When you’re running an operation whose business is creating mass casualties of innocent bystanders at various locations throughout the world, you need a strategic plan. You need a sophisticated recruiting program. You need a training program. You need a development program. These subjects weighed heavily on the mind of Osama bin Laden, recently declassified documents from the Central Intelligence Agency show.
The documents, which were seized by U.S. commandos after they stormed the terrorist leader’s hideout in Abbottabad, Pakistan during the May 2, 2011 operation that culminated in bin Laden’s death, include a series of planning memos that Agence France-Presse disconcertingly suggests “paint a picture of the jihadist leader operating almost as the director of human resources at a struggling multinational.”
This particular multinational (let’s call it Al-Qaeda Corp.) had a rather unique business model, but all the same its leaders struggled with finding and deploying the right mix of talent to accomplish its core objective (killing lots of civilians).
“Please enter the requested information accurately and truthfully. Write clearly and legibly. Name, age, marital status. Do you wish to execute a suicide mission?” So reads Al Qaeda’s application form, which included this gem as well: “Who should we contact in case you become a martyr?”
bin Laden clearly was concerned about operational efficiencies, as revealed by a document he wrote calling for a professional training program: “One of the specialties we need that we should not overlook is the science of administration.” The organization needed motivated young volunteers with qualifications in science, engineering and office management as well as deep religious convictions, according to the document.
AQ Corp. was bedeviled with talent-deployment issues, as another document reveals: “The other brothers are new and we rushed to send them very quickly, before their security was exposed or their residency documents expired.”
Retention and turnover may also have been an issue: the same document cites a volunteer who was able to stay a couple months because he had to return home: “We have him an academic explosives course and he travelled back before his residency expired and we have not heard from him since he left. … We hope that we hear from him very soon.”
bin Laden was concerned that young recruits who were capable of infiltrating the West lacked adequate patience and training to accomplish their missions. “We need a development and planning department,” he wrote. He wanted to create a center of excellence, of sorts, compiling jihadist best practices and research to create a more effective breed of jihadist.
Outreach activities were also part of the mix: bin Laden was apparently planning a PR campaign to mark the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks. But thanks to Seal Team 6, he wasn’t able to make it to the celebration.