By Pam Benson
Some of the mystery that shrouded Osama bin Laden will be partially lifted as the public gets its first opportunity to read some of the documents seized during the U.S. raid on the al Qaeda founder's hideout in Pakistan one year ago.
A selection of the more than 6,000 documents will be made available Thursday on the website of the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point.
Michael Birmingham, a spokesman for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, said 17 al Qaeda-originated documents will be released in their original Arabic as well as English translations. The CTC will provide a short report with an overview of the materials.
The documents were found on the five computers, dozens of hard drives and more than 100 storage devices, such as thumb drives and discs, confiscated from the Abbottabad, Pakistan, compound after bin Laden was killed by Navy SEALs during the May 2011 raid.
U.S. officials have described the cache as a treasure trove of material, the single largest collection of senior terrorist material ever obtained. It included digital, audio and video files, printed materials, recording devices and handwritten documents.
Birmingham would not say what percentage of the overall material is being made public, but he did say some documents will remain classified for security and operational reasons. Others will not be released because they have been determined to be limited in substantive value or are what Birmingham described as "household clutter," written materials on mundane issues.
Birmingham also said there are no plans to release any videos at this time.
CNN terrorism analyst Peter Bergen, who had access to some of the documents while researching his new book, "Manhunt: The Ten Year Search for Bin Laden from 9/11 to Abbottabad," said he believes those documents are among the ones to be released.
In a CNN column written earlier this week, Bergen said, "The documents paint a portrait of a man who was simultaneously an inveterate micromanager, but was also someone almost delusional in his belief that his organization could still force a change in American foreign policies in the Muslim world if only he could get another big attack" in the United States.
Bergen said he read the letters bin Laden wrote to al Qaeda affiliate leaders and other extremists as well as messages to him from some of his lieutenants.
A team of dozens of intelligence and counterterrorism analysts led by the CIA spent months poring over the documents looking for clues about potential plots, information about terrorist operatives, and communications between bin Laden and the affiliates.
U.S. officials had told CNN last year the documents did not contain any specific plots but rather referred more broadly to potential targets. They showed bin Laden had a continuing interest in attacking transportation systems and oil and natural gas targets.
New York, Washington, Los Angeles and Chicago were considered prime cities to attack. And significant dates such as July Fourth, Christmas and the opening day of the United Nations General Assembly were being considered when determining the timing of an operation.
A senior U.S. intelligence official who spoke to reporters Friday on the condition of anonymity said the bin Laden documents "gave us much more of an insight into the strategic agenda and intent and his (bin Laden's) desire and efforts to still maintain contact with the affiliates."
However, there appeared to be a disconnect between al Qaeda's core and its affiliates in Yemen, Iraq, Somalia and North Africa, according to a senior U.S. counterterrorism official.
"We also saw indications of the sort of classical headquarters versus the field mentality, where headquarters thinks they know better and instructing the field to do things, but the field would come back and say, "Boss, you may not know exactly what sort of stress we're under," the official said.
The intelligence official said the materials also show bin Laden was thinking about al Qaeda's future: how it could exploit the Arab Spring; concern about the bench strength of al Qaeda; and the need for a safe haven.
Bin Laden and his troupe were always looking for opportunities to exploit, said the official, monitoring "what's happening in the world ... the speeches and tracking press statements and all kinds of other items to look for vulnerabilities and to look for ways to continue to mount their fight."
The documents don't tell all about al Qaeda, said the official, but they provide an unfiltered look at the terrorist group and fill in more pieces of the jigsaw puzzle.
"It provided us some tremendous insights on al Qaeda's strategy and the personalities that are likely to remain useful for years to come, much like we find with debriefing and other pieces of information we gather," the official said. "These are, again, all things that we can continually go back to reference to put, again, pieces of that puzzle together."