The mountain of materials taken from the computers, disks and the journal found in Osama bin Laden's Abbottabad villa after his death on May 2 confirms that the al Qaeda leader's strategy was dominated by his fundamental drive to achieve a huge attack on a US city, preferably New York, Chicago, Los Angeles or Houston, that would be devastating enough to rock the American economy and make Washington pull US forces out of the Middle East.
He discounted the value of al Qaeda's small-time terrorist activity
As US intelligence analysts continued to sift through the captured materials, US Secretary of the Interior Janet Napolitano said early Thursday morning, May 12 (Wednesday night US time): "One source of concern is what is called 'the lone wolf.' And a sole actor who's not in contact with anyone – that's very difficult to prevent."
But then she switched back adding: "But I can say that we do operate under the premise that, be it a homegrown terrorist or a group, they may be actually operationally in touch with Al Qaeda. We just operate under that assumption."
In the light of the several proposals found in bin Laden's files for bombing the US rail system, Napolitano said that her office was in touch with the American railroad companies to be sure that there were following all the safety directives given to them.
debkafile's counterterrorism sources infer from the Secretary of the Interior's comments and other sources that the materials from Abbottabad examined so far are disappointing. They have contributed no information that would help prevent further terrorist attacks in the US. Neither did they offer leads to any new or established Al Qaeda terror networks assigned to hit major cities in the US, Europe and the Middle East, or yield any links between Bin Laden and active terror networks.
Our counter-terror experts are not surprised. Even in the late 1990s and in 2000-2001, when the dead al Qaeda leader was involved in preparing the 9/11 terror attacks on New York's Trade Center and Washington – whose success he later admitted had surprised even him – he was never in direct contact with the 19 hijackers.
Their leader Mohammed Atta made his preparations from Hamburg, Germany. And even when Bin Laden and Atta met, apparently three times, they talked more in general terms about the impact of a mega-attack on America's standing as an economic and world power than about the nuts and bolts of the attack itself.
The extensive material found in Bin Laden's compound is therefore more a testament to his terrorist ideology than a hard intelligence trove that could avail the American counter-terror campaign against al Qaeda in Pakistan, Yemen, North Africa, the Far East and Central Asia.
The captured materials show, say debkafile's counterterrorism sources, that the 9/11 attacks on America which consummated the Bin Laden conception of terror in action, was accepted as a lofty ideal by the various al Qaeda networks around the world, although most found it unattainable. Therefore, no other major terrorist attack against the West has come anywhere near to achieving the goal he set, which was to topple America as a military and economic power, or undermine an allied political system. The only exception was the multiple train bombings in Madrid in March 2004, in which 191 people were killed and 1,800 injured, forcing Spain to pull its troops out of the Iraq war. Not even the July 7, 2005 attacks on London transport had the effect designated by bin Laden.
The captured files show Bin Laden is attaching no strategic importance to lone wolf operations of the kind the US Secretary of the Interior referred to Thursday – unless they use nuclear, chemical or biological weapons. So far, there is no indication that Al Qaeda ever had the practical ability for this sort of attack.