Sunday, March 6, 2016

Why Kill the Messenger When You Can Kill the Message Instead?

I just watched the video of a talk on drone warfare that was delivered a couple weeks ago by Scott Shane, a NYT reporter and the author of Objective Troy: A Terrorist, a President, and the Rise of the Drone, which is embedded above. You can read an account of the talk here: The Pros and Cons of Drones in Counterterrorism.

In addition to discussing drones as a counterterrorism tool in place of a strategy, Shane also pointed out the hugely counterproductive result of killing Anwar al-Awlaki, the premier Islamist propagandist, and U.S. citizen, who had fled the United States for Yemen.
Contrary to expectations, the strike proved that in the Internet age, a propagandist’s operational value could never be truly eliminated. In fact, Awlaki, in death, gained greater lasting relevance. “Ultimately, his real home was on YouTube, and it is today,” Mr. Shane said, citing the 67,000 videos to his name on the site, ranging from a 53-CD set on the life of the Prophet Mohammed to one entitled “the Cult of Jihad.”

“Killing the messenger by no means kills the message,” he said. “He speaks from the Internet today with greater authority than when he was alive, because like Christianity, Islam has a tradition of martyrdom, and if you look at the stuff his fans post, they often call him ‘the martyr Sheikh Anwar al-Awlaki.’ His influence has been absolutely remarkable.”

So, our whacking of al-Awlaki, while it might have given us some emotional satisfaction, resulted in amping up his message and giving it the added authority of coming from a martyr to the cause. A big backfire.

And this massive fail occurred despite all the hoopla about countering violent extremism, or counter radicalization, or strategic messaging, or information operations, coming from nearly every agency of the U.S. government today. Are we serious about countering the messages of an al-Awlaki, or are those just buzz words used in budget justifications and grant requests?  

To make matters worse, the USG had the means all along to kill the message itself by discrediting the messenger and causing him to lose credibility with his audience. Al-Awlaki, it turns out, patronized prostitutes like he was a Secret Service agent on TDY in Thailand.
But more than Muslim persecution motivated his abrupt departure. The FBI had been surveilling Awlaki because two of the 9/11 hijackers had attended a mosque he led in San Diego. By monitoring him 24/7, the FBI had concluded that he was not, at that time, affiliated with al-Qaeda. They had, however, observed his un-Islamic secret—that he enjoyed the regular company of prostitutes. His fear of being discredited before his conservative followers was the greatest influence in his decision to leave, Mr. Shane learned from Awlaki’s brother and newly declassified documents. Awlaki discovered the FBI had found him out from a Washington madam, who called him to complain he had brought scrutiny upon her business.

“He couldn’t take that kind of humiliation, so he took off, and [that] was not intended by the FBI,” Mr. Shane said. He added: “Talk about unintended consequences. This guy could have been part of the discussion here, in the tent, ended up very much outside the tent and a very dangerous character.”

There is also another angle that could have been pursued had the USG cared to deal with al-Awlaki as a political threat. It seems his U.S. citizenship might not have been quite completely legal. Back in 2002, Diplomatic Security Service Special Agent Fournier had initiated a passport fraud case against al-Awlaki. The U.S. Attorney in Denver issued an arrest warrant in that case, but ultimately declined to pursue a prosecution. Another opportunity lost.

Had we revoked his citizenship and deported him back then, that might have disrupted some of al-Awlaki's subsequent operations. At the very least, it would have relieved the legal and political embarrassment that resulted from the USG targeting him for an extrajudicial killing.

As Casey Stengel said to the 1962 Mets, can't anybody here play this game? This is why it matters that the USG has a law enforcement agency where we need a security agency, something along the lines of the British MI-5 or Israel's Shin Bet. An agency that seeks to infiltrate, control, disrupt, counter, frustrate, confuse, render ineffective, or otherwise deal with - even extrajudicially - threats to national security. Instead, we have lawyers and law enforcement agents who apparently just cannot get on the same wavelength as our sub-state adversaries.   


Anonymous said...

Great post TSB! Best question in there is whether anyone cares about a successful strategy? 8 years of decisive "strategery" pretty much cooked our goose.

King Obama and Queen Hillary as smart as they are have played the great game with all kinds of strategy moves amounting to a huge body count difference for our side and nothing but zeroes on YouTube side. From beginning to end though this has been a fight for lower educated voters and they will turn out in droves. I think the lawyers are safe for now. Donald and Hillary both know the smartest lawyers so it will all work out fine. (51-49) gwb

Anonymous said...

As predicted Hillary debunked the Sanders claim that Wall Street has influenced her positions and policies... she debunked it about 100 times and lost big! gwb (lol)
Two Democratic presidential candidates took to the stage for a debate Sunday night at the University of Michigan. Who do you think won?
Hillary Clinton
15 %
Bernie Sanders
85 %
3,603 V (Let's see who wins the coin toss this time.)

Anonymous said...


Quite agree with the general point but will suggest Alwaki isn't the best choice for an example. His involvement with the Undie Bomber, IIRC, factored large in the decision. It's tough to criticize the offing of people who strap bombs on teens, buy them airline tickets and send them off with a slap on the butt and a "Go get em' Tiger!" His messaging became secondary, I reckon. that.

All respect, and thanks for this publication. Many thanks, actually.

Anonymous said...

TSB: Well, it was a great debate with lots of good audience questions. Hillary had to say she has 'evolved' on a lot of issues and boy is she evolving fast! gwb

And that 87/13 online TIME poll disappeared about 2 hrs after the debate was over.
somebody must put in a high voltage call to CNN because the pundits all rated it about an even split. If Hillary loses big Tuesday Bernie could have a new theme song from the 60's when all that infrastructure was new and shiny. Sagina Michigan by Lefty Frizzel

Anonymous said...

TSB: I forked over 9.99 last week for all of blogger Pepe Escobar's posts from Obama 2009 thru 2014. This one from 11/11/2011 is about the US military's Bush 2.0 preparation for the new drone strategy. It's almost as good as this post but 5 years earlier. (I remember that date because I think AQ was pulling our chain back then by doing the 911,10/11,11/11 attack shuffle to mess with comedian Tom Ridge.
Do the bomb Iran shuffle
By Pepe Escobar Nov 10, 2011 He starts with: Get ready for a flurry of fuzzy satellite ''intelligence'' of generic warehouses all across Iran frantically described as segments of a nuclear bomb assembly line (Remember a famous ''secret nuclear facility'' in Syria not long ago? It was a textile factory.)

Get ready for a flurry of crude diagrams depicting suspect devices, or the containers that hide them, all capable of reaching Europe in 45 minutes... and it gets better from there. The whole idea was to scare everyone to death while NATO rolled out it's anti-nuclear ballistic missile umbrella program followed by droning the whole MENA with the latest unmanned shock and awe! Keep up the great work! gwb

Anonymous said...

TSB: re: “Experienced Diplomats and Foreign Service Officers” Thrown Under the Bus – Internal Screaming at 125 dB Thrown under the bus? What in the world do you expect? When has Hillary not thrown everyone necessary under the bus? By doing this she has diffused and confused the voter enough to ensure her a clear path to the Presidency.

Trump has IED'd the whole Republican bus! Mitt has stepped forward to lead the fight to destroy Trump with a rigged convention. He thinks a 75 foot wall makes no
sense because self-deportation is so much simpler. It's going to be hard to beat Hillary with that in California,Oregon, Washington, NY NJ or Taxachussetts.

Prepare for the Coronation! It's pretty much over gwb

TSB said...


Thanks for your comment. I don't disagree that al-Awlaki had it coming, but we missed an opportunity to end his influence for good when we merely killed him and didn't even try to undermine his message. We went for instant gratification when a more patient strategy would have been in our long term interests.

Anonymous said...

TSB: Big question for today: Will Rubio endorse Ben Carson to run for the Senate seat vacated by Marco Rubio? No better place to learn about politics than running a crazy place like Florida! gwb

Anonymous said...

TSB: Speaking of Messengers, Here's a timely item!:

gwb..(don't know why I didn't see this on MSNBC today since this is the guy who hacked them... or is that just a myth??)

And where would we be today without those great GWB paintings? So, they guy has a compulsive desire to be famous. Isn't that a large USA demographic? I love the baclava's on the Romanian police. Is Romania part of the war on ISIS?

Anonymous said...

TSB: Here's the guest list for the Neo-Con panic meeting at Sea Island Georgia (AEI)! I just hope no Navy Admirals are there. Look how easy it would be to get lost! gwb

Naturally FB and Tesla are there and all the 'almost ready for prime time young R's' like Spokane's Kathy McMorris-Rogers.

Anonymous said...

TSB: James; The networks are all in a dither tonite wondering WHAT THE HECK?? But if you guys haven't seen the video where Jimmie Kimmel sent huge Trump supporter Jake Byrd to that first big rally in Dallas you should watch at least 4 minutes to realize what a brain addled mob Texas voters are. Facts are just an undue burden for them. (Even Trump couldn't figure out what was going on!) gwb I'm brain addled too but I couldn't put this one down.

Anonymous said...

TSB: Trump seems to be 'running the table' as promised and someone seems to have trained Hillary not to cackle, but she seems to be stuck on 'gloating and head nodding' Tonite's outfit was ridiculous and those eyes look like thyroid trouble or a bad call from Podesta. Those Republican bible thumpers will become Trumpers to stop that for sure. I'm predicting Bernie's cash haul for March will be $92 mil. and $120 in April. By then I'll have enough for my T-shirt and Hillary will be begging Bernie to be her 1st Supreme Court nominee. She will be 'one broke girl' by the general and maybe Telsie Gabbard will offer to step in and arm wrestle Trump's wife. gwb

Anonymous said...

TSB: Speaking of Shin-Bet, did I mention this?
The Five Dancing Israelis
Arrested On 9-11

A Mossad surveillance team made quite a public spectacle of themselves on 9-11.

The New York Times reported Thursday that a group of five men had set up video cameras aimed at the Twin Towers prior to the attack on Tuesday, and were seen congratulating one another afterwards. (1)
Police received several calls from angry New Jersey residents claiming "middle-eastern" men with a white van were videotaping the disaster with shouts of joy and mockery. (2)

"They were like happy, you know … They didn't look shocked to me" said a witness. (3)

[T]hey were seen by New Jersey residents on Sept. 11 making fun of the World Trade Center ruins and going to extreme lengths to photograph themselves in front of the wreckage. (4)
Witnesses saw them jumping for joy in Liberty State Park after the initial impact (5). Later on, other witnesses saw them celebrating on a roof in Weehawken, and still more witnesses later saw them celebrating with high fives in a Jersey City parking lot.

So, after these 'middle eastern looking' mossad agents were seen celebrating in front of the 9/11 ruins they were arrested and released. What followed was:

Now, consider that since 9-11, the USA has invaded and occupied what was once the sovereign nation of Afghanistan for almost 15 years and counting, allegedly due to the role it played in 9-11. We have spent billions upon billions of dollars and killed tens of thousands of people, if not hundreds of thousands, in this war effort.
A girl who was burned beyond recognition by a U.S. drone in Afghanistan and left for dead in a trashcan before she had to undergo reconstructive surgery. The chemicals in the missiles burn so hot they can light a tank on fire, but this is somehow different from the chemical warfare allegedly waged by our enemy...

Hellfire thermobaric warhead using a metal augmented explosive charge is used primarily in urban warfare, against bunkers, buildings caves and other concealed targets. This warhead is designed to inflict greater damage in multi-room structures, compared to the Hellfire's standard or blast-fragmentation warheads. The Metal Augmented Charge or MAC (Thermobaric) Hellfire, designated AGM-114N, has completed rapid development cycle in 2002 and was deployed during OIF by US Marines Helicopters in Iraq. The new warhead contains a fluorinated aluminum powder that is layered between the warhead casing and the PBXN-112 explosive fill. When the explosive detonates, the aluminum mixture is dispersed and rapidly burns. The resultant sustained high pressure is extremely effective against enemy personnel and structures. The AGM-114N is designed for deployment from helicopters such as the AH-1W or UAVs such as the Predator drones. gwb (I forgot all about this just like everyone else but it's a big weapon for Trump) No wonder AEI is furious! gwb

Anonymous said...

TSB: Here is your FBI Manhunt/TSA/Homeland Security/Secret Service coordination in action. Now we just need to see the 'manifesto' and proposed legislation to make sure this never happens again. gwb (Trump is thinking..Incompetent?? Will Cruz attend the funeral?)

Anonymous said...


The Washington Post was sold in 2013 to libertarian Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, who is worth approximately $49.8 billion. Despite being ideologically opposed to the Democratic Party (at least in principle), Bezos has enjoyed friendly ties with both the Obama administration and the CIA. As Michael Oman-Reagan notes, Amazon was awarded a $16.5 million contract with the State Department the last year Clinton ran it. (KA-CHING!! gwb)

I'm reading a great book called 'Con Job' by Conservative Black Chic .. showing how the Democrats have used racial activism (think Jessie and Al) to corner the black vote and enrich themselves since the 60's. I watched her handle a swarm of 'brothers and sistas' on C-Span like a PRO! Her parents were the couple who famously sued the Virginia Country Club for denying them membership and won in 1982. The Virginia Atty General (and many other club members) came out for them and the settlement was announced the same day as the 1st Carter Reagan debate. Bernie and Trump could both learn a few things from her. gwb

Anonymous said...

TSB: You gotta admit us radicals are having a great time on the trail in 2016. Now it's Keith Olberman's (funny) turn unleashing the ultimate diatribe against the Donald:

(I loved that Miami press conference show he put on with the steaks, wine, water. With press conferences like this in the WH I'm looking forward to Trump Tires, Trump Nascar Stadium, Trump China!, Trump-Bibi-Palestinian Soccer Stadium)

Keith begs to differ: This was in WAPO so you probably already saw it. I'm boycotting WAPO!

Anonymous said...

TSB: Hillary gets 'Berned' again! In spite of those Telemundo Tyrants! gwblol

Two Democratic presidential candidates took to the stage for a debate Wednesday night in Miami. Who do you think won?
Hillary Clinton
11 %
Bernie Sanders

Anonymous said...

TSB: I new that Gucifer guy was good for something! Just a matter of deduction my dear Watson!
Missing Clinton E-Mail Claims Saudis Financed Benghazi Attacks That email came from Blumenthal after Kerry took over from Clinton so she wasn't required to turn it over. But Gucifer got a screen grab of Kerry's AOL account and that is the one of the 4 that has been deleted from the public record. It could be that mr G is being sent to DC early to verify to the Grand Jury that email is one of the ones he hacked. Interesting that Televisa asked H if she would resign if indicted last night. gwb

PS: My sources say Lavrov and a Top Turkey guy are meeting in Saudi Arabia on the 15th to try to form a new non-Opec Cartel to try to force OPEC to cut production and raise prices. This could be a big deal and may be why VP was sent to ME this week. It would include some GCC countries and maybe Iraq and China. (Trying to cause Houston big problems.)

Anonymous said...

Re: BEASTMODE: Israeli man gets stabbed by Palestinian terrorist. Pulls the knife out and kills his attacker with it TSB: Are you sure this wasn't just a Chris Matthews prediction of how 'Marco' might die at tonite's debate? And I thought 'BEASTMODE' was copyrighted by some now-retired seahawk and therefore protected by the TPP?
I am still waiting for the 'BIG' question to be asked of these candidates by ANYONE!! HOW MANY OF YOU BELIEVE FOSSILS ARE ONLY 7,000 YEARS OLD AND WHAT IS YOUR EVIDENCE? (and don't say'let's step back and put this in perspective.') gwb/allout of popcorn

Anonymous said...

TSB: Definitely a Cruz/Rubio crowd in Miami. Trump took the chance to totally hammer FOX for terrible, dishonest reporting which didn't matter much to Miami but TIME magazine decided No Online Poll for the Trumpster!! gwb drudge steps up!
Thank you, we have already counted your vote.
TRUMP 56.65% (72,311 votes)

CRUZ 35.89% (45,808 votes)

RUBIO 3.89% (4,968 votes)

KASICH 3.56% (4,548 votes)

Total Votes: 127,635

Anonymous said...

HOLY MACKERAL GLEN BECK! TSB: The Blaze poll shows Cruz getting beat badly and Rubio finished. I'm thinking his listeners are leaving him in droves. He's not on the waves out here anymore. gwb

Who Won the CNN Florida Debate?
Donald Trump
62 %
Marco Rubio
7 %
Ted Cruz
29 %
John Kasich
3 %

Anonymous said...

TSB:James; Speaking of construction, trade and cement. If you don't think the world economy is coming to a complete halt here is a graph showing chinese cement production over a recent 3 year period (6.6 gigatons) compared to US production in the 20th century (4.5 gigatons). gwb (but that isn't the half of it!)

Now that was one hell of big 'shovel ready' jobs program! Conceived by complete idiots with total control over the media and their obedient peasants. Nobody is going to turn this around, but the Chinese will need a lot more casinos in the next few years and Bernie should be able to pick up a lot of cheap used cement mixer parts really cheap to refurb America.

Anonymous said...

TSB: It has taken Jane Mayer 7 years to write this book. Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right but since her last book was named book of the year by WAPO I had to get it to try to catch up on James with what is going on with this election. So far it's a doozy!! gwb