Officials have just published a trove of documents recovered from the 2011 raid which saw Osama bin-Laden killed in Pakistan.
Hundreds of documents were released on Wednesday by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, and among them was an eerily mundane application form for potential al-Qaeda recruits. The questions could be drawn from an application form from any corporation in America, with only a few questions which reveal the life which awaits recruits.
Al-Qaeda application form – Human resource masterclass
First, in the great tradition of human resources departments around the globe, recruits are instructed to write clearly and legibly and “enter the required information accurately and truthfully.” Those with spidery handwriting and a propensity to embellish the truth were presumably not welcome in the jihadi ranks. It makes you wonder how many would-be suicide bombers were rejected by the stringent al-Qaeda HR department because of their illegible scrawling.
The next section requires personal information, even down to the name of the recruit’s grandfather, before delving deeper into their religious background, with questions such as: “Which shaykhs do you listen to or read often?”
As is the case in other organizations, al-Qaeda were looking for well-rounded individuals, and recruits were invited to list their “hobbies or pastimes,” as well as their language skills. Those with a keen interest in travel were also more than welcome, and applicants were invited to provide the details of any of their contacts “who travel to Western countries.”
“Do you wish to execute a suicide operation?”
From here the questions become more specific, asking recruits if they know anyone who is an expert “in chemistry, communications or any other field,” as well as any contacts who work in government. So far, not much of a hint of the murderous intent of the organization, least of all when the form asks applicants to list their previous occupations.
Things start to get more interesting as recruits are asked to specify whether they have received military training, which is certainly not a requirement for most other jobs, nor would you be asked if you used “a real or forged passport for your current travel” when applying to work for most organizations.
The questions turn from mundane to sinister with the immortal line: “Do you wish to execute a suicide operation?” Those that answer yes will certainly have been reassured by al-Qaeda’s concern for their nearest and dearest, as a later question tells recruits to enter details of those the organization should “contact in case you become a martyr.”
Bureaucracy important to Bin Laden
While many corporations exhort ever greater levels of commitment from their staff, it is unlikely that anyone has ever been martyred in search of a better bottom line. The dry tone of the questions make the document more shocking, with the famous banality of evil evident once again.
This interest in human resources reached right to the top of the organization, with other documents revealing Osama Bin Laden‘s own taste for efficient practices in al-Qaeda. “We need a development and planning department,” he writes in one memo, sounding more like a paper pushing middle manager than a jihadi leader intent on destroying the Western world.
In addition to those with strong religious beliefs, Bin Laden also wanted his recruits to have qualifications and experience in office management, science and engineering. It is not hard to imagine a scene in which Bin Laden can be found running around al-Qaeda headquarters attempting to motivate his staff in the style of Steve Carell in The Office.
A lesson to any business owner
It just goes to show that whatever the aim of your organization, proper application processes and the keeping of employee records should never be overlooked. As Bin Laden appears to have understood very well, the keeping of records is important to the successful running of an organization, and enables targeted recruitment which addresses potential weaknesses in the workforce.
Perhaps there were two piles in the recruitment officer’s in-tray: those willing to carry out suicide attacks, and those not. If the recruitment process was as targeted as the documents suggest, it would not make sense to allow a highly-skilled recruit with high-level government contacts to blow himself to smithereens, while less educated jihadis remained alive.
I wonder if those potential recruits who read the application form were struck by the humor of its banality, or whether they were too caught up in religious fervor to really appreciate quite how funny the document is. Unfortunately the possibility of finding out the answer to that question is quite low, given the short life expectancy of al-Qaeda recruits.