U.S. President Barack Obama, along with members of the national security team, receive an update on the mission against Osama bin Laden in the Situation Room of the White House, May 1, 2011.
Pete Souza (White House) / Reuters

Since 9/11, two schools of thought have emerged about Osama bin Laden’s role in al Qaeda. The first holds that after 2001 he was largely a symbolic and isolated figurehead. The other posits that he was the organization’s key inspirational and ideological leader. Yet the Pentagon’s initial leaks about the information found on the computers confiscated by Navy SEALs during their May 1 raid on bin Laden’s compound strongly suggest that he had attempted a more hands-on approach than both schools assumed -- whether the rest of al Qaeda paid attention is another matter.

On May 6, a U.S. government official told CNN that bin Laden “worked at the operational and even tactical levels. . . . He was clearly issuing directions at all levels.” From his strategically placed compound, with couriers and assistants to help, he was also apparently overseeing the details of a planned attack on U.S. public rail

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