Archive for May, 2011

I’ve been busy working on a story the past few days, hence my lack of blogging. This story will see the light of day soon. I will post it here when it’s ready.

In the meantime, I’ll point out a few recent articles – most of them from Foreign Policy – which I highly recommend reading.

The Antisocial Network: Flashpoint’s Evan Kohlman looks at how cyber-jihadists reacted to the death of Osama bin Laden.

The Cost of Pakistan’s Double Game: RFE/RL journalist Daud Khattak assesses Pakistan’s complicated and contradictory tolerance and ties to jihadist groups and figures living in the country.

Replacing Bin Laden: Al-Hayat journalist Camille Tawil provides more biographical information and analysis about interim al Qaeda leader Saif al-Adel.

Misnomers and Misdirection: In light of Benjamin Netanyahu’s address to Congress earlier this week in which he said “Israel will not negotiate with a Palestinian government backed by the Palestinian version of al Qaeda,” my former professor Daniel Byman looks at the differences between Hamas and al Qaeda.

Disgraced John Ensign Back In Legal Jeopardy: Murray Waas reports that Senator John Ensign’s last-minute decision to release more than 1,000 sensitive emails between himself, his lawyers, and his advisers to Senate Ethics Committee investigators could put him in legal jeopardy with the Department of Justice.

John Edwards Could Be Indicted Within Days: The Department of Justice plans to file criminal charges against former presidential candidate John Edwards, according to the Associated Press. The source says an indictment could come within days unless Edwards cuts a deal with prosecutors and pleads guilty to a negotiated charge.

Federal Prosecutors Try To Force New York Times Reporter To Reveal Sources: ABC News reports prosecutors have subpoenaed Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter James Risen to testify at the trial of former CIA officer Jeffrey Stirling, who is accused of leaking classified information about Iran’s nuclear program to Risen, among other things. Risen plans to ask the court to quash the subpoena, but “sources close to Risen” cited in the article say he is willing to go to jail to protect his sources.

Happy Memorial Day weekend to all!

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We’re still here…

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If you only read one story today, read the Washington Post’s account of David Headley’s testimony during the trial for his role in the 2008 Mumbai attacks:

CHICAGO — A confessed Pakistani American terrorist took the stand in a Chicago courtroom Monday and described a close alliance between Pakistan’s intelligence service and the Lashkar-i-Taiba terrorist group, alleging that Pakistani officers recruited him and played a central role in planning the 2008 Mumbai attacks.

David Coleman Headley’s long-awaited testimony at the start of a trial with international repercussions resolved one question at the outset: Federal prosecutors did not hesitate to connect Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI) to the attacks that killed 166 people, including six Americans.

Headley has pleaded guilty to doing reconnaissance in Mumbai and is the star government witness against his alleged accomplice, Tahawwur Rana. Headley testified that Lashkar “operated under the umbrella of the ISI” even after the group was banned in Pakistan in 2001.

The ISI and Lashkar “coordinated with each other,” Headley testified. “And ISI provided assistance to Lashkar: financial, military and moral support.”

After he trained three years with Lashkar, Headley said, a “Major Ali” of the ISI recruited him when he was briefly detained near the Afghanistan border in 2006. Ali referred him to an officer known as Major Iqbal, who became Headley’s handler and worked separately but in coordination with Lashkar chiefs, directing Headley’s reconnaissance in India and providing $25,000 to fund his mission.

Correction: Give credit where it’s due… The account cited is by ProPublica, but was republished by the Washington Post.

Apparently, the CDC is preparing for “28 Days Later”

Live Performance

Posted: May 18, 2011 in Music
Tags: ,

Muse – “Plug In Baby”


Al Qaeda leader Saif al-Adel at an al Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan, January 2000

Source: Flashpoint Partners/Evan Kohlmann

Multiple news organizations are reporting that Saif al-Adel, a former Egyptian special forces officer with years of operational experience in al Qaeda, has been named acting leader of the organization in the aftermath of Osama bin Laden’s death. The choice of al-Adel, and the unclear status of Ayman al-Zawahiri, offer some insights into the current state of the organization and the challenges it faces in a post-bin Laden world.

The key takeaways for me are first, that the Egyptians still have a considerable degree of influence within the organization during a period of disarray. It is worth keeping in mind that bin Laden’s longtime deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri is also Egyptian, and a good part of al Qaeda’s early membership came from al-Zawahiri’s Egyptian Islamic Jihad group. The two organizations formally merged in June of 2001.

Second, while this may be a short-term solution for them, the fact is no one will be able to fill bin Laden’s very large shoes as a leader and public figure. There are questions within the organization about the political viability of al-Zawahiri, his presumed successor. Fawaz Gerges, a professor of Middle Eastern studies at the London School of Economics, told the Washington Post, “There is no one else who has his weight or intellect. He is a giant among the remaining figures in al-Qaeda. But there is no doubt Ayman al-Zawahiri has been a divisive figure.”

Third, while bin Laden can still inspire them posthumously and serve as a propaganda figure, the key question now will be whether al-Adel, al-Zawahiri or someone else can hold all of these different organizations together under the al Qaeda umbrella or if some will split off and focus their energies on their regional political and sectarian issues. Secession by some of the local franchises or affiliates from the main al Qaeda organization should be considered as a real possibility in the weeks and months ahead, especially if internal political disagreements can’t be sorted out.

Fourth, as Peter Bergen points out, al-Adel and al-Zawahiri are going to have to deal with the fallout of the massive intelligence breach to the organization. They have to assume that the organization’s most sensitive secrets have been compromised or eventually will be as U.S. intelligence officials go through the treasure trove of information recovered during the bin Laden operation. This may force them into several courses of action, including – but not limited to – jumping the gun on operations before they are fully ready to be carried out, or aborting planned operations because the operational security and secrecy of the plan might be compromised.

The death of bin Laden doesn’t automatically mean the death of the organization he created or the ideology he inspired. Georgetown’s Security Studies Program director Bruce Hoffman points out historical examples where the decapitation of terrorist organizations have not meant the end of the campaigns. [Full disclosure: I am currently a graduate student in the SSP, although not in any of Hoffman’s classes.] But bin Laden’s successors will clearly have their work cut out for them in keeping the organization as a viable force to attack the United States and its allies.

Al Qaeda’s biggest problem may be in the inherent nature of the organization itself – it has no political means of achieving its objectives, only by means of asymmetric warfare. Simply put, al Qaeda can only exist and function as a terrorist organization. As my former professor Paul Pillar said, it has no equivalent of Sinn Fein to pursue a political agenda and won’t sit down at a negotiating table with domestic or international leaders. It can’t be held accountable for delivering results by a political base of constituents, as Hezbollah or Hamas are. After the revolutions of the Arab Spring which forced regime changes or political reforms, al Qaeda and its ilk may simply be less appealing to people as an option when they see political objectives can be achieved by other means.

The worst thing that could happen to al Qaeda or any group like it is to become irrelevant, and that is precisely what al-Adel and al-Zawahiri have to deal with right now if they want the organization as it existed before bin Laden’s death to survive.

Update: On a related note, check out this article in the Atlantic Wire.

One of the traits which made Osama bin Laden such an effective leader of the organization he founded was his ability to get individual terrorists and terror groups to look past their political, sectarian, and national differences and focus on a common goal. This ability to overlook contradictions apparently extended into his personal life.

Then:

I knew from the beginning that [bin Laden] was not willing to drink any soft drinks from American companies, Pepsi, Coca-Cola, Sprite, 7-Up. He was trying to boycott all American products because he believed that without Americans, Israel cannot exist.
– Palestinian journalist Jamal Ismail, who met bin Laden in 1984
Source: Peter Bergen, “The Osama bin Laden I Know,” p. 39

Then:

“My Muslim Brothers: The money you pay to buy American goods will be transformed into bullets and used against our brothers in Palestine. By buying these goods we are strengthening their economy while our poverty increases. We expect the women of the land of the two Holy Places and other countries to carry out their role in boycotting American goods. The security and intelligence services of the entire world cannot force a single citizen to buy the goods of his/her enemy. The boycotting of American goods is a very effective weapon for weakening the enemy.”
– Osama bin Laden
“The Declaration of Jihad on the Americans Occupying the Country of the Two Sacred Places”
August 23, 1996
Source: Peter Bergen, “The Osama bin Laden I Know,” p. 165

Now:

May 4 (Bloomberg) — The two polite Pakistanis who helped Osama bin Laden hide in the shadow of their country’s army bought bulk food orders, chose major brands and equally favored Pepsi and Coke, neighbors and a local shopkeeper said.