May 22, 2015 · 5 minutes

“So many books, so little time.” ― Frank Zappa
Earlier this week, the US Director of National Intelligence released a list of books and documents seized from Osama Bin Laden’s hideout in 2011.

The list is much as you’d expect from the library of a sexually frustrated bore: A teetering pile of Chomsky and Palast, boxes bursting with conspiracy literature and military porn, along with reports from the Heritage Foundation and a guide to the video game Delta Force Extreme 2 (“The long awaited sequel to Delta Force: Xtreme. More terrains, more maps, more weapons, more action!”)

There's bathos and black comedy too: A blank Al Queda application form (actual question: “who should we contact in case you become a martyr?”), a few scanned pages from the Guinness Book of Records (Uncle Sam declined to share which record Bin Laden was hoping to beat. My guess: the long toenail one) and a stack of software manuals which speak to the woeful inadequacy of the Al Queda IT helpdesk (“have you tried blowing it up?”)

Most journalists have chosen to focus on the conspiracy theory stuff, given the mind-bending implication that even Osama Bin Laden thought 9-11 was an inside job. For my money, though, the most puzzling document Ex Libris Bin Laden was one that the news media almost completely overlooked.

Buried deep in a list headed “media articles” is this tantalizing bullet point:

  • “Time [magazine], part of an article on a dive of America Online’s stock”
Remember this is a man who, judging from the rest of his bedside reading, is interested in American corporations only insofar as they are all secretly run by space lizards. And yet, while deep in hiding, Bin Laden goes to whatever extreme lengths are required to get hold of an article about... AOL?

Bin Laden may have sat squarely in AOL’s elderly conspiracy nut demo, but we know he couldn't have been a customer. Most AOL users risk only malware and 419 scams when they go online, but had Osama tried to redeem his 500 free hours he’d have been on the business end of a Predator drone before he'd finished typing A/S/L. Also: America online? Good luck expensing that one, Sammy.

No, a far more likely explanation is professional curiosity.  Consider: A sprawling international network that destroys all it touches, is universally distrusted, and yet which manages not just to survive but thrive amidst the chaos... Headed by a charismatic, unflappable salesman... Are you really shocked to discover that the head of Al Queda thought he could learn a thing or two from Tim Armstrong's AOL?

Only one article in the entire Time archive that specifically mentions an AOL stock drop in its headline. It’s dated February 9th 2011, less than three months before Osama was shot by US special forces. In the article, Time reporter Graeme McMillan discusses the market’s apparent concerns over Armstrong’s leadership and even pokes fun at his infamous “AOL Way” memo.

AOL Drops $315 Million In Stock Value After Spending $315 Million On HuffPo

It could be an off [sic] coincidence or some kind of weird trading karma, but AOL stock has fallen $315 million in value over the last five days – Exactly the same amount that the company paid to purchase the Huffington Post in the controversial deal closed on Superbowl Sunday.

That the stock was already falling before news of the sale may have been triggered by the leak last week of an internal memo from CEO Tim Armstrongthat pushed for profitability and pageviews over all other considerations, suggesting that journalistic integrity will be expected to take a backseat to business concerns as a matter of course. Seymour Hersh showed us this week how little we really know about the final days and hours of Bin Laden’s life. Why did Seal Team Six find only a fragment of the AOL story and not the whole thing? Did a furious Bin Laden rip the thing to shreds rather than filing it away meticulously next to his (intact) copies of Foreign Policy and The Grappler’s Guide to Sports Nutrition?

Perhaps tearing the article to ribbons was catahartic enough for Bin Laden: At his age it doesn’t do to let one’s blood pressure get too high, especially with the dialysis. But maybe, as he lay in bed that night, Bin Laden was still seething at the media’s treatment of his guru — Mr Tim Armstrong is a good and wise man, and yet these dogs at Time Magazine wish to paint him as a fool! -?

With sleep impossible, especially with those infernal helicopters hovering nearby — it’s certainly feasible the old man might have pulled on his socks and headed to the kitchen for a glass of water, still muttering as he hobbled down the hallway — First they make jokes about Patch! And now this! They will see that local advertising is a viable revenue stream! Mr Tim Armstrong will show them all! —

We certainly can’t know for sure if Bin Laden's voice, rising in anger at the injustice suffered by AOL's Tim Armstrong, was what caused Seal Team Six to head upstairs, having already breached the walls of the compound and piled through the living room, pausing only to nod approvingly at a pile of video games.

“Enemies lurk in locations around the globe, waiting for the right opportunity to strike. As part of Delta Force, the U.S. Army's most secretive and highly trained unit, you have the skills and the firepower to hunt them down and take them out. Get ready to insert yourself into critical situations by air, land and sea, and show you have the courage to take the fight to the enemy and overcome overwhelming odds to achieve victory.”
Dial-up may still be a profit center today but AOL must become a media company if it is to survive! Mr Tim Armstrong knows this! Time did not even disclose its history with the company! Is this really what has become of the magazine of Mr Henry Lu…

  • Tat-Tat-Tat*

Still, at least he didn’t live to see all the Verizon headlines. Would have broken the crazy old bugger’s heart.

[Illustration by Brad Jonas for Pando]