(image: Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan)
He was born in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in 1957, the son of a construction billionaire who scraped his way up the financial ladder, and wound up an influential citizen in with ten wives and fifty children. After his parents divorced, the boy went to live with his mother and her new husband. He attended Al Thager Model School, an exclusive high school in Jedda. He proved a brilliant student and received a special invitation to join an Islamic study group.
But what started as just a Koran reading group morphed into a study of the terrorist rules of jihad. By the second year of his studies, the young man became a full-fledged Islamist activist. He married at eighteen, and obtained a degree at King Abdul Aziz University. But instead of entering his father’s business, he decided to join the Afghan Resistance in 1979 to fight the Soviet invaders in Afghanistan.
Once the Soviets left Afghanistan in 1989, the now thirty-two-year-old activist returned as a hero to his native Saudi Arabia. But he soon became furious at the U. S. presence there during the Persian Gulf war. Once he publicly denounced the United States, Saudi Arabia banished him. His family was quick to disown him and cut off his multi-million-dollar stipend.
By 1983, he had formed a secret group named Al Qaeda, and through them, launched a series of worldwide terrorist actions: detonating truck bombs to kill U.S. forces in Saudi Arabia, killing tourists in Egypt, and bombing U.S. embassies in Nairobi, Kenya and Tanzania.
After taking refuge in Afghanistan, he declared a Holy War against the United States, ultimately orchestrating the deadly destruction of the World Trade Center, the airliner crash into the Pentagon, with a third attack heroically thwarted by doomed passengers leading to their jet crashing in a field in Pennsylvania. Osama Bin Laden became the most sought-after mass murderer and terrorist in American history.
Just last month, the CIA declassified a December, 2010 letter written by bin Laden, instructing al Qaeda’s general manager to set aside one-third of a multi-million ransom the group had received – almost one and three quarter million dollars – to buy gold bars and coins. It seems bin Laden was a strong believer in gold. The letter, written in Arabic, was part of the belongings seized in the Navy SEAL raid on bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, in 2011 when they killed the international criminal under the direct orders of President Obama.
The letter clearly shows that bin Laden had an acute sense of which currencies were strong, and how gold fit into the picture. After specifying exactly what currencies should be bought, the New York Times reports he wrote, ““When you do spend this money, use the euros first, then the dinars, the yuan, and then the gold.” Offering his observation of the gold market, he advised, “Right now it is $1,390 an ounce, but before the events in New York and Washington it was $280 an ounce. If the price of gold reaches $1,500 or a little over before you get this message, it’s still alright to buy it ….”
In The Godfather, Part II, mob boss Michael Corleone repeats words of wisdom his father taught him to Frankie Pentangeli, “Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer.” It was an injunction to know and understand your most deadly enemies in the profoundest possible way, not just to protect yourself, but to obtain the fastest possible information of any advantage they may gain. So what can we learn from an infamous murderer’s penchant for gold investment? Think about the value physical gold holds for us: it helps us maintain financial privacy, it’s not hack-able, it’s portable, liquid and internationally negotiable.
In a world plagued by financial challenges, in addition to the ongoing threats of both extremist acts of violence and economic terrorism, it would be foolish not to learn from our enemies. How else can we hope to outwit them?