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Osama bin Laden and al Qaida

Osama Bin Laden

Most significantly, the 1990s saw the rise of Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaida terrorist organization, culminating in their attacks on September 11, 2001. Bin Laden was the son of Mohammed bin Laden, the wealthy Yemeni owner of a successful construction business living in Saudi Arabia.  When Mohammed died in 1968, Osama inherited $30 million. As a young adult, Osama volunteered to go to Afghanistan as a mujahideen to combat the Soviet invasion of that country.  While there, he became radicalized by anti-Western jihadist ideology and founded a military organization called al Qaida, Arabic for “The Base.” After the fall of the Soviet Union in 1989, Bin Laden transformed the focus of al Qaida to opposing the West, particularly the presence of American troops in Saudi Arabia. In 1998, he issued a public fatwa calling on Muslims to kill Americans everywhere.

Many of the National Security Council records at the Clinton Library deal with the growing realization of the threat posed by Osama Bin Laden.  In addition to the many records regarding his attacks on U.S. interests, there are several collections regarding Bin Laden himself:


2006-0228-F This collection consists of press releases, executive orders, memoranda, newspaper articles, reports, papers, cables, handwritten notes, and briefing materials highlighting the ongoing effort of the Clinton administration to follow and track Osama bin Laden across several continents in a concerted attempt to eliminate his terrorist network. The vast majority of the records in this collection are closed for reasons of national security. Published sources reveal President Clinton tried unsuccessfully on a number of occasions to utilize American military forces to target and kill bin Laden. He also called off proposed operations in a couple of instances for fear of massive collateral damage and the inevitable media backlash that would reflect negatively on the United States.

2006-1700-F This collection consists of records dated March 3, 1997 to January 20, 2001 between Richard Clarke, Samuel Berger, and the President referring to Osama bin Laden, al Qaida, Pakistan, Afghanistan, or the Taliban. The collection contains unclassified emails related to meetings or drafting public guidance. It also includes administrative materials related to document handling and tracking. Samuel Berger did not use email and therefore email correspondence is from Clarke to subordinates of Samuel Berger, and typically carry the instruction “FOR SRB.” Memoranda for the President would pass from Clarke through Berger to the President. It should be noted that because of sensitivities associated with counterterrorism activities and discussion related to Osama bin Laden this collection still remains largely classified.

2006-1985-F This collection consists of records related to Osama bin Laden and Executive Order 12333. It contains National Security Council cables and emails regarding the August 1998 airstrikes against al Qaida targets in Afghanistan and Sudan, Osama bin Laden, terrorism, and the prohibition on assassination contained in Executive Order 12333.

2007-1551-F This collection deals wholly with issues of foreign policy and national security. Only one document from this collection is open: a declassified Department of State cable summarizing Assistant Secretary of State Rick Inderfurth’s December 8, 1996 meeting with the Taliban. The remaining documents are closed for national security reasons.

2007-1610-F This collection consists of materials regarding Mullah Mohammad Omar, the founder and spiritual leader of the Taliban, and Osama bin Laden. Under Omar’s direction, the Taliban provided sanctuary to al-Qaeda and its leader Osama bin Laden despite demands by the United Nations Security Council that he be handed over for trial for his involvement in the 1998 U.S. Embassy bombings in Nairobi, Kenya and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. The collection includes news articles and press briefings regarding the Taliban’s refusal to turn over bin Laden and the resulting United Nations sanctions.

2007-1631-F This collection consists of records related to terrorism in Afghanistan from 1994 through 2001. The collection contains National Security Council (NSC) cables, emails, and Records Management System numbered documents. The records concern United Nations resolutions regarding the deteriorating conditions in Afghanistan, the impact of the Taliban’s rule on Central Asia, foreign press coverage of the proliferation of terrorist groups, Congressional correspondence, international meetings, and reaction to the 1998 United States airstrikes.

2007-1634-F This collection consists of National Security Council (NSC) Records Management System (RMS) documents. These RMS documents contain correspondence between President Clinton and members of Congress concerning terrorism and Pakistan. Also included in the RMS are White House press briefings and relevant news articles.

2011-0148-M This Mandatory Declassification Review contains National Security Council emails regarding Tarnak Farm in Afghanistan.

2013-0161-M This Mandatory Declassification Review contains material on Principals Committee (PC) and Deputies Committee (DC) meetings on Osama bin Laden, the Taliban, or Afghanistan. Material includes a November 1999 email between NSC Transnational Threats directorate staffers, regarding an upcoming PC meeting.

2014-0845-M This Mandatory Declassification Review contains material referenced in Chapter 4 of The 9/11 Commission Report, "Responses to Al Qaeda's Initial Assaults''. Materials include a memorandum to the President and two National Security Council emails regarding Osama bin Laden.

2014-0978-M This Mandatory Declassification Review contains material on Osama bin Laden. Materials include a paper entitled "Comments on New York Times Article on Usama bin Ladin", April 27, 1999.