Top U.S. intelligence officials revealed new details about the exploitation of Osama bin Laden’s extensive archive during a House Intelligence Committee hearing on Thursday. The officials revealed that at least several hundred intelligence reports have been generated based on an analysis of bin Laden’s files.
California congressman Devin Nunes asked Director of National Intelligence (DNI) James Clapper about the files, saying he was “concerned” about the way bin Laden’s library has been handled by the U.S. Intelligence Community (IC).
THE WEEKLY STANDARD has reported that “hundreds of thousands of documents and files” were recovered during the raid that killed bin Laden in early May 2011.
Clapper assured Nunes that the IC has done a good job of analyzing the documents, giving the intelligence bureaucracy “at least a B-plus or A-minus” for its work.
But there were two wrinkles in Clapper’s testimony.
First, Clapper’s description of the intelligence gleaned from the files is not consistent with how John Brennan, now the CIA director, previously characterized bin Laden’s cache.
Clapper explained that in the “immediate aftermath of the raid” a joint task force drawing from multiple intelligence agencies successfully identified the “immediate threats,” or “threat plotting” in bin Laden’s files.
“There were … at least 400, over 400 intelligence reports that were issued in the initial aftermath immediately after the raid,” Clapper said. “I don't know what that number is since then.”
This indicates that Osama bin Laden was still very much the active leader of al Qaeda’s international terrorist network. Comments made by other senior Obama administration officials shortly after bin Laden was killed, as well as the initial round of press reporting on bin Laden’s files, painted the same picture. Al Qaeda’s CEO managed a cohesive terrorist organization at the time of his death.
But that is not how Brennan, who previously served as President Obama’s senior counterterrorism adviser, portrayed al Qaeda and bin Laden’s role one year after the Abbottabad raid. Brennan and his surrogates portrayed bin Laden as an isolated leader with little to do.
Brennan did not comment on bin Laden’s files during the open session of the House Intelligence Committee’s hearing.
The existence of more than 400 intelligence reports based on the “initial” review of bin Laden’s files belies the claims made by Brennan and the administration’s surrogates.
The second wrinkle came when Clapper revealed that while the CIA has “executive authority,” or control, over the documents, CENTCOM has led the way in combing through them for additional intelligence. Clapper praised the military’s efforts in this regard.
Clapper explained that the Afghanistan-Pakistan Center for Excellence at CENTCOM continues to go through the files “on a very, very detailed basis…almost in an academic research context to read out any further findings…from these documents that might bear on a threat.”
Clapper’s testimony is consistent with what several U.S. intelligence officials previously told THE WEEKLY STANDARD. Although the CIA and the intelligence community’s inter-agency team did an excellent job during the initial exploitation of the documents, senior intelligence managers lost interest in bin Laden’s secrets. The CIA, in particular, showed little interest in continuing to dig into the history of al Qaeda, or how the broader terror network operates, once the “immediate” threats were thought to have been identified.
Spinning Bin Laden’s files
John Brennan and his allies inside and out of government have led the way in trying to declare al Qaeda all but dead.
During a speech at the Wilson Center on April 30, 2012, Brennan announced the then impending release of just 17 documents from bin Laden’s library. The documents were released by West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center (CTC) a few days later. Brennan cherry-picked from the documents to claim that al Qaeda is “losing badly” and “a shadow of its former self” – a description that President Obama has continued to repeat, even as the organization is undoubtedly gaining ground in jihadist hotspots throughout the Middle East and North Africa.