CIA released journal as part of 470,000 documents collected from Bin Laden’s house, showing he visited the UK as a teenager and found it to be ‘decadent’
A summer trip to the UK as a teenager and visits to Shakespeare’s birthplace convinced Osama bin Laden that the west was “decadent”, the late leader of al-Qaida and architect of the 9/11 attacks wrote in his personal journal shortly before he was killed by US special forces in 2011.
The journal is among 470,000 documents collected from the house where Bin Laden died that were released by the CIA on Wednesday. The agency said it had released the treasure trove “in the interest of transparency and to enhance public understanding of al-Qaida and [bin Laden].”
According to The Guardian, though there have been previous reports that Bin Laden travelled to the west, this is the first confirmation.
An entry in the nondescript school notebook describes how Bin Laden first travelled to “the west” for an unspecified “treatment” when he was in “sixth grade” and 13 years old.
The following year the teenager, the wealthy son of a billionaire Saudi construction tycoon, spent 10 weeks in Britain “studying”. Bin Laden gives no further details, but he has previously been reported to have taken an English language course at Oxford.
In the journal, Bin Laden briefly describes visiting the home of William Shakespeare in Stratford-upon-Avon but says he was “not impressed” by British society and culture during his time in the UK.
“I got the impression that they were a loose people, and my age didn’t allow me to form a complete picture of life there,” he wrote. “We went every Sunday to visit Shakespeare’s house. I was not impressed and I saw that they were a society different from ours and that they were a morally loose society.
The journal was bought in a well-known bookshop in Pakistan a few hours drive from the garrison town of Abbottabad, where Bin Laden spent five years with his family before his death.
The journal appears to be partially written by Bin Laden’s son, Khalid, who was also killed in the Navy Seal raid, and sometimes takes the form of a question and answer session between father and son.
The journal entries are at times apocalyptic, describing the two men’s dreams and visions, including a scenario in which Muslim countries unite after the revolutions and peace is established with the west – a prelude to the end times in some branches of Islamic theology.
At other times, Bin Laden appears more practical, discussing recommendations for al-Qaida’s messaging in the aftermath of the revolutions to better capitalize on rising Islamist sentiments and to take advantage of the wave of popular unrest.
Bin Laden’s mention of his feelings towards the west after his time in Britain will interest experts. Most accounts of his life say he was radicalised as a student and later when he became engaged as a volunteer organiser for Arab foreign fighters taking part in the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan from around 1981.
Osama bin Laden was accused of being the mastermind of the September 11, 2001 terror attacks in the US. PHOTO/FILE
Two years ago, the CIA released a list of books, articles, and declassified material it found on Osama bin Laden’s compound. Now, it’s released a trove of data found on the compound’s computers — some of which may seem incongruous with the idea of a terrorist leader who orchestrated the deaths of thousands of innocent people.
“CIA Director Mike Pompeo authorized the release in the interest of transparency and to enhance public understanding of al-Qaeda and its former leader,” read a statement by the CIA.
The hundreds of gigabytes worth of data, which can be found in full here, was split into four categories of audio, video, images, and documents. As of 9.55am Thursday, the files were unavailable to the public due to “technical reasons”.
While some of the data details politically relevant information — like al-Qaeda’s complicated relationship with Iran — the web has latched on to some of the more humanizing pieces of information.
Among the terrorism-related data lies files for Pixar’s Cars, the animated Chicken Little, and Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs. But it wasn’t only children’s films someone in the compound was watching: One video file entitled “Loosechange2” implies that bin Laden had access to conspiracy documentary Loose Change, which argues that 9/11 was an inside job.
Bin Laden’s compound also held saved tutorial videos on crocheting baskets, baby socks, and beanie caps
It also seems like someone at the compound was into anime for reasons other than pure entertainment. According to a report by Gizmodo, non-consecutive episodes of mystery anime Case Closed were found on the compound’s computers, as well as a series of pornographic games.
Bin Laden’s compound also had a downloaded file of one the internet’s first viral videos “Charlie Bit My Finger“, and a number of tutorial videos on crocheting the likes of baskets, baby socks, and beanie caps.
The data also revealed multiple video game files for the likes of Final Fantasy VII, Zuma Deluxe, and Sniper Elite: Nazi Zombie Army 2.
Of course, none of this data proves that bin Laden himself engaged with the content, but it is an interesting — and disconcertingly human — look into his mind, or the minds of those around him.
The US government has released hundreds of documents over recent years, though this is the largest such release.
The US-based website, The Long War Journal, received some material in advance and reported that the documents give new details of al-Qaida’s relationship with Iran.
One 19-page document contains a senior militant’s assessment of the group’s relationship with Iran, which describes an offer by Iran to provide some unidentified “Saudi brothers” with “money, arms” and “training in Hezbollah camps in Lebanon, in exchange for striking American interests in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf”.
It is not known if the offer was accepted – if it was made at all – and the inclusion of the document will raise suspicion that one motive for the release of the new hoard was to place material that casts Iran in a bad light in the public domain.
Mike Pompeo, the Trump-appointed director of the CIA, has a reputation for an aggressively hawkish stance on Iran.
The house in which Shakespeare was born in Stratford-upon-Avon. PHOTO/VISITBRITAIN
It has been known for some time that scores of senior al-Qaida officials and their families were held in Iran after fleeing there in the aftermath of 2011. However, the relationship between the detained militants and their captors was tense, and no solid evidence of active cooperation on terrorist operations has yet emerged.
Among the material released by the CIA was some which suggested Bin Laden’s time in the UK may have had a deeper influence than he may have admitted.
Loaded on one computer was video of the Rowan Atkinson comedy Mr Bean dubbed in Pashtu, the local language in western Pakistan and eastern Afghanistan, episodes of the animated programme Wallace and Gromit, and the viral video “Charlie bit my finger”.
There were also more than 30 videos on crocheting.