Sunday, May 08, 2011

National Security Archive: The Osama Bin Laden File

National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 343

Washington, D.C., May 2, 2011 - The Al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden, killed in Pakistan by U.S. special operations forces yesterday, ranked as “one of the most significant financial sponsors of Islamic terrorist activities in the world” as early as 1996, according to declassified U.S. documents posted on the web today by the National Security Archive at George Washington University (

The Osama Bin Laden File includes the CIA’s 1996 biographic sketch [Transcription], the infamous President’s Daily Brief from 6 August 2001 warning “Bin Ladin Determined to Strike in US,” a State Department issue paper from 2005 reporting that “some Taliban leaders operate with relative impunity in some Pakistan cities,” the 400-page Sandia National Laboratories profile of Bin Laden focusing on the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, the 2006 State Department cable on the Taliban’s regrouping in Pakistan’s tribal areas making them “a sanctuary beyond the reach of either Government,” the demands made on Pakistan right after 9/11 by Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, and the only known conversation between the U.S. government and the Taliban leader Mullah Omar.

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One of the earlier publicly available documentary mentions of Bin Laden comes from a 1996 CIA bio sketch entitled “Usama Bin Laden: Islamic Extremist Financer” [Transcription]. It describes Bin Laden, “who joined the Afghan resistance movement in 1979,” as “one of the most significant financial sponsors of Islamic extremist activities in the world.” According to The New York Times, during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, the CIA actually helped Bin Laden – who supplied construction equipment from his family’s company in Saudi Arabia – to construct the Tora Bora complex as a base to fight the Soviets. According to Bin Laden, “The [Mujahidin’s] weapons were supplied by the Americans, the money by the Saudis.”

Almost a decade later, Bin Laden would make good use of his earlier investment. A 1997 State Department cable reported that he had likely retreated into hiding at Tora Bora, stating "bin Ladin had lived in caves south of Jalalabad in Tora Bora and the Taliban had become suspicious." In December 2001, US troops engaged in a fierce firefight at Tora Bora, hoping to smoke out the Al Qaeda leader. The Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters were overrun but Bin Laden was not among the killed or captured.

To Read the Description and Access the Various Reports

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