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Published May 11, 2011, 06:57 PM

Bin Laden's Journal Had Ideas for Deadly U.S. Attacks, Officials Say

Osama bin Laden kept a personal journal in which he contemplated how to kill as many Americans as possible, including possible terrorist attacks against Los Angeles, Chicago and Washington, D.C., according to U.S. officials.

By: Ken Dilanian, Brian Bennett, Tribune Washington Bureau (MCT)

WASHINGTON — Osama bin Laden kept a personal journal in which he contemplated how to kill as many Americans as possible, including possible terrorist attacks against Los Angeles, Chicago and Washington, D.C., according to U.S. officials.

The handwritten journal was discovered in a vast cache of digital and printed material that was hauled away from bin Laden's hideout after U.S. Navy SEALs killed him last week in Abbottabad, Pakistan. One official said Wednesday that the trove provided "terrabytes" of new information about al-Qaida.

The official described the private journal as full of planning ideas and outlines of potential operations, "aspirational guidance" on how to kill the maximum number of people, rather than specific proposals or plots that were actually under way.

In one unnerving passage, bin Laden wondered how many Americans would have to die in U.S. cities to force the U.S. government to withdraw from the Arab world. He concluded it would require another mass murder on the scale of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, to spur a reversal in U.S. policy, a U.S. official said.

The officials declined to provide details about potential plots in Los Angeles and Chicago. Bin Laden discussed an operation in Washington, D.C., one official said, "because of its iconic value."

A CIA-led multi-agency task force continues to scrutinize data from five computers, dozens of plug-in storage devices called flash drives, and other devices that were taken from bin Laden's walled compound. The analysts have not found evidence of an imminent threat of an attack by al-Qaida or its affiliates around the globe, officials said.

But the initial analysis has determined that bin Laden was in regular communication with several deputies, including al-Qaida's putative operations chief, Atiyah Abd al-Rahman, officials said. The messages were sent primarily by couriers carrying computer flash drives, the official said.

The intelligence thus has overturned the long-held conventional wisdom that bin Laden was an inspirational figurehead who was so isolated that he cut off communications and played no operational role in terrorist attacks or plots, according to the officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to speak publicly about sensitive intelligence information.

"These assumptions (are) going out the window," this official said.)

Discovery of the journal was not entirely unexpected. Bin Laden's son, Omar, described his father in a 2009 memoir, "Growing Up bin Laden," as regularly recording his thoughts and plans.

The son sharply criticizes his father's terrorist operations in the book, but this week he accused the Obama administration of murdering his father instead of capturing him. "We maintain that arbitrary killing is not a solution to political problems," he said in a statement released to several news organizations.

Every day this week, intelligence officials across the government have been briefed about new information developed from the intelligence haul, one U.S. official said.

The messages to al-Rahman, a Libyan in his mid-30s, have drawn special interest.

Al-Rahman joined bin Laden in Afghanistan as a teenager in the 1980s and "since then, he has gained considerable stature in al-Qaeda as an explosives expert and Islamic scholar," according to a State Department website that offers a $1 million reward for information leading to him.

In 2005, al-Rahman signed a letter to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the now-dead leader of al-Qaida in Iraq, that rebuked the group for indiscriminate violence against Shiites, according to counterterrorism experts. Al-Rahman met al-Zarqawi in the western Afghanistan city of Herat in the late 1990s, according to the State Department dossier.

U.S. officials believe al-Rahman took over the role as al-Qaida's No. 3 figure after Sheikh Said al-Masri was killed in a missile strike from a CIA drone in Pakistan's tribal area in May 2010, said a former Pentagon official. Al-Rahman is now believed to be in Pakistan.

Also Wednesday, members of Congress and other officials got a first chance to examine photos of bin Laden's corpse, which President Barack Obama has decided not to release publicly. Bin Laden was shot in the head and chest.

"By viewing these photos, I can help dispel conspiracy theorists who doubt that bin Laden is in fact dead," said Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., who was among those who traveled to CIA headquarters in Langley, Va., to see the pictures.


(David S. Cloud in the Tribune Washington bureau contributed to this report.)