In a briefing yesterday on the State Department’s 2007 Country Reports on Terrorism, Coordinator of the Office for Counter-terrorism Dell L. Dailey stated that “terrorists consider information operations a principle part of their effort, use the Internet for propaganda, recruiting, fundraising, and increasingly for training. It has made the Internet a virtual safe haven.”
Two other new reports confirm this trend, highlighting the great extent to which Al Qaeda has perfected its use of new media technology to attract, indoctrinate, and share tactics and technology with new recruits. In addition to offering a look into the 21st century jihad, both of these reports underscore the fact that the war in Iraq has been both a propaganda and training bonanza for Al Qaeda.
The first report, The Al Qaeda Media Nexus (pdf) published in March by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, explores the global internet media network which used to disseminate and reinforce Al Qaeda’s message. The report notes that “the ‘original’ Al Qaeda led by Osama bin Laden accounts for a mere fraction of jihadist media production,” and that the vast majority (78%) of global jihadist media is focused on the war in Iraq.
The second, The Al Qaeda Media Machine (pdf), which is published in the May-June issue of Military Review, says that “Al Qaeda has established itself as a virtual state that communicates with it’s ‘citizens’ and cultivates an even larger audience through masterful use of the media, with heavy reliance on the Internet.”
For every conventional video performance by Bin Laden that appears on Al Jazeera and other major television outlets, there are hundreds of online videos that proselytize, recruit, and train the Al Qaeda constituency.
One of the recruiting videos reportedly included a “Top 20″ IED attacks by AQI on U.S. troops in Iraq. In addition to using the internet to send propaganda to exhort potential fighters to jihad, the report also noted that “the online training curriculum has expanded to include small unit infantry tactics and intelligence operations.”
All of this underscores once again what a massive national security debacle the Iraq war has been for the United States. In addition to killing and maiming hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, and costing trillions of dollars, it has provided an open-source laboratory for terrorists to experiment and perfect methods of murder in an urban environment against the most technologically advanced military in existence, methods which are then disseminated to affiliated groups throughout the world.
It also underscores how ridiculous it is for John McCain to proudly insist that he agrees with Osama bin Laden about Iraq being “the central battleground” in the war on terrorism, and how, despite McCain’s constant assertions of his national security expertise, he has very little understanding of the war we’re fighting now.
It bears repeating once again that Al Qaeda did not exist in Iraq in any significant way before the U.S. invaded in March 2003. Celebrating the defeat of Al Qaeda in Iraq is essentially congratulating ourselves for putting out a fire we started. But the spread of tactics and technologies that have been perfected by Al Qaeda in Iraq, thanks to a war that John McCain continues to support, is one that we are unlikely to be able to stop.