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U.S. reveals what bin Laden had in his private library

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WASHINGTON — Osama bin Laden kept an extensive library of English-language books in the compound where he was killed in 2011, a collection whose titles appear to reflect the al-Qaida leader’s constant search for U.S. vulnerabilities and insights into troubled American military campaigns from Vietnam to the wars that followed the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Bin Laden’s bookshelf included “Imperial Hubris,” a critical account of U.S. counterterrorism programs by the former head of the CIA unit that was responsible for tracking the al-Qaida leader. Other books included a copy of “Obama’s Wars” by Bob Woodward, a history of the Federal Reserve, and — in perhaps an indirect acknowledgment of al-Qaida’s struggle to survive CIA drone strikes — a book on “antiaircraft weapons and techniques for guerrilla forces.”

The list of books was part of a broader collection of materials from bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan that was declassified and released on Wednesday by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

In a statement, the DNI described the materials as a “sizeable tranche of documents recovered during the raid on the compound used to hide Usama bin Ladin,” and said U.S. agencies are “reviewing hundreds more documents in the near future for possible declassification and release.”

The newly declassified stack includes letters bin Laden appears to have sent to al-Qaida lieutenants including Atiyah Abd al-Rahman, a Libyan who served as the terrorist network’s top operational planner and was killed in a 2011 drone strike.

There was also a mix of religious texts, think tank studies, software manuals and news articles — all part of a trove of materials gathered by Navy SEALs in the aftermath of the raid in which bin Laden was killed.

The U.S. government has previously released hundreds of files found on bin Laden’s computers in the Abbottabad compound, but the contents of the al-Qaida leader’s collection of English-language books was not previously disclosed.

U.S. officials said that they believe bin Laden could understand and read at least a basic level of English. His collection was dominated by non-fiction volumes on subjects as varied as ballot tampering in U.S. elections and the scale of U.S. assistance to Pakistan.

He kept a copy of a book, “America’s Strategic Blunders,” whose title might also serve as a theme of bin Laden’s broader interests. His other books included “Killing Hope: U.S. military and CIA Interventions since World War II” and “The New Pearl Harbor,” a book about the Bush administration’s response to the Sept. 11 attacks.

One of the odder entries in the collection is “A Brief Guide to Understanding Islam.”


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