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Saturday, October 2, 2010

Why Two Osama bin Laden Messages Instead Of One?

Osama bin Laden issues two audio messages in two days, both on the subject of relief efforts, specifically in Pakistan.

Things just got interesting. Why two? Double-releases from Al Qaeda are not unprecedented, but they're usually on separate topics.

One of the following explanations seems to me to be the most likely:

1) The doubled-up message may be operational redundancy reflecting a lack of confidence on bin Laden's part regarding the pipeline through which his messages are transmitted to the public.

2) The messages may have been recorded at different times, but there was a delay in delivery resulting in both messages reaching the distributor (likely Adam Gadahn) at the same time.

Either of these explanations suggests that OBL's communications pipeline is vulnerable and under significant pressure. That in turn suggests that our recent unprecedented drone offensive in Pakistan is landing bombs close to bin Laden -- possibly very close -- or possibly to his chief media officer, Adam Gadahn.

Of course, we may not know how close we are. The drones could have been targeting someone else (or a target of unclear identity) and only incidentally endangered bin Laden or Gadahn.

There are other possible explanations. A particularly appealing notion is that our intelligence may have infiltrated the pipeline. Or rather, that AQ may suspect this has happened and arranged the double-release as a way to diagnose the problem. If one version leaks but the other doesn't, that implicates one distribution channel over the other.

Certainly, there is clear evidence that AQ and its regional allies are concerned about exactly this kind of infiltration. Three bullet-ridden bodies were recently deposited in North Waziristan with a note reading "Anyone who dares spy for the Americans will meet the same fate," according to several reports.

If this was a diagnostic tactic, that still suggests we are very close to bin Laden, although perhaps with a person instead of a drone.

In addition to the drone blitz, we also have the question of the capture of Al Qaeda operative Ahmad Siddiqui, who has indicated that AQ is planning Mumbai-style terrorist attacks in Europe and possibly the U.S., and that the attack was personally authorized by bin Laden.

Siddiqui was captured in July and has been providing incrementally more information each day, according to CNN and other sources. As his intelligence is processed, it no doubt leads to operations -- like the drone blitz. Could it be a coincidence that the first intelligence on bin Laden in years is being followed by all this activity?

For all these reasons, I favor the pressure option over the constellation of more mundane explanations -- hardware failure, Gadahn on vacation, editing problem which required splitting a single audio file, or a decision to split a single audio file to create the illusion of more activity, or offering an arcane coded signal to sleeper agents somewhere.

And I suspect the fact that the message was actually released means the pressure is more likely on bin Laden's side than on Gadahn's. If AQ is reacting to a suspected infiltration, Gadahn may not even know why he got two communiques instead of one.

Next post: So If We DID Kill Bin Laden, What Next?

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INTELWIRE is a web site edited by J.M. Berger. a researcher, analyst and consultant covering extremism, with a special focus on extremist activities in the U.S. and extremist use of social media. He is a non-resident fellow with the Brookings Institution, Project on U.S. Relations with the Islamic World, and author of the critically acclaimed Jihad Joe: Americans Who Go to War in the Name of Islam, the only definitive history of the U.S. jihadist movement, and co-author of ISIS: The State of Terror with Jessica Stern.


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