Friday, August 11, 2006

Al Qaeda "Central"

There is a great deal of debate about the degree of command and control the old guard of al Qaeda presently maintains. Similar analysis needs to be discussed concerning their logistical abilities and the group's skill-sets. Look for this debate to become a farce in our political back-and-forth between small-minded "leaders" on both sides of the aisle. Before (and while) that happens, we can see some interesting observations in the open-source database known as the Main Stream Media.

This debate should be anything but farce. The most important question is: Has George W. Bush done enough damage to al Qaeda? The answer is: No, were it not for a British Muslim's tip and MI5's extensive counterterrorism experience, we'd likely have another day on the calendar like 9/11. In fact, al Qaeda Central may conclude that small scale attacks (like July 7th) are counterproductive as they allow Britain and America to develop sources.

The Financial Times:
British security officials suspected the innovative use of liquid explosives smuggled on board could have evaded airport detection devices. They said the method of attack, if used to blow up an aircraft over the ocean on a flight from the US to the UK, could potentially have been used repeatedly because its detection would have been all but impossible after the event.

One official said: “We were very lucky to have acquired the intelligence about the modus operandi of the attacks. If we hadn’t got the intelligence, they probably would have succeeded and there would have been little or no forensic evidence showing how they had done it. The modus operandi could have made waves of attacks feasible.”
In order to support the point that more needs to be done against al Qaeda Central, we need to demonstrate that they remain vital (and not just inspirational) to these larger terrorist plots. This seems like it should be easy enough. After all, bombers from 7/7 appeared in videos bearing the emblem of al Qaeda's television production unit. Zawahiri, as Peter Bergen noted, can appear within about two weeks of a major event, in this case the war between Israel and Hezbollah. Osama bin Laden, as I have repeated a number of times, has threatened that an attack was in the planning stages and would soon be brought to fruition. How, I ask rhetorically, can we say he has little command and control when it seems that he's aware of the state of planning his militants have achieved?

But, there are some -- like Tony Karon -- who will buy what they are sold: al Qaeda is degraded and we should all be so proud. It is exactly this sort of cruise-missles can cure-all mentality that lead (in part) to September 11th.

Karon in TIME:
Threats of occasional terror attacks — and the disruptive security precautions they necessitate — may be an uncomfortable fact of life for the foreseeable future, but the latest episode may well illustrate the weakness of Osama bin Laden's organization, not its strength. The very uncertainty in establishing whether such a group attempting a "Qaeda-type" operation is actually connected to al-Qaeda's own structures reflects the diffuse nature of the organization: Last year's July 7 London bombings, for example, were carried out by a homegrown cell whose leader had traveled to Pakistan. Authorities initially doubted any direct connection with al-Qaeda, but then, a year later, Qaeda number 2 Ayman Zawahiri released a video to al-Jazeera that included the suicide tape left by one of the London bombers.
This clearly is the quitessence of spin: we're not certain who called the shots, so let's assume that means their shot-callers are weakened in this diffuse and confusing mess. There has been this repeated desire amongst some experts and politicians (George W. Bush not included, which is interesting) to call these plots "home-grown" because al Qaeda has been leveled. We've done a great deal of damage to the bastards, but they're still kicking and screaming. Moreover, they are sticking to their rubric (a sign of consistency and order... or, maybe, command and control) of simple, creative, meticulous attacks.

There is an inherent lack of command and control in someone hiding out in a cave. However, they conceivably can receive updates and provide direction. They may even, operating at a strategic level, set a timeframe for a plan's execution. The Times of London:
MI5 had built up a detailed picture of the plot over several months, but the threat had dramatically increased; the plotters had acquired the capability to carry out the attacks, perhaps within days. There was even a looming date, August 22, a holy day in the Muslim calendar and a propitious one for launching Armageddon.
In fact that diffuse network can provide a great deal of cover for the strategic planners. They can disconnect themselves from those in operational control, making the videos and teaching the bombers. Those operators can then disconnect themselves from the ones that will conduct the tactics, the ones that blow themselves to pieces to kill the innocent.

The Washington Post:
Neither U.S. nor British officials were prepared yesterday to proclaim definitive evidence of direct involvement by Osama bin Laden or his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri. They acknowledged that their conclusions are to some extent inferential and are based on bin Laden's repeated warnings of another major assault, the organization's known affinity for targeting commercial airliners, and their belief that no other terrorist group has the brains or the capability to plan such an audacious undertaking.
Why this degree of caution? Do you think bin Laden will enter a libel or slander suit against a government official for pointing the finger at the murderer? One bin Laden expert has held no punches. The New York Daily News:
"Those who say they're broken and can't communicate are just whistling past the graveyard," Michael Scheuer, who created the CIA's Bin Laden unit, said in a recent interview.

Another top counterterrorism official said, "The people working the case directly are entirely convinced the suspects are tied to Al Qaeda."

Homeland Security Department intelligence chief Charlie Allen said officials suspect the plotters acted on Al Qaeda's orders, but the link hasn't been proven conclusively.

There are clues that point to Al Qaeda.

Some terror experts note that Bin Laden had threatened the U.S. in a January tape that a new attack was being planned.

"The operations are under preparation and you will see them in your houses as soon as they are complete," Bin Laden said then.
Early reporting indicates that these would-be terrorists were following the same playbook as the 9/11 hijackers: they were operating in smaller cells, a diffuse network if you will. The Washington Post:
Investigators believe that the London operation was composed of three distinct cells, whose members may not have been aware of the others or the extent of their assignment, U.S. officials said.
Additionally, the fact that some members of the group appear to have been more directly engaged with al Qaeda leadership than others follows the pattern emerging from the investigation of the July 7th bombers, the Los Angeles Times:
Authorities say Khan in all likelihood trained in camps run by Lashkar-e-Taiba or Jaish-e-Muhammad, two militant groups considered to be feeder organizations providing Al Qaeda with a wellspring of recruits, as well as money and logistical support.

And authorities believe a second subway plotter, Shahzad Tanweer, also traveled to Pakistan, met with officials of both militant organizations and spread the word among friends when he got back to Britain.

One senior FBI counter-terrorism official said authorities had detected a similar pattern in other countries, as militants travel to Pakistan, receive training from the two groups and return to their homelands bent on launching attacks.

In some cases, the camps are run in tandem by the militant groups and Al Qaeda, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation is continuing.

"Some went to the camps and came back and started their own little groups, and those in turn started other cells, so it's sometimes impossible to tell where to draw the lines" between Al Qaeda, the two militant Pakistan groups and homegrown militants, the FBI official said.

U.S. authorities think the groups have tens of thousands of followers throughout Pakistan, and many hundreds of them have gone on to become operational soldiers and leaders of Al Qaeda.

But even as Pakistan has clamped down on Al Qaeda, militant groups have operated with virtual impunity, changing their names occasionally to avoid government crackdowns.

The result, U.S. officials and outside experts say, is that the militant groups have taken over many of Al Qaeda's core functions — recruiting, radicalizing and training militants for attacks against the West.

Initially, the groups were dedicated specifically to the fight against India over the disputed territory in Kashmir. But in recent years, they have begun training jihadists who want to attack the United States and Western interests, U.S. officials and outside experts said.

"Pakistan has not yet fully dismantled the training infrastructure of the various jihadi groups," said Husain Haqqani, an author and former senior advisor to three Pakistani leaders. "And in the post 9/11 environment, if a person feels inspired by Al Qaeda and wants to get training and act on his own or as part of a small group, Pakistan still remains a viable place for him to find the means to be a terrorist."

The jihadi groups serve as conduits for Al Qaeda, said Haqqani, a professor of international relations at Boston University.
I've seen television broadcasts which I believe show the al Qaeda bomb instruction course that some of the London bombers attended. Please also recall that just last month al Qaeda released another video whereby the following was said, CBS News:
The video, broadcast by Al-Jazeera, showed Shehzad Tanweer delivering the warning shortly before the July 7, 2005, attacks that killed 52 people and the four bombers.

"What you have witnessed now is only the beginning of a string of attacks that will continue and become stronger," Tanweer said in the video, and, in a Yorkshire accent says attacks will continue "until you pull your forces out of Afghanistan and Iraq."
A hint of a potential connection exists in this from the Times of London:
Surveillance on internet traffic between the suspected terrorists indicated that they had considered setting off their devices simultaneously in mid-Atlantic but had also discussed trying to blow up the aircraft as they circled above the destination cities. The aim was to cause maximum death and destruction in the air and on American soil.

US sources said that the main fear of British authorities was that terrorists planned to hide micro-bombs in false bottoms built into opaque energy drink bottles, enabling them to still drink the contents.

The devices may have been liquid explosive but experts said that it was more likely to have been a more stable peroxide material similar to that used in the 7/7 attacks last year.
Imagine if investigators find out that the same recipe was available to the foiled attackers.

"Experts" continue to ponder what seems to be clear to anyone with common sense: al Qaeda is still effective and very dangerous -- more needs to be done.

Note this pondering from the New York Times:
Mr. bin Laden’s organization, now often referred to as “Al Qaeda central” by counterterrorism officials, has not been able to match or exceed the devastation caused by the 9/11 attacks, though in numerous video and audio statements he has described that as his goal.

The American-led counterterrorism campaign destroyed Al Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan, and many of the network’s main leaders ranking just below Mr. Zawahri have been killed or captured.

In all of 2005, the National Counterterrorism Center reported that not a single attack worldwide “can be definitively determined to have been directed by the Al Qaeda central leadership,” according to the center’s annual report on terrorist incidents.

If the latest plot can be persuasively traced to Mr. bin Laden’s direction, rather than his inspiration, that would be an unwelcome surprise, Mr. Reeve said.

“If it was authored by bin Laden using scribbled notes and carrier pigeons, that means he’s still capable of directing a major attack,” he said.

But if Mr. bin Laden was a bystander, Mr. Reeve said, “that could be worse news,” suggesting “an absolute fragmentation of the terrorist threat.”
Mr. Reeve ignores the even more troubling possibility that al Qaeda Central remains potent and that they've begun to branch out and assist organizations such as Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Muhammad. Those organizations appear to also assist al Qaeda. In the wake of the Mumbai bombing last month that was a copy of the Madrid attacks of 2004 and with what we know today about Bojinka 2, we should realize that al Qaeda and their co-evildoers are sharing notes with the intent of wreaking havoc.


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