Al Quada’s Media Strategy

Osama bin Laden making a video at his compound...

Osama bin Laden making a video at his compound in Pakistan. According to the U.S. Defense Department, the video was seized from the compound during the May 2011 operation by US special forces in which bin Laden was killed. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Last month, the Pentagon released 17 declassified documents purportedly captured in the Abbottabad raid that killed Osama bin Laden. Personally, I believe at least some of the documents are fakes. I don’t see how the U.S. government could have resisted a perfect opportunity to spread disinformation and demoralize its perceived enemies. Legitimate or not, one of the documents is quite amusing.

It’s a letter to Osama bin Laden from the American al Quada spokesman Adam Gadahn, wherein he lays out al Quada’s media strategy for the tenth anniversary of 9/11. He begins by obsessing over an apparent error made in a recent statement by al Quada’s then second-in-command, Ayman al-Zawahiri (“Shaykh Ayman”). Apparently, he quoted Benjamin Franklin but referred to him as a past U.S. President:

 [Benjamin Franklin] was not a president, but a “statesman” and one of the founders of the United States and its Constitution. I have not heard about what is quoted from him, but from Shaykh Ayman. I do not know the source of the story, or its popularity amongst the Americans. But such a mistake may be used to slander the Shaykh, and accuse him of talking about something he does not master [politics]. The evidence is his mixing between the presidents and non-presidents. Although plenty of the Americans may also think that [Franklin] a president, because of his picture on the currency that usually carries the photos of the presidents. But this mistake is not usually committed by those talking in politics, analyzing and discussing. It is a common mistake among general people and not between specialists.

Like any good corporate PR executive, Gadahn is mindful of the dangers of “overexposing” al-Zawahiri:

 It is all right if the Shaykh appeared now, then appeared [on] the 10th anniversary of the attacks of Manhattan and Washington. Every exposure of him, as long as it is not daily or semi­weekly, should have an influence. The repetition of his exposure, irrespective of the vicious campaign that is waged against al-Qa’ida, everywhere, is by itself something that attracts attention.

Also like his Western counterparts, Gadahn doesn’t like certain media outlets and likes it when reporters say what is in his press releases:

2. The Issue of preparing for the Tenth Anniversary, and how it will be marketed in the Media, and How to Exploit the Media in General:

As far as the American channel that could be used to deliver our messages, whether on the tenth anniversary or before or after, in my personal opinion there are no distinct differences between the channels from the standpoint of professionalism and neutrality. … From the professional point of view, they are all on one level-except [Fox News] channel which falls into the abyss as you know, and lacks neutrality too.

As for the neutrality of CNN in English, it seems to be in cooperation with the government more than the others (except Fox News of course). Its Arabic version brings good and detailed reports about al-Sahab releases, with a lot of quotations from the original text. That means they copy directly from the releases or its gist. It is not like what other channels and sites do, copying from news agencies like Reuters, AP and others.

I used to think that MSNBC channel may be good and neutral a bit, but is has lately fired two of the most famous journalists –Keith Olberman and Octavia Nasser the Lebanese – because they released some statements that were open for argument

Why do I find such suggestions of the mundane day-to-day operations al Quada so amusing? (Here’s the Job Application.) I’m not sure. I think it’s the dichotomy between the old and new narratives:

1. Al Quada is the most nefarious and powerful organization to ever threaten America. That’s why we’ve had to spend billions upon billions of dollars to “fight terrorism” since 9/11.

2. Al Quada is lame.

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