Friday, July 29, 2011

Is al Qaeda really dying? The birth of a news meme

July 27, 2011
U.S. counterterrorism officials are increasingly convinced that the killing of Osama bin Laden and the toll of seven years of CIA drone strikes have pushed al ­Qaeda to the brink of collapse.
The assessment reflects a widespread view at the CIA and other agencies that a relatively small number of additional blows could effectively extinguish the Pakistan-based organization that carried out the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks — an outcome that was seen as a distant prospect for much of the past decade.
Do you want to believe this? Wouldn't that be nice to think that the worst bad guys in our worst nightmares from the last decade are near extinction? Brought to justice by SEALs, Special Forces and armed drones as swiftly and violently as they delivered their unjust death sentences on innocents?
(For a primer on armed drones in Afghanistan, scroll down for an interesting C-SPAN video.)
Now, ask yourself as a regular news reader why do you think the newspaper's unidentified sources are saying this? More importantly, why are they saying this now? And why, if things are going so swimmingly in the terrorist eradication business, these officials feel the need to hide their identities?
Wasn't it this President Obama and his Democratic administration that denied all but....
...a privileged few D.C. power people the opportunity to see Osama bin Laden's death photo in May because the rest of us couldn't handle the gore, having only watched fellow citizens jump to their deaths on 9/11?
And the administration's adults didn't want any endzone dancing over the bloody demise of the world's most wanted beard. His death was no biggie, you understand. But a confirming gruesome photo might well incite some awful new attack, despite enhanced TSA groping.Osama bin laden
And yet here, less than 90 days later hidden behind the cloak of anonymity, are the same administration's officials pronouncing the 9/11 al Qaeda ogre effectively neutralized. Just like that.
Could there possibly be a more blatant invitation to one looney than announcing in a leading American newspaper that these guys shuffling around Pakistan's tribal areas in sandals are not only impotent but virtual goners after a few more Reaper raids? How convenient is this thinking?
Our focus has nothing to do with the Post, one of the nation's best news organizations, and its respected reporter. It has everything to do with how competitive traditional journalism is still practiced in the nation's capitol by the best of them.
How government uses that competition and its control of information to shape public thinking to its will, especially in delicate political times like these. And how Americans can be better-informed, more wary consumers of political news.
The complete Post story here is typically well-crafted with even an over-abundance of professional caveats: "al Qaeda might yet rally" and "its demise would not end the terrorist threat."
Adding: "Indeed, officials said that al Qaeda's offshoot in Yemen is now seen as a greater counterterroism challenge than the organization's traditional base" in Pakistan.
And then: "Even if al Qaeda is dismantled, its militant ideology has spread and will remain a long-term threat."
What? Wait! What then exactly do these unidentified experts want us to feel like carefully celebrating in this summer when Obama's Afghan troop drawdown is scheduled to begin?
Oh, that's it. 'Mission Accomplished' without the banner. We're not cutting and running from an endless conflict in a foresaken place that's become the nation's longest war ever and claimed 1,680 American lives, 1,050 of them under Commander-in-Chief Obama.PanettaLeonhed7-25-11JoshuaRobtsAbacaPressMCT
Apparent retreat would be a gift to Republicans in next year's presidential campaign.
Better to frame it, 'We've pretty much taken care of this crowd of bad guys and we can safely bring the boys and girls home.' That would be good news for Obama, even if he wasn't a Nobel Peace Prize winner with undeclared, ongoing military conflicts in Yemen and Libya.
In a competitive news town like Washington, if you provide this information to, say, the Kalamazoo Gazette, it goes nowhere but Kalamazoo.
If you can assist or convince a respected major news outlet that its competition is also on to the al Qaeda demise story or that you're merely responding to legitmate news questions, you might get on a widely-read homepage and front page.
More importantly, as the government information management business goes, influential news competitors might match the story this week or begin replicating it in a couple of weeks, slowly creating a news meme about al Qaeda's demise and Obama's success. It might be true. It might be wishful. But it's very real.
A sense of military victory over al Qaeda could help bolster Obama's national security credentials next year, giving him a positive talking point that usually belongs to the GOP.
Now, nobody but the reporter and his editor knows the exact sources of this Afghan story other than it's "the widespread view at the CIA and other agencies." As it happens, Leon Panetta was head of the CIA until recently.
As it happens, on a trip to Afghanistan recently he uttered something remarkably similar to the theme of the Post's story. He said: "We’re within reach of strategically defeating al Qaeda."
As it happens, Panetta is now Obama's new secretary of Defense with a direct stake in selling his boss' Afghan withdrawal plans as justified by the military realities on the ground.
As it happens, Panetta was previously President Bill Clinton's White House chief of staff. He was called in to take that job in 1994, in part to help manage the political aftermath of a basement bomb attack on New York's World Trade Center by some wacko Muslim group called al Qaeda and its messianic leader Osama something-or-other.
But all this could just be coincidence.

Yemeni political crisis solution still possible, UN official says

SANAA, July 29 (Saba) - UN Secretary General's Envoy Jamal Ben Omar said Friday that the solution for the Yemeni political crisis was still possible.

"I urge Yemeni various parties to reach an agreement immediately that is acceptable to all sides to put an end to the crisis", Omar told a news conference organized by United Nations Information Centre (UNIC).

Any solution should meet the Yemeni people's aspirations, the UN official said.

He stressed that the Yemeni political powers should make an agreement on how to enter a transitional period as soon as possible.

Omar warned of aggravating the current political and economic situations in Yemen that led to deteriorate the humanitarian situation.

"It is time for the various political parties' leaders to make crucial decisions ending the crisis and avoiding the state's deterioration in Yemen", he said.

Few days ago, Omar described in press conference the situation in Yemen as "very dangerous," and would threaten regional and international peace and security.

Having a transitional period was not possible without solving the outstanding issues between the government and the opposition, he said.

The envoy, who met with all conflicting parties, said he would convey what he saw in Yemen to the UN Security Council.

Omar stressed that there was no new initiative or proposals by the UN Secretary General.

FM: President ready to transfer power anytime via election

LONDON, July 29 (Saba) - President Ali Abdullah Saleh confirmed his readiness to transfer power anytime, but via early election, Foreign Minister Abu Bakr al-Qirbi has said.

In an interview with Reuters, al-Qirbi said if president Saleh was forced to oust, a civil war would erupt in Yemen, adding that the crisis's solution is an agreement between the ruling party and opposition on a date for early election.

The Gulf and USA-brokered deal was not practicable, he said, pointing that if the president has resigned and no election has been conducted, a constitutional vacuum would occur in the country.

The Gulf and USA-brokered deal has set 30 days to form a national-unity government and then the president resigns. Election is conducted in 60 days.

"The President did not cancel the deal. Its timeframe needs to be reconsidered", al-Qirbi said, adding that the government was trying to negotiate with the opposition to set an achievable date for election under regional and international supervision.

"Al-Qaeda is the best beneficiary from the anarchy in Yemen. The political crisis paves the way for al-Qaeda to take hold of Abyan province", he said.

Failure to reach a political agreement will lead to a disaster, maybe a civil war, al-Qirbi said.

Qaeda head in Yemen calls for killing Saudi rulers

(AFP) – July 29, 2011

DUBAI — Al-Qaeda's military leader in Yemen called for Saudi rulers to be killed as "apostates," in an audio tape released on Friday, SITE Intelligence Group reported.

"To the scholars ... of the family of Saud ... I say to you, your King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz and his crown prince, his interior minister and his son Mohammed, are considered by us to be apostates and must be killed," said Qassim al-Rimi.

In the almost seven-minute tape, the Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula commander said Saudi authorities had arrested a group of women who had protested outside the interior ministry on February 5 to call for the release of relatives.

"In the north of the country and its south there are wounded women who are requesting the release of their sons and daughters from the prisons of oppression," said Rimi, according to the English translation provided by SITE.

Saudi authorities "tricked them by putting them into buses in order to meet the criminal (Deputy Interior Minister Prince) Mohammed bin Nayef in order to release their captives, then they dragged them to prisons to remain there for more than 10 days," he said.

Witnesses said in February that women, men and children asked to meet with ministry officials to call for the release of family members.

Those detained were arrested in 2003-2004 at the height of a security sweep against Al-Qaeda suspects during a wave of attacks on oil installations and foreign targets in the Gulf kingdom.

"Here we say to our sisters and mothers, we promise you that we will achieve victory for your chastity and purity, and that any hand that was extended at you should be cut off," said Rimi.

Anti-Government Protesters Rally Again in Yemen

July 29, 2011

Massive rallies are unfolding across Yemen on Friday as anti-government activists renew calls for change.

Demonstrators are seeking an end to President Ali Abdullah Saleh's 33-year rule.

Saleh remains in Saudi Arabia where he is recovering from injuries sustained in a June attack on his presidential compound.

On Thursday, heavy clashes between Yemeni forces and armed tribesmen who attacked a Republican Guard training facility killed dozens of people 40 kilometers north of the capital, Sana'a.

Yemeni officials said the elite unit, backed by government warplanes, shelled and bombed hundreds of tribesmen who had seized part of the al-Samaa military camp.

The Defense Ministry said loyalist troops suffered "heavy losses" and the attackers sought to gain control of Sana'a International Airport. Tribal sources confirmed casualties, saying "dozens were killed and wounded" from both sides.

The government accused the Islamist opposition Al-Islah party militia of involvement in the raid on the training camp.

Separately, at least one soldier was killed and another wounded in the southern city of Taiz near a square where anti-government protesters have been camped for months.

Former officials: Al-Qaida still likely to use WMD

By KIMBERLY DOZIER, AP Intelligence Writer

ASPEN, Colorado (AP) — July 29, 2011- A chemical or biological attack by al-Qaida and its offshoots remains a threat, despite the killing of terror leader Osama bin Laden, top former U.S. counterterrorist officials said Thursday.

Mike Leiter, the just-retired director of the National Counterterrorism Center, made the comments to an audience at the Aspen Security Forum.

"We still have pockets of al-Qaida around the world who see this as a key way to fight us," especially the offshoot in Yemen," he said. "The potential threat from al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula is very real."

Leiter said the new breed of terrorists understands that killing a few Americans can cause as much fear as the massive plots bin Laden backed.

"The most likely ... are simple forms of chemical or biological weapons" rather than a nuclear attack, Leiter said, using the poison ricin as an example of something that's easily made.

"Is it going to kill many people? No. Is it going to scare people? Yes," he said.

"Bin Laden was really prioritizing the big attack," Leiter added. "Some of them may have fantasies about pulling off another 9/11," but his affiliates realize they can affect U.S. strategy and society with smaller scale attacks.

"Anwar al-Awlaki gets that," Leiter said, naming the U.S.-born radical cleric of the Yemeni branch. And so do other offshoots, like the Pakistani Taliban, which sent a bomber to try to blow up a car in the middle of Times Square a year ago, he said.

With bin Laden gone, Leiter and former CIA Deputy Director John McLaughlin both predicted new leader Ayman al-Zawahiri launch similar smaller scale campaign.

"Zawahiri will probably favor smaller targets," McLaughlin told the audience. "Bin Laden did not."

Leiter and McLaughlin both said Zawahiri's core al-Qaida was weaker after bin Laden's killing.

"I think it is now possible ... to actually visualize, to imagine its collapse," McLaughlin said, speaking of the original core group. But he warned against underestimating Zawahiri or his followers.

"He's not as charismatic ... but he may be more disciplined, he said, adding that Zawahiri is a physician who has long been interested in using weapons of mass destruction to attack.

"What we will know is there has been no successful inbound attack since 9/11 that we can attribute directly to al-Qaida," added Charles Allen, who has held multiple top positions at the CIA over the years. "But we can see this metastasized network linked by Internet that is self-sustaining across the world."

Leiter said the trove of information, including inter-al-Qaida communications, taken from bin Laden's compound where he was killed by U.S. commandoes showed the group already was struggling.

He said the documents revealed bin Laden was not the CEO of a large multinational corporation, as analysts thought, but the "slightly out of touch coordinator of a broad dysfunctional family who, frankly, were operating on their own agendas more than his."

But he said al-Qaida and the other groups still have enough organization and staff to keep attacking.

Leiter warned that intelligence and military leaders had to figure out how to keep their staff members, who joined after Sept. 11 to track and fight terrorists in war zones, from getting bored and leaving, because while the U.S. may be drawing down its military forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, the anti-terror war is far from over.

"Smaller scale terrorist attacks are with us for at least the foreseeable future," Leiter said.

"This is going to happen," Allen added.