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

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.
Written by Emil Protalinski, Contributor

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:

Editorial standards