The videos provide glimpses of bin Laden in settings that are familiar and surreal. In one, a noticeably gray-bearded bin Laden huddles under a wool blanket and uses a remote control to flip through news footage of himself on a small television propped up on a broken desk.
Another was described by the senior U.S. intelligence official as a previously unreleased “message to the American people,” in which bin Laden stands before a blue backdrop, wearing a gold robe and delivering a speech in which he “repeats the usual themes by condemning U.S. policy and denigrating capitalism.”
The administration did not release any audio from the segments or a transcript of what bin Laden said. The official said the government was reluctant to broadcast the messages on the videos or give al-Qaeda a propaganda platform after its leader’s death.
The decision to release the footage — and the choice of which segments to share from a broader collection in the possession of the CIA — appeared designed to provide new evidence that bin Laden was killed in the U.S. operation, and perhaps to present him in settings that might embarrass his followers or at least minimize his mystique.
The videos are part of a broader library of recordings that “would only have been in his possession,” said the U.S. intelligence official, who described other segments as fumbling “outtakes” from a terrorist leader who was “very interested in his own image.”
The official spoke on the condition of anonymity, citing the sensitivity of the intelligence on bin Laden.
The official disclosed few details about the contents of the more than 100 computers, drives and assorted digital storage devices recovered at the compound, except to say that they focused on planning attacks against the United States and other Western nations.
The CIA has created a task force involving at least nine other agencies, including the FBI and the Defense Department, that are likely to spend months combing through a collection that includes printed material, computer equipment, recording devices and handwritten documents, the official said.
The haul represents “the single largest collection of senior terrorist materials ever,” the official said. Underscoring the speed taken in scrutinizing the materials, the CIA is said to be producing a new intelligence report nearly every hour based on the information.
Already this week, the Department of Homeland Security issued a bulletin based on intelligence gathered from the bin Laden materials suggesting that al-Qaeda was plotting an attack on railways in the United States, perhaps to coincide with the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.