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The War Nerd / April 26, 2011

There are times when you look back and wish you’d had the courage to say what you were thinking. With me it’s a spotty record: Sometimes I do, but more often I wimp out. I wish now I’d said the first thing that came into my head when I started hearing about Al Qaeda, which was, “No, it can’t be. Violates every rule of guerrilla organization.”

People are starting to see that now, starting to doubt whether there is such a thing—but that’s only because Al Qaeda has been no-showing like the Second Coming. Libya was the latest place it was supposed to show up. Egypt before that. Remember Glenn Beck talking about the Caliphate? For that matter, remember Glenn Beck? God, there’s another freak who you’d think couldn’t exist. But he did, running on fumes, just like Al Qaeda. Beck is in the Second-Coming business himself, but his Jesus is Osama and he made his money predicting Squidward-with-a-beard

His tentacles of terror reach everywhere!

would show up in Encino any day. The Egyptian revolution was just Al Qaeda in disguise as a few million yuppies. Libya was the same Osama-of-a-thousand-faces, this time as a mixed crowd of bored kids and their dads. Wherever it was, Cairo or Benghazi, it was Osama by another name.

It never made sense. That’s what I wish I’d said sooner and louder and more often. The whole concept of Al Qaeda is wrong. The name means “The Base” in Arabic, and the idea is that it’s a central clearinghouse for dozens of different guerrilla groups, sharing an Islamic ideology but representing different countries and tribes and languages. They get together and share intelligence and personnel and materiel, because they’re all good Muslims working for a common cause. It’s the old kiddie dream of a vast umbrella group of baddies, S.P.E.C.T.R.E from Man from Uncle, KAOS in Get Smart, the ridiculous villain and his volcano HQ in every lame Bond film.

“Let’s have a terror jamboree and share ideas and secret identies!”

It’s just a terrible idea. The last thing any sane guerrilla group wants to do is to go to an international guerrilla jamboree like the Boy Scouts. Sure, you’ll share ideas and prop up each others’ morale—and in the meantime, the informers—because every decent-sized guerrilla group must assume it’s been penetrated—will be taking careful notes, taking quiet candid pictures, and putting together organizational charts. By the time you go to your home country from the big Jihad Jamboree in Waziristan or Tora Bora, you can be sure that the informers have shared their info with their handlers. And although some intel agencies can be stingy, most of them share info very readily, so every informer has in effect given the breakdown of every local group to every intel agency in the world.

And that’s death to a guerrilla, literally death, and not a quick or easy death either. Sharing info is good for intelligence agencies (most of the time; there are exceptions, like sharing the identity of some agents), but it’s the worst thing in the world for guerrillas.

That’s why guerrilla groups either start out with or switch to cell style organizations. Many times you’ll see a guerrilla group starting out imitating military organization, with big units and uniforms and parades. That’s asking to be wiped out. Sometimes they are wiped out; but if they survive, their second coming always involves switching to four-person cells, where three out of four members don’t know anything except the identity of the other cell members. And even the fourth, the cell leader, only knows the identity of one contact in the larger organization.

By bringing Jihadis from around the world to get Osama’s blessing, Al Qaeda was giving them a short-term boost in morale and finances but pretty much guaranteeing they’d be penetrated and destroyed within a few years. And that’s what happened: a big splash on 9/11, a few aftershocks in East Africa, Bali, Madrid and London, and then nothing but cops breaking down doors all over the world to the soundtrack of Hellfire missiles from Predator drones vaporizing mud houses in Northern Pakistan.

What made Al Qaeda so scary was that they went all out, in an age where the military norm is to use a tiny little fraction of your actual power. To see that style in action, just look at Libya now: NATO has the largest common air force in the world and could make every Qaddafi-held town in Libya a column of black smoke in a few minutes, but what they actually do is hold a classic EU discussion before taking out a single tank.

Al Qaeda made its mark by using everything they had. Every contact in every country. Every dime of finance. Every pound of plastique. Every willing suicide bomber. They literally doubled up on their attacks, trying for at least two big targets every time: the WTC, Pentagon and White House on 9/11, multiple tube stations on 7/7, two Israeli vacation spots and a US Embassy in Kenya. That sort of splurging really shocked bureaucrats who’ve spent their lives hedging their bets. And it worked, short-term; it made Al Qaeda look much bigger and more important than it really was. For that matter, the only reason they lasted as long as they did is that Western intel didn’t have any decent Arabic-speaking specialists. They weren’t enthusiastic about real terrorists; too sweaty, too foreign. Up until 9/11 forced their hand, they wanted to focus on the real threat: “Eco-terrorists,” a couple dozen hippies in the nice cool Oregon forests, where there are some pretty comfy hotels a fed can relax in, and the suspects speak English.

If we’d stepped back and looked coldly at the damage after 9/11, it wouldn’t have made such an impression. Three thousand dead, from a population of 300 million. Two large buildings destroyed—about like two trees in the concrete forest of Manhattan. If you ask me, what really hurt us on that day was that the plane aimed at the White House didn’t make it. That’s the way to hurt America: Leave Bush in charge, with a big boost of patriotic gullibility, for six long years. That’s how they really got us. If the preachers had focused on that angle I’d have bought it: “God is punishing America by turning away the plane that was heading for Pennsylvania Avenue! He could have removed the curse and chose not to! Woe unto us!”

There’s a story on the BBC now asking “Where’s Al Qaeda in Libya?” The answer comes down the page where these British agents say how amazed they are that so many young men who were screaming Jihadis last year are now pushing for cellphone revolutions, Cairo style.

“…jihadists…in Libya [are changing] the way they behave and talk in the past two months.

“The way they start to make statements or to understand the conflicts is unbelievable, beyond my imagination. The only explanation I can offer is because they have been affected – whether they like it or not – by the wave of democracy.”

Now there are a couple of ways you can read that news. The one the BBC wants you to buy is that democracy is winning, yay yay yay. And in a way that’s true, if by “democracy” you mean “riots in the streets of Cairo and open warfare in Libya.” Those ways sure worked better than the Brotherhood’s slow sneaky method, or Zawahiri’s offshoot of the Brotherhood, Al Qaeda.

But look back with a good cold eye at what Al Qaeda was and you see they only recruited well in one demographic: Middle/Upper-Class, Not-That-Bright, Middle Eastern Surplus Young Men. There are a lot of those around, thanks to oil money and high birth rates, and they bounce. That’s what they do: they bounce from prostitutes and cognac in Paris to cults in Denmark to one after another school, pretending to be “studying” to become whatever lame childish job takes their fancy and spends their stipends without asking too much. They’re “going to become” lawyers or doctors or work for the UN or they’ve developed a perpetual motion machine or they’re going to bring Islam to the spiritually starved masses of Warsaw—every dumb-ass project a bunch of pampered hicks can come up with. Just imagine an Islamic Jethro from Beverly Hillbillies going down the list with dad’s money: “Ah’m gonna be a doctor, Grannie! …A preacher! …A Inventor!” And every time, it’s slapstick failure. And the older and more annoyed he gets at the way the world won’t let him play the hero, Jethro moves down the list to: “Ah’m gonna be a martyr, Granny!”

Why not? People go back to their roots. Here just as much as there. How many hippies mutated back to real-estate agents in California? How many cokeheads are fulltime Christians now? You warp back to your Granny’s dreams when you’ve shot your own bolt.

And there you are: Mohammed Atta and his overpriced friends with one last chance to show how important they are.

Sorry, Osama–he’s moved on to cellphones and democracy.

That’s a short-term demographic, those dudes. They got no discipline. FARC wouldn’t have them on a bet. They’re good for a big splash, which is all they ever wanted anyway, but when you look back, what you see is a cadre of Afghan vets, funded by western intel all the way, who carried a lot of momentum away from the war against the Soviets, made a lot of connections, and tried playing way above their weight for a little while. It scared the ordinary morons, and that suited the suits like it always does. But along the way they were spending everything they had like New Russians. They spent their best recruits, blew their connections on short-term show-off blasts, and in a few years they had nothing left, and the demographic they drew from—flighty young guys at loose ends in the big cities of the Middle East—had moved on to cellphones and “democracy.”

It’s a fast, lively story but with no military significance that I can see, except if you consider Al Qaeda the propaganda wing of the Republican Party. In that way, yeah, you could say they did a lot. For a patient, intelligent future guerrilla, the lesson is plain: draw from a more serious demographic, don’t go to international jamborees, and spend your assets carefully.

Would you like to know more? Gary Brecher is the author of the War Nerd. Send your comments to gary dot brecher at gmail dot com. Read Gary Brecher’s first ever War Nerd column by clicking here.

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78 Comments

Add your own

  • 1. NIB  |  April 27th, 2011 at 4:22 am

    @rdc75 – damn right. And in answer to question 1 – because they were unsure whether the hijackings were real or just part of the identical hijacking ‘exercises’ that just happened to be running that day. Just like the train bombing ‘exercise’ that just happened to be running on the day of the London train bombings. Kinda says it all really…

  • 2. tigerhan  |  April 27th, 2011 at 8:49 am

    Gary,
    you mentioned in one of your articles that US special forces success rate is under 50%. On 9/11 al Qaeda had 100% success on skyjacking the planes…then 75% on hitting the targets…then more then 100% on bringing WTC 7 down and eluding all the video cameras around the pentagon….nobody is that lucky.

  • 3. OrangePlus  |  April 27th, 2011 at 10:02 am

    well said

  • 4. andy  |  April 27th, 2011 at 10:05 am

    Al qeada was failing prior to 9/11, their numbers were small, 9/11 was one last attempt to goad US troops out of their bases and into the sandpit, bin laden and co got EXACTLY the response they were looking for out of the US government, the action is in the reaction, they slapped the US in the face with a brazen attack on the military and financial HQ’s of the US.

    Bin laden has made it quite clear the motivation behind his cause, the problem is nobody actually listens to him, this is a huge mistake, we want to instead believe they hate us for our freedoms, it makes us feel better about ourselves, but the truth is they are not motiveless nihilists, they have real grievances, until they are addressed the anger towards us from the few thousand people who follow bin laden will continue.

  • 5. Hamlet  |  April 27th, 2011 at 1:24 pm

    You once had a transcription of one of Bin Laden’s videos linked on the right side of your site. I read the whole thing and after that I have to admit that OBL’s concept does indeed work out very well just the way he thought it up.

    He said he wanted retaliation as he saw cruise missiles fly into Skyscrapers – that’s were he got the idea to use planes to do just the same to some big American buildings.
    The really creepy part starts after that, because he mutates into some weird kind of economist. He is “doing the math” with what a shoe-string budget they can bring down the mighty American military-industrial complex.
    The 3000 lifes and 2 buildings are just the tip of the iceberg of an atomic explosion in “security” expenditures and procedures each and every American has to go through 24/7 now.

    When I had finished reading that I was astonished by how well his plan is working.

    Here is the link to the transcript, go read for yourselves: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A16990-2004Nov1.html

  • 6. Omri  |  April 27th, 2011 at 4:17 pm

    “Gary, you say Al Qaeda did 9/11, how did they manage to make NORAD, which had a 100%-success rate at intercepting planes that leave their planned route, fail 3 times in a single day? ”

    Welcome to the War Nerd comment space, where even the commenters know a thing or two.

    Do you know what “INTERCEPT” means? In the context of 9/11, it means you send a fighter alongside the plane, to watch the hijackers do what the fuck they want with it. It’s not like you can board a plane the way you board a ship. Your choice is to fly alongside, or shoot it down, killing everyone on board and lots of people on the ground. That’s somethign you don’t do unless you know 100% that it’s the only way to avoid an even greater loss of life.

    This is why you can’t take truthers seriously. “Intercept.” There you go using that word again. I don’t think it means what you think it means.

  • 7. rdc75  |  April 27th, 2011 at 10:03 pm

    @Omri: “Do you know what “INTERCEPT” means? In the context of 9/11, it means you send a fighter alongside the plane, to watch the hijackers do what the fuck they want with it.”

    Yes, that’s the point, there were no fighters at all alongside the planes, even though they had more than enough time.

  • 8. Omri  |  April 28th, 2011 at 5:25 am

    “Yes, that’s the point, there were no fighters at all alongside the planes, even though they had more than enough time.”

    You miss the point. You miss it completely. What the fuck is the point of sending a fighter pilot along side a hijacked plane if it can’t accomplish anything? You truthers use the word “intercept” to hide the fact that it would have done nothing.

  • 9. Alex  |  April 28th, 2011 at 8:37 am

    How about the role of Al Jazeera? Could it be that they are to blame for the absence of Jihadi force in the recent uprisings, that they tamed the folks and got some sense into their heads? Al Jazeera, which previously cheered 9/11, now a CIA-run outfit for democratizing the middle east? Shed some light on it, Gery!

  • 10. Aaron  |  April 29th, 2011 at 6:49 am

    #47: 2003 called, and they want their science fiction back.

  • 11. CensusLouie  |  April 29th, 2011 at 9:25 am

    Is there anything worse than spoiled rich kids?

    Yes, spoiled rich kids with Lord Byron syndrome.

  • 12. Barry  |  April 30th, 2011 at 8:04 am

    John Figley: “Of course the Nazis were as dumb as in the movies when it came to counterintelligence, but with a single well placed agent in London radioing back the complete agent lists, it would have been fun to see the Regional HQs of Gestapo across Europe composed of half a dozen Schupos, a big van for detentions and a telex to Berlin working just part time to handle them all… well, maybe except Tito’s.

    The Gestapo/military intelligence *did* get a lot of agents (in Western Europe; in Eastern Europe & the USSR, they probably just massacred villages to get everybody).

    At one point the Germans grabbed every SOE agent dropped in France; they had ‘convinced’ a SOE radio operator to work for them, and the SOE HQ ignored the duress codes he was using.

  • 13. Ak  |  April 30th, 2011 at 3:59 pm

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6O18HhmMamI&feature=related
    Something of interest BBC at its best

  • 14. Justin  |  April 30th, 2011 at 6:23 pm

    The only thing I would add to this, and it’s really more of a postscript, is that the only thing that stopped Al Qaeda from fading back into obscurity over the last decade was the Iraq War, which — whatever our intentions were — convinced a shitload of Middle Eastern military age males (MAMs) that Osama was right and the US really was bent on dominating the Middle East. (I’m speaking as a proud Iraq/Afghan War vet here) Remember the scene in “Generation Kill” where the Marines examine the jihadi they had just captured? He had been a student in Syria until AFTER the US invasion.

    The Iraq War basically gave Al Qaeda a five-year lease on life. Unfortunately for them, it was through its mutant offspring Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI). Following the invasion, AQI went around hiring most of Saddam’s former intelligence / internal security personnel who had all been thrown out of work, but had thirty years of experience terrorizing the crap out of everyone. AQI promptly put them on its payroll, threw in some foreign leadership to make it look ‘global’, and basically kept Saddam’s killing machine rolling right along. From then on, Al Qaeda may have been our official enemy, but Al Qaeda in Iraq was sucking in all their recruits and money.

    AQI wasn’t even officially part of Al Qaeda until 2006, but somehow managed to wreck the Al Qaeda franchise in just five years by managing to kill way more Arab Muslims than anyone since Saddam Hussein. Getting back to Brecher’s point on Al Qaeda’s cannon fodder losing interest in the jihad, AQI did a good job in taking the romance out of it. You know your Islamic terrorist organization is outside the mainstream when Al Qaeda’s #2 tells you to knock it back a notch before they alienated the very people they were trying to liberate (http://www.jamestown.org/programs/gta/single/?tx_ttnews%5Btt_news%5D=734&tx_ttnews%5BbackPid%5D=239&no_cache=1).

    Look at Al Qaeda today: even the Taliban doesn’t want to associate with them. (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-south-asia-13193634) The biggest terrorist threat to the US since the destruction of AQI are the Pakistani Taliban (not the Afghan ones we’re still fighting for some reason) and Al Qaeda in Yemen. Osama and Zawahiri are going the same route as all those Japanese left behind after World War 2. In thirty years, after everyone’s forgotten about them in whatever piece of shit valley they’re hiding in, they’ll still be mapping out their plans to conquer Saudi Arabia to their five remaining supporters.

  • 15. Satan  |  May 1st, 2011 at 12:46 am

    If there’s one thing I’m not worried about in life, it’s Al Qaeda. I’m more afraid of birthers, even though I’ve yet to actually meet one in person ever. Perhaps they’re both just very polarized media creations.

  • 16. Peter  |  May 1st, 2011 at 9:53 pm

    Gary, you were sooo right, 6 days after you wrote this brilliant article, Osama Bin Laden is dead. He is now living his afterlife with his 64 concubines.

    You are the oracle in our matrix world

  • 17. Dejo  |  May 1st, 2011 at 10:11 pm

    http://www.google.com/search?q=osama+bin+laden&um=1&ie=UTF-8&tbo=u&tbs=nws:1&source=og&sa=N&hl=en&tab=wn

    I guess that answers that question?

  • 18. Tetris  |  May 2nd, 2011 at 2:01 am

    Oh my fuck I can’t wait to see what WN 41 looks like.

  • 19. Keith  |  May 2nd, 2011 at 8:42 pm

    Speaking of cell structures and guerrilla tactics, you should read The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress.

    Great sci-fi, but where it really shines is the really practical stuff. Explains at length in an interesting narrative the basics of non-conventional warfare, including organization and tactics.

    Plus, in place of some loser ideologue like OBL, the guerrilla leader is more HAL-9000.

  • 20. Ignacio  |  May 5th, 2011 at 9:39 am

    “Two large buildings destroyed—about like two trees in the concrete forest of Manhattan. ”

    Actually the entire WTC was destroyed. Thats like seven buildings in total.

    Maybe people have to take a couple steps back and look closely at what happened on 9/11.

    Entire WTC was basically turned into fine dust that morning.

    I used to believe popular theories about what happened, first the OBL story, then the ‘bombs’and ‘planes’ story. But this issue is tangled up in such a huge psyop that people will never understand what happened.

    A teacher of mine explained to me what happened a few years later and I have to say my opinion hasn’t changed since.

    I recommend http://www.drjudywood.com to anybody who is willing to examine the events from a fresh perspective.

    Cheers

  • 21. Omri  |  May 6th, 2011 at 10:14 am

    “Entire WTC was basically turned into fine dust that morning.”

    So all those steel beams we saw piled up in Ground Zero were brought in the next day?

  • 22. no one in particular  |  May 6th, 2011 at 9:10 pm

    lol @ 70, ignatio is the final level of 9/11 batshit.. not an ‘inside job’, not ‘a plot with bombs and planes’..but the fucking NO PLANE crowd

    hologram starwars bleep bloop

    lol

  • 23. Truth  |  May 6th, 2011 at 9:21 pm

    @70, The WTC complex didn’t get turned to dust – the whole WTC COMPLEX NEVER EVEN EXISTED. It was a hologram that ran for 30 years, they just turned that shit off after the hologram airplanes hit. All those companies that leased office space? Yeah, they were empty fronts formed by the FBI. The “bombs” that demolished the WTC buildings? That was just specially placed LRAD speakers on adjacent buildings in the area making the sounds of the controlled demolition that were picked up on 9/11

    Ive said too much already.
    You have no fucking idea how deep the rabbit hole goes, Ignatio.
    You better watch yourself.

  • 24. crack smoka  |  May 8th, 2011 at 11:50 pm

    I’m just glad Al Qaeda isn’t as smart as Mexico’s drug gangs.

  • 25. gyges  |  May 12th, 2011 at 4:48 am

    As far as I can see Al-qaeda are a hyperreal terror organisation.

  • 26. Kukulkan  |  December 11th, 2011 at 6:05 am

    It’s the old kiddie dream of a vast umbrella group of baddies, S.P.E.C.T.R.E from Man from Uncle, KAOS in Get Smart, the ridiculous villain and his volcano HQ in every lame Bond film.

    Okay, completely off-topic and a different kind of nerd comment, but…

    The ridiculous villain and his volcano HQ in every lame Bond film was SPECTRE. The evil organisation in The Man From UNCLE was THRUSH.

    You got KAOS right, though. That was opposed by CONTROL in Get Smart.

  • 27. nick turo  |  December 24th, 2011 at 3:17 am

    I have no reason not to believe the BBC. They said there never was any global sophisticated organized group called Alquada with operatives in the US. The 9-11 red flag intelligence operation made possible the Alquada myth, the Alquada myth made possible the biggest con job in history namely the phony WAR ON TERROR; And of course the war on terror noncence made possible the desimation our constitution.

  • 28. nick turo  |  December 24th, 2011 at 3:40 am

    I have no reason not to believe the BBC. They said: There never was any global, sophisticated well organized network called Alquada. The 9-11 red flag intelligence operation made possible the Alquada myth; the Aquada myth made possible the biggest con job in history, namely, THE WAR ON TERROR; And the war on terror mace possible the dissolution of our constitution.


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