Over at the BBC, Nicola Meyrick steps up to defend Analysis from 7 August 2008, Al-Qaeda’s Enemy Within, against the claim from a document leaked to the Guardian that suggested the programme was inspired by a government information unit.
The report, headed Challenging Violent Extremist Ideology Through Communications, says: “We are pushing this material to UK media channels, e.g. a BBC radio programme exposing tensions between AQ leadership and supporters. And a restricted working group will communicate niche messages through media and non-media.”
Civil servants ‘bigging up’ dubious PR ‘coups’ is nothing new. But in knocking back the claims, Nicola actually tells us how the programme came about:
The programme was produced by Radio Current Affairs resident expert on political Islam, Innes Bowen. She first became aware of the story about ideological and theological splits in the Jihadi movement in May, when a contact who works for an Islamist think tank sent her a link to an article in an American journal. Innes and Frank then researched the subject and proposed the programme to the editor of Analysis, Hugh Levinson. He commissioned it early in July.
In fact, I was quite surprised by the Guardian claim since I always thought the ‘inspiration’ for Al Qaeda’s Enemy Within was Lawrence Wright’s article from the June 2 edition of the New Yorker, The Rebellion Within, An Al Qaeda mastermind questions terrorism, and which was available to read online in May. Was that the link sent to Innes? Why not help listeners out and link to it? Then they can make up their minds as to whether:
[T]he programme was a completely independent and impartial piece of original journalism, not inspired by a Whitehall counter-terrorism unit or necessarily coming to the conclusion such a unit would like.
(Well, who knows what this shadowy government propaganda unit really wanted. If you want my best guess, it was…to justify its own existence.)
IMHO, the Wright piece is a rather more impressive piece of ‘original’ journalism.
Still, if you look back in time, the line about fissures within AQ had been publicised by a somewhat unconvincing advocate, former Bush speechwriter Peter Wehner back in March 2008 in an FT piece, Al Qaeda Is Losing The War On Minds.
Wehner quoted the rather more convincing Jarret Brachman, on the faculty of Westpoint’s Combating Terrorism Center, and one of several co-authors of a very cogent 2006 report, Harmony and Disharmony: Exploiting al-Qa’ida’s Organizational Vulnerabilities. Among its very much on-the-record conclusions?
Understand and exploit the ideological breaks in the jihadi movement. Combating the al-Qa’ida movement over the long term requires identifying where key jihadi thinkers break with one another.
The documents in this report reveal how such doctrinal disagreements have historically driven wedges within the upper echelons of al-Qa’ida. It is this intra-movement contention that comprises the soft underbelly of violent jihad, which can be exploited to great ends.
Interdicting and corrupting the lines of al-Qa’ida’s ideological influence strikes at the core of its ability to exert indirect control of its members. Ideological influence may prove to be al-Qa’ida’s center of gravity as a social movement; efforts to attack this should be weighted accordingly.
Sounds pretty sensible put like that. And not very secret.