The Saudi's have apparently thwarted another attack --6th year in a row-- targeting their energy infrastructure. I'll tweet links as I find them.
I continue to see reports of arrests and plot disruptions throughout the MENA region, suggesting an open season both on AQ operatives and their plots against foreigners, military assets, and energy infrastructure. Last week’s news of Al Qaida arrests in Saudi Arabia belie continued reports of the group’s waning influence on the Peninsula.
Clearly, there are still operational and logistical cells plotting attacks in Saudi Arabia, and considering the economic slow down in the region, expect reports to increase in the coming years as some educated young men seek spiritual fulfillment in the liminal life of violent jihad. Al –Qaida saw a boom in the 1990s when Gulf economies were struggling to employ their educated middle class young men, and they may just experience a forth stage or re-emergence in the next five years.
Recent arrests also follow a pattern that goes back to 2005 with the late-August disruption of a near-operational plot targeting energy infrastructure in Ad Dammam. The pattern includes disruptive arrests preceding official announcements of thwarted ambitious attacks usually during late summer, some perhaps to coincide with the September 11th anniversary. It happened in 2006, 2007, and 2008.
To put it into perspective a second, 2006-2008 saw a dramatic decline in al-Qaida’s operational capabilities in Saudi Arabia, and yet they maintained enough local capacity to plot and support large-scale attacks. Now that al-Qaida’s Yemen branch has established itself as a serious player in regional conflicts, it’s building its operational capacity in the region, including Egypt and Gaza. Though I haven’t seen much reporting on it, AQAP could easily be the strategic source for recent reports of AQ activity in Gaza and the Sinai plots. I think I recall a recent statement by the current AQAP leader announcing their intent to infiltrate Gaza. I take their intentions seriously, and assume that they have tried and met with some success.
Taking AQAP’s operations in Yemen out of the picture for a moment, 2009 has seen several CT arrests on the Peninsula and Sinai. Often brief reports they are a background noise barely heard through the cacophony of news from Afghanistan, Iraq, and other regions. Some of the reports are vague, but are easily associated with al-Qaida, others are more ambiguous and could be explained as criminal activity (they’re in gray). Notice, too, that there have been various reports of arrests and plots against US military assets and personnel throughout MENA, suggesting that al-Qaida may have been plotting an attack on military and naval assets.
(April 2009) Bahrain says arrests two for planning terror acts
See also, Bahrain Announces Arrest of Terror Cell
And, US ships 'target of terror plotters'
If I'm not mistaken, AQY once published in its "magazine" a strategic article advancing maritime terrorism as a targeting option....
(April 2009) Fears Of Al-Qaida Inroads In Yemen
(May 2009) In Saudi Arabia, Shots Fired At Vehicle Carrying Foreigners
(June-July 2009) Another one bites the dust
(July 2009) Kuwait Arrests 5 Al Qaida Suspects
(July 2009) Egypt holds 26 over suspected Qaeda plot on Suez Canal
See also, Briton arrested in Egypt over terror attack that killed 17-year-old girl
And, Suspected terrorists arrested for plotting Egypt attack
According to the former head of the Agency's Counter Terrorism Center:
First, I have to say, I like CBS News' Internet Terror Monitor. I think it's a good resource for readers who don't have time to wade into the cesspit of jihadi forums. However, this is just odd. I think ITM is reporting on Al-Anzi's fatwa as if it's new.
Folks, Al-Anzi's fatwa was completed in June 2004. It was made available to general readership in late February 2006, and it was analyzed by Prof. Jack Williams and myself (and a longer study in the pipeline), among others. It's certainly not new and I can't see why it was reported as new.
Unless...hmmmmm....did it show up on a forum recently? I've blogged before that I suspect that sometimes the document is posted as "signal." However, there's no context in the ITM blog post, and I can only speculate.
My friends love cheap gas, and I love not hearing them whine about high gas prices. The current global economic downturn may create cheaper prices at the pump, but there are two unintended consequences of inexpensive crude.
First, capital investment in new capacity (ie the ability to explore, drill, extract and transport fossil fuels) greatly decreases, which is the topic of this post at MEMRIBlog. When industry members pull back from improving or replacing current capacity now the chances for the industry to respond to an inevitable upswing in demand greatly decreases. It makes it almost inevitable that when the price does go up with demand it will be even higher then the previous surge.
Another consequence, less understood, will be the inevitable rise in a new generation of Gulf-based jihadis. Despite popular myths regarding who actually joins the global jihadist movement, it is precisely the bored, educated middle class kid, who is targeted for recruitment. With a significant economic downturn in the regopn, these kids will have no job prospects. Some will seek jihad in any number of today's active fronts.
Terrorist activity is a lagging indicator of global economic stability. During the global energy malaise of the 1990s we saw a great influx of young, educated, mostly middle class men, seeking jihad action in any number of regional conflicts, like Kashmir and Afghanistan. Those young men became very dangerous to US interests in the early 00's.
Now there appears to be a perfect storm of circumstances that could be a another breeding ground for terrorism. The economic downturn will leave many young Gulf men -- just now coming of age -- unemployed, and thus with the incentive to join the global jihad. A protracted situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan will no doubt attract many young men interested in the training and, quite frankly, looking for a little adventure. Add to that the inconsistent and almost half-hearted approach to managing a counter-jihad message, and you have a toxic mix that will inevitably produce more young jihadis, not less. We probably won't feel the affects of this young generation for at least five years, perhaps a decade, but there will be effects, much like September 11th itself.
If we're to take this report at face value then apparently the Iranians have successfully insinuated themselves into the Salafist-Jihadist movement from Hamas to Al Qaeda. I'll be honest: I'm skeptical. The sources for this in particular report appear to be all government operated, and the confession itself could have been acquired through torture or threats. Gregory has many more reasons to be skeptical. Iranian influence is so strong within the movement that apparently they are dictating Al Qaeda operations? Er, okay.
As of late, Iranians have been accused of arming and supporting numerous Salafist-Jihadist groups (all Sunni, if you didn't know). Sure, it's possible. As the old saying goes: the enemy of my enemy is my friend. Iranians have mastered this strategy. It's on display in Gaza right now. However, the perfunctory nature of the accusation in this case doesn't fit into the usual knot of cash, oil, personalities, foreign interests, theological influences, and tribal culture complexities that characterizes practically every ongoing geopolitical issue in the Gulf.
Regardless, if true, doesn't this then constitute an opportunity for our military and intel leadership to use this cozy relationship in order to undermine the credibility and sincerity of the global Salafist-Jihadist movement (MB, AQ, HAMAS, other groups) in its entirety? After all, it would be hard for them to raise the black flag of Sunni-centered jihad when they're actually slaves or hired hands (which one is worse?) to Shiite masters.
I had three random thoughts this week. Let me rephrase that: I had three random thoughts this week that you may find interesting. There were plenty of others, but I'm sure you could care less about my condo decorating angst or a list of Manhattan food joints for Ubiwar. So, in no particular order:
1. For AQ central the 2002-2004 time frame may be interpreted as the group's reformative era.
Background: The Cairo bombing last week had me doing some interesting collection work, and I came across this 2004 report by Reuven Paz, written soon after the 2004 Sinai bombings. In it he translates a 2004 "analysis" piece published in Sawt al-Jihad that includes this passage:
- The Sinai attack was only the first of several forthcoming attacks in Egypt, and is part of a clear strategy approved by the Mujahidin in Arabia, Iraq, and Egypt. The Jihad in Iraq and Egypt should be viewed as the ropes to strengthen the Jihad in Arabia.
- The next steps are the beginning of Jihad in Arabia, namely Yemen and Kuwait on the one hand, and the unification of the North African Jihadi groups in Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Mauritania, and the Sudan, on the other.
Ever so brief commentary: It's a general statement, but it does appear to have a bit of prescience to it. Zawahiri did work his turban off in subsequent years to see at least some of that come to fruition. This also dovetails with the two fatwas (WMDs and Petroleum), the emergence of al-Zarqawi (and their opportunities in Iraq), and other factors from the period. It makes energy infrastructure attacks a key goal of whatever phase they are currently in.
2. Did anti-money laundering efforts after 9-11 lead AQ, and other radical Islamist groups like Hamas, to accept Iranian support?
Background: This is based on personal experience (briefly supporting money laundering cases at the FBI, and subsequent curiosity-driven research), but until Israel's incursion into Gaza, I was unaware that Iran had infiltrated so deeply into Hamas' logistical and operational framework.
Ever so brief commentary: I never saw evidence of this influence. Granted, my access and experiences were limited, but things Iranian would have stood out. They weren't there. However, they are there now. Iranian influence inside Egypt was a personal surprise. I recall a few week's back seeing an image from an Ihkwan sponsored rally in Egypt where some participants were holding up signs with Nasrallah's image on them. Could the possibility of a rising Shia influence within certain segments of the Salafi movement create irreparable fitna?
3. Is there another Peninsula plot afoot?
Background: A recent posting of key AQAP docs to Archive<dot>org mirrors two other occasions (see below) when the same or similar documents were posted without much context. In both cases, massive arrests followed within weeks.
Ever so brief commentary: It's hard to say why this material is getting posted. I can't identify the intended audience, and I don't have the context. However, experience from 2007 (Bin Rashid's fatwa was reposted on July 31) and 2008 (AQAP material was posted in March, I believe) suggests to me that this kind of posting has operation qualities to it. It could be a signal. Is it possible another round of arrests may be on the horizon? Or another attempt at attacking energy infrastructure? Last year's massive round of arrests included suspects who entered the country under cover of Hajj pilgrims. The Hajj happened in December, if I'm not mistaken. Time will tell.
Update: I'd like to give a sloppy air smooch to Jawa's The Old Man of the Mountain for the link today. SSSMOOOCH!
Good news: We picked up an AQ handler, after we tracked him for two years:
Bad news: It's a sign that AQ maintains logistical operational goals on the Peninsula. Oh, and he's probably not the only one.
I'm posting an excerpt of a 2007 DRAFT report I delivered to a client that August. It was never completed for reasons I just can't recall now. Re-reading the entire report again for the first time, there are parts I wouldn't write today, or I would write differently. My understanding of the adversary has grown and developed in many facets. And yet in other parts I can see where my current ideas on AQ's threat to energy infrastructure came from.
The working title was Fueling the Engine of the West: Jihadist View of Energy and the American Economy from Sayyid Qutb to Al Qaeda. The excerpt below is really the only section you may find interesting. Note that the references aren't available here. Also, I've added a bit of commentary in green.
In Their Own Words
There are several apparent, recurring themes associated with radical Islamists’ [I would use Salafist-Jihadist now] opinions on the United States and its economic power. First, is the vision of an unstoppable, engulfing, inhuman power represented in the Muslim world by multinational corporations that are extensions of American foreign policy. Second, is the theme of the theft of oil. In their eyes the Arab world’s preeminence in the energy sector is a God-given blessing, a birthright that can sustain the Islamic nation for generations. The West in general and the United States, in particular, are is paying too little for these resources, and that is tantamount to theft. A third theme is the perception of energy demand as a strategic weakness. The United States relies on the Arab world’s energy resources to maintain its economic superpower status, disrupting that vital link offers radical Islamists one of their best opportunities to curtail American global hegemony.
From a letter dated December 23, 1949, Colorado
Here is strange/foreign, real foreign, psychologically, spiritually, physically, and mentally. Here is that big workshop they call the new world. I know the extent of propaganda that America overwhelms the world with, and the Egyptians who came to America share that propaganda and in that light make comparison. The extent in which that the Europeans overwhelmingly advertise, and the Egyptians who return from there. And they are weak people. They do not find any value in themselves, and feel big by inflating Europe and America and derive their self respect from that!
From The America I Have Seen In the Scale of Human Values (1951)
And we would do well not to forget the psychological state that wave after wave and generation after generation of Americans brought to this land...This psychological state springs from an enduring desire for wealth by any means, and for the possession of the largest possible share of pleasures and compensation for the effort expended to acquire wealth....
...They tackled nature with the weapons of science and the strength of the muscle, so nothing existed within them besides the crude power of the mind and the overwhelming lust for the sensual pleasure. No windows to the world of the world of the spirit of the heart or tender sentiment were opened to the Americans as they were opened to the first humans. A great deal of this world of spirit, heart, and tender sentiment was preserved by the first humans, and much of this continued to be preserved even in the age of science, and added to the account of human values that endured through time. And when humanity closes the windows to faith in religion, faith in art, and faith in spiritual values altogether, there remains no out for its energy to be expended except in the realm of applied science and labor, or to be dissipated in sensual pleasure. And this is where America has ended up after four hundred years.
Usama bin Laden, founder and current leader of Al Qaeda
From a December 30, 2004 audio tape, “Today There is a Conflict between World Heresy Under the Leadership of America on the One Hand and the Islamic Nation with the Mujahideen in its Vanguard on the Other.”
"You, the mujahideen: there is now a rare and golden opportunity to make America bleed in Iraq, both economically and in terms of human losses and morale. Don't miss out on this opportunity, lest you regret it. One of the main causes for our enemies' gaining hegemony over our country is their stealing our oil; therefore, you should make every effort in your power to stop the greatest theft in history of the natural resources of both present and future generations, which is being carried out through collaboration between foreigners and [native] agents… Focus your operations on it [oil production], especially in Iraq and the Gulf area, since this [lack of oil] will cause them to die off [on their own].
Ayman al-Zawahiri, Al Qaeda’s second in command
From his commemoration of the fourth anniversary of 9-11 (September 2005)
"I call upon the mujahideen to focus their attacks on the stolen oil of the Muslims. Most of its revenue goes to the enemies of Islam, and most of what they leave is plundered by the thieves who rule our countries. This is the greatest theft in the history of humanity. The enemies of Islam are consuming this vital resource with unparalleled greed. We must stop this theft any way we can, in order to save this resource for the sake of the Muslim nation.
From his commemoration of the fifth anniversary of 9-11 (September 2006)
The materialistic Crusader western civilization knows not the language of ethics and principles but understands the language of punishment and retribution. So, if they taste some of what they are inflicting on our women and children, then they will start giving up their arrogance, stubbornness, and greed and will seek to solve the problem between them and the Muslims.
Sheik Abdelaziz bin Rashid al-Anzi, a well-respected Al Qaeda scholar of Islamic law [I would characterize him differently now]
From the Ruling on the Laws of Targeting Petroleum-Related Interests and a Review of the Laws Pertaining to the Economic Jihad (2004):
The mujahideen have recently targeted a number of petroleum-related interests. As expected, these attacks were among the most powerful blows dealt to the enemy. These attacks dealt a blow to the economies of the infidel crusader countries...The conclusions that I have reached in my study, thanks to Allah's guidance, are briefly summarized by the following points:
1) The targeting of oil facilities is a legitimate means of economic jihad. Economic jihad is one of the most powerful ways in which we can take revenge on the infidels during the present stage....
3) The infidels do not own what they have seized from the Muslims. It is still Muslim property.
4) The demolition of infidel property as part of a war is legitimate, as long as the benefits outweigh the costs of such an action.
5) It is okay to destroy Muslim property if infidels have seized control of it, or if there are fears that something like this may happen. This is true as long as the potential damage of the infidels making use of this property is greater than the potential benefit that can be obtained when this property is returned to Muslim hands....
Abu Bakr al-Naji, the nom de guerre of a well-known Al Qaeda ideologue
From the Management of Savagery (2005)
Therefore, what is the plan by which we shall shape [lit. “provoke”] events from now until we have completely accomplished (by the permission of God) our goals which we mentioned above?
- Diversify and widen the vexation strikes against the Crusader-Zionist enemy in every place in the Islamic world, and even outside of it if possible, so as to disperse the efforts of the alliance of the enemy and thus drain it to the greatest extent possible.. If an oil interest is hit near the port of Aden, there will have to be intensive security measures put in place for all of the oil companies, and their tankers, and the oil pipelines in order to protect them and draining will increase...
Al Qaeda’s Committee on the Arabian Peninsula, Al Qaeda’s affiliate active in the Gulf states
From the article "Bin Laden and the Oil Weapon" by Al Qaeda memberAdib al-Bassam, published Voice of Jihad (Issue 30, February 2007)
Even though the oil does not belong to (former Saudi King) Faisal or his parents, he claimed that it is permissible to stop its production. Based on this statement, we can assume that it is permissible for the mujahidin to target the oil and try to stop its export, or at least minimize its export, and raise its prices; this will benefit our country and our people...Any pious Muslim should not be against targeting the oil; we should all work together to stop the exporting of oil to the United States, if we are truly devoted to aid Muslims who are victimized everywhere, and we should work together to stop the American aggression against the world....
Sheikh Usama's orders regarding oil targeting are clear and in order for the mujahidin to fulfill their duties they must collect precise intelligence, they must carefully choose their targets, they must collect all media material needed for the operation, and they must have everything ready for the operation throughout all the stages, including planning, preparation and implementation.
In the end, I assure you that the biggest losers will be the industrial nations and on top of them all the Untied States, the carrier of the cross. Oil producing countries will not be greatly affected; on the contrary, the oil producing countries will benefit from the price increase. This was proven in 1973 when the Gulf States used the oil and their economy benefited a great deal from that. The effects on the United States were clear when the Minister of Defense Schlesinger stated that military force is needed to avoid new oil threats, which are considered to be a threat to the American economy.
This was a bold move. Not only does it suggest that the pirates had foreknowledge of the ship's location, but it telegraphs a surprising leap in their capabilities to approach and seize ships. The implications are difficult to ascertain. Eaglespeak notes the possible emergence of a new group of pirates "operating further south of Somalia probably targeting ship en route to Mombasa..." It suggests that the chaos is spreading to new areas, as more and more men join the lucrative business.
As piracy increases so does the insurance premiums for ships traveling in the region. As a result, shipping companies are being forced to redirect their cargo. This move may still work, but the news today shows the pirates are adapting.
The price of crude oil jumped today on the news, but it won't have long term effects unless the pirates' see net benefits. This event will receive more media coverage than all of the 2008 Somalia piracy activity combined, and it could force the US to act more aggressively militarily. However, an escalation won't happen without better cooperation, and right now it doesn't seem to exist.
The Saudi's will most likely pay the ransom, the tanker will go on its way. So will the pirates. No doubt they will use the funds to further jihad in the Horn of Africa, facilitating training and logistical support for terrorist attacks in the region and possibly around the world. It's going to be a ransom pay-off like this that will find its way to the next AQ-directed mass casualty attack: either in Africa or somewhere closer to home.
First things first. A little note to a friend: Congratulations on your engagement, c!
I'll start off this week's edition with a little dose of reality via The Shack.
My humble advice is to wait until after the guy is sworn in to claim victory in the War on Terrorism.
Londonstani stirs up a hornets' nest.
Ubi looks tired.
And I ask you, reader: how medieval can you get? I love the idea. It would sow the seeds of the most perfect fitna evah!
Jane has news of a new threat to CONUS. Actually, it's not new. I warned my (then)client about just such a possibility two years ago.
And a recent report on Somalia's al-Qaeda.
Over at the Pest's blog, he notes the arrest of Abu Qatada, http://revolution.muslimpad.com/2008/11/08/shaykh-abu-qatadah-has-been-arrested-this-morning/.
A case of "hijra" gone terribly wrong. (The last sentence is a runner up for "understatement of the year")
Wait, I thought it was the Israelis.
Speaking of Israel: "Energy and the Arab-Israeli Conflict," Middle Eastern Studies, Volume 44, Issue 6 November 2008 , pages 937 - 944. Looks interesting.
Very strange bedfellows.
In OSINT news
A new EU-funded project called PEER (Publishing and the Ecology of European Research):
PEER (Publishing and the Ecology of European Research), supported by the European Union (EU), will investigate the effects of the large-scale, systematic depositing of authors’ final peer-reviewed manuscripts (so-called Green Open Access or stage-two research output) on reader access, author visibility, and journal viability, as well as on the broader ecology of European research. The project is a collaboration among publishers, repositories, and researchers and will last from 2008 to 2011.
In a nutshell, Ushahidi allows individuals to report instances of violence, looting, and other incidents via local SMS messages. The report is then displayed on a web-based map using the Ushahidi engine.
More at Intellibriefs.
While others do, the IC keeps on talking about dots and the need to connect them:
The report, “Defense Imperatives for New Administration”, released on Nov. 4, said combating terrorism requires putting domestic intelligence collection on par with foreign intelligence. The creation of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which placed all intelligence agencies under an umbrella organization, was supposed to achieve this parity. But the science board said, “successive directors of national intelligence have been slow to embrace domestic intelligence, and that must be remedied.”
Daveed Gartenstein-Ross announced the availability of a new report, a profile of Abu Yahya al-Libbi.
Awesome OSINT tool for maritime analysis (via Information Dissemination): Live Ship Map. The librarian in me sat silent and played with this like I was a 10 year old boy playing the coolest, most popular video game for the first time.
Sources and Methods links to the experimental "GenderAnalyzer" that apparently "seeks to automatically determine the sex of a particular blog's author." Well, I tried it on MSJ, and it failed miserably. As a few fellow bloggers can attest, I am all girl and proud of it.
A few new reports in the area of COIN: Armed Groups: Studies in National Security, Counterterrorism, and Counterinsurgency, Deterrence: From Cold War to Long War: Lessons from Six Decades of RAND Research, and Small Wars Journal briefs the Marines.
Zero Intelligence Agents has an excellent post on top five national security research challenges facing the US. It points to some of the emerging trends in threats and countermeasures.
In a related post OSINFO blog discusses implementation of NERC CIP standards. Don't know what NERC CIP standards are? It's okay. You're still a good person.
Al Qaida still intends to target energy facilities on the Arabian Peninsula. Evan Kohlmann posted an interview with a Saudi al-Qaida member who is operating out of Yemen, searching out as he says. "good military preparation." What for? According to the translated article the rationale has to do with the intended targets:
“if the enemy's interests in the Arabian Peninsula were devastated, his access to our petroleum interrupted, and the oil refineries put out of order, this would cause the enemy to collapse..."
Though I have no doubt Saudi efforts to deradicalize their al-Qaida members has been effective to some degree, the group maintains a strong presence on the Peninsula, right now operating out of Yemen. It's clear from this translation that they intend to continue to target Saudi energy infrastructure.
Initial assessments of the PHA terminals revealed minimal wind damage that knocked down a few fences, containers, and electrical lines. Facilities also received expected minimal water damage that caused some standing water.
If you're still interested: DOE's sit-reps are up. I suspect they'll be at it for at least two weeks.
UPDATE: More at Eaglespeak
Thanks, Joe. Now, can you work your magic on Archive-dot-org? Please?
The diligent Ray Ibrahim has a new column at NRO on the continued relunctance of some in military and civilian government circles to study Islamic doctrines of war. And a new review of Michael Scheuer's book Imperial Hubris.
Meanwhile, it looks like both DoD and Congress are dropping the ball on Africom. The DR report notes that there's plenty of blame to go around. Actually, if Africom is lost, this may have significant long term consquences. Someone, somewhere in government (military or civilian, I don't know) figured out that many of our strategic challenges will originate from or will have signficant play in Africa. If we don't begin the process now of building political, military and cultural capabilities, then we will be doing it later at much greater cost of life and wealth. The problem here is that Africom is a long-term strategic move (ie, 10, 20, even 50 years), and no one can see that far ahead in a government that operates on FY cycle thinking.
For radical Shiite watchers: Zamin posts a translation on a recent interview of Hezbollah leader Hasan Nasrallah.
Crossroads Arabia has more details on the arrest of five Saudis involved in online jihadi activity, including this telling detail:
Arab News reports that the men were using ’sock-puppetry’—one person commenting under a large number of names in order to create the impression that his point had greater support than just his own opinion.
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) held their Open Source Intelligence conference this week. I was signed up to go, but couldn't make it. However, I have been receiving their spam of official statements. And here's a blog about the conference.
A current LA Times report on new FBI guidelines for surveillance and intelligence gathering contains this cold, hard fact about the nature of the Bureau's problems:
That has led to different guidelines on the methods and techniques agents can use at different phases of investigations, depending on whether the probes involve potential crimes or national security concerns. In general, agents have been more constrained when working on national security matters...
The official cited a hypothetical example in which the FBI receives a tip about illegal activity in a bar.
If a tipster claims that a patron is dealing drugs, the guidelines for criminal investigations allow agents to conduct more intrusive preliminary interviews and take other action.
If the tipster claims the patron is raising money for a suspected terrorist group, an obvious national security concern, the alternative guidelines limit investigators to the more public methods, absent more evidence.
The officials said the new rules would also make it easier for the FBI to collect intelligence on the activities of foreign governments in the United States.
In assessing possible terrorist threats, agents now are limited to conducting interviews and gathering data through public sources, such as the Internet. The changes would allow them to conduct physical surveillance in a public location, recruit and deploy informants, and conduct interviews without identifying themselves.
Of course, the ACLU is flipping out. When listening to their hysterics, though, remember this: as of right now, the Bureau has more latitude to go after drug dealers than it does suspected terrorist. Still, after seven years.
No, not skepticism, idiocy.
Now for something completely different...Hurricane Ike news...
Bloomberg reports that Hurricane Ike has "caused more than 19 per cent of the nation's refining capacity to close." My mother was whining to me that gas is $5/gallon where she is. That's probably gittery gas station owners, panicking at refinery news like this. As I was telling mom this morning, gas station owners have to pay at the time of delivery of gasoline to their stations, and if they don't know the stability of supply, they raise prices in anticipation of a worse case scenario.
If you're interested in tracking energy emergency response to the hurricane, I would usually suggest you go to my former client -- DOE's Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability -- for situation reports. However, as of 10 AM Saturday, there are no situation reports on the site. Perhaps later in the day.
There's been a wave of reports and analytical pieces on Africa, or more accurately, regions and countries in Africa. Until recently I was no better than many analysts and policy wonks who tend to see Africa as a monolithic culture, rather than an enormous continent of mostly failed states, rich in human and natural resources and competing interests. There are also enormous risks and rewards to be gained in Africa, and so I've started to gather information on the continent into an informal analysis.
Even as the US is dedicating more analysis and increasing its military presence in Africa, so is al-Qaida. Jihadica recently posted a summary translation of an Ekhlass forum "analysis" by an individual they suspect is a senior AQ commander. The forum post author, "Assad al-Jihad," sees AQ's presence in Somalia and North Africa as a sign of the group's resilience. [More on this in another post]
This isn't a new trend, however. An al-Qaida "strategist" wrote an article for Sada al-Jihad back in June 2006 talking about the group's possibilities on the continent. Soon after, Dr. Z announced the group's merger with Algeria's Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC), now called Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). Somalia's AQ members emerged after their catastrophic loss to Ethiopia in 2006-07, and are now thriving. AQ's local leadership has commented on events in the Sahel, including last month's coup in Mauritania. Obviously seeing themselves as players in the region, they are suspected in a number of recent attacksin Mali and Mauritania.
Somalia is clearly an emerging region of active, organized jihad. The organization is key, because the longer the group operates with strong, hierarchical leadership the better entrenched it becomes in the Horn of Africa. It may soon build reliable sources of weapons, income and attract mujahideen from all over the world, becoming the Chechnya of Africa. Two increasingly reliable sources of cash for them right now are kidnapping for ransom and piracy.
Recent reports of an increase in the number of kidnapping for ransom cases could signal the group's efforts to gain fast cash for near-term strategic operations. Also the dramatic increase in incidents of piracy off the coast have caused the US and allied countries to respond with a stronger naval presence in the Gulf of Aden. Even with a recent announcement of increased US counter-piracy activities, the number of incidents continues to grow. Eaglespeak recently posted on reports of piracy being used to fund jihadi activities in Somalia. According to this post at Information Dissemination,
Bottom line, coalition naval forces aren't able to aid victims and nobody is stepping up to stop it. often with coalition warships passing right next to hijacked ships. There is no political will in the west to stop piracy, and the rules of engagement are so restrictive that even when pirates are identified at sea, coalition forces simply scare them away.
If AQ's elements in Somalia can build closer operational ties the group's leadership in Yemen, there's greater likelihood of better coordinated attacks on both land and sea, complicating CT responses.
It is more than Somalia. North African countries are experiencing a resurgence of jihadi activity. Just this week Morocco dismantled a near operational cell:
The 15-member terrorist network called 'Fath Al Andalus' was in possession of chemicals and electronic equipment used to make explosives, police sources said, cited by MAP.
The alleged terrorist network was planning attacks in Morocco and had "established operational links with foreign extremists of the Al-Qaeda organisation," MAP quoted the sources as saying.
Meanwhile, Algeria has suffered a series of AQIM strikes targeting security forces. The group's leadership has kept up a steady pace of attacks on military and security targets, preventing some of the criticism that the group's Iraq affiliate received for its brutality toward civilians.
AQ may find fertile ground in Nigeria and other areas of Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). It appears that they now claim stabilized and growing organizations in the Maghreb and the Horn. The region in between, particularly the Sudan, could open up recruits, safe havens, and financial opportunities.
Most of the readers of this blog have a good idea of the energy sector's complex role in US geopolitical strategy. And I think we can all agree that energy played a dominant role in Russia's recent incursion into Georgia. However, but securing (or controlling) energy assets isn't just the game of superpowers. Saudi Arabia announced its plans last year, and a recent post at War is Boring noted Brazilian naval exercises designed to improve security around their offshore oil reserves:
Why does the U.S. Navy care so much about South American waters all the sudden? Perhaps for the same reasons the Brazilian Navy cares:
Brazil’s armed forces will hold maneuvers next month to show they are capable of defending new offshore oil reserves that could convert the country into a global energy player, a senior official said on Friday.
As our sources of energy diversify, so too will the geographic distribution of our forces … and the nature of our strategic alliances.
I hope that the emerging dialog about energy will include some time dedicated to strategic alliances, and perhaps a whole new global strategy.
Protecting its own economy is not the only reason Saudi Arabia (KSA) has dedicated money and manpower to secure its energy infrastructure, and it isn't just a response to America's concerns. According to recently updated data at the Energy Information Administration (via Crossroads Arabia), Saudi Arabia is now third after Mexico and Canada as a supplier of crude oil to the US.
Actually, KSA wasn't always that high on the list. It used to follow Venezuela and top Nigeria, but instability in both of those countries has influenced KSA's import ranking. This is not a good development, because we're going to need crude oil if we want to maintain a growing economy. If we're not going to drill here, then we're going to have to go to the Saudis. In response the Saudis are going to get concessions from us that may have long term security consequences, such as lax student and "clerical" visa rules.
One statistic that also bears consideration is the amount of crude and refined product the Saudis send to Asia. China in particular has come to rely on Saudi oil (crude and refined). If an AQ attack halts or even slows exports to Asia then the Asian manufacturers of US goods will not be able to produce and ship their products to their US clients. It means the possibility of many empty shelves at retail stores throughout the country.
Perhaps no where on earth is the connectivity of the world so much on display than in the oil fields of Saudi Arabia.
I have an analytical piece in development. This is a new subject area for me, though I briefly studied Russia's 2005 pipeline thuggery in a previous job.
Here are few of my preliminary "thinking out loud" notes on Russia's Energy War:
-- Reading blog analysis of Russia's move into Georgia under the pretense of the "liberation" of South Ossetia, it's apparent that Putin's interest is in maintaining energy dominance in the region, and for the most part, in Western Europe. In other words: it's the oil, stupid.
-- The question I have now is whether the US intel community saw this coming, or was the United States, once again, caught off guard? I'm sure we'll have an answer soon enough. If this does represent another failure of intelligence gathering and analysis, the public finger-pointing and ass-covering will commence once those in charge can come up for air. Which agency will this affect the most? DoD, CIA, State, or DOE? And in what order.
-- The signs of Russia's intentions in the region have been building for years, particularly as it relates to energy. And it's energy markets that will bear the brunt of this bold (and vile) move. First, and foremost, in Western Europe, the primary market for Caspian and Central Asian energy supplies.
-- Where is Europe going to go for energy if not Russia? KSA? Iran? The US is already relying on Saudi Arabia more than it used to (at least since the 1970s). KSA's geopol influence could increase as a consequence. Not good. We may need to rely on them even more, as Russia continues to woo Iran. That could mean even more Wahhabi mosques, more Salafist-Jihadism in the West.
-- Blackfive's note on the Pankisi Gorge and the possibility of increase jihadi movement in and out of the region -- destabilizing the region -- is very interesting.
-- The cyber dimension is playing itself out in a new and interesting way. This may be the first systemic fairly open attack on a country's cyber infrastructure. Could Estonia 2007 been a "test run"? Regardless, it gives security managers -- anyone responsible for SCADA security -- a rare opportunity to see what state-sponsored cyber warfare looks like.
My things-to-blog-on list that had accumulated while I was away. Tonight is the night to clear it out. With a glass of riesling kabinett within arms length and a Met opera rebroadcast of an 08 performance of Die Walkure blaring in the background, I can't imagine a more blissful setting to blog in.
Is Dr. Z dead? I guess we'll find out soon enough. Such a target would not remain secret for more than, oh, 20 minutes.
But then there were two. We may not know about Dr. Z, but we do know that another member of the Bagram Four has joined the choir invisible. Bill Roggio at The Long War Journal notes,
Abu Abdallah al Shami, one of four senior al Qaeda operatives who escaped from Bagram prison on July 10, 2005, was killed in an unspecified airstrike, said Mustafa Abu Yazid, al Qaeda's senior commander in Afghanistan.... Shami, who is also called Abu Mu'adh, is originally from Syria. He was captured by US forces Afghanistan's Khost province in 2003. He then spent "about a year and eleven months" in Bagram prison, according to al Qaeda Spokesman Abu Yahya al Libi, al Qaeda's spokesman who also escaped Bagram along with Shami and two other senior operatives.
Andrew Cochran reports on a new study on the growing need for an "integrated national asymmeric threat strategy," co-authored by beltway bandit CACI International. (Counterterrorism Blog)
Over at the Investigative Project, Jeffrey Imm responds to a local Detroit newspaper's criticism of the successful Hoekstra amendment,
Confusion as to the "nature and character" of the enemy is precisely the goal of groups that support Islamist doctrine. Not surprisingly, Islamist groups and their apologists quickly attacked the Hoekstra amendment approval by the House of Representatives.
Insurgency Research Group has a remarkable and honest post exploring British failures in southern Iraq and Afghanistan.
IRG blog also summarizes Thomas Hegghammer's remarkable essay on Al Qaida's Arabian branch. I have long-studied AQs activities on the Peninsula, because the stability of the region counts for so much when you study the reliability of global petroleum supplies. Studying AQs presence in Saudi Arabia is hardly "an academic issue," as Hegghammer so ably argues. After all,
we do not really understand what determines the comings and goings of Islamist violence in Saudi Arabia. This is hardly a purely academic issue—it directly concerns our ability to assess the stability of the world’s leading oil producer and a pillar of US strategy in the Middle East.
For a little historical perspective on the last big energy crisis, conservative media site, Hotair recently posted a link to then-president Jimmy Carter's "Wear a Sweater, Stupid" speech of 1977. I'm old enough to remember the "even-odd" rationing of the 1970s, and remain concerned with the economic consequences of a "bad day" in Saudi Arabia. The long term effects of such a day could make the 70s look good.
Fricka is now making her case. Let's see: the opera started at 8 PM. It's almost 10 PM and Act 2 began about 10 minutes ago.
There's some international CT efforts underway off the coast of Somalia, a region that continues to suffer from pirate activity, according to a July 31 article at Expatica.
It's been making the rounds among the seriously good CT and COIN blogs, and it's worth noting here: Ghosts of Alexander's, "The Afghanistan Analyst Bibliography. 3rd edition."
The Combating Terrorism Center analyzing new data from the Sinjar records, that super stash of jihadi bio data uncovered in Iraq. According to the report summary of Bombers, Bank Accounts, and Bleedout, including:
Statistics on the exact number and nationality of foreign fighters held by the US at Camp Bucca in Iraq.
Contracts signed by AQI's foreign suicide bombers.
Contracts signed by AQI fighters entering and leaving Iraq.
Accounting sheets signed by various fighters that indicate funding sources and expenditures.
Several narratives describing AQI's network in Syria, personnel problems, and ties to Fatah al-Islam in Lebanon
Will at Jihadica recently posted on a new resource called COMOPS Monitor, already added to my Reliable Sources list on the right. He also offers an excellent summary of a recent Washington Post article on the decline of AQ in Iraq.
Meanwhile, The Pest's own post on "Salafi Jihadee Da'wah" in Gaza is a primary source curiosity, http://revolution.muslimpad.com/2008/08/01/the-salafi-jihaadee-dawah-is-underway-in-palestine/
"It looked good at first," Walid Phares writes of the recently celebrated Deobandi (India) fatwa against terrorism. But alas, everything is not as it first appears. It never is.
Matt at Mountain Runner looks at the Taliban's strengths in asymmetric warfare, what he calls "holistic warfare that includes what our doctrine still sees as unconventional and yet is the dominant form of warfare today and into the future (irrespective of whether the F-22 should be kept)."
On a related note, a post at icommons.org explores AQs success at applying "open source models" of communication.
State Department's unhealthy obsession with radical front groups in the US was the topic of a recent congressional hearing, reported at IPT.
If you heard about the recent Madrid conference on inter-religious dialog, but got nearly no insight from the mainstream -- aka "godless" -- press, St Francis Magazine's blog links to some relevant and substantive articles on Madrid and the role of the Saudi king in all this.
It's 20 minutes to 11 PM. Brunhilde sounds like she needs a lozenge. James Morris sings the role of Wotan like it's a natural extension of his own personality. Still, an hour into Act 2, it sound like he just wants Fricka to shut up and make him a sandwich.
Browsetopics.gov -- an ongoing, excellent librarian-generated taxonomy of government information -- recently collected links to various Department of Energy's tech, research and gray literature databases.
As I type this, I'm checking my RSS feed reader, and sure enough, reports of Dr. Z's death may be exaggerated, according to Bill Roggio.
11 PM. Siegmund and Hunding are not dead yet, but this post has come to an end....until next time.
I wrote a couple of weeks ago that I was heading into a lull on posting just to get through a few articles. Well, it didn't happen then, but is happening now. I need a break. Right now, I'm just more interested in "sahabs." No not As-Sahab, these "sahabs."
Don't get me wrong. Just because DC is easing into its summer lull, doesn't mean there's isn't plenty of interesting news and research to comment on. For instance:
There's an ongoing policy debate over the efficacy of having our security and military agencies "working with" radical Islamist front groups whose long term strategy is the ultimate destruction of the American way of life.
In an apparent example of economic jihad, Moroccan officials say they broke up a cell preparing attacks on tourist sites.
China's official news agency actually reports on the country's other Muslims, the Hui, http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/2008-06/23/content_8424881.htm
New Scientist reports that leftist archaeologists are going to let US and/or Israel bomb cultural sites inside Iran.
Crossroads Arabia notes that a senior Saudi scholar called Bin Laden names, or something. Big deal. Unless they're willing to excommunicate him (and they won't), it doesn't matter.
Apparently, our man (al-)Libbi is too busy for video. His latest is an audio is summarized at Internet Terrori Monitor.
Half a world away, The Pest posts pics of a smiling Abu Qatada, who has apparently fallen off the wagon on his diet. The link is here: http://revolution.muslimpad.com/2008/07/11/may-allah-protect-you-shaykh-abu-qataadah/
The Long War Journal reports on the surrender of the "unconventional" warlord, Bibi Aysha. (Before you get shocked! that a patriarchal tribal society like the ones found in SW Asia could produce a Bibi Aysha, just remember there are Western examples, too, including my favorite.)
Kevin Knodell's "backgrounder" posts on Central Africa (at War is Boring here, here and here) are great starting off point for anyone curious about the region. I suspect that Central Africa is going to become a region of much greater strategic interest in the next five years.
Mihalka and Anderson have written "Is the Sky Falling? Energy Security and Transnational Terrorism." Good work. I agree with the conclusion, but it is based entirely on data analysis. Comprehensive CT analysis needs a little more. After all there were no hijack-jetliner-crash-into-skyscraper data points on September 10, 2001. Still it's worth reading, because it sums up all the OSINT data we do have on terrorist attacks on energy infrastructure. Their article is published in the US Navy's Center for Contemporary Conflict's journal Strategic Insights.
Speaking of oil IntelFusion recently linked to a Harvard-based report on the possible impact of a closure of the Straits of Hormuz. It's a reminder of how complex and -- vulnerable -- the global energy supplies are to "outside" events.
I'm back to those clouds again. Posting will be light over the next two weeks as I seek to get a little more out of my summer of "independence."
Mainstream media has already forgotten last week's arrests in Saudi Arabia, in what is being referred to as the "Oil Cell" operation, but fascinating operational details are trickling out of official government and regional media outlets, including the fact that the Mauritanian suspects traveled to Saudi Arabia under false pretense, and were preaching (and probably recruiting) in local mosques:
Seven Mauritanians of the 520 people suspected of having links to Al-Qaeda terrorist network came to the Kingdom on work visa as drivers, but they worked as imams and muezzins at mosques in Riyadh and the Eastern Province, officials said 1 July.
For years, they covered the malicious intentions of their terrorist "Oil Cell" by penetrating through the fabric of the Saudi society using their fluent Arabic and religious rhetoric that appealed to the religious nature of Saudis.
The chief of the cell was reportedly found with a message from Al-Qaeda's second-in-command, Ayman Al-Zawahiri, urging him to raise money and saying the terrorist group would provide militants from Iraq, Afghanistan and Mauritania "to target oil installations and fight security forces." The cell was said to have collected a sizable amount of donation sent outside the Kingdom to finance terrorist activities.
Mauritanians appear to have made up the core of the cells. If this turns out to be the case, then it represents a dramatic change in tactics on the Peninsula, where most of the AQ cells have been lead by or made up of Saudis in the past. If so, it suggests that the group may be undergoing an identity shift, with an increasing number of North Africans in its senior leadership circles. What the may mean for its long term survival would be an excellent subject for more in-depth study.
It's perhaps interesting that an Indian daily is one of the few to explore the catastrophic economic consequences of even a successful small scale attack on energy infrastructure in Saudi Arabia. India is one of KSA's primary customers, and is probably one of the few in the world who acknowledge the camel in the room:
Francis Perrin, editor-in-chief of Arab Oil and Gas magazine, said the current price of oil revealed the concern over the fragility of world supplies and the danger that in future supply will no longer satisfy demand.
"In such a context, an attack against oil installations in Saudi Arabia would have a considerable impact," he said, adding that Saudi Arabia played a unique role in the world market which was on a "knife-edge."
"It is the country possessing a bit less than a quarter of the reserves, it is the leader at the heart of OPEC (the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries), the number one in terms of unused capacity... It's the only country in the world of capable of producing more in the short term, in weeks," he said.
If an attack was carried out against minor installations, the impact would be significant, he said. But if an attack succeeded against more important installations, "the effect would be absolutely incalculable in terms of price," added Perrin.
The last we heard of the Saudi CT raid of 2008, about 50% of the suspects came from other countries. This morning, we find a different number all together. In an interview with Saudi security minister Prince Nayef at Al Sharq al Awsat (via BBC Monitoring and the Al Sharq English site):
[Al Sharq al Awsat] What was the percentage of Saudi nationals that were apprehended in the five terrorist cells that you dismantled and announced that last week?
[Prince Nayif] Unfortunately, the percentage of Saudis was high; it was about 90 per cent.
[Al Sharq al Awsat] What about the terrorist schemes that the cells intended to implement? Had they reached advanced stages in planning and preparation?
[Prince Nayif] Praise is to God, we had them under surveillance. We did not allow them to reach stages that threaten the installations. But we do not rule out the possibility that they may have other plans and alternative plans. We anticipate anything and we take into account all plans whether big or small.
And so much for the Iran angle mentioned in articles posted at Jihadica:
[Al Sharq al Awsat] Finally, are the terrorist threats targeting Saudi Arabia planned by individuals or organizations or states?
[Prince Nayif] No doubt, they are planned by organizations. We have no evidence to show that they are planned by states and it may be unlikely. We depend on nothing but facts.
What to believe coming from Saudi officials? The fifty percent number of the ninety percent number? The analytical outcomes are dramatically different depending on that number. If it's 50% then AQ leaders were able to perform the rather amazing feat of global targeted recruitment through their distributed networks for a specific plot. If it's the 90% estimate then the Saudis still have a dramatic systemic internal problem on their hands. This all factors in to the evolving character of the threat to Saudi energy infrastructure (some of the most sensitive and important sites on earth at the moment given the price of oil).
In the meantime, the Saudi Interior Ministry needs to improve their public information efforts, coordinating their story between higher ups and subordinates. If they don't then analysts like me are going to start relying on AQ for data on their thwarted plots, even if they continue to capture and reeducate former editors of Sawt al-Jihad.
Will McCants at Jihadica e-mailed to point out that, "The Saudi security official said the cell is taking orders from someone in Iran. That doesn't necessarily mean state involvement, so there's no contradiction." Consider me corrected, Will. Thanks for pointing this out.
Given the current hysterics over the price of gas here in the US, you would think that something like the thwarting of a third large scale attack against oil installations in Saudi Arabia would garner a bit more attention. But, the only news trickling out about this week's arrests are in the Saudi and other Peninsula papers.
What's interesting is the scope of the plot. It appears to have been as ambitious as the ones from previous years. It included a maritime element to attack "offshore" facilities (ie. Ras Tanura).
[Maj. Gen. Mansour Al-Turki] told Okaz that investigations conducted with the arrested terrorist groups revealed that they were working under a strategy mentioned in the seized books talking about "the management of barbarism" (Idarat At-Tawahhush).
Back in September 2005, I noted that this book could reflect al-Qaida's "current operational thinking:"
As for the larger attacks on petroleum infrastructure, he offers a step-by-step ideological, media, and physical plan of attack.First, the movement’s experts would gather data to support their claims of injustice. In this case, “an economic specialist among its member can conduct a study that demonstrates the real value and real price of oil…” The report would go on to show the “extent of the unfairness and plunder to which the nation was subjected for decades…”
Second, the movement would demand that all countries that import oil should pay the fair price, “while preserving the Muslim people’s right to demand payment that would cover the price discrepancy throughout all previous years.”
Third, a period of time would be given, in his words, “to assess the degree of responsiveness to this declaration.” If nothing happens, then “attack would begin on the oil installation, particularly the pipelines, the bombing of which does not involve killing people. The oil tankers that are managed and operated by infidels would be attacked. Oil installation and refineries would be attacked at such times when that are empty of workers to avoid hurting Muslims persons.” However, he adds, regarding the “sentries” at oil installations: if they are members of the local army they should be “treated as traitors to their nations” and as for private security companies, “They may be attacked only if they try to kill or capture some of the attacking mujahideen…”
Saudis thwarting a large-scale attack is getting to be a regular summer event, like July 4th or the shorebird migration. It's a sign of their CT efforts that many of the plotters appear to have been from countries other than Saudi Arabia, but next year may be a difference story, since even more Iraq and Afghan-hardened mujahideen will have returned to their homelands on the Peninsula.
Perhaps more important than countering these cells, is getting to the brains of these energy plots (which are clearly top-down affairs): Ayman al-Zawahiri.
UPDATE: Via MEMRI Economic Blog (emphasis mine)
Saudis Reveal that Terrorists Were Targeting Oil Installations in Gulf Countries
High-level Saudi security officials told the Kuwaiti daily, al-Qabas, that members of a terrorist cell, some non-Saudis, arrested by the Saudi security forces, were planning to sabotage oil installations in the Gulf countries. They were also planning to use speed boats to carry on attacks against off-shore installations and ships. The Saudi authorities added that the terrorists were planning to carry out their attacks at a big distance from their base of operations. Pictures of major hotels frequented by visitors in some major Gulf cities and city maps were also confiscated.
al-Qabas, June 27, 200