October 10, 2006


Al-Qaida's Growing Doubts (Austin Bay, 10 Oct 2006, Tech Central Station)

[N]ational Security Agency and other present-day spy shops release captured al-Qaida communications with great reluctance.

They should be less reluctant. Here's why. Information Age media -- swamped with ideological and political Sturm und Drang -- are a key battlefield in this war.

In America's open society, people constantly take public counsel of the fears. Sowing doubt about current leadership is a fundamental opposition tactic in every democratic election.

Thus America's "narrative of doubt" tends to dominate the global media -- with a corrosive effect on America's ability to wage ideological and political war.

Though war's doubt and uncertainty affect all sides, dictators and terrorists can control their "message." As a result, there is no balance to media portrayal of American doubt.

The American "narrative of doubt" plays into the business model of sensationalist media, which rely on hyperbolic and emotional display to attract an audience. (CNN's Anderson Cooper, with his "show rage" coverage of Hurricane Katrina, is an example.)

Which is why the rare glimpse, like Atiyah's letter to Zarqawi, is truly big news.

"The path is long and difficult," Atiyah writes, "and the enemy isn't easy, for he is great and numerous, and he can take quite a bit of punishment, as well." Atiyah's assessment seems to be a major change in tune and tone. Previous al-Qaida documents touted the Clinton administration's withdrawal from Somalia as the template for American action.

Atiyah adds that al-Qaida's leaders "wish that they had a way to talk to you (Zarqawi) ... however, they too are occupied with vicious enemies here (presumably in Pakistan). They are also weak, and we ask God that He strengthen them and mend their fractures."

Atiyah tells Zarqawi to contact him via a specific Internet site because of "the disruption that exists and the loss of communications." Releasing the letter thus reveals a potential source of new intelligence. Weigh that against what it says about the highly restricted lives of al-Qaida's leaders. Their jihadist cave life is dangerous, and their ability to command is severely curbed -- these men are besieged.

It's important to consider that if intelligence were open enough for us all to see how incosiderable the threats to us are the professional Intelligence services would be out of work.

Posted by Orrin Judd at October 10, 2006 4:11 PM

" how incosiderable the threats to us are "

~ Neville Chamberlain

Posted by: iRi at October 10, 2006 5:01 PM

Chamberlain was obviously right. The Nazis would have been only too happy to leave them alone, but in the event were unable to land a man on British soil.

Posted by: oj at October 10, 2006 5:03 PM

"The Nazis will be only too happy to leave us alone."


Posted by: rds at October 10, 2006 5:23 PM

Hitler hated the Communists. But Stalin did think they were no threat, illustrating the point perfectly from the opposite end. The USSR them is like Europe now.

Posted by: oj at October 10, 2006 5:28 PM

WWII enabled evil more than contained.

Posted by: oj at October 10, 2006 8:32 PM

Everyone knows what would have happened -- statism would have been discredited fifty years sooner -- but as democrats we can't accept the idea that our actions were counterproductive. It's quaint.

Posted by: oj at October 11, 2006 8:45 AM

OJ is right that there is a major flaw in the way our intelligence system works. There are some valid reasons to keep such things secret - usually to keep the intelligence source open (protect informers and keep secret that we've broken their codes). We also do not wish to tip them off when new information makes something actionable.

But for the most part, open source intelligence is the way to go. It makes for better informed decisions. The US intelligence services are a miserable failure. We need to do better.

Posted by: Chris Durnell at October 16, 2006 4:35 PM