By Jamie Crawford
The 10th anniversary of the September 11, 2001, attacks provided al Qaeda a platform from which to reshape its image in the global media, Osama bin Laden wrote in documents recovered from his compound in Abbotabad, Pakistan. The documents provide a glimpse of the al Qaeda leader as media opportunist and critic.
"We need to benefit from this (anniversary) and get our messages to the Muslims and celebrate our victory that they achieved," bin Laden wrote to his confidant and al Qaeda operative Atiyya Abdul Rahman in October 2010. "We will have a lot to show, therefore we should not depend on one media outlet to cover the event."
In his letter, bin Laden said his group should contact both the Arabic and English speaking networks of Al Jazeera if they were interested, and to cooperate in their coverage of the anniversary. But the familiar outlets were not the only targets of his message.
"We should also look for an American channel that can be close to being unbiased, such as CBS, or other channel that has political motives" that make it interested in discussing al Qaeda. "Then we can send to the channel the materials that we want the Americans to see."
Having taped a specific message to the United States on the 9/11 anniversary, bin Laden wrote of his hope for the message "to be translated to English and to be delivered to the Al Jazeera channel prior to the anniversary of 9/11 to be broadcasted during it."
The letters also display a savvy with the timing of announcements directed at the United States.
In one of his letters to Rahman, bin Laden enclosed a computer chip that contained a "statement to the American people" that he wanted delivered to various news organizations, including an American outlet.
"Tell the brothers that this statement should be broadcast before the American congressional election," he wrote. "Tell the three channels that we want to broadcast the statement on October 29. If the channels do not broadcast the statements, the brothers should be ready to broadcast it on the Internet on October 30."
The terror leader told Rahman to speak with Adam Gadahn, the American-born al Qaeda spokesman, for specifics about which American outlet to reach out to.
In a separate letter released Thursday, Gadahn's opinions of American media were on display.
"From the professional point of view," Gadahn wrote to the unknown recipient, "they are all on one level - except (Fox News) Channel which falls into the abyss as you know, and lacks neutrality, too." Gadahn wrote that CNN "seems to be in cooperation with the government more than the others" but praised its Arabic language website.
"I used to think MSNBC channel may be good and neutral a bit, but it has lately fired two of the most famous journalists."
Gadahn lamented about Al Jazeera following the requirements and restrictions that Western media observe with the broadcast of al Qaeda statements.
Beyond savvy and strategy, bin Laden's take on the media also contained a fair dose of criticism throughout the 17 documents released.
"The enemies have focused the bulk of their campaign against the Islamic world (and) the Arabs," bin Laden wrote, citing BBC's Arabic service as being the second-largest behind its English service. "This, when Arabs represent 2.5% of the world's population, while other people, including China by itself, represent a fifth of the world's population."
Even Al Jazeera came in for criticism from bin Laden because a host on one of its shows occasionally used improper language, in his opinion.
But for all its faults in the eyes of al Qaeda, Al Jazeera was seen as a network not to upset.
Al Jazeera "has a different agenda than ours," a letter believed to be authored by bin Laden stated. "It would be better for us to stay neutral, even though this channel sometimes commits mistakes against us. These mistakes are limited, and if we confront it, Al Jazeera will raise propaganda against us and could hurt our image within the Muslim world."