The free world has waited patiently for 10 to 20 years to learn the master plan of international jihadism’s “al-Za’im,” (English: “the leader”) Osama bin Laden.
Because Seal Team Six dropped in on the al-Qaida leader’s Abbottabad domicile unannounced, he was unable to marshal a defense or dispose of the stockpile of strategic documentation he had preserved on digital storage media and in paper files.
It is safe to assume that the information he had accumulated over a period of years is in the U.S. being thoroughly scrutinized by members of the intelligence community.
U.S. officials characterized the files seized from bin Laden’s vault as a veritable cornucopia of actionable intelligence that should keep analysts and Arab language translators busy for a very long time.
Analysts, who have monitored Osama’s activities since the mid-1990s, have had to rely on sometimes-obfuscated statements he has made in his speeches in their intelligence estimates. Now they have a mountain of hard data to excavate.
Because bin Laden’s his domicile hasn’t changed much since his December 2001 flight from Tora Bora, one would assume that his Afghan archives accompanied or were reunited with him at his Pakistani safe house.
More importantly, we now know that bin Laden’s compound was the command center from which he continued to direct al-Qaida’s strategic operations.
We have also learned that bin Laden always communicated via courier to avoid detection and he was punctilious about keeping digital copies of his communiqués on local hard drives. So what is in the mountain of intelligence we now possess?
Almost immediately after bin Laden’s elimination, bits and pieces of the intelligence taken from his compound were gradually released for public consumption and, to some degree, satisfaction.
Debates quickly ensued over the appropriateness of publishing images of the deceased al-Qaida leader’s corpse and its burial at sea. Media pundits and the public dove into the debate with both feet.
When that debate was winding down another wave of photographs and video were released showing bin Laden watching a TV show about himself and the terrorist’s narcissism fueled the next heated debate. Additional material has been gradually released, most of it suitable for tabloid publication and less so for tactical purposes.
Doubtless, the material released to date has been interesting and in some ways, placating. But the “beefy” strategic information that experts, intelligence analysts, lawmakers, military strategists and the public really need is yet to be produced.
For instance, it is essential that individuals in these and similar roles understand the ideology that inspires and guides jihadists and jihadist movements globally.
How does al-Qaida see its role in the global jihad and how do they relate to other jihadist movements? What anticipated final event must occur before Islamists’ vision of a restored, global caliphate is fulfilled?
If the global jihad was World War II and the jihadists, Nazis, Allied Intelligence would search beyond the psychological profile of Nazi leaders to learn everything there is to know about the enemy.
We would expect a mountain of intelligence such as the following:
1. Bin Laden’s views of his potential relationship with his protectors inside Pakistan, particularly those connected to or part of the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). We know the latter has ties to the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) terror group because of the situation with India, at least in the past.
2. For years, bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri were able to get their video messages rushed to the front of the programming queue on Qatari-funded al Jazeera TV as exclusive news stories.
That bin Laden and al-Zawahiri relied on couriers to ferry their messages to the Arab TV network boasting the most powerful broadcast antenna in the Arab world raises an obvious question: What group prompted the premier television network in the Arab World, to facilitate world wide distribution of the views of the world’s most-wanted terror fugitive?
Intelligence mining should be able to skim all we need to know about bin Laden’s symbiotic relationship with propaganda operatives.
3. Numerous journalists and media pundits in the Arab world claimed on air and in print to know better than anyone what bin Laden wanted and what he was thinking.
4. Harsh disagreement between the two organizations over the mechanics of jihad notwithstanding, the Ikhwan have turned out many of al-Qaida’s senior leaders.
The two camps were birthed out of the same Salafi womb and their sibling rivalry has gone on for years. This raises another interesting question: How did bin Laden perceive the Muslim Brotherhood? What was the basis of his criticism of them? In his view, how did they fail and, more importantly, who within the Ikhwan did bin Laden like?
5. While the two are at odds ideologically and both consider the other to be an enemy, reported numerous contacts between the Iranian regime, or parts of it, and al-Qaida are not out of the question since they share common enemies in the West, the United States, and some Arab regimes. Therefore, it is logical to assume that mediated and perhaps direct exchanges took place between them.
6. Mining bin Laden’s files to discover the degree to which al-Qaida has penetrated Islamist networks in the US and elsewhere in the West would be of immeasurable value to their intelligence, law enforcement, military, and Homeland Security efforts.
What pressures and influence has al-Qaida brought to bear on those groups. We already know of cases where al-Qaida-linked jihadists have embedded themselves in Islamist political networks in America and the West. Obviously, bin Laden knew much more about this infiltration than we did. This is a critically important issue with dramatic implications for Homeland Security that needs to be a top priority in the mining of bin Laden’s files.
Bin Laden’s mountain of archives should be a gift that keeps on giving high-value intelligence to U.S. and international security agencies. Bin Laden watching himself on TV may have been entertaining, but locating the pillars of his war on the West is a top priority.
Dr. Walid Phares is the author of The Coming Revolution: Struggle for Freedom in the Middle East, teaches Global Strategies in Washington, D.C., and advises members of the U.S. Congress and the European parliament.
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