Archive for the ‘Commentary’ Category

Differentiating analysis

03/13/2013 1 comment

I found this guidance note on the ABC’s website; it’s about differentiating analysis from opinion. Although it’s predominantly for a TV medium, it struck home a little, particularly in the last two points…

Typically, ‘analysis’ –
• carries the name of the author
• is made by a person with professional expertise or
specialist knowledge aboutthe subject matter being analysed
• is grounded in reporting work, usually done by the
person making the analysis
• refers to the information on which it is based
• is based on information that can be verified
• is not purely speculative or based only on faith or belief
• is not partisan or ideological
• will often discuss options and their pros and cons
• refrains from public advocacy
• aims to inform and explain more than to rouse or persuade
• does not prescribe what should be done nor urge what the audience should conclude.
It’s very easy to slide into arguing for a solution at the expense of explanation. Take a look at most terrorism studies writing and you’ll notice it’s nearly all prescriptive, and solution based.   There are lots of reasons for this, but one worth noting is that it is  exceptionally hard to get work published that is not prescriptive.  In my view, this needs to change.
These guidelines are not perfect but it’s nice to see that at least there is an awareness of this problem on the part of the ABC.  Sadly, it doesn’t seem to be common place among media, or in the terrorism studies area of academia for that matter (and International Relations more broadly).
I’m putting this up now as I’ll be referring to it in a forthcoming post or two, if I ever get my workspace sorted and internet back on before I leave on my next adventure.  As thankful as I am to my friend for her hospitality in letting me come over, commandeer the couch and use her internet, I don’t want to subject the household to my blog writing rituals, or efforts to rediscover how to format blog posts, which as this mangled post shows,  I’ve managed to forget.

Some quick thoughts on reports Abu Yahya al-Libi has been killed

06/06/2012 2 comments


First, I’ll believe it when al Qaeda acknowledges it.

This of course won’t stop the chest beating celebrating his killing.

And if he has in fact been killed, I wonder if those who think this is a victory (and those supporting the strategy of extrajudicial killings more generally)  have given ample thought to the fact that he along with others who have been assassinated were actually a moderating force within a far more virulent current that has taken hold in the milieu. And yes, given his teachings I do note a certain irony in this, but sadly, it’s true.

What is coming next is a generation whose ideological positions are more virulent and who owing to the removal of older figures with clout, are less likely to be amenable to restraining their actions. And contrary to popular belief, actions have been restrained. Attacks  have thus far been used strategically rather than indiscriminately. Just take a look at AQ’s history and its documents and this is blatantly clear.

In the years to come, owing to this generation being killed off, this type of restraint will disappear; in fact it is clearly already heading in this direction. A significant part of this change  is directly attributable to the counter terrorism strategies being employed today. I’m working on a more detailed, research driven piece on this. But in the meantime, the best way of summing up the consequences of a strategy of killing off leadership instead of using a criminal justice approach lies with what happened in a wildlife sanctuary in South Africa many years ago.

A culling program was implemented to kill off all the older generation elephants owing to overcrowding. Juveniles were spared. However, without the presence of the older elephants they then proceeded to go on rampages, killing other animals and causing such havoc that the rangers thought they’d have to cull them too. Until that is, someone chanced upon the idea of bringing in older elephants from another wildlife park, who ended up bringing the juveniles into line and enforcing discipline, something that had been missing since the cull of the older generation.

Right now you’re probably scoffing at this. Scoff away, because this example has come up time and time again in conversations I’ve had with folks who know this milieu very well because they’ve lived in it. Along with it has been concern expressed for the future, for what will happen when authoritative voices who can restrain the actions of those left and, importantly, those newer folks still seeking to join the cause, no longer exist.  When indiscriminate becomes the norm.

So before anyone goes off celebrating another “number” in the death count, it is worthwhile remembering there will be consequences from this short sighted and reactionary path chosen to deal with threat.  These consequences will not play out in areas where extrajudicial killings take place, but in indiscriminate attacks in capital cities in the west.  I wonder then how those who advocate the current policy plan to deal with this and the implications it will pose for the social contract.  But hey, they’re “winning” right????

More on this later.

Official: Al Qaeda leader killed by drone strike in Pakistan – This Just In – Blogs.

Categories: AQ General, Commentary

New article on What the Al Qaeda al Shabab merger means for Australia

03/05/2012 1 comment

Hi folks, I have a new article out at The Conversation focusing on what the recent merger between al Qaeda and al Shabab means for Australia.

Comments as always are welcome. Cheers.

A new article I wrote on al Qaeda’s operational resilience

03/02/2012 1 comment

Hello folks, well it’s a been a while since I’ve ventured onto the blog. A little bit of burn out coupled with a plate full of other exciting projects means I’ve let it slide. I’ll be getting back into it, but you may find a change of direction coming because  I find myself increasingly disenchanted with the current state of play. In particular,  I have an issue with the increasingly unaccountable nature of counter terrorism and the militarisation of CT more generally–as well reactions to acts of terror (or fear of them) that belie the values of democratic nations and human rights, not to mention being outright counter productive. And don’t even get me started on disengagement and CVE. But for now, I’m finishing up book research, juggling some other writing, and job hunting, which is keeping me busy. But hopefully that begins to subside soon.

Anyway, for those interested, here are links to two pieces I wrote recently.

One is on al Qaeda’s operational resilience, which I wrote last November, but was only published last month.  This article originally appeared in “Al-Qaeda’s Senior Leadership”, a publication of IHS Defense, Security and Risk Consulting, in January 2012. Reproduced with permission © IHS (Global) Limited. All rights reserved.

The second is an op-ed I wrote on the AQ-al Shabab merger.

Happy reading, and feedback is as always, welcome.


Some thoughts on the 9/11 Decade

07/06/2011 1 comment

For those of you interested, the United States Study Centre has put up all of the audio and video from the summit it hosted last month: The 9/11 Decade. I plan to make some time to listen to some of the speeches I missed but in the meantime wanted to write a few notes about a couple of things that really stood out for me. Had been planning on doing so for a while but real life has intervened. So here it is, better late than never and consisting of my attempts to turn scrawled notes into coherent sentences in a 2am blog post.

One thing that stood out for me (at least in the sessions I saw) was the focus on China, which one could consider quite interesting given the summit was titled the 9/11 decade. But in some respects, it’s not so curious.

For those who remember back to 2000/2001, and particularly for those who were in an International Relations stream at the time, it’s all too easy to recall that before 9/11 came along and re-ordered everything, the next great big threat was China. And boy was it being hyped.  It’s forgotten now because of what came along after, but at the time there was lots of talk about the new Cold War, and then we had the Hainan Island spy plane incident in early 2001  and it was all doom and gloom forecasts from some quarters, and from others, arguments that there was not a new cold war but instead we’d all have to contend with a  multi-polar system, and a number of regional hegemons, particularly in the Asia Pacific region.

What fascinated me was to hear these things repeated again—almost word for word, a decade later, and after virtual silence on many of these topics (outside of those who specialize in the area). Of course there are a few different things now. Back in 01 the US was strong, and so the discussion was not so much centred on questions like whether the US is in terminal decline, which was an ongoing theme at the summit. So this is a new addition to the discourse and gives rather obvious pause for thought as to how the strategic consequences of the detour into using counter terrorism as an organizational pillar of International Security are going to be viewed by historians over the longer term—particularly in relation to its impact on US power & capabilities across a number of indices.  But, I digress.

Anyway, it was interesting because even those at the summit who were optimistic for America’s capacity for replenishment did seem to grudgingly accept that a change towards multipolarity is coming. I was, however, struck by those who thought that China needs containing. Not by the argument itself but rather the lack of evidence behind it—although in fairness this may be more symptomatic of limited time in sessions. What struck me even more though was the firm belief held by some (again with little behind them in terms of supporting evidence) that the United States could actually contain China.

It seems to me that as things currently stand the best anyone can realistically talk about is power balancing, rather than containment, particularly given the geopolitical realities of the region and also of other regions in which the US sees itself as having vital interests.

Speaking of China and containment, I managed to catch the last of Robert Kaplan’s session, where he was talking about blue water naval capabilities and regional dynamics in the Asia-Pacific, particularly in relation to territorial disputes and SLOC’s.  I found it interesting, although a little alarmist, but that’s just because I woke up the next morning and literally the very first thing I thought about was China, blue water navy capacity, regional instability,  and things going boom. So clearly it stuck in my mind. But I digress.

Another continuity I noticed at the summit was in relation to the complaint/argument that the International Institutions we currently have are (already) insufficient and nowhere near robust and expansive enough to deal with the range and types of situations we will face in the future.  Again, this is nothing new. But it was interesting to see this theme emerge, particularly alongside the theme of the US in a potentially terminal decline–as the last lone superpower. This tied in with another theme: the need for a greater focus on international institutions, cooperation and soft power, diplomacy etc etc. Again, none of this is new. But it has been long drowned out by the absolute militarization of counter terrorism and elevation of counter terrorism to an organizing pillar of international security.

It seemed to me that if the summit with its wide variety of speakers and attendees was any indication, then the pendulum may have finally swung back.  Maybe, just maybe, we can now move beyond the exceptionalism that has characterized the treatment of terrorism as a security threat. I only hope we do not go from one extreme to another and end up with another new cold War/China threat scenario.


Categories: Commentary

Senator Feinstein must live in a very friendly and nosy neighbourhood

06/22/2011 2 comments

“I don’t understand how somebody could buy the land for $48,000, get the building permits, get a contractor, build for a period of time what is essentially the largest home compound in the area, where somebody lives for five years, and nobody asks who’s there or finds out who’s there,” she said.

I racked up many years in Canberra, and believe me so long as OBL & family snuck in to a house in a  darkened car he could have lived undetected there too.  In fact, he could probably have wandered around in pseudo disguise without much bother since most Canberrans go out of their way to avoid eye contact or saying hello. Yes, I’m a bit bitter and twisted from my experience there, being from the much friendlier state of Qld, but in all seriousness if no one saw him go in why would they think to ask it, which was pretty much probably the whole reason he was there.

Obviously a lot of questions have to be asked as to how and why he got there, but really.

Records going missing is pretty dodgy though, if true.

Two new items

06/19/2011 Leave a comment

Am a bit behind in posting but for those who may not have seen it, FP/NAF’s AfPak channel had a roundtable with a few of us writing down some thoughts on al-Zawahiri’s appointment as amir.

You can find it here

I also spoke with The Takeaway recently on what the future holds for al Qaeda, which you can find here

There’s more to come in the next little while as I slowly make my way through my list of things to write about either in article form, or here on the blog.








Op-ed in The Australian outlining my take on Ayman al-Zawahiri’s appointment as new amir of al-Qaeda

06/17/2011 2 comments

You can find the piece here.

I’ve also written another two articles, which I hope are coming out soon. And will post the details on once they are released, although I don’t know if one has been accepted yet. In any event, I’ll post it here if I don’t get a taker on it.

Another blog post will also follow soon on the interim amir speculation. And I still need to update my earlier posts with the interesting data readers have sent in about the photos. Hoping to get to that later today but since I haven’t slept yet I’ll see how I go on that front. In any case I’ll get to it as soon as I can.

Categories: AQ General, Commentary

Interesting details on AQ and Taliban efforts to bring down chinook in Afghanistan – amoung other stuff I also ramble about

06/15/2011 5 comments

There is some truly fascinating material floating around on the forums at the moment. Maybe it’s because I’m only just starting to get back looking at this stuff in more depth than my usual daily hour or two wander through the internets. But there’s a lot of movement afoot in quite a few different areas.

And rather curiously there seems to be a lot of reporting on al-Sham operatives in Afghanistan and/or Pakistan.

This could just be because clearly one of them is on active on the forums at the moment and pushing out some stuff.

Some of it is old, like the martrdom of the Jordanian born  (or Jordanian citizen if memory serves?) Palestinian Mahmud Abu Rida (see here for a useful summary on this guy by Florian Flade

Short version he was UK based for many years, jailed at Belmarsh, under a control order ( I think) and then ended up in Afghanistan, where he was reported killed late last year. He had longstanding links to AQ, with some reporting suggesting that he was the person to who al-Zawahiri tasked distributing his book–although to my knowledge this has never been confirmed.

What is interesting is that there is some new information that has appeared about how he died and what he was involved in as well as some photos. Curiously, this detail was released by the same gent who put out the pictures of Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi’s brother I posted on a few days ago.

You can find the new account of Mahmud Abu Rida and pictures on an open forum here

This account confirms Mahmud Abu Rida was AQ (no surprises there) but it also  intimates that As Sahab may do something on him later. I wouldn’t be surprised if it does, since the propaganda value of  Mahmud Abu Rida is high, given his background and detention in the UK etc. He also reportedly asked for a martyrdom operation and the way he died would from AQ’s view give it a new spin on martydom ops.

It is interesting that the photos and details have taken a while to surface (or have I missed them earlier?)

Anyway, this posting  claims Mahmud Abu Rida was killed in an operation to bring down a US chinook (at least I think it was chinook), in which four Turkish militants also participated (if I am understanding this correctly)

Some other interesting details (and please correct me if I am wrong) but according to this the Taliban and al Qaeda had a join unit to hunt planes.  Maybe someone can match up the details with known crashes or strikes on aircraft?  I was up to my eyeballs in thesis last year time so I missed a bit of news. Anyway, according to this account villagers complained and so the militants organised an operation. Presumably this is where the Taliban fits in, since the account places Mahmud Abu Rida and four Turkish brothers as the ones who carried out the operation.  Although it does say that the Taliban militants tried to attract the Americans by talking on their cellphone, and when that did not work Mahmud Abu Rida got on the phone and started talking Arabic. Not sure about this in terms of credibility, but nonetheless it is interesting. It has some details about what weapons were used but I’m not well versed in that stuff, more the IED side of things so I’ll leave that to someone else to write about. Anyway according to this the attack caused the aircraft to crash land and then more aircraft came and those who perpetrated the attack were killed. The account highlights that the militants carried out this attack with relatively rudimentary weapons, and seems keen to reinforce this point. Again, I’m not great on weapons so will leave that to someone else to write about in terms of veracity.

So, anyway, my take away from this, among other things,  which is not new, but nonetheless interesting, is that there allegedly exists a special unit tasked with trying to bring down aircraft. And that they’re claiming a success.

More interesting to me, however, is that whoever is posting this or passing it to the person posting (but I think it is the former rather than the latter) clearly has significant links, at some level and degree into AQ media/op nexus. He has operational details, awareness of unit sections and photos as well as knowledge of  media plans so it seems.  Intriguing–especially given the very old old school links in al-Sham networks that are becoming a little more visible in OS material like this of late. He also carries authority in terms of his postings, so I’m following all of this with great interest.

Anyway, these are the photos of Mahmud Abu Rida he provided, allegedly from an AQ training camp and cropped for security reasons.

UPDATE: Thanks very much to a valued reader in N America for providing the following information on the photos.

The first picture was taken around 28 Feb 2010.  The second one was taken on 19 Feb 2010 but modified on 10 April 2011.

Also interesting is that the same forum poster who put up this information has in the past day or two also released  an announcement of the martyrdom in Afghanistan of a senior Jordanian operative, Abu Thar/Zar, which has no date. So I’m not sure if this is related either by unit or event or network or pedigree, or just selling the al-Sham aspect in the forums  or if it is even related at all. He is hitting up pretty heavily the lions of tawhid narrative, but that could just as easily be in relation to Afghanistan as to the al-Sham angle; I’ve seen it used for both.

Anyway, there are pictures to follow in another posting or announcement presumably.  This name is of interest to me, since it rings a bell from a long time ago, both in terms of internet forums and real world stuff. The post acknowledges his role in old school forums,  but I’ll have to do some more digging to see if it is the person I am thinking of who was involved in  training related activities and had real world links via this. If it who I think it is,  he also had some links to old school AQAP folks and AQ external operations folks too, and handed out some fairly detailed guidance on how to do surveillance etc circa 02-04, if memory serves, but I digress. Anyway, you can read more about this here

Lastly, for reasons I’m not inclined to expand upon I think if one digs deep enough one would find that the gent posting all this stuff  would show links to Abu Dujana al Khurasani (who was the AQ suicide bomber who struck the CIA base in late 2009) among other people…

So anyway, I just found all that quite interesting, particularly in terms of what it shows about AQ unit set ups, nationalities and involvement in various areas and the discrete movements in relation to this, as well as  the nexus between media and ops and of course the AQ Taliban cooperation outlined in his report of Mahmud Abu Rida’s death.

As an aside also in relation to stuff on the forums:

There’s a quite a few old school names popping up again.

There’s some new manhaj related material on the way.

There’s a new edition of the mujahid’s book bag released ( I tweeted the link earlier  you’ll also maybe need to download extra fonts ) So we’re now up to edition three. All 1.5 gigs of it.

And there’s something apparently coming from AQ soon.

Coffee time for me now. More to come later. Thanks for the folks sending in info in relation to IMU post, I will get around to posting that a little later, and will also try to plough through the security manual.

My thoughts on al-Qaeda after Osama

06/09/2011 Leave a comment

Folks if you are interested, the following link has a podcast of an interview I had with Ron Sutton of SBS on my thoughts on al-Qaeda after Osama. This interview was done on the sidelines of the 2011 National Summit, The 9/11 Decade, which was put on by the United States Studies Centre at the University of Sydney.

I’d like to thank the Centre for their invitation to speak and to congratulate them on a truly excellent summit.

Categories: AQ General, Commentary

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