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TV's cyber-jihad slot exposes al Qaeda's web ops. Or not

Time for a 'losing to e-Qaeda' re-run, says 60 Minutes

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By recent example from February, Bruce Hoffman of Georgetown University delivered "Challenges for the US Special Operations Command Posed by the Terrorist Threat: Al Qaeda On the Run or On the March" to the House of Representatives Subcommittee on Terrorism, Unconventioanal Threats and Capabilities." (A basic summary of it was also published as an opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times.)

Yes was the answer, al Qaeda was marching, particularly if one didn't recognize the bodies buried in the footnotes.

Looking closely one noted citations of the London ricin plot and Operation Rhyme. The latter constituted gas-limos plotter Dhiren Barot's ludicrous computer files, heavily redacted by authorities except for idiotic parts on making dirty bombs from smoke detectors or, possibly, an exit sign containing trivial amounts of the radioactive isotope of hydrogen, tritium. This was certainly real treasure from al Qaeda's vaunted cyberspace division. Further, this reading of the terror tea leaves came from culling news items in big newspapers.

60 Minutes found a general, John Custer, to put it in perspective. "... [W]ithout a doubt, the Internet is the single most important venue of radicalization for Islamic youth," he said. Custer added "we" see the terror-inspired youth on the battlefield where they are subsequently killed. As head of intelligence for Central Command, it's an interesting claim since the man's in Tampa, FLA, which as far as can be determined, is not in the grip of a sectarian civil war.

In any case, while there appear to be a few degrees of truth to Custer's statement, like the claim that a steady diet of hip-hop videos seems to have inspired young white boys to act stupid and buy ill-fitting clothes, it's also more than fair to say that declarations from the war-on-terror apparatus are served with helpings of exaggeration for effect.

Custer maintained that al Qaeda was waging a war of perception on the Internet. We don't get it, they do, and we better start learning.

That's true, too, but backwards, which is consistent and even expected from those who got everything wrong in Iraq. The newsmedia and terror assessment industry do understand wars for perception. They use al Qaeda's websites and their files as virtual ammo for their terror infotainments at a pretty fair clip. And it's not something anyone can have missed.

After all, have you ever seen a news program from the States showing even one terrorist as an incompetent, if troublesome, dreamer? Ever read an opinion piece that said al Qaeda might be having trouble? Ever heard a terror expert say, "Hmmm, the signs aren't clear, ask again later."

How absurd. That would mean no viewers or readers. Worse, what's a terror expert without an utterly remarkable menace to tell about?

Unemployed. ®

* Editor's note: A previous Katz 60 Minutes outing, allegedly involving a wig and a false nose, prompted lawsuits from Saudi charities and a Georgia poultry company. Katz, by a remarkable coincidence, was one of the star witnesses in Peter Taylor's woeful The New al Qaeda, broadcast by the BBC almost two years ago. By even more remarkable coincidence, Taylor claimed that after being bombed out of Afghanistan al Qaeda had transformed itself into a media- and Internet-savvy organisation, and trotted out a general in support. But his was John Abizaid. Taylor also produced an amateur sleuth who'd entrapped a dysfunctional national guardsman into a long stretch for wannabe terrorism, but we surely can't be talking about the same jihadi as Katz's here, can we?

George Smith is a Senior Fellow at GlobalSecurity.org, a defense affairs think tank and public information group. At Dick Destiny, he blogs his way through chemical, biological and nuclear terror hysteria, often by way of the contents of neighborhood hardware stores.

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