Tag Archives: terrorism

A look at al Qaeda, the long war — and us

Summary: With the newest terror alert, it’s timely to review what we know about al Qaeda. What kind of organization is AQ? How are they fighting us? Here is a brief summary (quickly written), giving one perspective on these things. We are in war, a war of choice, a war we’re fighting in a mad fashion, a war that might have horrific effects (even more horrific effects) if we continue as we have since 9-11.

One of the 2 builders of 21st C America

One of the 2 leading builders of 21st C America



  1. Forms of al Qaeda
  2. What is al Qaeda?
  3. Fighting al Qaeda
  4. For More Information

This post is a summary of conclusions drawn in the dozen-plus posts about al Qaeda listed at the end. See those for the details of analysis and evidence. These are my guesses based on the available scraps of public information.

(1) Forms of al Qaeda

We are told of two versions of al Qaeda:

  • a powerful global organization like SPECTRE, THRUSH, & COBRA
  • a powerful system of a central unit plus national franchises

These are conflicting stories; neither has much supporting public evidence. The first is fiction, a useful creation of US propaganda after 9/11 to gain support for the Patriot Act and foreign wars. Based on the public information, AQ might no longer exist in any effective form. Just as a shattered remnant issuing PR materials — bolstered by the US government, for whom it’s a useful boogeyman.

The second version is equally questionable. There are effective national organizations using the AQ brand name (eg, AQ in Iraq). These have some things in common with other organizations using the AQ name and AQ “central” — belief in some form of jihadist theology, opposition to Western culture, etc. But they are not “franchises” in any meaningful fashion.

Franchises are licenses from a central organization to operate under its umbrella, usually with some degree of control by the center. Like McDonalds, perhaps the paradigmatic example. See this Bloomberg article about life as a McDonald’s franchisee, under the thumb of the parent. There is little evidence that’s how AQ operates, that the AQ HQ has such control over others using the AQ name, or that AQ “central” can provide meaningful support to the national AQs. AQ “central” does not even control the most basic element of a franchise: control over the name.

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Myth-busting about gun use in the Wild West

Summary:  America’s broken Observation-Orientation-Decision-Action becomes most visible during political debates. For both Left and Right,  fidelity to group dogma about “hot  button” issues defines the group, about which no heterodox thought is allowed. This gives US debates their Alice-visiting-Oz feel, with one of both sides uninterested in inconvenient facts.  Previously we looked at climate change to see this at work on the Left.  In this series we look at similar behavior on the Right: looking at guns in America.  This, chapter 7, looks at the history of guns in the wild west — myths, facts, and echos of our future.



When we think of guns in America, we often turn to the wild west for lessons. Such as how they handled widespread ownership of guns.  How violent was the West? Calculating murder rates for small populations is problematic, especially for societies very different than today’s.

Still, there are lessons.  Look at the famous Kansas cattle towns, where cowboys came to play: Abilene, Ellsworth, Wichita, Dodge City, and Caldwell — described in “Guns, Murder, and Plausibility“, Robert R. Dykstra (Prof History, State U of NY – Albany), Historical Methods, December 2010.

Violence in the Wild West was localized, as it is in today’s America, in certain districts.  And in most western towns it was at levels far lower than that shown in cowboy movies.

{western towns’} population consisted of relatively young males. They commit most murders.  … the middle-class respectables of Dodge City, male and female residents of the north side of town, faced {lower risk} of being murdered as the south-side whores, gamblers, and transient cowboys.  Of the dozen founding fathers of the town’s business community, a group that included Robert Wright, all except one who died of illness survived the entire cattle-trading era without a scratch.

… Dodge City, for example, was very well policed — headquartering over the 10 years it was a cowboy town a deputy US marshal, a county sheriff, an undersheriff, deputy sheriffs as needed, a city marshal, an assistant marshal, policemen as needed, and two township constables. … Five of its 17 adult killings — almost one third — were justifiable homicides by officers. The police meant business …

But there was violence, of a different kind than drunken cowboys shooting each other.  Political violence, aka terrorism.

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Death celebrates 9-11. Can we stop and think before we walk further along the road of terror?

Summary:  The news from Libya has produce the usual flood of American hysteria, and the natural (by now, habitual) but foolish desire to strike back. It should instead force us to stop and think. As should the attacks by our Afghanistan allies. Something has gone terribly wrong with the War on Terror brewed in cold calculation during the dark days after 9-11.  How appropriate that this occurs on its anniversary. Today to find a useful perspective we go to the fringes of “respectable” political thought in America, and find some golden insights we can use.  At the end are links to a wealth of additional useful articles.

Osama bin Laden

“He [VP Cheney] would have worked through the whole lot, Iraq, Syria, Iran, dealing with all their surrogates in the course of it – Hezbollah, Hamas, etc. In other words, he thought the whole world had to be made anew, and that after September 11, it had to be done by force and with urgency. So he was for hard, hard power. … We’re coming after you, so change or be changed.”
— UK PM Tony Blair in his memoir A Journey: My Political Life

He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And when you gaze long into an abyss the abyss also gazes into you.
— Aphorism 146 in Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil (1886)

Although ignored by senior leaders of the US government before, after 9-11 the name Al Qaeda became a totem for the American people. The stop button on our brains, it’s mention the equivalent of waving the bloody shirt. Any thought about our strategy must start with questions about the myth and reality of al Qaeda. These were asked here in 2005 (and countless times since), and for most Americans it remains unanswered. Here are some answers, confirming what we’ve said here so many times.


The Uses of al-Qaida

by Richard Seymour
London Review of Books, 13 September 2012
Reposted with their generous permission


President Obama has waged war on al-Qaida by drone and by ‘kill list’. Vladimir Putin has hunted al-Qaida in the North Caucasus. The late Colonel Gaddafi, and now Bashar al-Assad, have summoned alliances against it. The alarming ubiquity of al-Qaida, its mitosis and metastasis seemingly outpacing the destruction of its cells, is attested by the multiplication of enemies on the US State Department’s list of ‘foreign terrorist organisations’. In 2002, al-Qaida appeared as a single entry; now there are four officially recognised organisations with the same root brand: al-Qaida (AQ), al-Qaida in Iraq (AQI), al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). The list also includes the Abdallah Azzam Brigades, usually described as an ‘affiliate’ of al-Qaida in Iraq.

The taxonomic determinacy of this list is deceptive. Consider al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, the group held responsible for organising the attempt in 2009 by the ‘underwear bomber’, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, to blow up a plane en route from Amsterdam to Detroit. AQAP was one of the most alarming new franchises identified in a briefing given to Congress by the Federation of American Scientists in 2005, one of a rash of new ‘presences’ and ‘affiliates’ of al-Qaida emerging from Bali to Mombasa. It was said to be responsible for an attack on the US consulate in Jeddah in 2004 and, the FAS claimed, was attempting to overthrow the Saudi royal family. Yet, 5 years later, a Carnegie Endowment analysis paper traced the origins of a group called al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula to the emergence of a small number of jihadis who had escaped from prison in Sanaa in February 2006. And the Center for Strategic and International Studies reported that ‘al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) emerged in January 2009 from the union of two pre-existing militant groups: al-Qaida in Yemen (AQY) and al-Qaida in Saudi Arabia.’

Can these various expert analyses all have been discussing the same organisation?

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National decay starts at the heart, and spreads like cancer

Summary:  As our War on Terror grows ever-larger, it becomes more difficult to distinguish the two teams. Our enemies increasingly are insurgents fighting tyrannical governments. Our allies are allies of Iran or (and) jihadists. And we use terrorism. Think of this as evolution. The New America slowly emerges from its cocoon, but we prefer not to see its hideous form.

“The double-tap suicide bombing was as insidious a terrorist tactic as they came — not only were innocents targeted, but first responders, individuals trained and equipped to save lives, were placed inside the indiscriminate crosshairs of two large improvised explosive devices.”
Jihad in Brooklyn by Samuel M. Katz (2005). This term has appeared in US government-sponsored reports (eg “Underlying Reasons for Success and Failure of Terrorist Attacks: Selected Case Studies“, by the Federally-funded Homeland Security Institute, 4 June 2007). We’re doing the same thing in Af-Pak, attacking rescuers after responding to our initial attacks.

He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And when you gaze long into an abyss the abyss also gazes into you.
— Aphorism 146 in Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil (1886).

“A spoiled saint, a Pharisee, or an inquisitor makes better sport in Hell than a mere common tyrant or debauchee.”
Letter 23 from Uncle Screwtape to his nephew Wormwood


  1. The evidence
  2. The machinery we built after WWII still works
  3. The first evidence, so vehemently denied by the US government
  4. For more information

(1)  The evidence

No fair observer can deny the evidence, now overwhelming, that the US has become a terrorist nation. We have adopted the methods of the terrorists we fight.  This is yet another accomplishment of bin Laden on 9/11, a small attack (as battles go) that decisively changed the course of a great nation — away from the path that had brought it both renown and success.  Sending it off into the darkness of constant war and barbarism, probably eventually landing in the trash along with the many others that adopted evil methods to spread their control over other peoples.

As usual, Glenn Greenwald starkly states the ugly truth that we refuse to see:

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Updating you about today’s news confirming long-ago warnings on the FM website

Summary:  Among other services, the FM website warns you today about future dangers.  Here we review two important news stories about matters often reported on the FM website.  Please reading these stories, which describe potentially major trends.  More importantly, please act on at least one of them.  Information is useless if it provides only fodder for gossip and whining.

Another over-the-top graphic


  1. About our drugged military
  2. About the US government and influential Americans illegally supporting terrorists

In the comments please suggest appropriate responses by citizens to these stories.

(1)  About our drugged military

A fog of drugs and war“, Los Angeles Times, 8 April 2012 — “More than 110,000 active-duty Army troops last year took antidepressants, sedatives and other prescription medications. Some see a link to aberrant behavior.”

For more about this see section one on the FM Reference Page An Army Near the Breaking Point.  Here are some of these posts:

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News You Can Use to understand the New America

Summary:  The news media saturate us with news, which can make understand more difficult — not less.  At the FM website we help you sort through that flow to see the patterns important to you as a citizen.  Today we show two examples, illustrations of powerful trends shaping America about which we warned for the past 5 years.

(1)  In America “equal before the law” no longer applies

Power creates privilege in America.  As see by Americans mocking the War on Terror by illegally supporting organizations designated as terrorists, yet the government does not prosecute them:  “Washington’s high-powered terrorist supporters“, Glenn Greenwald, 12 March 2012 — Opening:

We now have an extraordinary situation that reveals the impunity with which political elites commit the most egregious crimes, as well as the special privileges to which they explicitly believe they — and they alone — are entitled. That a large bipartisan cast of Washington officials got caught being paid substantial sums of money by an Iranian dissident group that is legally designated by the U.S. Government as a Terrorist organization, and then meeting with and advocating on behalf of that Terrorist group, is very significant for several reasons. New developments over the last week make it all the more telling. Just behold the truly amazing set of facts that have arisen:

(2)  Inequality does not just happen — it results from public policy decisions

Increasing inequality of wealth and income undermines the foundations of our Republic.  It results from deliberate public policy changes that undo the policies of the New Deal and post-WWII era designed to build a strong middle class.

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Uncle Sam, Global Gangster

Summary:  Americans increasingly live in a world bordered by our amnesia.  Our past lost, replaced by myths.  Our recent history largely forgotten, replaced by a vague jumble of half-remembered events.  To tell the story of our past decade requires someone with a clear understanding of geopolitical dynamics, able to place each step in our wars in a larger context.  It requires Andrew Bacevich (Colonel, US Army, retired).


  1. Introduction by Tom Englehardt
  2. Scoring the Global War on Terror – From Liberation to Assassination in Three Quick Rounds
  3. About the author
  4. For more information: other posts about our special ops assassins

(1)  Introduction by Tom Englehardt

If all goes as planned, it will be the happiest of wartimes in the  U.S.A.  Only the best of news, the killing of the baddest of the  evildoers, will ever filter back to our world.

After all, American war is heading for the “shadows” in a big way.  As news articles have recently made clear, the tip of the Obama administration’s global spear will increasingly be shaped from the ever-growing ranks of U.S. special operations forces.  They are so secretive that  they don’t like their operatives to be named, so covert that they  instruct their members, as Spencer Ackerman of Wired’s Danger Room blog notes,  “not to write down important information, lest it be vulnerable to  disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act.”  By now, they are also  a force that, in any meaningful sense, is unaccountable for its  actions.

Although the special ops crew (66,000 people in all) exist on our tax  dollars, we’re really not supposed to know anything about what they’re  doing — unless, of course, they choose the publicity venue themselves,  whether in Pakistan knocking off Osama bin Laden or parachuting onto Hollywood’s Sunset Boulevard to promote Act of ValorIn  case you somehow missed the ads, that’s the new film about “real  terrorist threats based on true stories starring actual Navy SEALs.” (No  names in the credits please!)

Of course, those elite SEAL teams are johnnies-come-lately when  compared to their no less secretive “teammates” in places like  Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Somalia — our ever increasing armada of  drones.  Those robotic warriors of the air (or at least their fantasy  doppelgangers) were, of course, pre-celebrated — after a fashion — in  the Terminator movies.  In Washington’s global battle zones, what’s called our “traditional combat role” — think big invasions, occupations,  counterinsurgency — is going, going, gone with the wind, even evidently  in Afghanistan by 2013.  War American-style is instead being inherited  by secretive teams of men and machines, both hunter-killers who  specialize in assassination operations, and both of whom, as presented  to Americans, just couldn’t be sexier.

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