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Posted by on Nov 1, 2017 in Tech Security, Tech Trending | 0 comments

CIA Reveals What’s Inside Osama Bin Laden’s Files: GIFs, Memes, and Iran Ties

CIA Reveals What’s Inside Osama Bin Laden’s Files: GIFs, Memes, and Iran Ties

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It’s not unusual for a laptop or external hard drive to house a bunch of old photos and documents, assorted GIFs and memes, home videos, pirated software and movies, and some porn. But when those things show up among infamous terrorist leader Osama bin Laden’s digital files, it’s worth a closer look.

On Wednesday, the Central Intelligence Agency released more than 470,000 files seized at Osama bin Laden’s Abbottabad, Pakistan compound after the May 2011 raid that killed him. Hailed by researchers and international relations experts as a valuable gesture of transparency, the stash offers a window into the former Al-Qaeda leader’s approach and plans, and insight into the terrorist group’s global organizational structure, global network, and allies.

It also contains hallmarks of any person who uses the internet: copies of venerable film classics like Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs and Final Fantasy VII, episodes of Tom and Jerry, an IMAX version of Mysteries of Egypt, a download of the Charlie Bit My Finger viral YouTube video, a Mr. Bean episode, and 28 crocheting tutorials—including one for an “iPod Sock.”

The new files expand a collection of declassified documents from Abbottabad that the Office of the Director of National Intelligence has published over the last three years. And it’s impossible to know how much of that data was of specific interest to bin Laden, versus other residents of the compound.

Other gems include a lot of clip art, a video called “HORSE_DANCE,” numerous episodes of a Jackie Chan television show, image files of the Yahoo logo, a few “funny cat” videos, and an image of a cute stuffed animal monkey.

“It’s like, ‘ooh Osama bin Laden is a Tom and Jerry fan!’ And maybe he is, it’s quite possible. I like Tom and Jerry, too,” says Bill Roggio, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the editor of its Long War Journal, which got early access to the trove from the CIA. “But I suspect a lot of the sort of frivolous or the personal stuff was more for his family.”

The diary and other communications clearly indicate, though, that this was the general computing environment bin Laden worked in, and they demonstrate that he was still very active in leading Al-Qaeda even after some reports claim the group forced him to retire. The files also show that bin Laden and those close to him were interested in how Western media depicted him. Agents found documentaries and news reports like “Biography – Osama bin Laden,” “Where in the World Is Osama Bin Laden?” and “In the Footsteps of bin Laden – CNN” in the compound.

Other gems include a lot of clip art, a video called “HORSE_DANCE,” numerous episodes of a Jackie Chan television show, image files of the Yahoo logo, a few “funny cat” videos, and an image of a cute stuffed animal monkey.

The release includes 174 gigabytes of video, 7.4 gigabytes of image files, and 18 gigabytes of documents, among other files. But while the CIA has made the trove public so anyone can examine it, the agency also cautions against downloading it onto a personal device. “Prior to accessing this file collection, please understand that this material was seized from a terrorist organization,” the CIA landing page notes. “While the files underwent interagency review, there is no absolute guarantee that all malware has been removed.”

The agency also says that it took steps to lock down the files in the collection so they can’t be altered, perhaps to reduce the spread of manipulated duplicates that could be misleading.

With so much material now available, it will take time for experts to analyze and contextualize the information. Even in the preliminary phases, though, some details stand out beyond the pop culture dollops.

‘It looks like the main story, at least in the US, will be the ties to Iran.

William Wechsler, Middle East Institute

For example, there are two videos from Hamza bin Laden’s wedding (Osama bin Laden’s son). Al-Qaeda has promoted Hamza since the death of his father, but the group has always published photos of him as a child, not an adult. The wedding footage would be a few years old, but gives a clearer sense of what he looks like now and indicates who was at his wedding, which could be useful for tracking connections and relationships within Al-Qaeda.

The files also contain a 19-page report about Al-Qaeda’s connections to Iran. Other documents from this trove and previous releases expand the picture of tension, but also collaboration between Al-Qaeda and the Iranian government over the years. “Based on the initial reports, it looks like the main story, at least in the US, will be the ties to Iran,” says William Wechsler, a senior fellow focused on national security and counterterrorism at the non-partisan Middle East Institute in Washington DC.

Given current tensions between the US and Iran, recently over President Donald Trump’s move to decertify the Iran nuclear deal, any new information about Iran’s interactions with terrorist groups could prove incendiary. The nature of the latest Abbottabad release is also interesting, given that the Office of the Director of National Intelligence concluded at the end of the Obama administration that no other data from the compound should be released to the public. This latest trove, which appears to originate from the CIA rather than the DNI, indicates that the Trump administration has taken a different tack.

For all the time one could spend cruising the bin Laden data for files like “_booby_2.JPEG” (yup), it’s important not to lose site of the Iran revelations—and what they might mean for an already tenuous relationship with the US.

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