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Book Review: The Bin Laden PapersHow the Abbottabad Raid Revealed the Truth about al Qaeda, Its Leader, and His Family

The Bin Laden Papers—How the Abbottabad Raid Revealed the Truth about al Qaeda, Its Leader, and His Family. By Nelly Lahoud. Yale University Press;; 384 pages; $18.00 (Paperback).

1023-book-review-The-Bin-Laden-Papers.jpgIf one wanted to perform a comparative personality analysis of Osama Bin Laden, a likely parallel would be found in fictional mobster Tony Soprano. Both had seen their halcyon days pass and had an incredible amount of neuroticism, along with anxiety, moodiness, irritability, and sadness.  

While not a psychological analysis, inThe Bin Laden Papers—How the Abbottabad Raid Revealed the Truth about al Qaeda, Its Leader, and His Family, author Nelly Lahoud has written a fascinating book that details what went on during the last years of Bin Laden’s hermit-like life at his Abbottabad compound. Lahoud, fluent in Arabic, went through the documents obtained at Abbottabad and revealed what Bin Laden was doing and thinking during his years of seclusion.  

The mission to capture Bin Laden, code-named Operation Neptune Spear, was years in the making. Navy Admiral William McRaven, commander of the United States Special Operations Command, gave the Neptune Spear team 30 minutes to complete the raid on Bin Laden’s compound. The team was able to do that but requested additional time to collect his computer equipment. And in those 18 minutes the team took to complete that task, the documents they recovered were later used to uncover some of Bin Laden’s and al Qaeda’s biggest secrets. These secrets are detailed in this engaging book. 

One of the more interesting insights in the book is that Bin Laden entirely and utterly misread what America’s response to 9/11 would be. He never expected the United States to attack Afghanistan. Instead, he thought there would be a small number of attacks. He also was utterly demoralized by the use of drones to kill countless al Qaeda leaders and many members of his immediate family. 

The book shows how Bin Laden was a man of countless contradictions. While he had no qualms about launching an attack that would kill thousands of people, he tells his daughter not to spank her children to discipline them but raise them with kindness and warmth. The same man behind the 9/11 attacks disapproved of corporal punishment. And while Bin Laden’s occasional letters and videos would terrorize the world with their threats, he himself was living in fear in his compound.  

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The raid on Bin Laden killed a dangerous man, but a man who had been defeated, the book demonstrates. At the time of his death, Bin Laden was a beaten man imprisoned in a safehouse that left him not only incapable, but out of touch with the world. This is a fascinating and engaging read and essential for anyone who wants to understand one of the evilest men of recent times. 


Reviewer: Ben Rothke, CISSP, CISM, CISA is a New York City-based senior information security manager with Tapad. He has more than 20 years of industry experience in information systems security and privacy. His areas of expertise are in risk management and mitigation, security and privacy regulatory issues, design and implementation of systems security, encryption, cryptography, and security policy development. He wrote Computer Security—20 Things Every Employee Should Know.