Counter-Terrorism: How To Maintain Your Essential Nastiness

This is a great recap write-up of Al Qaeda on a global scale – reposted from here:

November 29, 2013: Al Qaeda has survived over a decade of heavy attack, and losses, by adopting a number of successful strategies. The most important of these is the continued use of international media to keep people (largely disaffected Moslems and Western leftists looking for a new lost cause) informed about how the terrorist group is still around. Maintaining such visibility is essential for recruiting. Al Qaeda has always recruited from the least educated and most desperate Moslem men out there. Religious fervor was not crucial but the willingness to suffer and die was. These recruits are attracted to the image of al Qaeda as being constantly active, no matter what damage they suffer.

Also important, for older, more affluent, and less desperate supporters, was a willingness to help out with cash or access to needed resources. The new recruits and other contributions were only forthcoming if al Qaeda could demonstrate that it was active. Thus there is a constant need for new “actions” (assassinations, bombings, prison breaks, and other media-worthy events) to remind wealthy fans of Islamic radicalism that cash keeps it all going.

The core leadership has always contained some technically adept people who recognized how the media worked and appreciated how new technology was changing that. So it should not be surprising that al Qaeda is now a heavy user of Twitter and other social media sites. Even though many of these sites do not welcome al Qaeda, the Islamic terrorists keep at it and maintain a presence in high-traffic areas. Much of this is made possible by Internet-savvy volunteers who don’t want to blow themselves up but are willing to risk (and it is not a big risk) arrest by working from home to serve the cause and keep al Qaeda visible on the Internet and thus in the mass media.

Al Qaeda leadership has also been responsive to what works and what doesn’t, even if many of their subordinates are content to keep making the same mistakes over and over again. Thus, for the last decade the senior leadership has been pushing (with mixed success) the idea of using violence infrequently but with more recision and concentrate on addressing the needs of the people. Al Qaeda still wants to conquer the world but has noticed that creating a religious dictatorship too soon does not work. The support of most of the people is more important, and that’s a concept that young recruits have a hard time appreciating. But after the defeats in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Mali, even the young guys are coming to accept that the road to victory is not littered with the bodies of innocent Moslem women and children. These things take time if you want to make a lasting impression.

Another survival technique was franchising, becoming regional, rather than international. Thus the original al Qaeda is back where it was founded three decades ago, in the tribal territories of northwest Pakistan. Here, about a thousand members (many of them married into local tribes and semi-retired) manage to protect supreme leader Ayman al Zawahiri, along with a shrinking network of training camps and safe houses. About ten percent of these al Qaeda men are actually in eastern Afghanistan but are even less active. Al Qaeda is tolerated by the Pakistani government, as long as it does no (or very little) violence inside Pakistan. Thus the relatively large number of al Qaeda operatives “retiring” to the tribal territories. Many did this to survive growing hostility from local tribes against the largely foreign al Qaeda members. In the last decade over a thousand foreign al Qaeda men (mainly Arabs and Central Asians) have been killed by local tribesmen for, well, not getting along with the locals. Many al Qaeda members fled, and this played a part in the development of the two major al Qaeda branches that emerged over the last decade in Yemen and North Africa. 

AQAP (al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula) has suffered heavy losses in the last year. AQAP was formed in 2009, after the remnants of the Saudi al Qaeda organization (several thousand full and part time members) fled to Yemen and merged with the Yemeni al Qaeda branch. AQAP also benefitted from hundreds of Iraqi al Qaeda members who arrived after the defeat of al Qaeda in Iraq in 2007-8. Growing unrest in Yemen (against the long-standing Saleh dictatorship) enabled AQAP to recruit locally and take over several towns in the south by 2011. Then the new post-Saleh government launched a counteroffensive in 2012 and AQAP got hurt very badly. That offensive continues, along with the growing use of American UAVs in Yemen. At the same time there are few other places for defeated al Qaeda men to flee to. The sanctuary in Mali was destroyed in early 2013, by a French led offensive. The sanctuary in Pakistan (North Waziristan) is hostile to active al Qaeda and mainly for local Islamic terrorists. Surviving al Qaeda men are increasingly operating in isolation and under heavy attack. Sometimes, as is happening now in Syria, they attack each other. While the al Qaeda situation is desperate in Yemen, AQAP is still al Qaeda’s most capable branch and the only one that has shown any ability to support attacks (few successful so far) in the West.

In North Africa there were three major Islamic radical groups, as well as some smaller ones at the end of 2012. Ansar Dine was originally from Mali and led by Tuareg Islamic radicals. MOJAO (Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa) is from neighboring Mauritania. It is largely composed of black African Islamic radicals and led by Mauritanians. The largest of the three is AQIM (Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb) which has members from all over North Africa but mostly from Algeria. MOJAO is basically a Mauritanian faction of AQIM and there was always some ethnic and racial tension between the two groups. AQIM has the most money and weapons and used this to exercise some control over the other two major radical groups (who outnumbered AQIM in Mali).

AQIM and MOJAO were sometimes at odds with Ansar Dine, which felt it should be in charge in Mali because it is Malian. Until late 2012, all three groups cooperated in order to maintain their control of northern Mali. Then the alliance began to weaken under the pressure of an imminent counter offensive. AQIM brought in reinforcements from Morocco, Western Sahara, Algeria, Pakistan, Egypt, Yemen, Nigeria, and Sudan and threatened the other Islamic terrorist groups if they did not do as they were told. AQIM wanted to run everything, and all the cash they got from drug dealing and kidnapping gave AQIM a lot of power, both to buy weapons and hire locals. Most of those new recruits deserted as their employers fled the advancing French in January 2013. The French led invasion was a crushing blow to AQIM, just like the Yemen offensive in 2012 was to AQAP. None of the Islamic terrorists in Mali were the same after the French offensive in early 2013.

In the wake of the Mali disaster Islamic terrorists in North Africa reorganized. AQIM relocated to southern Libya while Ansar Dine, especially the Tuareg leadership, faded back into the many Tuareg living in the Sahel (the semi-desert region between the Sahara Desert and the tropical forests to the south). In mid-2013, two North African Islamic terrorist factions merged to create a new group: Al Mourabitoun. This new group has been operating mainly in Niger. One of the merger partners is an al Qaeda splinter group led by Mokhtar Belmokhtar (the planner of the January, 2013 natural gas facility attack in southern Algeria that got 37 workers and 32 terrorists killed). Belmokhtar has a reputation for always escaping the many efforts to kill or capture him. Belmokhtar was number two or three in AQIM but formed his own splinter group in late 2012. Belmokhtar’s faction survived the French invasion. The other component of Al Mourabitoun comes from MOJWA. This merger was another aftereffect of the French led invasion.

Within months of the French attack hundreds of experienced Islamic terrorists scattered and slowly reorganized via email, cell phones, and hand-carried documents. Recruiting took a big hit as the Islamic “government” in northern Mali showed once more that Islamic radicals cannot stand up to professional soldiers and their governing methods tend to turn the population against them. This caused over a thousand AQIM members to desert, while nearly 500 were killed in the Mali fighting. Hundreds of local Islamic terrorists (Tuaregs, MOJWA, and other black Africans from countries in the region) stayed in northern Mali and continue to try carrying out a terrorist attacks.

There are a few larger groups of these Islamic terrorists still wandering around the far north but they were hunted by French aircraft and hit with smart bombs until most fled to neighboring countries. Some of these Islamic terrorists have renounced their alliance with al Qaeda and sought to evade attack by just being another group of Tuareg separatists. Most of the still functional Islamic terrorists have reformed in Niger, Tunisia, and Libya. Many individual terrorists made their way to Syria, which is the next-big-thing for murderous religious radicals.

Despite the senior leadership remaining in Pakistan, the most active, and dangerous, international terrorism operations are coming out of AQAP. AQIM survives by becoming a drug gang that smuggles various narcotics to North Africa and Europe. As a result of this, al Qaeda is urging Islamic radicals everywhere to try and organize and carry out terrorism operations wherever they are. Thus even some large al Qaeda organizations (like the ones in Iraq and Syria) are devoting all their energies to killing people (mostly fellow Moslems) where they are and not in the West (which al Qaeda Central would prefer).

More importantly, al Qaeda leaders have recognized that the Arab Spring uprisings of 2011, and the subsequent hostility towards Islamic radicals, represented a fundamental change in the Moslem world, a change al Qaeda would have to adapt to or be crushed by. So al Qaeda is adapting while still maintaining its essential nastiness.

Human Rights Watch Drones On…



In a recent blog post published by the Human Rights Watch at The Huffington Post they discuss their recently published report “Between a Drone and Al-Qaeda: The Civilian Cost of US Targeted Killings in Yemen”. This report is causing serious waves throughout international media (I literally monitor Google News for all items containing the term “Yemen”) with a huge explosion of articles, blog posts and commentary across the digital media world. After reading a few of these I came across the HRW blog post which seems to have the best summary of the report (inshallah, it is written by themselves). Reading the post I was aghast at the number of points either taken out of context, completely based off limited information and just plain biased reporting. Let’s go through their report and see where they failed horribly at spreading such a scandalous report that is being cited around the world as proof of “international war crimes.”

Drones are Not the Problem

“Yemenis told us that these strikes make them fear the US as much as they fear Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula”

This is such an exaggerated quote it is disheartening for all writers, journalists and researchers out there. Walk the streets in Yemen on any day and talk to the people. Sure, they idea of strikes is unnerving and as a semi-nationalist public with firm beliefs in territorialism they generally disdain the strikes. However, I assure you this is not in the forefront of their minds nor concerns on a daily basis.  Most people in Yemen are focused on bringing home the bacon milk so to speak. Their concerns are zeroed in on work, school, family and religion. They number one issue in Yemen that directly impacts via hindrance is power cuts (internet, water and food are there too). Of course when it comes to

In the Arab World’s poorest country, it is not “drone strikes” that are the cause of the nation’s problems, instead it is something far more average; something most academics who sit at desks writing, seem too often to forget about: as one Yemeni stated “We are hungry and we need jobs.” Frankly, I find it appalling and arrogant for a group of such disconnected individuals to really think that the Drone UAV Campaign is the greatest issue facing Yemen.

I would have written and published this piece much sooner had it not been for extensive power & internet outages here in Yemen Since starting this I have been without power for arguably a cumulative 3 daysout of water for 1.5 days and without internet access for something like 4 days. I assure you the average Yemeni is far less concerned about a Hellfire missile than this report makes one believe. In a place where you have arguably far more disturbing things to worry about and far more common issues such as lack of utilities and a near crisis level of starvation a drone taking you out is of little consequence particularly considering the infrequency of occurrences.

The focus on these strikes as opposed to the real problems that affect Yemen, are missed completely, but then again, the real problems don’t make for good site hits, link-backs and viral media. Because in the end it is critiques like this that succumb to the same needs as any online brand – the need for readership. Let us take a look at the issues that affect Yemenis far more than the remote fear of a Hellfire missile falling out of the sky.

Recently, Yemen was listed as one of 16 countries classified as having “alarming” levels of hunger, according to the Global Hunger Index. Food scarcity and inflation is far more a dire situation in Yemen than any buzzing sound up above. So to the critiques of the US UAV program I ask you – What are you doing about this? Because from a US perspective I can tell you that America is doing something about it. It was reported that the final 42,000 metric ton flour donation to the UN World Food Programme (WFP) from the United States Government’s Food for Peace office. The wheat will be milled in Hodeida before being distributed by WFP to some of the 600,000 Yemenis displaced by conflict and instability.

In a country where it is known that poverty is often a driver of instability, why do so many critiques fail to annotate the connection between AQAP and much of the poverty over all. Look at how Yemen’s oil revenues declined to $585 Million from its comparable period last year. Take note of the citation: “The repeated attacks on the oil pipeline linked production blocks in Marib province and the refinery in Hodeida affected significantly the quantity of the crude oil production of designed for domestic consumption.”

How about those critics try to focus on how much money AQAP and its affiliated supporters is costing the Yemeni government and how this impacts the people of Yemen who are just trying to get by day to day.

Yemen’s poor people — around half the country’s population — do not have much of a voice at the talks. Like the woman in the video, many do not even know what the dialogue is. Instead, they are scrambling to make enough money to eat.

Our Policy is Not Drones

The media’s completely biased and hyperbole surrounding the use of UAV strikes is greatly hindering the problems in Yemen. Yes, to be sure, you are making it worse. Not only do you provide ammunition for those opposed to any form of engagement by the International Community in general and the US in particular, causing more incendiary drama that is unneeded; you are single handedly ignoring the troves of reporting, data, information and observations that cover the more important aspects of Yemen.

According to the anti-drone lobby, if you will, all the US does is send drones to Yemen to kill innocent people either intentionally or through negligence. Perhaps you are forgetting the large swaths of assistance the US provides to Yemen. Fret not, I will remind you, don’t mention it, it’s my pleasure.

To begin with, I highly recommend reading “High-Value Target: Countering al Qaeda in Yemen” by Former US Ambassador to Yemen Edmund J. Hull, as it details first-hand the efforts that were made by the US in Yemen when this situation really began to pick up speed.

Next we are going to look at the assistance package from the US to Yemen from 2012. CNN’s Security Clearance Blog reported at the time that:

“In the new assistance package, the State Department will provide roughly $47 million in security assistance. The Pentagon will provide an additional $112 million to train and equip the Yemeni security forces to conduct counterterrorism operations. On the civilian side, the United States will provide $178 million for humanitarian aid, development and assistance to help Yemen transition to democracy.”

Yes that is right, the math shows that the Civilian side of the assistance was greater than the amount of Military aid…by $20 Million. That is “$337 million in assistance in the 2012 fiscal year, up from $147 million provided in the previous fiscal year.” Now because there are many different avenues of funding for many types of aid let’s take a look at what the US is doing for the political transition of the country. In March 2013, the US Department of State reported:

In coordination with the international community, including the United Nations, the United States plans to provide $10.4 million in technical and operational assistance to support the Yemeni-led National Dialogue process, slated to begin March 18. We plan to contribute $1.2 million to support constitutional reform and referendum projects. We also plan to provide $8.4 million in technical assistance to prepare for national elections in February 2014, including for reforms to Yemen’s voter registry. We are also supporting the efforts of Yemeni women to ensure their voices and perspectives contribute to Yemen’s transition.

Looking at the Civilian/Humanitarian side of the aid alone for the 2012 fiscal year, Nabeel Khoury, (former Deputy Chief of Mission 2004-2007) stated “this is more than ten times what U.S. assistance to Yemen was during the 2004-2007 period.” So not only do we provide a ridiculous amount of aid to Yemen – we have exponentially increased it.

It is not just the government that provides a great amount of assistance either. The large mega American corporation of Proctor & Gamble donated millions of vaccinations to the Yemen people, reported

“In total over five million vaccines were donated by P&G to Unicef campaign for use in Yemen. These vaccines were distributed and used by Unicef and the Yemeni Government to vaccinate up to two million mothers of child-bearing age over a period of several weeks in 2011.”

The international community overall is pouring assistance into Yemen. Look at the efforts to better education in Yemen by UNICEF, who recently signed a $72.6 Million agreement to support educational needs in Yemen.

Unprofessional Research

“With rare exceptions, the US government only acknowledges its role in targeted killings in general terms, refusing to take responsibility for individual strikes or provide casualty figures, including civilian deaths.”

Clearly the authors have ignored the fact that it was the Yemeni government, who, when the strikes began, insisted that the US did not take credit for the strikes (same as in Pakistan) out of fear that it would erode political credibility of the administration in the eyes of such a territorial public. But hey, feel free to leave critical facts out of your reporting because it paints a picture better to sell your idea.

“The six strikes investigated by Human Rights Watch killed 82 people, at least 57 of them civilians.”

Let’s look at the fact that of the 6, yes, only 6, attacks that are used as case studies, HRW themselves caveated that “security concerns prevented visits to four of the attack areas.” So the researchers visited only 2 of the 6 locations that they are reporting on. For such an incendiary report to only have conducted research at 1/3rd of the sites is simply poor research methods. The fact that the researchers could not even access 2/3rds of the site locations speaks volumes to the fact that these areas are dangerous and riddled with a notable number of bad guys.

Look at the fact that of the 6 locations or incidents, only one of them occurred in 2009 and the rest all between 2012 and 2013. So If the US has been striking Yemen for years does it not make one question their empirical research if 5/6ths of their research only covered a brief period of time of the operations they are researching?  This is just bad research from a scientific perspective. The time and space data are both not representative of the overall theory being published.

Alternatives to UAVs

We used to just swoop in and vanish you from whatever mud-hut tin-roof hide out you were in whether it be Afghanistan, Somalia, Yemen or Pakistan. Then everyone threw their hands up claiming that not only the initial onsite detention was illegal, but the “enhanced interrogation” methods we used were illegal. Okay fine, how about we just hold on to you forever, but then the indefinite detention of detainees was protested and protested so well that the US could not continue it at the level and frequency that they were. This eventually led to the fact that for a bad guy to be neutralized, which we are going to do no matter what – because we generally do not like our skyscrapers and planes falling out of the sky over our cities – if we cannot detain him, cannot process him legally (via criminal means) then the only other option is to kill him. What did people expect to happen?


Frankly, I cannot begin to do justice to the argument against the HRW report and subsequent reporting from it, in its defense. To ascertain a far better grasp of the fallacies of logic in them I implore you to read two additional responses that – if I had better internet would have beat in publishing the same arguments – truly delve into a clearer picture of the issue. The first one is Joshua Foust’s How Human Rights Groups Misinterpret Drone Strikes and the second is Benjamin Wittes’ Thoughts on the Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International Reports. Writtes’ piece actually elicited a response by HRW that you can read here and his subsequent response to them here. I must say that reading HRW’s primary defense of their poor research to Writtes as summarized by saying in effect ‘sure our research was weak but it is not our fault, it is the US governments fault for not telling us everything!’ – well there is an argument that truly wins. Kudos to you HRW. Try focusing on issues that have caused far more deaths in Yemen than UAV strikes such as say I don’t know, maybe the North…or better yet, focus on the human rights abuses by Al Qaeda who crucified a human being.

Global Fund to Stem Extremism


In a recent write up titled “U.S. and Turkey to Create Fund to Stem Extremism” at the New York Times; it is detailed that a Global Fund to counter extremism is being established. From what it seems, this fund is meant to be global & empirical. In essence it is meant to be contributed to by a multinational coalition, in order to target, presumably, Islamic extremism around the globe at the local level via development of educational & engaging platforms. This is a greatly positive push. The fact that countries such as Saudi Arabia who, are often accused of funding extremism via their largess of madrassa pushes, is significant. It is not surprising that Turkey is in on this considering their nature of tolerant Islam. This type of endeavor is absolutely critical to global stability at the local level.

I.S.I.S. – Interactive Synergistic Intelligence Superorganism

This was written in circa 2009/2010 – in effect it is a working copy I am still developing.

By Brandon Scott

The future of the intelligence community’s counterterrorism operations will be defined by its paralleling of current and prospective commercial applications in information technology. Where we are going we are already headed. Social open source resources are advancing to the point of being able to collect intelligence remotely, in real time, from anywhere, at anytime, in a multimedia environment. This information can be catalogued and searched using any parameters and the results represented in any way desired. This is reaching the event horizon where all of real world existence is to be simulated in a virtual reality where reality can easily be deconstructed into datastrings and analyzed in any fashion by feeding the data into particular inputs and applying specific algorithms or search criteria in order to receive on the other end an output of your choosing. The intelligence community needs to begin mirroring this social- technology for the purpose of effectiveness. The future ‘system’ that is proposed below is less of a system and more of state of being; and that state is called ISIS. And yes it was developed before realizing there was an ISIS in the show Archer. Read More