He exhorted followers to explore ways to recruit non-Muslims “who are oppressed in the United States,” in the words of one official — particularly African Americans and Latinos — and to assemble a plot in time for the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.
Even while sealed inside a cement compound in a Pakistani city, bin Laden functioned like a crime boss pulling strings from a prison cell, sending regular messages to his most trusted lieutenants and strategic advice to far-flung franchises, including al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Yemen. Some followers pledged their fealty to him; others, however, chafed at his exhortations to remain focused on U.S. targets instead of mounting less risky operations in places such as Yemen, Somalia and Algeria.
“Bin Laden is saying, ‘You’ve got to focus on the U.S. and the West,’ ” said a senior U.S. intelligence official who was involved in reviewing the stockpile, adding that some of bin Laden’s followers seemed more concerned with regional issues and were reluctant to conduct an attack that would provoke an American response.
A little over a week after obtaining one of the largest intelligence hauls on a terrorist group, U.S. officials involved in reviewing the trove said they are learning more about bin Laden and the al-Qaeda bureaucracy than about the locations of operatives or specific plots that might be unfolding.
Overall, the officials said, the new information — as well as the lack of any apparent effort by bin Laden to prevent it from falling into U.S. hands — provides a strikingly rich portrait of the al-Qaeda chief.
“Bin Laden got lazy and complacent,” said the senior U.S. official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the information. “I don’t think he thought he would meet his maker in that house. And he certainly didn’t make any preparations” to escape a raid or destroy the information found inside, the official said.
Officials said they are still in triage mode as they sift through the contents of more than 110 flash drives, laptops and other digital storage devices, in addition to piles of paper documents. The trove, which represents millions of pages that must be translated from Arabic, is being scrutinized at a secret CIA facility in Northern Virginia. Analysts and Arabic linguists from other agencies are being brought in to review the materials.
The early effort has focused on searching the most recent materials for key words, including the names of major American cities. Analysts are also scanning for references to names of al-Qaeda figures, phone numbers and other details that could provide clues for CIA operatives and military counterterrorism teams working overseas.