Insights from the Bin Laden Archive

Inventory of research and knowledge and initial assessment and characterisation of the Bin Laden Archive

by Jacopo Bellasio, Sarah Grand-Clement, Shazan Iqbal, William Marcellino, Alice Lynch, Yousuf Abdelfatah, Tor Richardson-Golinski, Kate Cox, Giacomo Persi Paoli

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Executive summary

Language: English

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Samenvatting

Language: Dutch

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Research Questions

  1. What is the state-of-the-art understanding as discerned from academic and grey literature of Al Qai'da's ideology, motives, organisation, strategy, tactics, and modus operandi?
  2. What research efforts have been conducted or are ongoing to analyse the Bin Laden Archive, and have they exhausted the archive's potential for insights and findings?
  3. How can the archive's data and files be characterised, categorised and clustered?
  4. To what extent can clusters and subsets of the archive offer relevant insights on the phenomenon of Jihadi terrorism and the threat this poses to the West in general and the Netherlands in particular?

In 2017, the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) disclosed approximately 470,000 files recovered in Abbottabad, Pakistan, during the 2011 raid on Osama Bin Laden's compound. According to the CIA, this collection — the Bin Laden Archive — comprises a wide array of original files from devices collected during the Abbottabad raid that are presumed to have belonged to Osama Bin Laden and other occupants of the compound.

Despite the potential insights that this archive stands to offer, limited research into its data and materials has been published to date in the public domain. More broadly, publicly available research conducted so far has entailed a qualitative review of only a selected number of files and documents. In December 2018, the Research and Documentation Centre (Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek- en Documentatiecentrum, WODC) of the Dutch Ministry of Justice and Security (Ministerie van Justitie en Veiligheid) commissioned RAND Europe to conduct a study aiming to (1) inventory current knowledge on Al Qa'ida and completed and ongoing research on the Bin Laden Archive and (2) conduct an initial assessment and characterisation of the Bin Laden Archive.

Key Findings

  • Data and files in the archive can be clustered according to file type (audio, image, text and video files) to enable further investigation and characterisation.
  • There appears to be only a limited potential for the image, audio and video clusters of the archive to help generate new knowledge and insights on Al Qa'ida and on the related phenomenon of jihadi terrorism based on the sample of files analysed.
  • The text cluster of the archive appears to be the most promising cluster that could help generate novel insights and knowledge about Al Qa'ida during follow-on research. This is due to the cluster being comprised of personal, sensitive and private documents authored by individuals living in the Abbottabad compound or by other Al Qa'ida senior personnel living in hiding who were in contact with those in the compound.

Table of Contents

  • Chapter One

    Introduction

  • Chapter Two

    Al Qa'ida's historical trajectory

  • Chapter Three

    Al Qa'ida's ideology

  • Chapter Four

    Al Qa'ida's strategy

  • Chapter Five

    Al Qa'ida's organisation

  • Chapter Six

    Previous and ongoing research on the Bin Laden Archive

  • Chapter Seven

    Image analysis

  • Chapter Eight

    Audio analysis

  • Chapter Nine

    Video analysis

  • Chapter Ten

    Text analysis

  • Chapter Eleven

    Bin Laden journal analysis

  • Chapter Twelve

    Conclusions

  • Annex A

    Phase I methodology

  • Annex B

    Phase II methodology

  • Annex C

    Stakeholder elicitation details and tools

Research conducted by

The research described in this report was commissioned by the Research and Documentation Centre (Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek- en Documentatiecentrum, WODC) of the Dutch Ministry of Justice and Security (Ministerie van Justitie en Veiligheid) and conducted by RAND Europe.

This report is part of the RAND Corporation research report series. RAND reports present research findings and objective analysis that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors. All RAND reports undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.

The RAND Corporation is a nonprofit institution that helps improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis. RAND's publications do not necessarily reflect the opinions of its research clients and sponsors.