Analysis Depressing evidence that the US news big deals have jumped the rails flows daily in the war on terror. Take 60 Minutes' recent special on "jihad.com." Reported by Scott Pelley and produced by Harry Radcliffe, the 800lb gorilla of US journalism led with the tired story of al Qaeda in cyberspace.
It was so poor one could easily reconstruct how it must have gone down. "Get the interns to Google 'al Qaeda' and 'the Internet,' then skim from the first page of returns," someone commanded. And so it was done, returning a couple of dated pieces on Younis Tsuli, aka irhabi007, and a small cast of anti-terror industry shills who've turned jihadi websites and their electronic scribbles into a cash crop to be fed to intelligence agencies and other interested parties.
"Jihad.com" seemed primarily a redo of a story published by NewsFactor magazine in July of last year, to the extent 60 Minutes should simply pay the magazine for doing its legwork. Entitled "The Man Who Put al Qaeda on the Web," the original told the story of Tsuli, now in jail, as the preposterously named irabi007. Why exactly Tsuli was a ridiculous individual was not entertained by Pelley and company. Being only as familiar with terrorist materials as their assistants can make them from trolling Lex-Nex and adding five minutes of web search, they didn't read jihadi texts, relying only on the usual cherry-picked expert or two as interpreters and retellers. They reliably uttered wisdoms along the lines that al Qaeda has taken a big lead in the use of the Internet over us dunderheads.
But if one takes a gander at the infamous manual taken off an old Afghan jihadi recce man, Nazib al Raghie, living in semi-retirement in Manchester in 2000 before he disappeared, one finds it contains straightforward text making clear holy warriors ought not to draw attention to themselves. That means putting the signature "007" into the middle of your Arabic e-documents, or scrawling "ricin" in English in another, à la Kamel Bourgass, are probably out. One could reason that bin Laden would have little need or regard for someone, like "terrorist007," who amounted to a warez d00D undone partly as a consequence of getting into Internet fights with a citizen from middle America who took it upon himself to be the fellow's private stalker/harpy.
Readers can guess that little of this understructure made it to television. For 60 Minutes, Tsuli - although never shown - was the man who brought networked information distribution to al Qaeda. One year prior, the Washington Post had published a similar grand noise, making the claim that al Qaeda was now e-Qaeda. It asked readers to entertain the conceit that having your playground blasted in the real world, Afghanistan, made no difference to the organization and was possibly even very good for it, hastening the relocation of its training grounds into cyberspace.
In fact, 60 Minutes - like the terror war coverage by many of their news competitors - generally edits out any material critical while taking pains to leave in that which is purely sensational. For the segment, an irhabi007 document with the ominous acronym "CBRN" - for chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear weapons - was flashed across the screen.
One of the sources for the 60 Minutes-style fear-the-terror farce is the SITE Institute. Directed by Rita Katz, SITE delves jihadi websites for their e-papers, does translations and sells them to clients as a professional service. In the past, 60 Minutes has been an advertiser for SITE and in this segment it was said the company had tracked a jihadi on the Internet who was preparing for battle, turned over his Internet particulars to authorities, whereupon he was grabbed. Who this was no one would say.*
The war on terror has afforded opportunity for large and small enterprising private sector firms to enter the business of furnishing intelligence product. And over the past few years, the newsmedia has regularly publicized terror materials supplied by such operations.
But the book is far from in on this as a crucial service. Frequently, such materials have suggested that talent for terror is low and that al Qaeda, although certainly inimical, is sifting a bagful of human sand for the rare killer diamond. The security industry and newsmedia gloss it over, preferring to always attribute the organization with Fu Manchu-like knowledge and skill.