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Old 05-03-2012   #1
J Wolfsberger
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Default AQ Document dump

A large number of documents seized when OBL was killed have been released by the the Combating Terrorism Center at the U.S. Military Academy (West Point) and are available for download.

Letters from Abbottabad: Bin Ladin Sidelined?

This report is a study of 17 de-classified documents captured during the Abbottabad raid and released to the Combating Terrorism Center (CTC). They consist of electronic letters or draft letters, totaling 175 pages in the original Arabic and 197 pages in the English translation...
Haven't read them yet, but I thought the community would be interested.

Didn't find this anywhere else, and this seems like the appropriate place for the thread.
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Last edited by J Wolfsberger; 05-03-2012 at 04:02 PM. Reason: Citation in quotes
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Old 05-04-2012   #2
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Default Initial Thoughts on the Bin Laden Docs

Lots of interesting stuff in the Bin Laden docs, but my initial thoughts are of caution...

Today’s release of 17 documents from last year’s Bin Laden raid has been met by a staggering amount of collective curiosity by the terrorism punditry and al Qaeda enthusiasts. The documents provide a rare glimpse into al Qaeda’s inner workings, but they are nothing more than that – a glimpse. I was quite proud to see my old workplace, the Combating Terrorism Center (CTC), provide adequate warning to those that review the documents:

Before delving into an analysis of the documents, it is critical to address the academic limitations of studying declassified captured battlefield documents. Such a study is fraught with risks, not least because the academic community is not involved in the process of declassification and is therefore unaware of the larger classified corpus of documents.
In my own experience working on the Harmony Program years back, I found similar issue with small document sets from which research would later be generated. Primary source al Qaeda material always and always will be quite limited. @intelwire remarked just yesterday about how little reporting on al Qaeda there’s been this past year, comparatively, and how that has likely shaped and limited our understanding of al Qaeda today.

As I start to read the new declassified documents, I began thinking of when good al Qaeda analysis and weak al Qaeda analysis arises from the limited primary source material of the Harmony Program. As @will_mccants noted, most will pluck quotes from the documents to support whatever theory they’ve wed themselves to with regards to al Qaeda. However, the best analysts will avoid several traps.

1- Senders and Receivers: With the exception of some Harmony documents related to Somalia, almost all of the documents lack the perspective of one party in the sender-receiver relationship. One can see the message that was sent, but the corresponding response is absent. Thus an analyst, using only a single document, will not know if the response to the message may have later changed the thinking of the sender. Understanding how a message was received is equally important to knowing the message that was sent.

2- Context: Some analysts will try to write entire dissertations with sweeping conclusions off one or two documents. These dissertations will suck! Good analysts will take their time and use other openly available sources to put the letters in context. The best analysts will take it one step further and use the documents to generate an informed research plan that creates additional information (field research, interviews) placing the primary source material in context. The folks at FFI in Norway may be the best at this. Vahid Brown did an outstanding job of this in his work – Cracks in the Foundation.

3- Combine Regional/Subject Expertise with New Information: Many will rush to get the first analysis of the documents out the door trying to lump all nifty Bin Laden quips into one large piece. The insights will be thin. However, the best analysis will come from those with regional/subject expertise that can interpret certain portions of the documents related to their particular strength. The analysis from the documents should be focused on specific topics rather than an aggregate whole. For example, I think the most intriguing research topic might be AQ’s relationship with Iran. Analysts who really understand the Iran/Pakistan relationship will use their knowledge, other open source material, their own research and new bits from the Harmony documents to properly dissect this one issue. Essentially, the Harmony docs will accentuate the analysis of the best analysts rather than being the central part of analysis by weak ePundits.

4- See old AQ documents as representative of current AQ: One of my greatest fears is that some will see AQ’s operations and Bin Laden’s mindset in these documents as indicative of how al Qaeda currently operates. All of these docs are at least a year old and most are even older. Much like those that analyzed AQ in 2009 with a mental framework built on AQ’s structure in the 1990′s, I fear these documents will convince some they understand how al Qaeda is operating now. Hence, why I launched the crowdsourcing poll yesterday asking “What has happened to al Qaeda since Bin Laden’s death?“. I’m more interested in how al Qaeda is operating today. If you have 3 minutes, take this challenge and see what you think now having heard reports on the UBL docs or read them yourself.

Vote Here: AQ After UBL

Last edited by davidbfpo; 05-04-2012 at 01:31 PM. Reason: Remove duplicated paragraph
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Old 05-04-2012   #3
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Default From our Abbottabad correspondent..

An IISS commentary by Nigel Inkster, ex-No.2 at SIS:

A couple of selected phrases:
Perhaps the most surprising conclusion to emerge from the material is the extent to which, despite his seclusion, bin Laden was able to maintain extensive contacts with a wide range of individuals and affiliated groups, even if his ability to influence their conduct may have been limited.
It is now clear that bin Laden was able to keep closely abreast of world events during his long period of seclusion, and was well aware of their implications for his movement. He was also much more closely connected with key AQ operatives, not just in South Asia but also much further afield, than had been generally assumed.
The overall picture emerging from the CTC material appears to be a vindication of US counter-terrorism policy, which has succeeded in eroding AQ’s central leadership and organisation to a point where it risks falling below critical mass. Meanwhile the affiliated groups, whose relationship with AQ central appears to be of variable quality, come across as largely preoccupied with their own local conflicts and uninterested in pursuing bin Laden’s global vision and agenda.
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