al-Qaeda's TPS Reports

posted by Jason Kottke Aug 12, 2004

There's some great reporting in this Atlantic Monthly article about the contents of an al-Qaeda computer taken during the US action in Afghanistan. The computer was used primarily by Ayman al-Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden's right-hand man, and contains emails and memos to/from bin Laden, the leader of the Taliban, and other top al-Qaeda members. You should read the whole thing, but I'm going to quote a few interesting bits:

Perhaps one of the most important insights to emerge from the computer is that 9/11 sprang not so much from al-Qaeda's strengths as from its weaknesses. The computer did not reveal any links to Iraq or any other deep-pocketed government; amid the group's penury the members fell to bitter infighting. The blow against the United States was meant to put an end to the internal rivalries, which are manifest in vitriolic memos between Kabul and cells abroad.

Like the early Russian anarchists who wrote some of the most persuasive tracts on the uses of terror, al-Qaeda understood that its attacks would not lead to a quick collapse of the great powers. Rather, its aim was to tempt the powers to strike back in a way that would create sympathy for the terrorists. Al-Qaeda has so far gained little from the ground war in Afghanistan; the conflict in Iraq, closer to the center of the Arab world, is potentially more fruitful. As Arab resentment against the United States spreads, al-Qaeda may look less like a tightly knit terror group and more like a mass movement. And as the group develops synergy in working with other groups branded by the United States as enemies (in Iraq, the Israeli-occupied territories, Kashmir, the Mindanao Peninsula, and Chechnya, to name a few places), one wonders if the United States is indeed playing the role written for it on the computer.

And except from a text found on the computer, written post-9/11:

There are benefits ... The operations have brought about the largest economic crisis that America has ever known. Material losses amount to one trillion dollars. America has lost about two thousand economic brains as a result of the operations. The stock exchange dropped drastically, and American consumer spending deteriorated. The dollar has dropped, the airlines have been crippled, the American globalization system, which was going to spoil the world, is gone ...

Reading the article, you can't help but develop a sense of dissonance between who we're up against and who we've been told we're up against (and our government's response).

The article includes two sidebars, one contains two letters from a young suicide bomber (one to bin Laden and one to his wife) and the other contains tips for al-Qaeda operatives travelling abroad:

Don't wear short pants that show socks when you're standing up. The pants should cover the socks, because intelligence authorities know that fundamentalists don't wear long pants ...

Underwear should be the normal type that people wear, not anything that shows you're a fundamentalist.

You should differentiate between men and women's perfume. If you use women's perfume, you are in trouble.

To paraphrase Jon Lovitz as Michael Dukakis playing opposite Dana Carvey as George H.W. Bush in an SNL Presidential debate skit: I can't believe we're losing to these guys.