The Obama administration released a collection of videos Saturday of Osama bin Laden that were seized at the compound where he was killed, part of a vast collection of data that U.S. intelligence officials said show that bin Laden remained highly active in directing the terrorist group.
The trove of data shows that “this compound in Abbottabad was an active command and control center for al-Qaeda’s top leader,” a senior U.S. intelligence official said in a briefing at the Pentagon. “It is clear . . . that he was not just a strategic thinker for the group. He was active in operational planning and in driving tactical decisions.”
The videos provide postmortem 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 contained on the videos or give the al-Qaeda chief a propaganda platform after his death.
The decision to release the footage — and the choice of which segments to share from a broader collection now 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 the al-Qaeda leader in settings that might embarrass him 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 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 show a continued focus 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.
Already this week the Department of Homeland Security issued a bulletin based on intelligence gleaned from the bin Laden materials suggesting al-Qaeda was plotting an attack on railways in the United States, perhaps to coincide with the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
Bin Laden was killed in a pre-dawn raid Monday in Pakistan by a team of U.S. Navy SEALs. His corpse was carried away by the assault force and later buried in the Arabian Sea.
The U.S. official said DNA comparisons of bin Laden’s body with samples taken from known relatives prove with near-perfect certainty that the man killed at the Pakistani compound was the al-Qaeda leader. The chance of a false positive from the DNA comparisons is “approximately one in 11.8 quadrillion,” the intelligence official said.