U.S. Releases Osama Bin Laden's 'Bookshelf'

05/20/2015 11:10 am ET | Updated May 22, 2015

U.S. intelligence officials on Wednesday released hundreds of letters, documents and book titles they said were seized during the May 2011 raid that killed al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in Pakistan.

The tranche of documents includes newly declassified correspondence and documents translated from Arabic that were recovered from bin Laden's Abbottabad compound after he was shot dead by U.S. Navy SEALS, according the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

It also lists a diverse range of English-language reading materials -- which the office dubbed "Bin Laden's Bookshelf" -- including books, news articles and think tank reports.

The list includes several books steeped in conspiracy theory -- including about 9/11 itself -- with such titles as New Pearl Harbor: Disturbing Questions about the Bush Administration and 9/11, Secrets of the Federal Reserve and Bloodlines of the Illuminati. It also includes more cogent work on modern American history, including renowned U.S. journalist Bob Woodward's book Obama’s Wars, and two books on political power by MIT professor Noam Chomsky. There are also a number of books, reports and articles on al Qaeda, suggesting an interest in how the group is perceived in the West.

The letters released, purportedly penned by bin Laden, also appear to indicate the al Qaeda leader's concern over his group's image. In the letters, he appears to press the group's members to focus on large-scale terror attacks and not get distracted by fighting regimes in the Middle East, according to Agence France-Presse. "The focus should be on killing and fighting the American people and their representatives," he wrote in one letter, according to a translation by U.S. intelligence.

The documents also include al Qaeda manuals, and even what appears to be an application form to join the group. The office decided not to release a stash of pornographic materials found among the recovered documents, ODNI spokesman Jeffrey Anchukaitis told The Guardian newspaper.

The files are among thousands reportedly seized during the raid. A few have already been released -- 17 letters and files were declassified and given to West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center in 2012, and other documents were entered as evidence in a New York terrorism trial earlier this year. The intelligence community is reviewing hundreds more documents for possible declassification and release, the ODNI statement said.

The release comes a week after U.S. investigative journalist Seymour Hersh sparked a firestorm with a report claiming that the U.S. government lied about the lead-up to and conduct of the 2011 raid. His article in the London Review of Books cast doubt on materials that were previously released from the raid.

The ODNI said the 2014 Intelligence Authorization Act requires the office to review the documents for possible declassification and release. The intelligence community has come under pressure from lawmakers in Congress to move the process forward.

"It is in the interest of the American public for citizens, academics, journalists and historians to have the opportunity to read and understand bin Laden's documents," U.S. House of Representatives intelligence committee Chairman Devin Nunes said in a statement on Wednesday.

CLARIFICATION: Language in this story has been updated to reflect that Seymour Hersh’s article cast doubt on the U.S. government's claims about previously released documents.

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