Osama bin Laden didn't use encryption: 17 documents released

Osama bin Laden didn't use encryption: 17 documents released

Summary: Osama bin Laden didn't use encryption to protect the thousands of files stored in the Pakistani compound where he was killed. 17 of the 6,000 documents have now been publicly released.

TOPICS: Security

It appears that Osama bin Laden didn't encrypt any of his computer files. If he had, U.S. authorities probably wouldn't have been able to do much after confiscating them from his compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan.

U.S. officials have previously described the cache as the single largest collection of senior terrorist material ever obtained. It includes digital, audio and video files, printed materials, recording devices, as well as handwritten documents. It's not clear what percentage of the overall material is being made public, but we can presume the majority will remain classified for security purposes and the rest will not be released because they have limited value.

Now, 17 of the 6,000 documents seized during the raid on Osama Bin Laden's hideout just over a year ago have been made available. Found on the hard drives of five computers and 100 storage devices (USB sticks, memory cards, and other discs) after U.S. Navy Seals killed the terrorist chief, they are now are being made public for the first time.

The 17 documents have been released in their original Arabic (.zip) versions and in English translations (.zip). The Combating Terrorism Center at West Point website has provided the following summary:

This report is a study of 17 de-classified documents captured during the Abbottabad raid and released to the Combating Terrorism Center (CTC). They consist of electronic letters or draft letters, totaling 175 pages in the original Arabic and 197 pages in the English translation. The earliest is dated September 2006 and the latest April 2011. These internal al-Qa`ida communications were authored by several leaders, most prominently Usama bin Ladin. In contrast to his public statements that focused on the injustice of those he believed to be the “enemies” of Muslims, namely corrupt “apostate” Muslim rulers and their Western “overseers,” the focus of Bin Ladin’s private letters is Muslims’ suffering at the hands of his jihadi “brothers”. He is at pain advising them to abort domestic attacks that cause Muslim civilian casualties and focus on the United States, “our desired goal.” Bin Ladin’s frustration with regional jihadi groups and his seeming inability to exercise control over their actions and public statements is the most compelling story to be told on the basis of the 17 de-classified documents. “Letters from Abbottabad” is an initial exploration and contextualization of 17 documents that will be the grist for future academic debate and discussion.

The original documents range from two pages to 49 pages in length. They of course don't reveal everything about al Qaeda, but they do provide an unfiltered look at the terrorist group. The last document is dated just a week before the raid on the Abbottabad compound. It discusses the Arab Spring, and potential ways to exploit it.

Whether you are an entrepreneur, an employee of a corporation, or a terrorist mastermind, encryption is a must-use tool. That being said, I agree with Sophos, which doubts many will shed a tear over Osama bin Laden's poor security practices.

See also:

Topic: Security

Emil Protalinski

About Emil Protalinski

Emil is a freelance journalist writing for CNET and ZDNet. Over the years,
he has covered the tech industry for multiple publications, including Ars
Technica, Neowin, and TechSpot.

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  • Sucks for him...

    ... Great news for us.
    The one and only, Cylon Centurion
    • how exactly

      is this "great news". Let's see....America bogs itself down in the middle east for over a decade, spend trillions in war costs, thousands dead and tens of thousands critically injured..... if this is "great news", your standards are pretty low.
      • The breach is good news for us

        The fact that we're still at war with Al Qaeda is not.
        John L. Ries
      • Ask Bush.

        Not me.
        The one and only, Cylon Centurion
      • Any Cost

        The fact that America is willing to spend any cost to bring down the enemies of freedom is good news.
      • DNA and Facial recognition

        Why not release the DNA and facial recognition data? Instead, they throw this supposed paper trail at us.
      • Given that we can't go back and undo the decade of war, ...

        ..., trillions spent, and thousands dead; acquiring thousands of readable documents, containing potentially actionable intelligence is better than there having been no positive result. You can argue that we never should have initiated the "war on terror" to begin with. But, you can't argue that, having done so, we are better off having gained something from the loss of blood and treasure.
  • CIA payroll

    Gee I wonder if these documents are going to mention how Bin Laden was on the CIA payroll in the early 1980s. He was an asset against the Soviets in the Afghan war.

    You don't see that much in the mainsteam media eh?
    • It's long been known...

      ...and has been reported in the mainstream press. It just doesn't need to be trumpeted once a week and has no bearing at all on the fact that bin Laden and his followers subsequently became sworn enemies of the United States and its citizens (his followers still are).

      But yes, we should be a lot more careful about picking our allies (you might recall that we were allied with Stalin's Soviet Union in WWII). But in defense of both Franklin Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan, it's hard to predict the future, and necessity sometimes requires us to befriend the enemy of our enemy (but Stalin's post-WWII aggression was probably easier to predict than was bin Laden's jihad against the U.S.).
      John L. Ries
      • Its because

        CIA payroll JUST FOUND OUT! LOL! We all have known this before he became public enemy #1. When he was just a baby terrorist, the information was presented in the msm. Dont waste your time on this one. There are legitimate conspiracies that need to be trumpeted.
        Don in MO
      • whats Stalin's post ww2 aggression?

        never heard of any. at least the bad guy didnt finish the war with nuking some civilians, like the good guys did.
      • @Polarcat You're not serious, are you?

        Stalin installed puppet regimes across Eastern Europe after the end of WWII, which ruthlessly crushed dissent. In Hungary for example, approximately 350,000 officials and intellectuals were purged from 1948 to 1956. And of course there is a strong argument that far more people would have died if the US had not used nuclear weapons to force Japan to surrender when it did.
      • WWII,

        Funny thing about WWII allies...the US and Britain knew better than to trust Russia...they figured that whatever territory the Red Army rolled over was territory the never left. This was a motivational factor to ending the War against Japan before the Russians could recallibrate. Both the Soviets and the Nazis were developing nuclear weapons, and the Russians almost got there first. Demonstrating that ours worked not just ended the war with Japan quickly with minimal loss of American life, but kept the Russians out. So the people in charge knew better
      • Eastern Europe wasn't aggression.

        No fan of Stalin here, but the Soviet sphere of influence in eastern Europe wasn't aggression. It was agreed to by the Big Three because 1) the Soviets, after being bloodied by Nazi Germany did not want hostile states on its western border, and 2) after the territory was occupied in the course of the war against Germany, it was unrealistic to expect Stalin to cough it up to the West. Hungary and Romania had allied themselves with Nazi Germany. Poland, under the sponsorship of England and France, waged war on the Soviet Union from 1919-1921, trying to carve out an empire from the Ukraine to the Baltic states. Stalin's approach to eastern Europe was paranoid and repressive, but that paranoia was tied to experience.

        Churchill was a loose cannon who only made things worse. Once it was agreed that there would be a Soviet sphere of influence in eastern Europe, Churchill made no effort to facilitate a relationship between the Polish Government in Exile and the Soviets. As a result, the Soviets saw the PGIE as potentially hostile and saw Churchill as dealing in bad faith. That had a lot to do with the slide into the Cold War. Truman was too much of a lightweight to keep Churchill from poking the Soviets with sticks, unlike Roosevelt.

        Even the Korean war is falsely laid at the feet of the Soviet Union. The US and the Soviet Union bumbled and fumbled for five years while being manipulated by warlords who would only want Korea to be unified on *their* terms. Kim Il Sung invaded the south on a gamble that the Soviets would feel compelled to bail him out. Their support was lukewarm. They didn't want a military confrontation with the US any more than the US wanted a military confrontation with the Soviet Union.
        Lester Young
      • @jfsiegel

        The Soviet Union was not kept out of the east Asian theater by the atomic bomb. They invaded Manchuria per agreement with the US at Yalta. Also, developing an atomic bomb three years after the development of the American bomb hardly constitutes almost first.

        The Soviets quite early on figured that the Brits were untrustworthy. They had, after all, aided Poland's 1919-1921 war against the Soviet Union, turned their backs on the Spanish Republic in the face of fascist aggression, and encouraged Hitler to move closer to their turf at Munich. Keeping that distrust from blowing up the alliance speaks very well of Roosevelt's statesmanship.
        Lester Young
      • This has been LONG KNOWN too


        And I suppose that you'll say that the government officials that said they'd roll out Binnie boy when it was convenient are all full of crap too.
    • Because that's old news that everyone has heard

      so why keep bringing it up again, and again?
      John Zern
    • CIA payroll

      None of the documents are going to mention that bin Laden was on the CIA payroll because he never was on the CIA payroll. He fought against the Soviets, but he never had anything to do with the CIA. Bin Laden denied ever working for the CIA; the CIA has denied ever having him as an asset. There is no evidence of any relationship between the two, that's why you don't see any claim that bin Laden was on the CIA payroll in the mainstream media.
    • CIA Payroll

      That wouldn't make the Sheeple wanna kill brown people much
  • Oops

    Clearly he didn't think his equipment was going to be seized, but bin Laden was chronically overconfident. Apparently, it almost got him killed back in 2001-2002. I can't imagine that his successor is terribly happy about it and maybe this information should not have been released to the general public.
    John L. Ries