If you’ve ever been curious as to the contents of Osama Bin Laden’s bookshelf, the U.S. government has you covered. The Obama administration released an extensive list of the belongings found by the Navy SEAL team that raided Bin Laden’s compound in 2011. Among the expected religious and extremist texts were several English-language books, materials that intelligence officials suspect Bin Laden used to better understand the West. Many of the “books” described were actually PDFs or digital files.
The English-language books found in Bin Laden’s compound include "Hegemony or Survival: America’s Quest for Global Dominance" and "Necessary Illusions: Thought Control In Democratic Societies" by Noam Chomsky; "Killing Hope: U.S. Military and CIA Interventions since World War II" by William Blum; "Obama’s Wars" by Bob Woodward; and "Secrets of the Federal Reserve" by Eustace Mullins. Many of the other books are somehow related to politics, history and American global dominance. Although these books are in English, their presence is hardly surprising. Bin Laden was likely looking for fuel to add to his anti-American flame, sourcing it straight from writers of the Western world. Bin Laden’s documents also included several texts and books regarding France, as well as think tank reports and many publicly-available U.S. government documents.
Conspiracy theories about 9/11 abound, and the man who claimed responsibility for the attacks themselves also appeared to be a participant. “In terms of the materials that are there, some of the things that we’ve found to be of note were that Bin Laden was probably an avid conspiracy theorist,” a senior intelligence official said to Buzzfeed. “Of the 38 full-length English-language books he had in his possession, about half of them were conspiracy theroy books.” One of those books includes "The New Pearl Harbor: Disturbing Questions About the Bush Administration and 9/11" by David Ray Griffin. While it’s impossible to predict the reason behind Bin Laden’s ownership of that book, it’s somewhat ironic to imagine him reading conspiracy theories about the terrorist plot he masterminded. Other conspiracy theory books included topics like Holocaust denial and the Illuminati.
The U.S. Office of the Director of National Intelligence also released several of Bin Laden’s personal correspondence with family members, as well as his essays and writings on topics like “Afghani Opportunity,” “German Economy” and “Revolutions.” Both English and Arabic-language versions of the documents are available for review on the site. All of them read as if written by the leader of the massive organization (which Bin Laden was) but are riddled with uncertainty and intellectual analyzation.
The conspicuous release of these documents comes at a time when the U.S. government has been forced to respond to doubts about the mission that killed Bin Laden in 2011. Seymour M. Hersh’s article in the London Review of Books, “The Killing of Osama bin Laden,” alleged that the Obama administration fabricated the narrative of the raid. Hersh alleged that the Pakistani government had known about Bin Laden’s whereabouts for years, and they had allowed the U.S. access to the compound where he was imprisoned in exchange for a monetary reward. Hersh also claimed that any documents released from the compound had been fabricated by the CIA. The White House has dismissed Hersh’s piece as having “too many inaccuracies and baseless assertions.”
Still, the timing of the release seems to reposition the U.S. government’s authority regarding the events of the raid. Although the contents of Bin Laden’s texts and reading list are fascinating, there’s nothing overwhelmingly surprising to be taken from the release. It simply confirms that Bin Laden was exactly what everyone expected — a political and religious leader obsessed with attacking the U.S, understanding the Western world and working toward dismantling it. The White House has claimed that additional documents are currently in the declassification process, so it remains to be seen whether any more insights about Bin Laden’s life can be obtained.