Washington: For years after the 9/11 terror attacks, top US officials claimed that Osama bin Laden was a man on the run and incapable of overseeing Al-Qaeda but newly declassified files seized from his hideout in Pakistan show he was operating more like a Fortune 500 CEO until he was killed in 2011.
Osama wrote hundreds of memos, letters and video messages containing explicit and detailed orders for his lieutenants, along with personal, security-obsessed missives for his family members, declassified files obtained by ABC News show.
"Bin Laden was very hands on with Al-Qaeda's day-to-day operations but he seemed somewhat out of touch," a senior US intelligence official familiar with the documents commented.
The 54-year-old Al-Qaeda leader, who had a USD 27 million bounty on his head, did all the work using a network of trusted couriers carrying tiny, easily concealable cell phone computer chips to carry his communications back and forth from his hideout in Abbottabad to relatives held in Iran, media outlets, and to his lieutenants in Somalia, Afghanistan, North Africa, Iraq and many other places, the report said.
Bin Laden himself explained how it worked in letters such as one in early 2011 to one of his wives, seeking her advice on how to exploit the news media to hype the triumph of the upcoming tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.
"I will ask the brother with you to buy you a computer and accessories. I am enclosing to you everything on my computer in terms of statements or ideas. I hope that you review them and give me your impressions.
"I will also ask for the brother to buy SIM cards that you can use to communicate with me and your messages. What you write and tell me in terms of ideas, I will include in the statements," Bin Laden told her.
"Of course you know how important they are and how we need to exploit [9/11] in the media as the embodiment of the victories of Muslims.”
He often inquired about his children and what they were being taught in school, gave advice on avoiding security surveillance — once fearing his wife may have been bugged without her knowledge — and made arrangements to move his relatives discreetly between countries and regions. The letters indicate his wife Khairiah was able to send her responses back to her husband.
For years, former President George W Bush and his advisers spoke of Bin Laden as "hiding in a cave" and dodging missiles from CIA drones.
One senior Bush administration official said in a 2004 speech that Bin Laden "spends most of his time trying to figure out how 'they're going to come for me' and 'is this going to be the day?'"
But by the time Bin Laden settled in the Abbottabad house maintained by two Kuwaiti brothers around 2006 or 2007, the documents show he was operating more like a Fortune 500 chief executive, the report said. While most of the tranche of files found at his hideout in Pakistan have not yet been cleared for public release, officials said most of the massive archive from hard drives and hard copies curiously are dated after 2009.
The documents also reveal that as far back as the mid-2000s there were fears from some in Al-Qaeda that some in the group's Iraq franchise were attempting to split from the "core" organisation based in Pakistan.
Years later, those concerns would prove prescient as Al-Qaeda-Iraq (AQI) evolved into Islamic State and publicly turned on its parent group, the report said.