updated 6/8/2011 6:16:04 PM ET 2011-06-08T22:16:04

The U.S. is tracking possible new terror targets and stepping up surveillance of operatives previously considered minor al-Qaida figures after digging through the mountain of correspondence seized from Osama bin Laden's hideout, officials say. The trove of material is filling in blanks on how al-Qaida operatives work, think and fit in the organization, they say.

The new information is the result of five weeks of round-the-clock work by a CIA-led team of data analysts, cyber experts and translators who are 95 percent finished decrypting and translating the years of material and expect to complete the effort by mid-June, two U.S. officials say.

Al-Qaida operatives worldwide are feeling the heat, with at least two of them altering their travel plans in recent weeks in apparent alarm that they might become the targets of another U.S. raid, one official said.

All officials spoke on condition of anonymity to describe the review of bin Laden files taken by U.S. Navy SEALs in a May 2 raid on his Abbottabad, Pakistan, hideout.

The items taken by the SEALs from bin Laden's second-floor office included a handwritten journal, five computers, 10 hard drives and 110 thumb drives.

Story: Bin Laden eulogy: al-Qaida chief will still 'terrify America'

Copies of the material have been distributed to agencies from the FBI to the Defense Intelligence Agency to continue long-term analysis, one official said. The material is now classified, greatly limiting the number of people who can see it and making any detailed public accounting of the contents a crime.

'Exploit the materials'
FBI Director Robert Mueller told Congress on Wednesday that one of the early assessments from the trove is that al-Qaida remains committed to attacking the United States.

"We continue to exploit the materials seized from bin Laden's compound" and "we are focused on the new information about the homeland threat gained from this operation," Mueller told the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is considering legislation that would extend Mueller's job for up to two more years.

There is nothing in the bin Laden files so far to indicate an imminent attack, three officials said. The U.S. has increased its vigilance regarding some of the targets bin Laden suggests to his operatives, from smaller U.S. cities to mass transport systems, to U.S. embassies abroad and even oil tankers in the Persian Gulf.

Slideshow: After the raid: Inside bin Laden's compound (on this page)

A law enforcement official briefed on the process said investigators have been analyzing raw digital data found on multiple hard drives and flash drives, and that some of it consists of sequences of numbers. Investigators were trying to discern potential bank account or phone numbers that might point to al-Qaida contacts in the United States or elsewhere, or codes that could produce other leads, said the official, who was not authorized to publicly discuss the analysis and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Especially useful in the communications between bin Laden and his followers from Asia to Europe to Africa is the light they shed on the personalities of known al-Qaida operatives and what drives the various terrorist commanders who corresponded with bin Laden, officials said.

Like an email chain showing office politics, with various members of the hierarchy weighing in and sometimes back-stabbing each other, the communications show different officials vying for the boss' attention and working the system, the officials said.

Some proposed daring raids aimed at causing mass casualties, like the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, while others proposed smaller targets to circumvent increased security measures worldwide.

While bin Laden continued to laud the merits of large-scale attacks, the records show he also embraced the shift to smaller operations carried out by Yemen's al-Qaida of the Arabian Peninsula as a way to retain the broader organization's image as a viable terrorist group able to strike U.S. targets, officials said.

It's not clear that any of the affiliates who were proposing some of the larger-scale attacks had the ability to carry them out, one of the officials said. After the initial proposal of an idea, there were no follow-up proposals in the trove describing specific resources available to go after a suggested large-scale target.

And while the al-Qaida chief advised his operatives on targets to strike, and helped them devise ways to hit those targets, there is no evidence in the files that any of the ideas bin Laden proposed led to a specific action that was later carried out, the officials say. For instance, though bin Laden advised Europe-based militants to attack in unspecified continental European countries just before Christmas, the threat never resulted in an actual attempted attack, the officials said.

Plots and briefings
There have been small-scale violent incidents in Denmark, where bin Laden had repeatedly encouraged followers to attack because of disparaging references to the Muslim prophet Mohammed in Danish media, the officials said. But he did not seem to be involved in planning those specific incidents, the officials said.

As for bin Laden's suggestion to hit oil tankers, there is an indication of intent, with operatives seeking the size and construction of tankers, and concluding it's best to blow them up from the inside because of the strength of their hulls. In a confidential warning obtained by The Associated Press, the FBI and the Homeland Security Department said that al-Qaida operatives also recommended test runs, but there's no evidence the plot went any further, the officials say.

The U.S. has briefed allies such as Britain, Germany and other countries in Europe on the contents of the trove relevant to their nations or their portions of the counterterror fight, officials said.

They have also shared some of the information with Pakistan, as part of an effort to renew cooperation with Islamabad, in the wake of the raid, U.S. and Pakistani officials said. The U.S. hid the operation from Pakistan for fear that the raid plans would leak to militants, but the unilateral action brought protests from Pakistani leaders over what they called an affront to their sovereignty.

High-level U.S. visits have aimed to take the edge off that dispute, including a visit by CIA Deputy Director Mike Morell, who met with intelligence chief Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha last month.

After that outreach, Pakistan allowed the CIA to re-examine the bin Laden compound. Pakistan also returned the tail section of a U.S. stealth Black Hawk helicopter that broke off when the SEALs blew up the aircraft to destroy its secret noise- and radar-deadening technology.

The investigative team, made up mainly of intelligence officers from both nations, will compare the CIA's analysis of computer and written files with Pakistani intelligence gleaned from interrogations of those who frequented or lived near the bin Laden compound, the officials said.

Pakistan's intelligence service has been interviewing those who spent time at the compound, from a guard who used to do the compound's grocery shopping, to an extremist sheik who came in weekly to teach the 18 children that Navy SEALs counted at the compound the night of the raid.

Eggs, beds and a blanket
Pakistani officials described the emerging picture of life inside the compound. One official described it as bleak, almost prison-like in its austerity.

Some of the roughly two dozen surviving residents told Pakistani intelligence they subsisted on a weekly delivery of one goat, which they slaughtered inside the compound, plus milk from a couple of cows kept in the courtyard. There were also eggs from chickens that roamed the courtyard, and vegetables from a small kitchen garden.

Bin Laden's upper apartments were bare of paint or adornment on the walls. There were only two beds, a double and a single, both of poor quality, one Pakistani official said. Officials haven't determined the sleeping arrangements for bin Laden and his three wives among the beds, he added.

Bin Laden's rooms did have the only air conditioner in the compound, in a region where summer temperatures can top 100 degrees Fahrenheit. There were no heaters, despite winters where temperatures can drop to freezing. That could explain the blanket bin Laden clutches around him in one of the videos taken from his office.


Associated press writers Pete Yost in Washington and Tom Hays in New York contributed to this report.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Photos: The compound

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  1. Pakistani boys while demolition takes place on the compound where Osama bin Laden was slain in 2011 in the northwestern town of Abbottabad on Feb. 26, 2012.

    More photos from Abbottabad one year after Osama bin Laden (Aamir Qureshi / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. An aerial view shows the residential area of Abbottabad, Pakistan, where Osama bin Laden was found and killed by U.S. commandos. (Asif Hassan / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. A general view of the town of Abbottabad, May 6. Bin Laden was living in a large house close to a military academy in this garrison town, a two-and-a-half hour-drive from the capital, Islamabad. (Khaqan Khawer / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Supporters of Pakistani religious party Jamaat-e-Islami rally to condemn the killing of bin Laden, in Abbottabad on May 6. (Aqeel Ahmed / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. A Pakistani woman photographs her daughter on May , at a gate of the compound where bin Laden was caught and killed. (Aqeel Ahmed / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. School girls pass by armed Pakistani policemen guarding the sealed entrance to the compound in Abbottabad, May 5, in which bin Laden had been living. (MD Nadeem / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Part of a damaged helicopter rests in the compound after U.S. Navy SEAL commandos killed bin Laden, May 2, in a photo made available on May 4. (Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Boys herd sheep past the compound where U.S. Navy SEAL commandos killed Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad May 5. (Akhtar Soomro / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Pakistani security officials arrive at the Osama bin Laden compound in Abbottabad on Wednesday, May 4. (Aamir Qureshi / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Local residents gather outside a burned section of bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad. (Aamir Qureshi / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. A Pakistani police officer gestures at a checkpoint along a road leading to a house where bin Laden was captured and killed in Abbottabad. Area residents were still confused and suspicious about bin Laden's death, which took place before dawn on Monday. (Anjum Naveed / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Pakistani children look out from a high vantage point at bin Laden's compound on Tuesday, May 3. (Aqeel Ahmed / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Pakistan army troops remove canvas screens from outside the compound's house. (Anjum Naveed / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Neighbors and news media gather around the compound, right, after authorities ease security around the property. (Aqeel Ahmed / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. A satellite image, taken June 15, 2005, shows the Abbottabad compound, center, where bin Laden was killed in on Monday. (DigitalGlobe via Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. A Pakistani soldier secures the compound. (T. Mughal / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. The compound is seen in flames after it was attacked early May 2 in this still image taken from cellphone video footage. (Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Part of a damaged U.S. MH-60 helicopter lies the compound. The helicopter was destroyed by U.S. forces after a mechanical failure left it unable to take off. (Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. A still image from video obtained by ABC News shows blood stains in the interior of the house where bin Laden was killed. (ABC News via Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Aerial views released by the Department of Defense show the area in Abbottabad in 2004, left, before the house was built, and in 2011, right. (Department of Defense via Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. A graphic released by the Department of Defense shows the compound where bin Laden was killed. (Department of Defense via Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Pakistani soldiers and police officers patrol near the house, background, where bin Laden had lived. (Anjum Naveed / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. The hideout of bin Laden is seen the day after his death. (Farooq Naeem / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Students look toward the compound from a nearby religious school in Abbottabad. (Faisal Mahmood / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. Pakistani security officials survey the walls of the compound where bin Laden was killed. The outer walls were between 10 and 18 feet high. (MD Nadeem / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. Pakistani soldiers stand guard near the compound May 2. (Anjum Naveed / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. Boys collect pieces of metal from a wheat field outside bin Laden's house, seen in the background, on May 3. People showed off small parts of what appeared to be a U.S. helicopter that the U.S. says malfunctioned and was blown up by the American team as it retreated. (Anjum Naveed / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. Pakistani security officials stand guard at the main entrance to the compound on May 3. (MD Nadeem / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. An image from video seized from the walled compound of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, and released by the U.S. Department of Defense, shows Osama bin Laden watching TV. He is said to have spent his last weeks in a house divided, amid wives riven by suspicions. On the top floor, sharing his bedroom, was his youngest wife and favorite. The trouble came when his eldest wife showed up and moved into the bedroom on the floor below. (Department of Defense via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
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    Above: Slideshow (29) After the raid: Inside bin Laden's compound - The compound
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    Slideshow (81) After the raid: Inside bin Laden's compound - World reaction
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    Slideshow (81) World reacts to death of Osama bin Laden - World reaction
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    Slideshow (29) World reacts to death of Osama bin Laden - The compound

Video: Posthumous bin Laden message aired

  1. Closed captioning of: Posthumous bin Laden message aired

    >>> u.s. intelligence officials are poring over what was likely osama bin laden 's final message to the world . it was released by al qaeda overnight. nbc's chief foreign correspondent richard engel is in cairo with details. richard, good morning.

    >> reporter: good morning, matt. it was an audio recording released by al qaeda 's official media wing and it appears to be fairly recent and may have been made even as the cia was watching bin laden 's compound. it could be the last message osama bin laden made before he was killed by u.s. navy s.e.a.l.s. in the audiotape presumably recorded in pakistan, bin laden hails this year's revolts that toppled regimes in egypt and threatened million dollarset east leaders from libya to yemen. we watched this historical event and share in your delight. congratulations on your victories that was apparently osama bin laden 's. osama bin laden may have been trying to jump on the bandwagon of the popular revolutions and make himself more relevant. al qaeda had no part in the arab revolt which had been largely secular. in the audiotape bin laden encourages muslims to transform their street protests into an islamic revolution . there was a great rare and historic opportunity to raise the muslim world and be lip rated from enslavement to the wishes of rulers and manmade law in the western domination, he said. take advantage of it and destroy the idols and statues and establish justice and faith but the arab leaders are showing little interest. the audiotape was broadcast on al jazeera , but only 20 minutes into its programming. the news wasn't followed by analysts or guests. for most people in the middle east , bin laden missed the revolutions, which made his strategy and message of political change through terrorism increasingly irrelevant. most people in this part of the world, matt, slim don't want bin laden to be associated in any way with the ongoing revolutions. matt?

    >> richard engel in cairo. thank you very much.

Explainer: Bin Laden dead: Who will lead al-Qaida?

  • Ayman al-Zawahri, Osama bin Laden
    Ayman al-Zawahri, left, with Osama bin Laden in Khost, Afghanistan, in 1998.

    With al-Qaida's supreme leader killed, the terrorist group is seeking its next leader.

    Replacing Osama bin Laden, who founded the network more than two decades ago and masterminded the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States, is no easy task.

    Following are top candidates for the world's top terrorism job.

  • A video grab taken 06 January 2006 from
    -  /  AFP - Getty Images file
    Ayman al Zawahiri.

    Name: Ayman al Zawahiri
    Age: 59
    Country of origin: Egypt
    Reward: $25 million
    No. 2: He is the longtime second in command to bin Laden. Many in the counterterrorism community say they were surprised that Zawahiri was not named leader soon after bin Laden was killed May 2 and every day he isn’t lessens the chances he will succeed to the top position.

    A pediatrician who was jailed and tortured in Egypt in the roundup following the assassination of Anwar Sadat in 1981, Zawahiri is seen as prickly, arrogant and pedantic by many in al-Qaida. He is also Egyptian, and that is not a positive in an organization dominated by Gulf Arabs. By his own count, he has been targeted by the Americans for attacks six times. They came closest in Domodola, Pakistan, in early 2006.

  • Image:
    -  /  AFP/Getty Images
    Al-Qaida operative Abu Yahya al-Libi.

    Name: Abu Yahya al Libi
    Age: 47
    Country of origin: Libya
    Reward: $1 million
    Hardliner: The leading propagandist of al-Qaida, he is the most charismatic leader in the terrorist group. Although he has no operational position, his videos have outnumbered those of both bin Laden and Zawahiri. He has a great deal of “street cred,” according to one U.S. official, because he fought against the U.S. in Afghanistan. He was captured and then escaped from Bagram prison in July 2005.

    Al Libi is one of a number of Libyans who have risen in al-Qaida ranks over the past decade. Abu Faraj al Libi was the organization’s No. 3 until he was captured, and Abu Laith al-Libi was the No. 4 until he was killed in a Predator strike in 2008. Another Libyan, Abu Gaith al Libi served as bin Laden’s press spokesman after Sept. 11. He is believed to have died.

  • Image: Ilyas Kashmiri
    Saeed Khan  /  AFP - Getty Images file
    Ilyas Kashmiri, commander-in-chief of the Kashmiri militant group Harakat-ul Jihad-i-Islami.

    Name: Ilyas Kashmiri
    Age: 46
    Country of origin: Pakistani
    Reward: $5 million
    Rising star: Kashmiri has risen quickly in the al-Qaida hierarchy. He has his own terrorist group, Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami, which operates in Indian-held Kashmir. More importantly, he is known to have been invited to high-level al-Qaida councils in North Waziristan. There were reports in the Pakistani media that he’d been killed in September 2009 in a Predator strike, but those turned out to be false.

    Kashmiri was reportedly killed in a drone strike on June 4, Pakistani officials say.

    Kashmiri was indicted along with Pakistani-American David Headley, in October 2009, on two counts, for "conspiracy to murder and maim in Denmark" (against the newspaper Jyllands-Posten) and "conspiracy to provide material support to terrorism in Denmark."

  • Image: Anwar al-Awlaki
    AFP - Getty Images
    Anwar al-Awlaki.

    Name: Anwar al Awlaki
    Age: 40
    Country of origin: United States, leader of Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula
    Plugged in: Born in Las Cruces, New Mexico, to Yemeni-American parents, al Awlaki speaks perfect English, is a charismatic speaker and is more heavily involved in social media than any of the others. He has reportedly been involved, either directly or as an inspiration, in several AQAP-linked attacks, including Maj. Nidal Hassan’s killing of 15 soldiers at Fort Hood in November 2009, Umar Farouk Abdulmuttalab’s attempted bombing of Northwest Flight 253 over Detroit on Christmas Day 2009, and Faisal Shahzad’s attempt to kill and maim hundreds in Times Square in May 2010. He had his own website and Facebook page, which had more than 5,000 “friends” until Facebook shut it down following an NBC News report.  He has directed messages at African Americans in recent speeches, comparing anti-Muslim bias to slavery and segregation.

    Days after Bin Laden was killed, al Awlaki was the reported target of a Predator strike in Yemen, which killed two other members of his tribe in an SUV. Al Awlaki was not in the vehicle.

  • Name: Atia Abd al Rahman
    Age: Late 30s
    Country of origin: Libya
    Reward: $1 million
    Bin Laden's gatekeeper: A North African, Atia was promoted to No. 3 in 2010 after his predecessor, Sayed Sheikh, was killed in yet another Predator strike.

    He was personally close to bin Laden, going back to the late 1980s when he was a teenager fighting against the Soviets. He is known as an explosives expert and Islamic scholar. He retreated with bin Laden to the mountainous Afghanistan-Pakistan border region in the fall of 2001, according to the FBI.

    He was reported killed in a Predator strike — only to show up alive. One stain on his legacy: He was in charge of bin Laden’s couriers.

  • Image:
    -  /  AFP - Getty Images
    Saif al-Adel

    Name: Saif al-Adel
    Age: 51
    Country of origin: Egypt
    Up close: As military commander of al-Qaida, al-Adel was part of the al-Qaida Management Council, which bin Laden instructed to go to Iran in November 2001 as Afghanistan collapsed. U.S. officials in the past have told NBC News that al-Adel is in some kind of custody in Iran. Iranian officials went further, saying he and the rest were "in jail." There were reports last year that he had somehow left Iran, but U.S. officials then and now said they cannot confirm that.

    Al Jazeera reported this week that al-Adel had been appointed interim leader of al-Qaida.


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