In 2017, the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) disclosed approximately 470,000 files recovered in Abbottabad, Pakistan, during the 2011 raid on Osama Bin Laden’s compound. According to the CIA, this collection — the Bin Laden Archive — comprises a wide array of original files from devices collected during the Abbottabad raid that are presumed to have belonged to Osama Bin Laden and other occupants of the compound.
Despite the potential insights that this archive stands to offer, limited research into its data and materials has been published to date in the public domain. More broadly, publicly available research conducted so far has entailed a qualitative review of only a selected number of files and documents. In December 2018, the Research and Documentation Centre (Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek- en Documentatiecentrum, WODC) of the Dutch Ministry of Justice and Security (Ministerie van Justitie en Veiligheid) commissioned RAND Europe to conduct a study aiming to (1) inventory current knowledge on Al Qa’ida and completed and ongoing research on the Bin Laden Archive and (2) conduct an initial assessment and characterisation of the Bin Laden Archive.
- Data and files in the archive can be clustered according to file type (audio, image, text and video files) to enable further investigation and characterisation.
- There appears to be only a limited potential for the image, audio and video clusters of the archive to help generate new knowledge and insights on Al Qa’ida and on the related phenomenon of jihadi terrorism based on the sample of files analysed.
- The text cluster of the archive appears to be the most promising cluster that could help generate novel insights and knowledge about Al Qa’ida during follow-on research. This is due to the cluster being comprised of personal, sensitive and private documents authored by individuals living in the Abbottabad compound or by other Al Qa’ida senior personnel living in hiding who were in contact with those in the compound.