WASHINGTON -- Osama bin Laden instructed his deputies to recruit an operative with a valid Mexican passport who could cross illegally into the United States, said a former U.S. official familiar with the trove of letters and notes seized last year from the terrorist leader's compound.
U.S. intelligence analysts have combed through thousands of bin Laden's personal papers and computer files taken from the compound a year ago by Navy SEALs, and gleaned insights into his strategic focus on attacking the United States as well as his concerns about the judgment of a rising generation of al-Qaida leaders.
The notes also reflect how bin Laden's sometimes tortured religious logic bled into his battlefield orders.
In one letter written during the final year of bin Laden's life, the Saudi told his lieutenants that it would violate Islamic law for operatives who had pledged their loyalty to the United States to then turn around and launch attacks on U.S. soil, said the former official who spoke on condition of anonymity.
In particular, bin Laden was dismayed to find out that Faisal Shahzad, a Pakistani-American, had sworn allegiance to the United States during a citizenship ceremony just more than a year before he attempted to detonate an SUV loaded with explosives in Times Square in May 2010.
An operative with a valid Mexican passport would have easier U.S. access without violating an oath, Bin Laden wrote.
"Bin Laden wanted someone who had not pledged allegiance [to the U.S.]. He felt they were on stronger religious grounds," said the former official.
The message was not the first time U.S. intelligence officials had seen evidence al-Qaida wanted to smuggle operatives into the United States from it neighbors. A declassified CIA report written in 2003, titled "Al-Qaeda Remains Intent on Defeating U.S. Immigration Inspections," said that specific information at the time demonstrated al-Qaida's "ongoing interest to enter the United States over land borders with Mexico and Canada."
Some Arabic originals and English translations of the documents have been declassified and will be published online today by the Combating Terrorism Center, a think tank at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.