Tuesday, March 11, 2008

AP Writer Bullish on Al Qaeda

The Associated Press’s Kathy Gannon has written a rave review of Al Qaeda’s efforts to “go modern” in its recruitment and technology campaign. (“Al Qaeda courting tech-savvy geeks/Flashy productions help in recruiting”):

In the Internet age, Al Qaeda prizes geeks committed to jihad as much as would-be suicide bombers and gunmen.

The terrorist network is recruiting computer-savvy technicians to produce sophisticated Web documentaries and multimedia products aimed at Muslim audiences in the United States, Britain and other Western countries.

Ms. Gannon has been covering Pakistan and Afghanistan since 1988, and presently lives in Pakistan with her husband and daughter. According to her bio, she “was in Kabul when the Taliban regime took power in 1996 and was the only western journalist allowed to return to Kabul by the Taliban, three weeks before their collapse in November 2001.”

Being married to a Pakistani and pals with the Taliban doesn’t make her biased. But in an excerpt from her 2005 book, “I Is for Infidel,” she had this to say:

The West has to own up to the mistakes it has made such as with Abu Ghraib and the torture in Afghan prisons, in the errant attacks on civilians and in its disregard for the basic precept of a civilized legal system, which maintains that an accused person is innocent until proven guilty.

The nature of the torture at Abu Ghraib reflected the West's perception of Muslims, hence the women soldiers who seemed to take such delight in the outrages and the especially humiliating use of dogs - considered abhorrent to Muslims - and the practice of making prisoners perform demeaning sexual acts. The torture was based on a phobic perception of Islam. Had Saddam Hussein's soldiers carried out these abuses on American soldiers, the outrage would have been global and the retribution violent. But because it was American and British soldiers who committed the torture, the blame was attached only to a few, to soldiers we were told were an aberration.

So clearly no bias there.

Still, what really caught my attention in this small AP story in the Detroit Free Press was Ms. Gannon’s gee-whiz coverage of Al Qaeda’s modernizing strategy. Ms. Gannon writes about Al Qaeda’s high-tech call for suicide bombers like a Fortune editor going oogly-googly over a new hot startup with a green product and an uptrending youth share.

The terrorist network is recruiting computer-savvy technicians to produce sophisticated Web documentaries and multimedia products aimed at Muslim audiences in the United States, Britain and other Western countries.

Already, the movement's al-Sahab production company is turning out high-quality material. The documentaries appear regularly on Islamist Web sites, which Al Qaeda uses to recruit followers and rally supporters.

That requires people whose skills go beyond planting bombs and ambushing U.S. patrols in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"The Al Qaeda men who are coming today are not farmers, illiterate people," said Qari Mohammed Yusuf, an Afghan who claims to be an al-Sahab cameraman. "They are PhDs, professors who know about this technology. ... Al Qaeda has asked them to come."

Try an experiment and substitute the phrase, “the auto supplier” or the “software developer” every place Ms. Gannon mentions “Al Qaeda” or “the terrorist network” or “the movement.” She does everything but include quotes from Wall Street money managers geeked on the terrorist video market, or comments from IT grads from Lawrence seriously weighing AQ’s competetive health plan and onsite day-care. You won't see one syllable consciously critical of Al Qaeda’s determined purpose to kill more people than ever. Ms. Gannon's too impressed with how slick and savvy these murderers' production values are getting.

A speech by deputy Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahri issued to mark last year's 9/11 anniversary included U.S. television interviews with wounded soldiers, CIA analysts and talking-head journalists and experts, excerpts from a news conference with President George W. Bush, audiotape of Malcolm X and World War II footage -- all edited in to back al-Zawahri's case that the United States is losing the war on terrorism.

Internet use enables Al Qaeda to reach a broad audience within the worldwide Muslim community, rather than having to rely on Arabic-language satellite stations, whose audiences are limited to the Middle East and who exercise editorial control.

"What is really amazing to me is watching how would-be terrorists living in the West are drawn in and captivated by al-Sahab videos," said Evan Kohlmann, a terrorism consultant for Globalterroralert.com.

Gee! Golly! Western marketers can really learn a lesson from the way would-be terrorists are drawn in, captivated, and then launched out on an unsuspecting world to go Allah-BOOOM! Or, as the technicians term it, being de-captivated.

And I'll bet those stupid Americans will try everything in their corrupt national-security toolbox to compete. But Al Qaeda's shrewd managers even cover that.

Al Qaeda technicians have become skilled at evading U.S. detection techniques. Katz said they often use proxy servers to disguise the point of origin. Documentaries are sent in multiple files to improve security.

"The al-Sahab people know and study technology, the latest law enforcement techniques," Katz said.

Yusuf said Al Qaeda maintains its own cyberspace library, storing material in a secret server or servers so al-Sahab members do not have to keep incriminating material on laptops.

"There is a plan to make al-Sahab very big," Yusuf said. "It is part of the strategy. There are two parts. One is the fighting and the other part of the war is the media. We should carry out the media war because it inspires our people to come and fight."

Ms. Gannon’s is a member of the media. And she's doing her part.

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