Bin Laden files 'reveal petty office politics within al-Qa'ida'

  • @guyadams

There's no escaping office politics, even when you're administering global jihad. Intelligence recovered from Osama bin Laden's final hideaway shows senior figures within al-Qa'ida caught up in petty squabbles and back-stabbing.

Emails being investigated by the CIA and other US counter-terrorism agencies suggest that life in the upper echelons of the organisation's hierarchy resembles an episode of The Office, with ambitious staff constantly vying for attention and "working the system".

The intelligence agencies have spent the five weeks since Bin Laden's death analysing five computers, 10 hard-drives, 110 thumb-drives and a handwritten journal from his compound in the Pakistani city of Abbottabad.

Officials told the Associated Press yesterday they are "95 per cent done" with the task of decrypting and translating the potentially priceless material and expect to complete their work by the middle of this month. Emails sent by senior al-Qa'ida figures in the years after 9/11 reveal heated debate on whether the organisation should commit further elaborate attacks on high-profile targets. Increased security measures around the world left many debating a shift to smaller operations against (relatively) unprotected targets.

Bin Laden continued to laud the merits of large-scale attacks, US officials say, but also embraced a shift to smaller operations by Yemeni supporters in the Arabian Peninsula as a way to, as AP puts it, "retain the broader organisation's image as a viable terrorist group able to strike US targets".

Since Bin Laden's death, many key players in the network have been watching their backs. Everyone he ever wrote to, spoke to, or mentioned is now under fresh scrutiny, US officials claim. The files allowed them to identify several individuals previously thought to be mid-level players, but had in fact risen to its upper echelons. At least two members of this group appear to be running scared and have recently changed travel plans to avoid becoming the targets of another raid by Navy Seals.

Fresh light has also been shed on Bin Laden's lifestyle since 9/11. Although he continued to talk a good game, there is no record of any terrorist operations he personally endorsed being successfully executed, except for violent incidents in Denmark, which he encouraged followers to commit after publication of cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed.

Last year, he told supporters to attack oil tankers in an effort to send prices sky-rocketing and shake the western economies. But no attack materialised.

Intelligence forces are starting to get a clearer picture of day-to-day life inside Bin Laden's compound, where his inner circle enjoyed a Spartan existence. They survived on a weekly delivery of one goat, plus milk from a couple of cows kept in the courtyard. There were also eggs from chickens and vegetables from a kitchen garden.

Officials haven't yet determined the sleeping arrangements for Bin Laden and his three wives. Although his rooms had the only air-conditioner in the compound, there were no heaters, despite local temperatures dropping to freezing in winter. That could explain a blanket the world's most-wanted man clutches around him in one of the videos recovered from his office.