Bin Laden's trove galvanizes terror hunt
The information seized in the raid is helping to fill in blanks on how al-Qaeda thinks and works.
WASHINGTON - The United States is tracking possible new terror suspects and stepping up surveillance of operatives previously considered minor al-Qaeda figures as it digs through the mountain of correspondence seized from Osama bin Laden's hideout, officials said.
The trove is helping to fill in blanks on how al-Qaeda operatives work, think, and fit in the organization, they said.
The new information is the result of five weeks of round-the-clock work by a CIA-led team of data analysts, cyber experts, and translators who are 95 percent finished decrypting and translating the years of material and expect to complete the effort by mid-June, two U.S. officials said.
Al-Qaeda operatives worldwide are feeling the heat, with at least two of them altering their travel plans in recent weeks in apparent alarm that they might become the targets of another U.S. raid, one official said.
All officials spoke on condition of anonymity to describe the review of bin Laden files taken by U.S. Navy SEALs in their May 2 raid on his hideout in suburban Abbottabad, Pakistan.
From hiding, the man who served as bin Laden's deputy issued a videotaped eulogy to his late leader and a warning to America on Wednesday.
Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Qaeda's longtime No. 2 and considered the network's operational head, also sought to cast a role for the terror group in the popular uprisings shaking the Arab world.
"Today, praise God, America is not facing an individual, a group, or a faction," he said, wearing a white robe and turban with an assault rifle leaning on a wall behind him. "It is facing a nation that is in revolt, having risen from its lethargy to a renaissance of jihad."
He heaped praise on bin Laden, calling him modest, noble, and a shrewd commander, and criticizing his sea burial.
"He went to his God as a martyr, the man who terrified America while alive and terrifies it in death, so much so that they trembled at the idea of his having a tomb," he said.
Zawahiri - who referenced the toppling of rulers in Tunisia and Egypt and continued uprisings in Libya, Yemen, and Syria - tried to cast recent developments as in line with his group's longtime goal: to destroy America and its allies. He said America now faced the entire international Muslim community.
The items taken by the SEALs from bin Laden's second-floor office include a handwritten journal, five computers, 10 hard drives, and 110 thumb drives.
Copies of the material have been distributed to agencies from the FBI to the Defense Intelligence Agency to continue long-term analysis, one official said. The material is now classified, greatly limiting the number of people who can see it and making any detailed public accounting of the contents a crime.
FBI Director Robert S. Mueller told Congress on Wednesday that one of the early assessments from the trove was that al-Qaeda remained committed to attacking the United States.
"We continue to exploit the materials seized from bin Laden's compound," Mueller told the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is considering legislation to extend his tenure for up to two more years.
There is nothing in the bin Laden files so far to indicate an imminent attack, three officials said.
And while the al-Qaeda chief advised his operatives on targets to strike, and helped them devise ways to hit those targets, there is no evidence in the files that any of the ideas bin Laden proposed led to a specific action that was carried out, the officials said.
For instance, though bin Laden advised Europe-based extremists to attack in unspecified continental European countries just before Christmas, the threat never resulted in an actual attempted attack, the officials said.