THE David Ignatius
Washington Post, 20 March 2012
Among the last known images of Osama bin Laden is a video seized at his compound the night he was killed, which shows the al-Qaeda leader hunched before a television screen studying a video of himself. It’s testimony to bin Laden’s obsession with the media side of his war against the United States.
This modern face of bin Laden’s jihad comes through clearly in a 21-page letter from his media adviser, a U.S.-born jihadist named Adam Gadahn. The letter is undated, but it appears to have been written after November 2010, in the last six months of bin Laden’s life.
Gadahn wrote much as if he were a media planner corresponding with a client. He included suggestions about the timing of video appearances after the 2010 U.S. midterm elections and use of high-definition video, and made snarky evaluations of major U.S. networks.
As I wrote last week, Gadahn hated Fox News (“falls into the abyss”); he liked MSNBC but complained about the firing of Keith Olbermann; he had mixed feelings about CNN (better in Arabic than in English) and made flattering comments about CBS and ABC. Basically, he wanted to play them all off to al-Qaeda’s best advantage. He also mentioned print journalists, most prominently Robert Fisk of The Independent of Britain. He cites three Americans (“Brian Russ,” “Simon Hirsh” and “Jerry Van Dyke”), though it’s uncertain whom he meant.
The media guidance was among the documents taken from bin Laden’s compound the night of May 2. It was made available to me, along with a small sample of other documents in the cache, by a senior Obama administration official.
Gadahn’s memo shows an organization struggling to stay on the media offensive despite devastating U.S. attacks. It’s partly aspirational, with dreams of jihad, but there’s a core of sharp self-criticism that makes clear Gadahn, like his boss, understood that al-Qaeda was losing its war.
Gadahn even worried that al-Qaeda’s reversals in Iraq and elsewhere represented “punishment by God on us because of our sins and injustices.” Like bin Laden, he was deeply upset that al-Qaeda’s affiliates had killed so many Muslims and listed 13 operations that showed “the tragedy of tolerating the spilling of [Muslim] blood.”
Gadahn is an intriguing figure whose life story would seem far-fetched if sketched by a Hollywood screenwriter. He was born Adam Pearlman in 1978, grandson of a California doctor who had served on the board of the Jewish Anti-Defamation League. Gadahn converted to Islam when he was 17, migrated to Pakistan at 20 and then disappeared in March 2001 into al-Qaeda’s world. In 2006, he was indicted by the United States for treason.
Phi Beta Iota: This gets sillier and sillier – including the built-in throw-away lines to explain what is probably typically ignorant US “covert operations” fiction. Most likely possibility at this point: young Adam was recruited early as a Mossad sleeper agent in the USA, and sent toward jihad generally. However, if Al Qaeda was in any way a fully-funded CIA/Safari Club operation as some claim (hybrid opportunist cross-over is more likely) then Adam could have been one of the few truly deep case officers developed or a joint Mossad/CIA puppy. We tend to doubt this “evidence.” Ignatius has zero credibility with us. At this point, anything he claims to accept is in our judgment false flag across the board and an illegal covert action / propaganda operations against the U.S. public. Ignatius is not ignorant — he is polished, professional, and deeply read. This is an ethics issue.