Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Future of Al Qaeda

The House Subcommittee on Intelligence, Information Sharing and Terrorism Risk Assessment held a hearing yesterday on the future of al Qaeda. Two researchers, Peter Bergen and Lawrence Wright, from the NYU Center on Law and Security provided a brief review of the history of al Qaeda, including the background for the current political/theological divisions affecting that organization.


One procedural note; the Homeland Security Committee Web site has provided links to testimony from each of the researchers. In reality there is only a single written testimony prepared for both. Don’t waste your time downloading more than a single copy.


History of Al Qaeda


The testimony provides a short, very readable history of al Qaeda, concentrating on the philosophical underpinnings that allow it to conduct unrestricted warfare against all of its opponents, within and without ‘the one true faith’. It also describes the recent schism in the organization and explains how it is being exploited by the Egyptian government (among others). This would be a good read for anyone trying to understand their potential adversary.


Homegrown Terrorists


The testimony points out that the radicalization of the immigrant Muslim population in Europe has not been duplicated in the United States. They attribute this to the higher degree of integration of the immigrant community in the US. They do point (page 8) out that a recent poll of Muslim Americans show that 5% had a favorable view of al Qaeda. They calculate that this allows for a pool of 125,000 potential recruits for homegrown affiliated terrorist organizations.


Short Term Attack Potential


For those of us in the chemical facility security community there is an important message in this testimony. The authors feel (see page 7 of their testimony) that there is a very real organizational imperative for al Qaeda to conduct a successful attack against the United States within the next couple of months. In their opinion if “al-Qaeda is unable to strike during this period (between now and September 11th), it will reflect on its ability to remain operational.”


As I expected (see: “House Homeland Security Committee Hearings – 7-28-08”) there is nothing in this testimony that directly points to an attack on high-risk chemical facilities. None the less, security managers at such facilities should take note of the short-term increased potential for such an attack.


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