OBL, One Year After, or: Show us the Documents!

(NOTE: Please read the Update at the end of this post)

One year after the death of Osama Bin Laden I don't feel I have to contribute a whole lot to the question of the repercussions of this fact or its long term consequences, mainly because most what I would have said has been said by others already – and perhaps more eloquently.

There is one thing, though, that keeps bothering me, and that's the allegedly huge pile of documents which was seized during the raid on the OBL safe house in Abottabad in Pakistan.

Now don't get me wrong, I am not saying that I doubt its existence. But it annoys me that so little about it is known. And the little that is known isn't known in any true sense of the word, because it was leaked – and leaked at that by people who pretty much by definition have interests that collide at times with those of the general public, the informed public, academic debate or the free press.

I understand that it is out of the question to just publish the whole stack and let all of us, who are no secret agents or homeland security personell, sift through it. Important and sensitive information may be hidden within that pile and I understand why it could be potentially harmful if it was out in the open unvetted and in full.

But precisely because this is so, it is even more annoying if, every now and then, one such piece is being made public – and tadaa – you already knew about it! („Already“ meaning: before the raid in Abottabad.) Now how can this be? I have only two answers: Either because this particular piece of information already existed but has now been confirmed by the documentation found in OBL's safe house. Or because this particular piece of information already existed but has now been made to look as if it was gleaned from the Abbotabad treasure trove.

The problem I have is that a) we can't know and b) if the second was the case, we would be tricked and wouldn't even know. This is not satisfactory.

As you probably guessed, I am blogging about this because I have a suspicion. Let is suffice here to say that two (not major, but also not exactly minor) particular pieces of information I have read about in the course of the past 12 months and that were allegedly gleaned from the Abbotabad raid I had already heard about before the raid – by people I trust and whose sources I also trust. Agreed: the latter with the necessary caveat. But be that as it may, the question is: Is it conceivable that secret services are using the known fact that documents were found in Abottabad as an excuse to make public other stuff that they think should be in the open but where they can't take the risk to publish this information in a different (and more truthful) context because they feel that that would pose certain risks? I think the answer is yes. And even if I can understand in theory why they would argue that way (given that I am right in my assumption here) – it is still unsatisfactory.

Now I guess that there is not much we („we“ in this case meaning: non-governmental people devoting a lot of their time to trying to understand AQ) can do about this. But there is two things we can do – and perhaps should: We should definitely be very careful in our dealings with whatever alleged pieces of information are being leaked from the raid. And those of us who are in a position to voice this sort of demand should probably try and help to convince those in decisive positions to at least make haste with assessing whatever they did retrieve in Abottabad – so as to allow for a publication of at least a portion of that material as early as possible.

Because one thing I am convinced about is: The collective analysis power of the larger community of experts is much bigger than that of a few government-cleared experts.

UPDATE (and thanks to Twitter probably the quickest update ever): J M Berger (@intelwire) just pointed out to me that CTC is apparently planning to publish a chunk of the Abbottabad documents very soon. Thanks for the shout out!! 

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