NBC News and news services
updated 5/11/2011 4:42:47 PM ET 2011-05-11T20:42:47

Deep in hiding, his terrorist organization becoming battered and fragmented, Osama bin Laden kept pressing followers to find new ways to hit the U.S., officials say, citing his private journal and other documents recovered in last week's raid.

Strike smaller cities, bin Laden suggested. Target trains as well as planes. Above all, kill as many Americans as possible in a single attack.

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Though he was out of the public eye and al-Qaida seemed to be weakening, bin Laden never yielded control of his worldwide organization, U.S. officials said Wednesday. His personal, handwritten journal and his massive collection of computer files reveal his hand at work in every recent major al-Qaida threat, including plots in Europe last year that had travelers and embassies on high alert, two officials said.

They described the intelligence to The Associated Press only on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk publicly about what was found in bin Laden's hideout. Analysts are continuing to review the documents.

Bin Laden has long been known to record his thoughts and had been thought to keep a diary. One of Bin Laden's sons, in a memoir, has described his father as recording his thoughts and plans when the family lived in Sudan and Afghanistan.

The information gleaned from the handwritten journal and other material recovered after bin Laden was killed May 2 shatters the government's conventional thinking about bin Laden, who had been regarded for years as mostly an inspirational figurehead whose years in hiding made him too marginalized to maintain operational control of the organization he founded.

Instead, bin Laden was communicating from his walled compound in Pakistan with al-Qaida's offshoots, including the Yemen branch, which has emerged as the leading threat to the United States, the documents indicate. Though there is no evidence yet that he was directly behind the attempted Christmas Day 2009 bombing of a Detroit-bound airliner or the nearly successful attack on cargo planes heading for Chicago and Philadelphia, it's now clear that they bear some of bin Laden's hallmarks.

US: Pakistan hasn't shared detailed bin Laden logs

Don't limit attacks to New York City, he said in his writings. Consider other areas such as Los Angeles or smaller cities. Spread out the targets.

In one particularly macabre bit of mathematics, bin Laden's writings show him musing over just how many Americans he must kill to force the U.S. to withdraw from the Arab world. He concludes that small attacks had not been enough. He tells his disciples that only a body count of thousands, something on the scale of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, would shift U.S. policy.

He also schemed about ways to sow political dissent in Washington and play political figures against one another, officials said.

The communications were in missives sent via plug-in computer storage devices called flash drives. The devices were ferried to bin Laden's compound by couriers, a process that is slow but exceptionally difficult to track.

Intelligence officials have not identified any new planned targets or plots in their initial analysis of the 100 or so flash drives and five computers that Navy SEALs hauled away after killing bin Laden. Last week, the FBI and Homeland Security Department warned law enforcement officials nationwide to be on alert for possible attacks against trains, though officials said there was no specific plot.

Officials have not yet seen any indication that bin Laden had the ability to coordinate timing of attacks across the various al-Qaida affiliates in Pakistan, Yemen, Algeria, Iraq and Somalia, and it is also unclear from bin Laden's documents how much the affiliate groups relied on his guidance. The Yemen group, for instance, has embraced the smaller-scale attacks that bin Laden's writings indicate he regarded as unsuccessful. The Yemen branch had already surpassed his central operation as al-Qaida's leading fundraising, propaganda and operational arm.

Al-Qaida has not named bin Laden's successor, but all indications point to his No. 2, Ayman al-Zawahri. The question is whether Zawahri, or anyone, has the ability to keep so many disparate groups under the al-Qaida banner. The groups in Somalia and Algeria, for instance, have very different goals focused on local grievances. Without bin Laden to serve as their shepherd, it's possible al-Qaida will further fragment.

Viewing the photos
Meanwhile, some members of Congress will be allowed to view photographs of bin Laden's body.

Senate Armed Services committee members Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., confirmed Wednesday they've been invited by the CIA to see the photos.

Lieberman and Ayotte said they plan to do so; Graham said he didn't know if he would or not. He reiterated his position that the Obama administration should have released the photos publicly for "closure."

Senators mixed on viewing bin Laden photos

Heather Molino, a spokeswoman for Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, D-Md., said the congressman is planning to view the photos at CIA headquarters in Langley, Va., either Wednesday or Thursday.

"He is interested and wants to see them," Molino said.

Ruppersberger is a member of the House Intelligence Committee. All of that committee's members are among the congressional representatives who have been offered a chance to view the photographs, Molino said.

But Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, a member of the Armed Services Committee, said she won't view the photos. She said she had received top secret briefings and noted that al-Qaida had conceded bin Laden's death.

"I am certain that Osama bin Laden is dead and have no need to see the pictures," Collins said.

NBC News contributed to this report from The Associated Press.

Video: US uncovers bin Laden’s journals

  1. Closed captioning of: US uncovers bin Laden’s journals

    >>> but we begin this morning were the personal handwritten journals of bin laden . peter alexander is here with the latest on this. peter, good morning to you.

    >> reporter: matt, good morning to you. officials tellcnn news they found not one but several. it was apparently a meticulous note taker. in the words of one official, bin laden would wake up every morning to try to come up with new ideas. during last week's raid, osama bin laden 's private journals. officials say his writing shows the terrorist's leader was focused on attacking the u.s. and causing mass casualties while secretly trying to find out ways to bring in al qaeda into the united states .

    >> this is a guy who is still very much in charge of al qaeda .

    >> reporter: nbc news has learned in his writings bin laden reasons the only way to get the attention of the u.s. government is by killing large numbers of americans. u.s. officials say most of the materials was found in what appeared to be bin laden 's office where they also seized computers, hard drives and correspondence between leaders. even al qaeda members he thought would be right for particular jobs. his fourth son omar said his father began a habit of recording many ofs he thoughts and plans when his family lived in the sudan in the 1990s . he lashed out at. omar who has been estranged from his father since br 9/11 spoke to matt in 2008 .

    >> i think if my father died, there would be a lot of people who would say i am now the head of al qaeda .

    >> reporter: in fact, this week an al qaeda affiliate vowed to continue attacks against the u.s. and other enemies.

    >> his statement threatened that one day america will yearn for the days of bin laden , in other words, what's coming is even worse than what we've had door to for.

    >> reporter: u.s. officials tell nbc news they found so much materials in the come pound they couldn't take it with them including details of his movements and activities, the kind of critical information that could help identify other al qaeda operations, their locations and possible plots. u.s. officials say those logs and other intelligence were gathered up by pakistani officials. u.s. has asked but so far they have not agreed to share it. the u.s. is still waiting access to the women. an official tells us they will not hand them over until they get something in return. specifically that something is access to information the treasure trove .

    >> peter alexander in islamabad this morning. thank you very much.

Timeline: A timeline of Osama bin Laden's life

Considered enemy No. 1 by the U.S., the Saudi millionaire is the perpetrator behind the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Click on key dates to learn more about the founder of al-Qaida, an international terror network.

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