of his half brothers. [15] Five former administrators and students said he attended for less than a year before returning home they did not say or recall why he left, but his leaving was not due to poor behavior or grades. [16] Renee Bazz, a former administrative staff member, said that bin Laden went to another school in Lebanon before he attended Brummana. [17] British comedian and journalist Dom Joly claimed on an episode of BBC's Would I Lie To You? that he attended Brummana High School with bin Laden. [18]

He seemed to have stayed in Latakia for a period. He moved back to Jeddah in the following September. [17] From 1968 to 1976 he attended Al Thager academy. [19] Bin Laden was probably in the fifth or sixth grade when he began attending school. [20] In the 1960s, King Faisal had welcomed exiled teachers from Syria, Egypt, and Jordan, so that by the early seventies it was common to find members of the Muslim Brotherhood teaching at Saudi schools and universities. During that time, bin Laden became a member of the Brotherhood and attended its political teachings during after-school Islamic study groups. [ citation needed ]

Bin Laden earned a degree in civil engineering in 1979 from King Abdulaziz University in Jeddah. Despite his major subject, at university his main interest was religion he was involved in both in interpreting the Quran and charitable work. [21] A close friend reports, "we read Sayyid Qutb. He was the one who most affected our generation." [22] Sayyid Qutb himself, author of Ma'alim fi-l-Tariq, or Milestones, one of the most influential tracts on the importance of jihad against all that is un-Islamic in the world, [23] was deceased, but his brother and publicizer of his work, Muhammad Qutb, lectured regularly at the university. So did another charismatic Muslim Brotherhood member, Abdallah Azzam, an Islamic scholar from Palestine who was instrumental in building pan-Islamic enthusiasm for jihad against the Soviets in Afghanistan and in drawing Muslims (like Osama) from all over the Middle East to fight there. [24]

Bin Laden was described by University friend Jamal Khalifa as extremely religious. Neither man watched films nor listened to popular music, because they believed such activities went against the teachings of the Qur'an. During his University career he witnessed many world-changing events, especially in 1979. First he watched the Iranian Revolution, in which Ayatollah Khomeini overthrew Iran’s Western supported government to install an Islamist state. Then he saw the seizure of the Grand Mosque in Mecca by radicals in Saudi Arabia and the Saudi government’s dependent response and reliance on Western power. It was not until the French special forces came in that the government was able to regain control of Mecca’s holiest site. Bin Laden was disgusted with his government’s lack of ability to protect the sacred city, and he began to see the royal family more and more as corrupt. Finally, he ended 1979 ready to fight off the invading Soviets in Afghanistan.

In regard to his Islamic learning, bin Laden was sometimes referred to as a "sheikh", considered by some to be "well versed in the classical scriptures and traditions of Islam", [25] and was said to have been mentored by scholars such as Musa al-Qarni. [26] He had no formal training in Islamic jurisprudence, however, and was criticized by Islamic scholars as having no standing to issue religious opinions (fatwa).

Bin Laden is reported to have married at least five women, [6] although he later divorced the first two. Three of Osama bin Laden's wives were university lecturers, highly educated, from distinguished families. According to Wisal al Turabi, bin Laden married them because they were "spinsters", who "were going to go without marrying in this world. So he married them for the Word of God". [4] [5] His known wives were:

  1. Najwa Ghanhem (born 1960), a Syrian, also known as Umm Abdullah (mother of Abdullah). [27] Najwa was "promised" in marriage to bin Laden. [28] Bin Laden married her in 1974 in Latakia in northwestern Syria. [4][5] After the birth of their first son, Abdullah, they moved from his mother's house to a building in the Al-Aziziyah district of Jeddah. She is the mother of Saad bin Laden, as well as at least 10 more children. She co-authored Growing Up bin Laden with her son Omar. [29] Her children did not like life in Khartoum and even less life in Afghanistan. [30] She left bin Laden around 2001, about the same time as his marriage to Amal al-Sadah. She returned to Syria and was last reported living in Latakia. [31] Her father is the brother of bin Laden's mother, Hamida al-Attas (born Alia Ghanem). [28]
  2. Khadijah Sharif (born 1948), also known as Umm Ali (mother of Ali). She was a university lecturer who studied and worked in Saudi Arabia. [32][33] Umm Ali bin Laden spent holidays in Khartoum, Sudan, where bin Laden later settled during his exile in the years 1991 to 1996. According to Wisal al Turabi, the wife of Sudanese politician Hassan Turabi, Umm Ali taught Islam to some families in Riyadh, an upscale neighborhood in Khartoum. According to Abu Jandal, bin Laden's former chief bodyguard, while living in Sudan, Umm Ali asked bin Laden for a divorce because she said that she "could not continue to live in an austere way and in hardship". [4][5]
  3. Khairiah Saber, also known as Umm Hamza (mother of Hamza). A child psychologist with a PhD in Islamic studies, [31] she was reportedly bin Laden's favorite wife, and the most mature, being seven years his senior. She had only one child, a son. Though she had a frail constitution and was not beautiful, she was from "a wealthy and distinguished family", exuded a "regal quality", and "was deeply committed to the jihadi cause". [34] News reports suggest that she was living in bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan at the time of bin Laden's death.
  4. Siham Sabar, also known as Umm Khaled (mother of Khaled). A teacher of Arabic grammar, she kept her university job and commuted to Saudi Arabia during their time in Sudan. [35] News reports suggest that she was living in bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan at the time of bin Laden's death.
  5. Amal Ahmed al-Sadah (born March 27, 1982) was bin Laden's youngest wife. [31] Born Amal Ahmed Abdulfattah in Yemen, she married bin Laden in 2000. The marriage between Amal al-Sadah and bin Laden was apparently part of a "political arrangement" between bin Laden and "an important Yemeni tribe, meant to boost al-Qaeda recruitment in Yemen". [36] Amal al-Sadah was identified as living in the compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan at the time of bin Laden's death, along with Siham Sabar and Khairiah Sabar, the other two wives of bin Laden. [37] She was injured in the calf in the raid. [31] Bin Laden commissioned Rashad Mohammed Saeed Ismael to choose the bride and arrange the marriage. [38]

On 27 April 2012, BBC News reported that the three widows as well as eleven children of Osama bin Laden were deported to Saudi Arabia from the Pakistani capital, Islamabad. However, since the youngest of his widows, Amal Ahmed al-Sadah, is a Yemeni, it is believed that she will travel on to Yemen. [39]

Bin Laden fathered between 20 and 24 children. [7] The children of his first wife, Najwa, include Abdallah (born c. 1976), Omar, Saad and Mohammed. His son Mohammed Babrak bin Laden (born c. 1983) married the daughter of the former al-Qaeda military chief Mohammed Atef (also called Abu Haf) in January 2001, at Kandahar. [40]

The FBI described Osama bin Laden as tall and thin, between 6 feet 4 inches (1.93 m) and 6 feet 6 inches (1.98 m) in height and weighing about 165 pounds (75 kg). Interviewees of Lawrence Wright, on the other hand, described him as quite slender, but not particularly tall. [41] He had an olive complexion, was left-handed, and usually walked with a cane. He wore a plain white turban and did not wear the traditional Saudi male headdress, generally white. [42]

In terms of personality, bin Laden was described as a soft-spoken, mild mannered man. [43] His soft voice was also a function of necessity. Interviews with reporters had reportedly left his vocal cords inflamed and bin Laden unable to speak the following day. His bodyguard contended Soviet chemical weapons were to blame for this malady reporters have speculated that kidney disease was the cause. [44]

The author Adam Robinson has alleged that bin Laden supported Arsenal Football Club, visiting the team's stadium twice when he visited London in 1994. [45]

Bin Laden's "wealth and generosity . simplicity of . behaviour, personal charm and . bravery in battle" have been described as "legendary." [46] According to Michael Scheuer, bin Laden claims to speak only Arabic. In a 1998 interview, he had the English questions translated into Arabic. [47] But others, such as Rhimaulah Yusufzai and Peter Bergen, believe he understood English. [48]

Bin Laden had been praised for his self-denial, despite his great wealth – or former great wealth. While living in Sudan, a lamb was slaughtered and cooked every evening at his home for guests, but bin Laden "ate very little himself, preferring to nibble what his guests left on their plates, believing that these abandoned morsels would gain the favor of God." [49]

Bin Laden was said to have "consciously modeled himself" since childhood "on certain features of the Prophet's life", using "the fingers of his right hand," rather than a spoon when eating, believing it to be sunnah: "the way the Prophet did it, . choosing to fast on the days that Prophet fasted, to wear clothes similar to those the Prophet may have worn, even to sit and to eat in the same postures that tradition ascribes to him." [50]

At the same time, other actions of his were motivated by concern for appearances. Bin Laden was known for his media savvy, using the Islamic imagery of the cave in Tora Bora "as a way of identifying himself with the prophet in the minds of many Muslims," despite the fact the caves in question were tunnels dug with the modern technology of earth moving machinery to store ammunition. [51] He had dyed his beard to cover the streaks of gray. [52] In 2001 he restaged a recitation of a poem intended for Arab television when he wasn't satisfied with the original video results done before an audience at his son's wedding dinner. The second take, done the next day after the wedding was over, had a handful of supporters crying in praise to simulate the noise of the full room the day before. [53] "His image management extended to asking one of the reporters, who had taken a digital snapshot, to take another picture because his neck was 'too full'". [53]


What Is a Jihad?

"Jihad" is an Arabic word meaning "to try." In Islam, jihad is considered a religious obligation, and Muslims who are involved in a jihad are called mujahideen (holy warriors). It is an important concept in Islam, and especially to Osama bin Laden, who regarded his terrorist activities as part of a jihad. In Islam, the word jihad can carry several different meanings.

On one level a jihad can be personal—the act of trying to observe the teachings of Islam in one's personal life, as well as promoting justice and Islamic teachings. Jihad is also referred to in the Koran (Islam's holy book) as a holy war, either to defend Islam against attack by nonbelievers or to use military force to expand Islamic influence and convert nonbelievers. For Muslims, spreading the word of Islam is a duty that knows no national boundaries.

Among the people outside Afghanistan who were drawn to this cause was bin Laden. In 1980, shortly after the Russian invasion, bin Laden visited Pakistan, where leaders of the Afghan resistance had found a safe place to hide. His family name and personal wealth gave bin Laden access to leaders in the struggle against the Russians, and he soon became caught up in the cause himself. For bin Laden the main issue was more religious than political.


Inside Bin Laden’s Files: GIFs, Memes, and Mr. Bean

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A view of the final hiding place of Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan. ASIF HASSAN/Getty Images

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It's not unusual for a laptop or external hard drive to house a bunch of old photos and documents, assorted GIFs and memes, home videos, pirated software and movies, and some porn. But when those things show up among infamous terrorist leader Osama bin Laden's digital files, it's worth a closer look.

On Wednesday, the Central Intelligence Agency released more than 470,000 files seized at Osama bin Laden's Abbottabad, Pakistan compound after the May 2011 raid that killed him. Hailed by researchers and international relations experts as a valuable gesture of transparency, the stash offers a window into the former Al-Qaeda leader's approach and plans, and insight into the terrorist group's global organizational structure, global network, and allies.

It also contains hallmarks of any person who uses the internet: copies of venerable film classics like Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs and Final Fantasy VII, episodes of Tom and Jerry, an IMAX version of Mysteries of Egypt, a download of the Charlie Bit My Finger viral YouTube video, a Mr. Bean episode, and 28 crocheting tutorials—including one for an "iPod Sock."

The new files expand a collection of declassified documents from Abbottabad that the Office of the Director of National Intelligence has published over the last three years. And it's impossible to know how much of that data was of specific interest to bin Laden, versus other residents of the compound.

Other gems include a lot of clip art, a video called "HORSE_DANCE," numerous episodes of a Jackie Chan television show, image files of the Yahoo logo, a few "funny cat" videos, and an image of a cute stuffed animal monkey.

“It’s like, ‘ooh Osama bin Laden is a Tom and Jerry fan!’ And maybe he is, it’s quite possible. I like Tom and Jerry, too,” says Bill Roggio, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the editor of its Long War Journal, which got early access to the trove from the CIA. “But I suspect a lot of the sort of frivolous or the personal stuff was more for his family.”

The diary and other communications clearly indicate, though, that this was the general computing environment bin Laden worked in, and they demonstrate that he was still very active in leading Al-Qaeda even after some reports claim the group forced him to retire. The files also show that bin Laden and those close to him were interested in how Western media depicted him. Agents found documentaries and news reports like "Biography – Osama bin Laden," "Where in the World Is Osama Bin Laden?" and "In the Footsteps of bin Laden – CNN" in the compound.

Other gems include a lot of clip art, a video called "HORSE_DANCE," numerous episodes of a Jackie Chan television show, image files of the Yahoo logo, a few "funny cat" videos, and an image of a cute stuffed animal monkey.

The release includes 174 gigabytes of video, 7.4 gigabytes of image files, and 18 gigabytes of documents, among other files. But while the CIA has made the trove public so anyone can examine it, the agency also cautions against downloading it onto a personal device. "Prior to accessing this file collection, please understand that this material was seized from a terrorist organization," the CIA landing page notes. "While the files underwent interagency review, there is no absolute guarantee that all malware has been removed."

The agency also says that it took steps to lock down the files in the collection so they can't be altered, perhaps to reduce the spread of manipulated duplicates that could be misleading.

With so much material now available, it will take time for experts to analyze and contextualize the information. Even in the preliminary phases, though, some details stand out beyond the pop culture dollops.

'It looks like the main story, at least in the US, will be the ties to Iran.

William Wechsler, Middle East Institute

For example, there are two videos from Hamza bin Laden's wedding (Osama bin Laden's son). Al-Qaeda has promoted Hamza since the death of his father, but the group has always published photos of him as a child, not an adult. The wedding footage would be a few years old, but gives a clearer sense of what he looks like now and indicates who was at his wedding, which could be useful for tracking connections and relationships within Al-Qaeda.

The files also contain a 19-page report about Al-Qaeda's connections to Iran. Other documents from this trove and previous releases expand the picture of tension, but also collaboration between Al-Qaeda and the Iranian government over the years. "Based on the initial reports, it looks like the main story, at least in the US, will be the ties to Iran," says William Wechsler, a senior fellow focused on national security and counterterrorism at the non-partisan Middle East Institute in Washington DC.

Given current tensions between the US and Iran, recently over President Donald Trump's move to decertify the Iran nuclear deal, any new information about Iran's interactions with terrorist groups could prove incendiary. The nature of the latest Abbottabad release is also interesting, given that the Office of the Director of National Intelligence concluded at the end of the Obama administration that no other data from the compound should be released to the public. This latest trove, which appears to originate from the CIA rather than the DNI, indicates that the Trump administration has taken a different tack.

For all the time one could spend cruising the bin Laden data for files like "_booby_2.JPEG" (yup), it's important not to lose sight of the Iran revelations—and what they might mean for an already tenuous relationship with the US.


The Osama bin Laden I Know

Peter Bergen's The Osama bin Laden I Know ( 978-0-7432-7891-1) is a book published in 2006. It is a comprehensive collection of personal accounts by people who have met Osama bin Laden or worked with him at various stages of his terrorist career.

Peter Bergen’s 2006 book, The Osama bin Laden I Know: An Oral History of Al-Qaeda’s Leader, reads like an encyclopedia on the subject of Osama bin Laden. From the beginning stages of bin Laden’s life in the port city of Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, to the founding of his Al-Qaeda organization in the wake of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and further on, bin Laden’s jihad against the United States, culminating in the September 11 attacks in the United States, Bergen’s work takes a personal approach with his research.

Bergen interviewed key witnesses such as Khaled Batarfi, bin Laden’s next-door neighbor in Jeddah, who recalled that the young bin Laden enjoyed American television programs and especially Bruce Lee movies at the same time that he was notably religious, even as a teenager. Later, the reader is shown minutes of the meeting where bin Laden and several others created Al-Qaeda. At another point, the transcript of an interrogation of Shadi Abdalla by German police reveals how he became bin Laden’s bodyguard, and a part of his inner circle, in 2000. Further excerpts exhibit a divide within Al-Qaeda over the September 11th attacks, with some members of the group stating that they felt that it was wrong to use airliners to attack the World Trade Center, resulting in the deaths of women, children, and citizens of neutral nations.

Later on, the reader is given access to materials showing Al-Qaeda was hopeful about acquiring weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear material. Finally, Bergen ponders bin Laden’s legacy and notes that bin Laden had “painted [himself] into a corner, where [the] only strategy [was] to call for more violence.” As we now know, bin Laden’s affiliates in Iraq would heed this call via their evolution into ISIS.

Former counterterrorism advisor to George W. Bush, Richard A. Clarke, in The Washington Post calls Bergen’s work a “go-to resource” that provides insight into the life of Osama bin Laden with a level of detail that is unprecedented. [1] Max Rodenbeck of The New York Review of Books, says that Bergen has created a “fascinating sequence of oblique-angled perspectives, casting light on the underlying motives of bin Laden and his companions and revealing some of his less-remarked but significant adventures.” [2]

L. Carl Brown at Foreign Affairs Magazine praises Bergen’s ability to create a “coherent and dramatic account” from such a large collection of individual sources. [3] Barry Rubin in the Claremont Review of Books offers that Bergen’s book is a “remarkable read,” and says that while “the constant switching of sources is somewhat jarring, the book provides the clearest narrative account of bin Laden’s life.” [4] Writing for The Guardian, Jason Burke calls The Osama bin Laden I Know, “simply one of the most important works to have been published [about bin Laden].” [5]


The life and death of Osama bin Laden

Osama bin Laden, the longtime al-Qaeda leader and chief architect of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States, was killed on May 1, 2011, by U.S. forces. He was 54 years old. He was born into Saudi riches, only to end up leading a self-declared holy war against the United States as head of one of the most ruthless, far-flung terrorist networks in history. The following is a timeline detailing major events in bin Laden's life.

Mohammed bin Laden and his wife, Alia, give birth to Osama bin Laden, which means "young lion" in Arabic.

Mohammed bin Laden, Osama's father, dies in a plane crash in Saudi Arabia.

Bin Laden marries his first wife, Najwa, a 14-year old cousin whom he came to know during sojourns to Syria to visit his mother's family. He takes a second, and then third wife after university. He has fathered at least 23 children.

Bin Laden enters Jeddah's King Abdulaziz University, where he participates in the Muslim Brotherhood - an Islamist organization intent on imposing Koranic law throughout Muslim societies.

The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan begins late in the year. It profoundly influences bin Laden's course. Muslims around the world rally to the Afghan cause.

1980s

After graduating from King Abdul Aziz University with a civil engineering degree, Osama bin Laden went to Afghanistan to help finance, recruit and train Afghan freedom fighters, or mujahideen, battling against Soviet forces deployed to support Afghanistan's communist government.

Bin Laden finances Abdullah Azzam and his establishment of a Services Office in Peshawar, Pakistan. Azzam, a radical Palestinian professor of Islamic studies uses the Services Office as a clearinghouse for information about the Afghan war and a vehicle for channeling recruits into Afghanistan.

Bin Laden moves his family to Peshawar and throws himself more actively into the war in Afghanistan.

With ethnic Afghan factions fighting increasingly among themselves, bin Laden moves back to Saudi Arabia.

Al-Qaeda established "the Base" in Afghanistan, to serve as a resource for radical Muslims

Osama bin Laden reportedly receives about $8 million in cash as part of a one-time distribution to Mohammed bin Laden's heirs.

Bin Laden leaves Saudi Arabia, settling in Sudan, whose ruler, Hassan al-Turabi, shares bin Laden's dream of establishing a purist Islamic state.

After trying unsuccessfully to persuade bin Laden to cease his militant activities and return to Saudi Arabia, his siblings publicly repudiate him in February. His shares of the family business are sold, and he is cut off from all dividend and loan payments. Saudi Arabia revokes his citizenship.

Under pressure from the Saudis and Americans, Sudanese authorities force bin Laden out of the country, and seize a number of his personal assets. He relocates to the Afghan city of Jalalabad and declares war against the United States.

Bin Laden reunites with Ayman al-Zawahari, longtime al-Qaeda leader, and they announce a new coalition, the International Islamic Front for Jihad Against the Crusaders and the Jews.

Late 1998

Suicide truck bombers affiliated with al-Qaeda strike U.S. embassies in Nairobi, Kenya and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, killing 224 people, and wounding several thousand more. President Bill Clinton orders cruise missiles to fire at targets in Afghanistan and Sudan, but bin Laden is not hurt.

Oct. 2000

Al-Qaeda strikes again, when two Yemeni operatives ram a skiff full of explosives into the hull of the U.S. destroyer USS Cole in the Yemeni port of Aden, killing 17 U.S. sailors and injuring more than 30 others.

Sept. 11, 2001

Al-Qaeda carries out the Sept. 11 attacks, hijacking planes in flying them into landmark targets in the U.S.

Dec. 2001

Bin Laden's base in the Tora Bora mountains of Afghanistan is captured by U.S. backed forces, but bin Laden is not found.

Gene Thorp - The Washington Post

  1. Nov. 10: Osama bin Laden makes his last public appearance.
  2. Early December: U.S.-backed forces drive al-Qaeda fighters from their Tora Bora stronghold.
  3. Mid-December: Osama bin Laden escapes in to Pakistan.

Sept. 2002

Al-Jazeera broadcasts tape claiming to be the voice of bin Laden, honoring the Sept. 11 attackers.

Sept. 2004

In a video, bin Laden claims credit for orchestrating the Sept. 11 attacks.

March 25, 2005

Bin Laden releases a video threatening the United States. (VIDEO)

Nov. 2007

Excerpt of the November 29, 2007 propaganda video "To the European Peoples." Video by SITE Intelligence Group

After Sept. 11, bin Laden periodically appeared in video and audio releases to communicate with the world.

Jan. 2010

In an audio message, bin Laden takes responsibility for the failed "Christmas Day Bombing" attempted in Detroit.

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