Merchant of Death
Money, Guns, Planes, and the Man Who Makes War Possible

Blood from Stones

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Press Releases

What the Harmony Papers Show, and Lessons for Counterinsurgency
It is encouraging to see new signs that the military intelligence community is actively pursuing new, critical analysis both of al Qaeda's operational structure and ways of improving counterinsurgency stategies, particularly in Iraq. Given the recent British intelligence assessment that al Qaeda has a 50-year plan of attack, these developments are important.

The West Point CTC project called "Harmony and Disharmony: Exploiting al Qaeda's Organizational Vulnerabilities"-written about by Andrew Cochran earlier-analyzing documents seized from al Qaeda and declassified from the Harmony database, is particularly enlightening on al Qaeda thinking. It shows the new trend in U.S. intelligence-finding exploitable vulnerabilities in the enemy structure. Prior to 1999 there was no overall assessment of al Qaeda's organizational or financial infrastructure. In the post-9/11 world, survival and insurance against another attack led to little real emphasis being placed on al Qaeda's internal organization, and even less was known about ways to excert pressure on the organization because vulnerabilities were not clearly identified.

Now it is clear that al Qaeda is a decentralized organization that spends considerable time, perhaps more time than our own intelligence community and armed forces, on studying "lessons learned" from unsuccessful operations, both of itself and others (i.e. the Muslim Brotherhood experience in Syria). It has, or at least has had, a coroporate structure that deals with everything from salaries to vacation schedules. It has internal discrepanies over tactics, targets and resource allocation.

The recommendations are thoughtful and largely foreseeable, but there is some rather striking new thinking: Providing an exit option for (al Qaeda) members other than indefinite detention or death; Deny jihadi groups the benefit of security vacuums they seek to exploit and create (my favorite). The paper notes that "Policymakers are correctly concerned about the existence of ungoverned spaces as being potential safe-havens for terrorist groups. The Harmony documents demonstrate that al-Qa’ida has been thinking about the necessity to exploit such spaces since their
organizational founding"; conduct an aggressive study of jihadi strategy and foreign policy; begin to understand al Qaeda as a social movement rather than a military one.

I hope some of these recommendations have already been implemented inside the community long ago. It would be striking if there were not already groups looking at al Qaeda as a social movement or studying jihadi strategy and foreign policy. Still, the report is an extraordinary, open assessment of the enemy and one we should pay attention to.
The Case of Louai Sakka Shows That AQ Still has Financial Lifeline
Is Rumsfeld's Optimism on North Africa Warranted?
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