We Don’t Drop Hits, We Drop Bombs That Smash

This is the sort of piece that a million already-played-out internet jokes are made of:

Every three or four days, on average, a new video or audio from one of al-Qaeda’s commanders is released online by as-Sahab, the terrorist network’s in-house propaganda studio. Even as its masters dodge a global manhunt, as-Sahab produces documentary-quality films, iPod files and cellphone videos. Last year it released 97 original videos, a sixfold increase from 2005. (As-Sahab means "the clouds" in Arabic, a reference to the skyscraping mountain peaks of Afghanistan.)

Yes yes hahahahahaha can I follow al-Qaeda’s Twitter and is Usama bin Laden on Tumblr now because blogging is way over. LOLerskates d00d yr so crazy and witty. Expect this to be the basis for someone’s Slate piece in a week or so.

Seriously, though.

Consider this:

"We all think of them as a bunch of guys living in caves, and Miran Shah may be the other side of the moon," said a senior U.S. counterterrorism official speaking on the condition of anonymity, referring to a Pakistani town near the Afghan border that has served as a refuge for al-Qaeda operatives. "And yet their guys are all communicating on laptops, just like I do from one of the most wired buildings in Washington."

Speeches by bin Laden and other al-Qaeda leaders can appear online less than a week after being recorded, although it usually takes two to three weeks before they are released, officials and analysts said.

"It is clear that they are under no real pressure," said Diaa Rashwan, an analyst at al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo. "They are very relaxed. They have plenty of time to go to their film archives and edit their productions."

Earlier this year, Joe Lieberman tried to get YouTube to pull down a bunch of extremist videos. Not only will that not stop AQ’s distribution network — as an anonymous counterterrorism official tells the Post — but it would be short-sighted. What we should be doing is listening to the recordings’ substantive message. We should learn why Al Qaeda uses the themes it uses, and how it uses them, and to what effect, and then counter that strategy.

Under Bush, we’ve been terrible at that. Mike Scheuer, former chief of the CIA’s bin Laden unit, used to tell a story about how every time there was a new bin Laden or Zawahiri video, the agency would scramble to find ornithologists and geologists to study the tape for clues as to where the terrorists were. A subordinate priority was to find Arabic speakers to understand what they were saying. That’s completely bass-ackwards. Eventually both men will die. But their message will live on. That’s the entire point of spreading their propaganda virally.

The Washington Post helpfully runs a snippet of an al-Qaeda video for an example of what we’re talking about. And the one the paper chooses is very 9/11 heavy. That should be a good sign! They’ve got to go back to their Greatest Hits collection, because the latest stuff — al-Qaeda in Iraq — just isn’t selling. At this rate, the next al-Qaeda tape is just going to contain "Holla Holla" and "Put It On Me." As Busta famously put it, The streets ain’t want you, Beatrice/What you gonna do now?/ You beefin’ with me?/ Well, then I’m beefin’ with you/ I think about the game and what it’s like and ‘What Would It Be Without You’.

Meanwhile, there’s also this:

One of the more visible and intriguing faces on al-Qaeda videos is that of Adam Gadahn, a California native and convert to Islam who moved to Pakistan a decade ago.

Gadahn, who calls himself "Azzam the American," first appeared in a video in 2005, when he threatened attacks on Los Angeles. He’s been cast as the star of several productions since then, and analysts said it is clear that al-Qaeda’s leadership turns to him for advice on how to address a U.S. audience.

Adam Gadahn: Hood Ambassador? You know he used to write for metal zines when he was in high school. Now he’s Tony Yayo to Zawahiri’s 50.

Previous post

FDL Book Salon Welcomes Amy And David Goodman

Next post

Call On My Brothers

Spencer Ackerman

Spencer Ackerman