What 470K Files Seized After bin Laden's Death Reveal

Peter Bergen puts them to use in 'The Rise and Fall of Osama bin Laden'
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 8, 2021 10:00 AM CDT
What 470K Files Seized After bin Laden's Death Reveal
In this 1998 file photo made available on March 19, 2004, Osama bin Laden is seen at a news conference in Khost, Afghanistan.   (AP Photo/Mazhar Ali Khan, File)

Osama bin Laden used Just for Men hair dye. It's perhaps the least consequential detail shared in a New York Times review of a new book on the jihadist, but it reflects just how detailed Peter Bergen gets in The Rise and Fall of Osama bin Laden. Credit for that goes in part to the SEAL team who took the time to seize bin Laden's computers and files before exiting the compound where they had just assassinated him—470,000 files were released to the public in 2017. As the Lawfare Blog puts in, "few people have the expertise, the experience, and the time to go through those materials," as well as interview members of [bin Laden's] inner circle. Bergen is one of the few. Details:

  • The book itself. Writing for the Times, Louise Richardson calls the book "a page-turner that weaves back and forth between the man and the terrorist, providing poignant glimpses of key figures and carefully chronicling all the missed opportunities, ignored warnings, and strategic blunders of the United States."
  • One more thing she lauds. Richardson writes, "Rather than try to explain where bin Laden’s self-confidence came from, Bergen simply describes it. It is all the more fascinating as a result."

  • How he hid. Bergen shares the pains bin Laden took to shield himself, both from America's drones (he always wore a cowboy hat when he ventured outside) and from those in the compound with him. NPR has this detail: that one of the bodyguard's wives who was among the 27 total people living in the compound didn't even know bin Laden was living there.
  • His wives. His two older wives had PhDs, in child psychology and Koranic grammar, respectively. He relied on them for discussions of strategy and they helped craft his public statements. His fifth wife was quite the opposite: Wed in 2000, she was an uneducated 16-year-old Yemeni girl. Bergen contends the marriage was a strategic one designed to make Yemen look upon him more favorably should he have to flee there.
  • On family. NPR reports Bergen depicts bin Laden as "something of a family man," so much so that he had 15 family members with him at the compound. The Times' original headline on the piece called him a "devoted family man," but it was changed after an outcry. Fox News quotes this reaction from Robert O'Neill, the former SEAL who shot him: "Family man. He used his wife as a human shield. Lucky for me he was taller than her."
(More Osama bin Laden stories.)

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