A total of 113 additional documents from the material seized in the raid of the Osama bin Laden compound in 2011 were declassified on March 1, 2016. Prior to this, some of the material was declassified in May, 2015. The collection of information provides a window into bin Laden’s way of thinking and his concerns, especially evident in his letters to his family and closest friends. For example, he left a handwritten will that specifically asked his family to use his remaining fortune of 29 million to continue the fight against the United States and other enemies of al-Qaida.
He speaks about his fears of those closest to him being followed and tracked. Here is a portion of a letter addressed to his wife:
I was told that you went to a dentist in Iran, and you were concerned about a filling she put in for you. Please let me know in detail about anything that bothers you about any hospital in Iran or any suspicions that any of the brothers may have about chips planted in any way. One of the ways, the syringe can be of the same size, but its head is slightly bigger than normal, that way, as I previously mentioned to you, they can insert a small chip in it to implant under the skin. The size of the chip is about the length of a grain of wheat and the width of a fine piece of vermicelli. I would like you to tell me the reasons they mentioned to you for your release and every detail to help me from the security point of view. I need to know the date you had the filling, also about any surgery you had, even if it was only a quick pinch. If you cannot remember the date, it is fine to give me an approximation. I also want to know in boring detail all that is related to their approval to allow you to enter Pakistan.”
In a letter to his brother, he discusses being tracked as well:
Regarding the Zaydan interview, we feel this should [be done via] written correspondence. As we mentioned in an earlier message: You must keep in mind the possibility, however slight, that journalists could be under surveillance that neither we nor they can perceive, either on the ground or via satellite — particularly Ahmad ((Zaydan)). Also, a chip could be planted in a piece of their equipment before they reach the meeting location to do anything with them or to interview one of the brothers. As you know, Ahmad Zaydan has had several interviews with leaders of the Taliban, as well as with Shaykh Sa’id, God rest his soul. But as it happened, the Americans did not kill any of them, even though they knew his location from having tracked Ahmad Zaydan. However, this (interview) could be something they have been watching for, because they identified the house where the deceased brothers Abu-‘Umar al-Baghdadi and Abu-Hamzah al-Muhajir were located through satellite surveillance of one of the brothers who went to see them after they were released from prison.”
Toward the end of his life, Osama bin Laden feared losing his family and being found through tracking devices or overhead surveillance. Granted, he was the most wanted man in the world and everyone was trying to track him, so his paranoia wasn’t unwarranted. Open source intelligence (OSINT) was his primary source of information of the world outside of the Middle East. He even makes references to articles that he read in Time magazine in the newly declassified documents.
Arab culture is quite fond of conspiracy theories and maintains a degree of paranoia in everyday life and in their politics. Most of their conspiracy theories are unfounded, but some are not. With so many foreign stakeholders involved in the affairs of the Middle East, it is sometimes hard not to lean toward conspiracy theories to explain the unexplainable. Politicians use this to their advantage by accusing their opponents of siding with foreign governments or subversive groups.
Generally, if something cannot be explained with their logic, it is a conspiracy theory. If the technology exists in a movie, it could be real. Osama bin Laden’s belief in a CIA tracking device in his wife’s tooth filling, for instance. Superstitions are common as well. The declassified documents from the bin Ladens’ home clearly show a paranoia of advanced technology. Understanding this aspect of Arab culture is certainly useful for spreading rumors and fear among targeted groups such as ISIS. When you read something that you think might be an operation security violation, it could have been released or leaked on purpose. Playing on these fears is a key part of the fight against Islamic extremists.
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