Not that anyone reads this space but just in case, I'm on vacation until late September or early October. I will be back, so don't abandon me forever.
Enjoy your summer.
The Atlantic magazine's online site has gone to a completely subscription model as of today. How lame! It seems to be a decision made solely to drive up subscriptions. I can understand (even though I dislike) making the archive available on a subscription basis and I even understand having subscriber-only or print-only articles. Of course the publication needs something to distinguish itself. I dislike it when archive access is a separate subscription fee (like The Nation or ScientificAmerican). NewScientist has the right idea: They publish a lot of their articles online and then archive them after a while. The archive is totally open and searchable to subscribers. NewScientist is a spendy subscription but it is a weekly magazine full of great stuff.
But the Atlantic has really stepped on its dick here. They have taken offline (well, limited only to subscribers) their whole library of frequently referenced and classic articles. If it has been open and free thus far, why not leave there? If you are going to institute new policies, why grandfather in old stuff? It only hurts the visibility of the organization. And they don't offer ANY of their new articles at ALL to the public now. EVERYTHING requires a subscription to view now. There isn't even a limited time free public preview. Dumb, dumb, dumb.
The New York Times thankfully has free content for one week. It does require registration, but you don't have to register with real info. I actually did, a long time ago before spam was a problem and registering didn't have to be view with such suspicion, and I never had any trouble from the NYT. I'm not bother by having to register, as long as I don't have to pay. But the NYTimes not only charges for archive access on a per-article basis, but they charge 3 bucks a pop! Puh-lease!!
I support registration because it allows them to track reader's habits, which in turn should be used to create better advertising. Even though print papers do reap small fees from subscriptions and newsstand sales, they are primarily supported by advertising. Web publishing costs are negligible and thus web print should be able to support itself via advertising. Sites like slashdot.org and salon.com use a combination of subscriptions (with members only benefits) and advertising to support the site and both are fully available to all readers. Salon asks that you buy a subscription ($30/ year) or view some adverts before reading. It's a fair trade. Publishers have to get something out of the deal. I'm not naive to think that just because this is the internet that everything needs to be free.
But the Atlantic wants $80 a year to read it online. That doesn't make any sense. By closing out all web readers, potential subscribers aren't able to see what they are missing. There is no hook or bait with which to lure new subscribers. They would do much better by providing each issue free for a month with select high ticket items as perpetually available as reference sources. Subscriptions should be available at a much lower rate and should provide a low-cost online-only rate (full access to the archive included, of course) and dead-tree subscribers should get the online archive free of charge. In fact, I'm going to go out on a limb and predict that they make a move like this in the future.
Locking up your content doesn't do anyone any good. Having products freely available helps producers by raising visibility and even engendering good will with consumers. I rarely read the Atlantic but they do have great articles. They had an excellent article about the Columbia shuttle tragedy and aftermath and the Kaplan index was priceless. I don't (er, didn't) read it enough to justify a subscription, but almost, and I've had it on my "subscriptions to consider" list for a while. Every time I'd read an article online I'd be reminded that it was a pretty good publication and if I found myself reading it online frequently, then I know I'd go ahead an subscribe. But now I won't ever be reading any more articles online there and thus it will drift from memory.
They are removing themselves from internet discussions abotu their articles since the general public can't read them anymore. Search engines aren't going to be bringing up hits for them since no one is going to be linking to stories that you can't read without an account. I just can't see what the advantage for anyone is.
In case you are wondering what led to my distemper on this issue, I had just read the incredible article about "Inside Al-Qaeda's Hard Drive" yesterday only to find that discussion with friends was no longer possible as of today. Click on the further reading link if you'd like to read this article and its sidebar.
Inside Al-Qaeda’s Hard Drive
--Budget squabbles, baby pictures, office rivalries—and the path to 9/11
by Alan Cullison
In the autumn of 2001 I was one of scores of journalists who ventured into northern Afghanistan to write about the U.S.-assisted war against the Taliban. As I crossed the Hindu Kush to cover the fighting for The Wall Street Journal, my journey took what looked like a fatal turn: the battered black pickup truck I had rented—which in its better years had been a war wagon for Afghan gunmen—lost its brakes as it headed down a steep mountain path, careened along the edge of a gorge, slammed headlong into the back of a Northern Alliance fuel truck that was creeping down the mountain, and slid to rest on its side in the middle of the road. My bags spilled down the mountainside or were crushed beneath the pickup.
Fortunately, none of the pickup's occupants—a Japanese journalist, two Afghan interpreters, the driver, and a shoeless boy who had been riding on the roof and wiping dust from the windshield—was seriously injured. Only my interpreter, a Russian-speaking Afghan, seemed to be hurt; he clutched his side and said that something had hit him in the ribs. We nursed some cuts and bruises, and climbed aboard a Northern Alliance truck carrying wooden crates of Kalashnikov ammunition.
The wreck might have been just a minor bump in my travels through a land where inhabitants display a whoopsy-daisy attitude toward fatal accidents and killings. But a day later, after bedding down forty miles north of Kabul, I asked my interpreter what had hit him in the ribs. He said it was my computer, which he'd always held in his lap for safekeeping. I got up and removed the computer from its black bag, opened its lid, and saw that the screen was smashed. In the coming weeks, living in a fly-infested hut, I scrawled stories by candlelight with a ballpoint pen and read dispatches to my editors over a satellite phone.
That crash became memorable for reasons I never expected. When the Taliban's defenses crumbled, in November of 2001, I joined a handful of malnourished correspondents who rushed into Kabul and filed stories about the city's liberation. We pounced like so many famished crows on the first Western staples we had seen since leaving home: peanut butter, pasteurized milk, and canned vegetables, all of which we found on Chicken Street, Kabul's version of a shopping district. We raided the houses where Arab members of al-Qaeda had been holed up during their stay in Afghanistan, grabbing whatever documents were left in their file cabinets. But unlike most correspondents, I needed to spend some time getting to know Kabul's computer dealers, because I wanted to replace my laptop. It took about an hour to shake hands with all of them.
The regime that had forbidden television and kite-flying as un-Islamic had also taken a dim view of computers. I searched through the bazaars and found Soviet-era radios and television sets, but the electronics dealers had never even seen a computer, and certainly didn't know how to wire one to a satellite phone.
I found my first computer dealer in a drafty storefront office in downtown Kabul, near the city's central park. He worked alone and didn't have a computer in his office, because, he said, he couldn't afford one. He bragged that he was the sole computer consultant for the Afghan national airline, Ariana. This impressed me deeply—until I learned that Ariana had only one computer and only one working airplane.
He told me about another dealer, who ran a computer training school on the second floor of a building overlooking the park. I fumbled my way up a decrepit, unlit stairwell and along a dusty hallway to an office: a long room with a threadbare couch and a desk with a computer on it.
The second dealer told me that he had serviced computers belonging to the Taliban and to Arabs in al-Qaeda. I forgot about my own computer problems and hired him to search for these computers. Eventually he led me to a semiliterate jewelry salesman with wide-set eyes and a penchant for gold chains. This was the man who that December would take $1,100 from me in exchange for two of al-Qaeda's most valuable computers—a 40-gigabyte IBM desktop and a Compaq laptop. He had stolen them from al-Qaeda's central office in Kabul on November 12, the night before the city fell to the Northern Alliance. He wanted the money, he said, so that he could travel to the United States and meet some American girls.
My acquisition of the al-Qaeda computers was unique in the experience of journalists covering radical Islam. In the 1990s the police had seized computers used by al-Qaeda members in Kenya and the Philippines, but journalists and historians learned very little about the contents of those computers; only some information from them was released in U.S. legal proceedings. A much fuller picture would emerge from the computers I obtained in Kabul (especially the IBM desktop), which had been used by al-Qaeda's leadership.
On the night before Kabul fell, Taliban officials were fleeing the city in trucks teetering with their personal effects. The looter who sold me the computers figured that al-Qaeda had fled as well, so he crawled over a brick wall surrounding the house that served as the group's office. Finding nobody inside, he took the two computers, which he had discovered in a room on the building's second floor. On the door of the room, he said, was the name of Muhammad Atef—al-Qaeda's military commander and a key planner of 9/11. Each day, he said, Atef would walk into the office carrying the laptop in its black case. The looter knew he had something good.
So did the U.S. military when it heard what I had bought. The offices of The Wall Street Journal, just across from the World Trade Center, had been destroyed on 9/11. Our New York staff, which was working out of a former warehouse in Lower Manhattan, was acutely aware of potential threats; it was carefully screening mail for anthrax. Thinking that the computers might hold information about future attacks, my editors called the U.S. Central Command, which sent three CIA agents to my hotel room in Kabul. They said they needed the computers immediately; I had time to copy only the desktop computer before handing them both over. Atef's laptop was returned to me two months later, by an agent named Bert, at a curbside in Washington, D.C. The CIA said that the drive had been almost empty, but I've always wondered if this was true.
The desktop computer, it turned out, had been used mostly by Ayman al-Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden's top deputy. It contained nearly a thousand text documents, dating back to 1997. Many were locked with passwords or encrypted. Most were in Arabic, but some were in French, Farsi, English, or Malay, written in an elliptical and evolving system of code words. I worked intensively for more than a year with several translators and with a colleague at The Wall Street Journal, Andrew Higgins, interviewing dozens of former jihadis to decipher the context, codes, and intentions of the messages for a series of articles that Higgins and I wrote for the Journal in 2002.
What emerged was an astonishing inside look at the day-to-day world of al-Qaeda, as managed by its top strategic planners—among them bin Laden, al-Zawahiri, Atef, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, and Khalid Sheikh Muhammad, all of whom were intimately involved in the planning of 9/11, and some of whom (bin Laden and al-Zawahiri) are still at large. The documents included budgets, training manuals for recruits, and scouting reports for international attacks, and they shed light on everything from personnel matters and petty bureaucratic sniping to theological discussions and debates about the merits of suicide operations. There were also video files, photographs, scanned documents, and Web pages, many of which, it became clear, were part of the group's increasingly sophisticated efforts to conduct a global Internet-based publicity and recruitment effort.
The jihadis' Kabul office employed a zealous manager—Ayman al-Zawahiri's brother Muhammad, who maintained the computer's files in a meticulous network of folders and subfolders that neatly laid out the group's organizational structure and strategic concerns. (Muhammad's system fell apart after he was arrested in 2000 in Dubai and extradited to Egypt.) The files not only provided critical active intelligence about the group's plans and methods at the time (including the first leads about the shoe bomber Richard Reid, who had yet to attempt his attack) but also, in a fragmentary way, revealed a road map of al-Qaeda's progress toward 9/11. Considered as a whole, the trove of material on the computer represents what is surely the fullest sociological profile of al-Qaeda ever to be made public.
Perhaps one of the most important insights to emerge from the computer is that 9/11 sprang not so much from al-Qaeda's strengths as from its weaknesses. The computer did not reveal any links to Iraq or any other deep-pocketed government; amid the group's penury the members fell to bitter infighting. The blow against the United States was meant to put an end to the internal rivalries, which are manifest in vitriolic memos between Kabul and cells abroad. Al-Qaeda's leaders worried about a military response from the United States, but in such a response they spied opportunity: they had fought the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, and they fondly remembered that war as a galvanizing experience, an event that roused the indifferent of the Arab world to fight and win against a technologically superior Western infidel. The jihadis expected the United States, like the Soviet Union, to be a clumsy opponent. Afghanistan would again become a slowly filling graveyard for the imperial ambitions of a superpower.
Like the early Russian anarchists who wrote some of the most persuasive tracts on the uses of terror, al-Qaeda understood that its attacks would not lead to a quick collapse of the great powers. Rather, its aim was to tempt the powers to strike back in a way that would create sympathy for the terrorists. Al-Qaeda has so far gained little from the ground war in Afghanistan; the conflict in Iraq, closer to the center of the Arab world, is potentially more fruitful. As Arab resentment against the United States spreads, al-Qaeda may look less like a tightly knit terror group and more like a mass movement. And as the group develops synergy in working with other groups branded by the United States as enemies (in Iraq, the Israeli-occupied territories, Kashmir, the Mindanao Peninsula, and Chechnya, to name a few places), one wonders if the United States is indeed playing the role written for it on the computer.
LIFE IN AFGHANISTAN
Al-Qaeda's leaders began decamping to Afghanistan in 1996, after the group was expelled from Sudan. Ayman al-Zawahiri, at the time also the leader of the militant Egyptian group Islamic Jihad, issued a call for other Islamists to follow, and in one letter found on the computer described Afghanistan as a "den of garrisoned lions." But not all Arabs were happy with the move. Afghanistan, racked by more than a decade of civil war and Soviet occupation, struck many as unfit to be the capital of global jihad. Jihadis complained about the food, the bad roads, and the Afghans themselves, who, they said, were uneducated, venal, and not to be trusted.
In April of 1998 a jihadi named Tariq Anwar visited Afghanistan for a meeting of Islamists and wrote back to his colleagues in Yemen about his impressions.
To: Al-Qaeda Members in Yemen
From: Tariq Anwar
Folder: Outgoing Mail—To Yemen
Date: April 1998
I send you my greetings from beyond the swamps to your country, where there is progress and civilization … You should excuse us for not calling. There are many reasons, the most important of which is the difficulty of calling from this country. We have to go to the city, which involves a number of stages. The first stage involves arranging for a car (as we don't have a car). Of course, we are bound by the time the car is leaving, regardless of the time we want to leave. The second stage involves waiting for the car (we wait for the car, and it may be hours late or arrive before the agreed time). The next stage is the trip itself, when we sit like sardines in a can. Most of the time I have 1/8 of a chair, and the road is very bad. After all this suffering, the last stage is reaching a humble government communication office. Most of the time there is some kind of failure—either the power is off, the lines out of order, or the neighboring country [through which the connection is made] does not reply. Only in rare cases can we make problem-free calls …
The Arabs' general contempt for the backwardness of Afghanistan was not lost on the Taliban, whose leaders grew annoyed with Osama bin Laden's focus on public relations and the media. Letters found on the computer reveal that relations between the Arabs and the Taliban had grown so tense that many feared the Taliban leader, Mullah Muhammad Omar, would expel the Arabs from the country. A dialogue to resolve the two sides' differences was carried on at the highest levels, as the memo below, from two Syrian operatives, demonstrates. ("Abu Abdullah" is a code name for bin Laden; "Leader of the Faithful" refers to Mullah Omar, in his hoped-for capacity as the head of a new Islamic emirate, based in Afghanistan.)
To: Osama bin Laden
From: Abu Mosab al-Suri and Abu Khalid al-Suri
Via: Ayman al-Zawahiri
Folder: Incoming Mail—From Afghanistan
Date: July 19, 1999
Noble brother Abu Abdullah,
Peace upon you, and God's mercy and blessings.
This message [concerns] the problem between you
and the Leader of the Faithful …
The results of this crisis can be felt even here in Kabul and other places. Talk about closing down the camps has spread. Discontent with the Arabs has become clear. Whispers between the Taliban with some of our non-Arab brothers has become customary. In short, our brother Abu Abdullah's latest troublemaking with the Taliban and the Leader of the Faithful jeopardizes the Arabs, and the Arab presence, today in all of Afghanistan, for no good reason. It provides a ripe opportunity for all adversaries, including America, the West, the Jews, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, the Mas'ud-Dostum alliance, etc., to serve the Arabs a blow that could end up causing their most faithful allies to kick them out … Our brother [bin Laden] will help our enemies reach their goal free of charge! …
The strangest thing I have heard so far is Abu Abdullah's saying that he wouldn't listen to the Leader of the Faithful when he asked him to stop giving interviews … I think our brother [bin Laden] has caught the disease of screens, flashes, fans, and applause …
The only solution out of this dilemma is what a number of knowledgeable and experienced people have agreed upon …
Abu Abdullah should go to the Leader of the Faithful with some of his brothers and tell them that … the Leader of the Faithful was right when he asked you to refrain from interviews, announcements, and media encounters, and that you will help the Taliban as much as you can in their battle, until they achieve control over Afghanistan. … You should apologize for any inconvenience or pressure you have caused … and commit to the wishes and orders of the Leader of the Faithful on matters that concern his circumstances here …
The Leader of the Faithful, who should be obeyed where he reigns, is Muhammad Omar, not Osama bin Laden. Osama bin Laden and his companions are only guests seeking refuge and have to adhere to the terms laid out by the person who provided it for them. This is legitimate and logical.
The troubled relationship between al-Qaeda and the Taliban hadn't interfered with global plans. Al-Qaeda had developed a growing interest in suicide operations as an offensive weapon against Americans and other enemies around the world. On August 7, 1998, the group simultaneously struck the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania with car bombs, killing more than 220 people and wounding more than 4,000. Concerned that inflicting such heavy casualties on civilians would tarnish its image even among its supporters, al-Qaeda actively sought religious and legal opinions from Islamic scholars around the world who could help to justify the killing of innocents. The following letter is presumably a typical request for theological guidance.
Folder: Outgoing Mail
Date: September 26, 1998
Dear highly respected _______
…I present this to you as your humble brother … concerning the preparation of the lawful study that I am doing on the killing of civilians. This is a very sensitive case—as you know—especially these days …
It is very important that you provide your opinion of this matter, which has been forced upon us as an essential issue in the course and ideology of the Muslim movement …
[Our] questions are:
1- Since you are the representative of the Islamic Jihad group, what is your lawful stand on the killing of civilians, specifically when women and children are included? And please explain the legitimate law concerning those who are deliberately killed.
2- According to your law, how can you justify the killing of innocent victims because of a claim of oppression?
3- What is your stand concerning a group that supports the killing of civilians, including women and children?
With our prayers, wishing you success and stability.
s al-Qaeda established itself in Afghanistan in the late 1990s and began managing international operations of ever increasing complexity and audacity, the group focused on ensuring the secrecy of its communications. It discouraged the use of e-mail and the telephone, and recommended faxes and couriers. The electronic files reflect the global nature of the work being done; much of the correspondence was neatly filed by country name. Messages were usually encrypted and often couched in language mimicking that of a multinational corporation; thus Osama bin Laden was sometimes "the contractor," acts of terrorism became "trade," Mullah Omar and the Taliban became "the Omar Brothers Company," the security services of the United States and Great Britain became "foreign competitors," and so on. Especially sensitive messages were encoded with a simple but reliable cryptographic system that had been used by both Allied and Axis powers during World War II—a "one-time pad" system that paired individual letters with randomly assigned numbers and letters and produced messages readable only by those who knew the pairings. The computer's files reveal that in 1998 and 1999, when a number of Islamists connected to al-Qaeda were arrested or compromised abroad, the jihadis in Afghanistan relied heavily on the one-time-pad system. They also devised new code names for people and places.
Letters sent from and to Ayman al-Zawahiri in 1999 contain coded language typical of many files on the computer; they also show the degree to which al-Qaeda operatives abroad were being exposed and detained because of their efforts. In the first of the following two letters much of the code remains mysterious.
To: Yemen Cell Members
From: Ayman al-Zawahiri
Folder: Outgoing Mail—To Yemen
Date: February 1, 1999
… I would like to clarify the following with relation to the birthday [probably an unspecified attack]:
a) Don't think of showering as it may harm your health.
b) We can't make a hotel reservation for you, but they usually don't mind making reservations for guests. Those who wish to make a reservation should go to Quwedar [a famous pastry shop in Cairo].
c) I suggest that each of you takes a recipient to Quwedar to buy sweets, then make the hotel reservation. It is easy. After you check in, walk to Nur. After you attend the birthday go from Quwedar to Bushra St., where you should buy movie tickets to the Za'bolla movie theater.
d) The birthday will be in the third month. How do you want to celebrate it in the seventh? Do you want us to change the boy's birth date? There are guests awaiting the real date to get back to their work.
e) I don't have any gravel [probably ammunition or bomb-making material].
To: Ayman al-Zawahiri
Folder: Incoming Mail—From Yemen
Date: May 13, 1999
Dear brother Salah al-Din:
… Forty of the contractor's [bin Laden's] friends here were taken by surprise by malaria [arrested] a few days ago, following the telegram they sent, which was similar to Salah al-Din's telegrams [that is, it used the same code]. The majority of them are from here [Yemen], and two are from the contractor's country [Saudi Arabia] …
We heard that al-Asmar had a sudden illness and went to the hospital [prison]. He will have a session with the doctors [lawyers] early next month to see if he can be treated there, or if he should be sent for treatment in his country [probably Egypt, where jihadis were routinely tortured and hanged] …
Osman called some days ago. He is fine but in intensive care [being monitored by the police]. When his situation improves he will call. He is considering looking for work with Salah al-Din [in Afghanistan], as opportunities are scarce where he is, but his health condition is the obstacle.
Though troubled by arrests abroad, the jihadis had time and safety for contemplation in Afghanistan. In 1999 al-Zawahiri undertook a top-secret program to develop chemical and biological weapons, a program he and others referred to on the computer as the "Yogurt" project. Though fearsome in its intent, the program had a proposed start-up budget of only $2,000 to $4,000. Fluent in English and French, al-Zawahiri began by studying foreign medical journals and provided summaries in Arabic for Muhammad Atef, including the one that follows.
To: Muhammad Atef
From: Ayman al-Zawahiri
Folder: Outgoing Mail— To Muhammad Atef
Date: April 15, 1999
I have read the majority of the book [an unnamed volume, probably on biological and chemical weapons] … [It] is undoubtedly useful. It emphasizes a number of important facts, such as:
a) The enemy started thinking about these weapons before WWI. Despite their extreme danger, we only became aware of them when the enemy drew our attention to them by repeatedly expressing concerns that they can be produced simply with easily available materials …
b) The destructive power of these weapons is no less than that of nuclear weapons.
c) A germ attack is often detected days after it occurs, which raises the number of victims.
d) Defense against such weapons is very difficult, particularly if large quantities are used …
I would like to emphasize what we previously discussed—that looking for a specialist is the fastest, safest, and cheapest way [to embark on a biological- and chemical-weapons program]. Simultaneously, we should conduct a search on our own … Along these lines, the book guided me to a number of references that I am attaching. Perhaps you can find someone to obtain them …
The letter goes on to cite mid-twentieth-century articles from, among other sources, Science, The Journal of Immunology, and The New England Journal of Medicine, and lists the names of such books as Tomorrow's Weapons (1964), Peace or Pestilence (1949), and Chemical Warfare (1921).
Al-Zawahiri and Atef appear to have settled on the development of a chemical weapon as the most feasible option available to them. Their exchanges on the computer show that they hired Medhat Mursi al-Sayed, an expert to whom they refer as Abu Khabab, to assist them. They also drew up rudimentary architectural plans for their laboratory and devised a scheme to create a charitable foundation to serve as a front for the operation. According to other sources, Abu Khabab gassed some stray dogs at a testing field in eastern Afghanistan, but there is no indication that al-Qaeda ever developed a chemical weapon it could deploy.
THE BANALITY OF OFFICE LIFE
lthough al-Qaeda has been mythologized as a disciplined and sophisticated foe, united by a deadly commonality of purpose and by the wealth of its leader, internal correspondence on the computer reveals a somewhat different picture. In the years leading up to 9/11 the group was a loose confluence of organizations whose goals did not meld easily, as was seen in both tactical discussions (for example, should they attack Arab governments, America, or Israel?) and day-to-day office operations. At the most basic—that is to say, human—level the work relationships of al-Qaeda's key players were characterized by the same sort of bickering and gossiping and griping about money that one finds in offices everywhere. The following exchange is similar in tone and substance to much of what was found on the computer.
To: Ezzat (real name unknown)
From: Ayman al-Zawahiri
Folder: Outgoing Mail—To Yemen
Date: February 11, 1999
Noble brother Ezzat …
Following are my comments on the summary accounting I received:
… With all due respect, this is not an accounting. It's a summary accounting. For example, you didn't write any dates, and many of the items are vague.
The analysis of the summary shows the following:
1- You received a total of $22,301. Of course, you didn't mention the period over which this sum was received. Our activities only benefited from a negligible portion of the money. This means that you received and distributed the money as you please …
2- Salaries amounted to $10,085—45 percent of the money. I had told you in my fax … that we've been receiving only half salaries for five months. What is your reaction or response to this?
3- Loans amounted to $2,190. Why did you give out loans? Didn't I give clear orders to Muhammad Saleh to … refer any loan requests to me? We have already had long discussions on this topic …
4- Why have guesthouse expenses amounted to $1,573 when only Yunis is there, and he can be accommodated without the need for a guesthouse?
5- Why did you buy a new fax for $470? Where are the two old faxes? Did you get permission before buying a new fax under such circumstances?
6- Please explain the cell-phone invoice amounting to $756 (2,800 riyals) when you have mentioned communication expenses of $300.
7- Why are you renovating the computer? Have I been informed of this?
8- General expenses you mentioned amounted to $235. Can you explain what you mean? …
To: Ayman al-Zawahiri
Folder: Incoming Mail—From Yemen
Date: February 17, 1999
Kind brother Nur al-Din [al-Zawahiri]:
… We don't have any guesthouses. We have bachelor houses, and the offices are there too. We called it a guesthouse hypothetically, and we don't have any bachelors except Basil and Youssef. And Abd al-Kareem lives at his work place.
If I buy a fax and we have two old ones, that would be wanton or mad.
Communication expenses were $300 before we started using the mobile phone—and all these calls were to discuss the crises of Ashraf and Dawoud and Kareem and Ali and Ali Misarra and Abu Basel and others, in compliance with the orders.
Renovating our computer doesn't mean buying a new one but making sure that adjustments are made to suit Abdullah's [bin Laden's] work. There were many technical problems with the computer. These matters do not need approval.
There are articles for purchase that are difficult to keep track of, so we have put them under the title of general expenses …
The first step for me to implement in taking your advice is to resign from … any relationship whatsoever between me and your Emirate. Consider me a political refugee …
l-Qaeda's relationship with the Taliban, though strained at times, grew cozier as the attacks on New York and Washington approached. Mullah Omar was enraged at the U.S. missile strikes on Khost, Afghanistan, in 1998—strikes that were made in retaliation for bin Laden's African-embassy bombings that year. Bin Laden, meanwhile, kept after the Taliban leader with a campaign of flattery. He hailed Mullah Omar as Islam's new caliph (a lofty title not used since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire) and talked of Afghanistan as the kernel of what would become a sprawling and pure Islamic state that would embrace Central Asia and beyond. By 2001, some said, bin Laden had become a confidant of Mullah Omar, helping him to understand the outside world. He encouraged the Taliban leader to destroy the ancient Bamiyan Buddhas and sent him a congratulatory note afterward.
To: Mullah Omar
From: Osama bin Laden
Date: April 11, 2001
… I pray to God—after having granted you success in destroying the dead, deaf, and mute false gods—that He will grant you success in destroying the living false gods, the ones that talk and listen. God knows that those [gods] pose more danger to Islam and monotheism than the dead false gods. Among the most important such false gods in our time is the United Nations, which has become a new religion that is worshipped to the exclusion of God. The prophets of this religion are present in the UN General Assembly … The UN imposes all sorts of penalties on all those who contradict its religion. It issues documents and statements that openly contradict Islamic belief, such as the International Declaration for Human Rights, considering all religions are equal, and considering that the destruction of the statues constitutes a crime …
Meanwhile, Ayman al-Zawahiri rallied the support of other jihadis, especially in his militant group Islamic Jihad, which eventually became the largest component of al-Qaeda. Those jihadis from Egypt had been suspicious of him because of his close ties to bin Laden, whom they considered a publicity hound. In the summer of 1999 they ousted al-Zawahiri as the leader of Islamic Jihad and replaced him with a veteran, Tharwat Shehata, who wanted to limit the relationship with bin Laden and concentrate the group's fight against Egypt, not America. But with money scarce and morale low, Shehata soon resigned, and by the spring of 2001 al-Zawahiri had assumed control again. He sent a note to his colleagues in Islamic Jihad proposing a formal merger with bin Laden and al-Qaeda as "a way out of the bottleneck." Borrowing terms from global commerce, he warned of increased market share for "international monopolies"—the CIA and probably also Egyptian intelligence. The merger, he said, could "increase profits"—the publicity and support that terrorism could produce.
From: Ayman al-Zawahiri
Date: May 3, 2001
The following is a summary of our situation: We are trying to return to our previous main activity [probably the merger]. The most important step was starting the school [training camps], the programs of which have been started. We also provided the teachers with means of conducting profitable trade as much as we could. Matters are all promising, except for the unfriendliness of two teachers, despite what we have provided for them. We are patient.
As you know, the situation below in the village [probably Egypt] has become bad for traders [jihadis]. Our Upper Egyptian relatives have left the market, and we are suffering from international monopolies. Conflicts take place between us for trivial reasons, due to the scarcity of resources. We are also dispersed over various cities. However, God had mercy on us when the Omar Brothers Company [the Taliban] here opened the market for traders and provided them with an opportunity to reorganize, may God reward them. Among the benefits of residence here is that traders from all over gather in one place under one company, which increases familiarity and cooperation among them, particularly between us and the Abdullah Contracting Company [bin Laden and his associates]. The latest result of this cooperation is … the offer they gave. Following is a summary of the offer:
Encourage commercial activities [jihad] in the village to face foreign investors; stimulate publicity; then agree on joint work to unify trade in our area. Close relations allowed for an open dialogue to solve our problems. Colleagues here believe that this is an excellent opportunity to encourage sales in general, and in the village in particular. They are keen on the success of the project. They are also hopeful that this may be a way out of the bottleneck to transfer our activities to the stage of multinationals and joint profit. We are negotiating the details with both sides …
Al-Zawahiri's proposal set off a storm of protest from some members of Islamic Jihad, who—again—favored focusing on the struggle against the Egyptian government. They accused al-Zawahiri of leading their group in dangerous directions.
To: Ayman al-Zawahiri
Date: Summer, 2001
Dear brother Abdullah al-Dayem:
[another name for al-Zawahiri]
… I disagree completely with the issue of sales and profits. These are not profits. They are rather a farce of compound losses. I believe that going on in this is a dead end, as if we were fighting ghosts or windmills. Enough of pouring musk on barren land.
I don't believe that we need to give indications of how this unplanned path will fail. All we need to do is to estimate the company's assets since the beginning of this last phase, then take inventory of what remains. Count the number of laborers in your farms [probably cells] at the mother's area [probably Egypt], then see if anyone has stayed. Consider any of the many projects where you enthusiastically participated. Did any of them succeed, other than the Badr external greenhouses, which enjoyed limited success?
All indicators point out that the place and time are not suitable for this type of agriculture. Cotton may not be planted in Siberia, just as apples cannot be planted in hot areas. I'm sure you are aware that wheat is planted in winter and cotton in summer. After all our efforts we haven't seen any crops in winter or summer.
This type of agriculture is ridiculous. It's as if we were throwing good seeds onto barren land.
In previous experiments where the circumstances and seeds were better we made major losses. Now everything has deteriorated. Ask those with experience in agriculture and history.
Despite the protests of certain Islamic Jihad members, a merger with al-Qaeda had been cemented in the spring of 2001, and in June the new group issued "Statement No. 1"—a press release of sorts, found on the computer, that warned the "Zionist and Christian coalition" that "they will soon roast in the same flame they now play with." The following month someone sat down at the computer and composed a short message, titled "The Solution," which trumpeted "martyrdom operations" as the key to the battle against the West. On August 23 another operative tapped out a report on a target-spotting mission in Egypt and Israel that had been carried out by Richard Reid—the British national who would later try to blow up a Paris-to-Miami airline flight with a bomb packed in one of his high-top sneakers. And on that same day in August the following plan for sending an agent on a target-spotting mission to the U.S.-Canadian border region was typed into the computer.
To: Real name unknown
Date: August 23, 2001
Special file for our brother Abu Bakr al-Albani ["the Albanian"] on the nature of his mission.
First, the mission: Gather information on:
1. Information on American soldiers who frequent nightclubs in the America-Canada border areas
2. The Israeli embassy, consulate, and cultural center in Canada
3. If it is possible to enter America and gather information on American soldier checkpoints, or on the American army in the border areas inside America
4. Information on the possibility of obtaining explosive devices inside Canada …
I have given to our brother $1,500 for travel expenses in Canada and America, and also the cost of the ticket for the trip back to us after four months, God willing.
he first evidence of work on the computer following 9/11 comes just days after the attacks, in the form of a promotional video called "The Big Job"—a montage of television footage of the attacks and their chaotic aftermath, all set to rousing victory music. The office was surely busier than it had ever been before, and soon many members of al-Qaeda's inner circle were competing for time on the computer. Ramzi bin al-Shibh, the senior Yemeni operative who coordinated with Khalid Sheikh Muhammad in masterminding the attacks, used the computer to work on a hasty and unfinished ideological justification for the operation, which he titled "The Truth About the New Crusade: A Ruling on the Killing of Women and Children of the Non-Believers," excerpts of which follow:
Concerning the operations of the blessed Tuesday [9/11] … they are legally legitimate, because they are committed against a country at war with us, and the people in that country are combatants. Someone might say that it is the innocent, the elderly, the women, and the children who are victims, so how can these operations be legitimate according to sharia? And we say that the sanctity of women, children, and the elderly is not absolute. There are special cases … Muslims may respond in kind if infidels have targeted women and children and elderly Muslims, [or if] they are being invaded, [or if] the non-combatants are helping with the fight, whether in action, word, or any other type of assistance, [or if they] need to attack with heavy weapons, which do not differentiate between combatants and non-combatants …Now that we know that the operations were permissible from the Islamic point of view, we must answer or respond to those who prohibit the operations from the point of view of benefits or harms …
There are benefits … The operations have brought about the largest economic crisis that America has ever known. Material losses amount to one trillion dollars. America has lost about two thousand economic brains as a result of the operations. The stock exchange dropped drastically, and American consumer spending deteriorated. The dollar has dropped, the airlines have been crippled, the American globalization system, which was going to spoil the world, is gone …
Because of Saddam and the Baath Party, America punished a whole population. Thus its bombs and its embargo killed millions of Iraqi Muslims. And because of Osama bin Laden, America surrounded Afghans and bombed them, causing the death of tens of thousands of Muslims … God said to assault whoever assaults you, in a like manner … In killing Americans who are ordinarily off limits, Muslims should not exceed four million non-combatants, or render more than ten million of them homeless. We should avoid this, to make sure the penalty [that we are inflicting] is no more than reciprocal. God knows what is best.
Osama bin Laden himself was composing letters on the computer just weeks before the fall of Kabul. In them he defiantly addressed the American people with a statement of al-Qaeda's goals, which he then went on to spell out at much greater length for Mullah Omar, in the spirit of a powerful, high-level political adviser offering advice to a head of state.
To: The American People
From: Osama bin Laden
Date: October 3, 2001
What takes place in America today was caused by the flagrant interference on the part of successive American governments into others' business. These governments imposed regimes that contradict the faith, values, and lifestyles of the people. This is the truth that the American government is trying to conceal from the American people.
Our current battle is against the Jews. Our faith tells us we shall defeat them, God willing. However, Muslims find that the Americans stand as a protective shield and strong supporter, both financially and morally. The desert storm that blew over New York and Washington should, in our view, have blown over Tel Aviv. The American position obliged Muslims to force the Americans out of the arena first to enable them to focus on their Jewish enemy. Why are the Americans fighting a battle on behalf of the Jews? Why do they sacrifice their sons and interests for them?
To: Mullah Omar
From: Osama bin Laden
Folder: Deleted File (Recovered)
Date: October 3, 2001
Highly esteemed Leader of the Faithful,
Mullah Muhammad Omar, Mujahid,
May God preserve him …
1- We treasure your message, which confirms your generous, heroic position in defending Islam and in standing up to the symbols of infidelity of this time.
2- I would like to emphasize the major impact of your statements on the Islamic world. Nothing harms America more than receiving your strong response to its positions and statements. Thus it is very important that the Emirate respond to every threat or demand from America … with demands that America put an end to its support of Israel, and that U.S. forces withdraw from Saudi Arabia. Such responses nullify the effect of the American media on people's morale.
Newspapers mentioned that a recent survey showed that seven out of every ten Americans suffer psychological problems following the attacks on New York and Washington.
Although you have already made strong declarations, we ask you to increase them to equal the opponent's media campaign in quantity and force.
Their threat to invade Afghanistan should be countered by a threat on your part that America will not be able to dream of security until Muslims experience it as reality in Palestine and Afghanistan.
3- Keep in mind that America is currently facing two contradictory problems:
a) If it refrains from responding to jihad operations, its prestige will collapse, thus forcing it to withdraw its troops abroad and restrict itself to U.S. internal affairs. This will transform it from a major power to a third-rate power, similar to Russia.
b) On the other hand, a campaign against Afghanistan will impose great long-term economic burdens, leading to further economic collapse, which will force America, God willing, to resort to the former Soviet Union's only option: withdrawal from Afghanistan, disintegration, and contraction.
Thus our plan in the face of this campaign should focus on the following:
—Serving a blow to the American economy, which will lead to:
a) Further weakening of the American economy
b) Shaking the confidence in the American economy. This will lead investors to refrain from investing in America or participating in American companies, thus accelerating the fall of the American economy …
—Conduct a media campaign to fight the enemy's publicity. The campaign should focus on the following important points:
a) Attempt to cause a rift between the American people and their government, by demonstrating the following to the Americans:
—That the U.S. government will lead them into further losses of money and lives.
—That the government is sacrificing the people to serve the interests of the rich, particularly the Jews.
—That the government is leading them to the war front to protect Israel and its security.
—America should withdraw from the current battle between Muslims and Jews.
This plan aims to create pressure from the American people on their government to stop its campaign against Afghanistan, on the grounds that the campaign will cause major losses to the American people.
—Imply that the campaign against Afghanistan will be responded to with revenge blows against America.
I believe that we can issue, with your permission, a number of speeches that we expect will have the greatest impact, God willing, on the American, Pakistani, Arab, and Muslim people.
Finally, I would like to emphasize how much we appreciate the fact that you are our Emir. I would like to express our great appreciation of your historical stands in the service of Islam and in the defense of the Prophet's tradition. We ask God to accept and reward such stands.
We ask God to grant the Muslim Afghani nation, under your leadership, victory over the American infidels, just as He singled this nation out with the honor of defeating the Communist infidels.
We ask God to lead you to the good of both this life and the afterlife.
Peace upon you and God's mercy and blessings.
Osama Bin Muhammad Bin Laden
---End of article----
Tips for the Traveling Terrorist (first sidebar)
The al-Qaeda desktop computer contains voluminous "security" files devoted to, among other things, modern spycraft. The training offered is practical; students are told, for example, how to photograph a bombing target, use invisible ink, and evade police surveillance. The computer's manuals also focus on the broader history of partisan warfare and refer to an eclectic collection of role models, among them Aristotle, Jesus, Ahmed Kamel (the former head of Egyptian General Intelligence), and even the Israeli leader Menachem Begin, whose book The Revolt (1951), about his days as a terrorist fighting British rule in Palestine, is quoted approvingly at great length. The manuals devote special care to teaching recruits how to pass unnoticed in the West, and include the following advice:
Don't wear short pants that show socks when you're standing up. The pants should cover the socks, because intelligence authorities know that fundamentalists don't wear long pants …
If a person, for example, wears a T-shirt or a shirt that has the drawing of a spirit—that is, a bird, an animal, etc.—don't cut off the head [the Islamic tradition frowns on the depiction of living beings]. Either wear it with the drawing, or don't wear it at all. Moreover, you should never carry any item of clothing in your suitcase where the pictures have been tampered with, or where the head of the animal or bird has been cut off.
Don't wear clothes made in suspect countries such as Iran, Pakistan, Iraq, Libya, Sudan, North Korea, Cuba, etc.
Underwear should be the normal type that people wear, not anything that shows you're a fundamentalist.
A long time before traveling—especially from Khartoum—the person should always wear socks and shoes, to get rid of cracks [in the feet that come from extended barefoot walking], which take about a week to cure …
If the mission requires wearing a chain, you should show it by opening the top buttons of the shirt …
Never use the perfumes used by the brothers [fundamentalists].
You should differentiate between:
a) Perfume used only after shaving—"After Shave" is written on the bottle. This type is used only on the chin and nowhere else.
b) Perfumes—marked "Lotion"—that are placed anywhere on the clothes, on the head, behind the ears, etc.
You should use the type of perfume for the underarms that usually comes in the shape of a soap ball. You should never use any other type of normal perfume under the arms.
You should differentiate between men and women's perfume. If you use women's perfume, you are in trouble.
Letters From a Young Martyr (Sidebar #2)
By the late 1990s suicide operations had become a core element of al-Qaeda's strategy. Not long after 9/11 a functionary in al-Qaeda's Kabul office named Azmiray al-Maarek was chosen for a suicide operation. He drafted several farewell letters, including one to bin Laden and one to his own wife. He also composed a series of poems for bin Laden. His fate is unknown.
To: Osama bin Laden
From: Azmiray al-Maarek
Folder: Deleted File (Recovered)
Date: November 4, 2001
God protect you, and grant you highest rewards for me and for the Islamic nation. I would have liked to pray in Jerusalem but I may precede you in going where the permanent heaven is. Please be pious and firm. Here is a group of my poems. I wrote the poem "Going to God" after you gave me the good news [about being selected for a suicide operation]. Please read all these poems, particularly the last one, in public. I hope you will fulfill this wish after I die in the battle against the enemies of religion. Be hopeful. This religion will certainly be victorious. You are one of the symbols through the hands of whom God will grant us victory. You are the guardian of the Muslim nation. Nobody in our time has cared more about it. I have left my will with the brothers in Kandahar. My numbers are in the will, so please give my mother the good news. Please ask all the brothers to forgive me after my death.
God reward you for me. If I am a martyr I will ask God's forgiveness for you. I hope for God's mercy. An hour of patience is the key to heaven.I hope that God joins us in heaven.
"Going to God"
I am going to God, mother
I am going to live in His mercy
My feet will lead (guide) me
God willing, to His orders and right path.
Don't be sad, sing and ululate.
God has chosen me
As a man, for I have lived every day
As a man that bought his religion and sold his whims.
Mother of my son, be hopeful and patient.
We will meet in heaven.
I will die for my nation to live.
I will be alive in heaven.
Just one push on the trigger and I'm over,
Thus disfiguring the face of the enemies.
May the faces of those who don't fear God be disfigured,
The faces of those who don't defend Him.
May the cowards never sleep.
It is shameful what is happening in Jerusalem.
Get up, coward, as a man,
And perform glorious acts. Don't fear.
Father, forgive my sins,
And feel proud of the son you'll meet in heaven.
For the principle we lived forI will die so that you may live by it, father.
To: His wife [unnamed]
From: Azmiray al-Maarek
Folder: Deleted File (Recovered)
Date: November 6, 2001
Mother of Ibrahim,
By the time you receive this will, I will be in the craws of birds, God willing, after having performed a martyrdom operation against the country of infidelity. This operation, God willing, will turn the tide for Islam and Muslims. My darling, and mother of my son, be pious and patient. I have preceded you to a place the inhabitants of which don't suffer. Follow me there through obedience to God … Know that my death is martyrdom, my imprisonment hermitage, my exile tourism in God's land. I would like to meet you in heaven, so please help me by waking up at night to pray, fasting during the day, and staying away from temptation. God is my witness that I am satisfied with you. Any woman who dies after having obtained her husband's satisfaction is worthy of heaven. I ask God to grant you heaven. God is my witness that all your deeds were good. You were the best wife, friend, and companion. God bless you. Prayers be upon the Prophet Muhammad, all his family, and his companions.
Father of Ibrahim,
John Gilmore has sued John Ashcroft to discern the constitutionality of secret laws requiring us to provide ID to travel. This is one of the most important suits to have developed in the wake of the terror attacks 3 years ago. I am a firm believer in the notion that the United States must not sacrifice those elements of its society and structure that define it as American lest the terrorists accomplish their goals. "Destruction of America" is not limited to the collapse of the nation or death of all citizens. When we no longer protect the freedoms and as citizens are not able to live the lives we used to cherish, we would be vanquished.
Security is essential, no doubt about it. But security is never absolute; it is always a tradeoff. I for one would not trade away the aspects of America that make it so wonderful for anything. Many of the measures introduced as security really don't accomplish all that much as far as make us safer and some of them step beyond the line in preserving life for Americans.
Take 5 minutes and click that link and read the first couple pages. It is short and easy to read and does an excellent job of explaining his position. This is a vital issue to the future of our country and I am behind Gilmore all the way.
I bought this book because I've known Zinni by name for a while. He is the only military commander outside of politics and war (think Powell and Schwarzkopf) that I've known. The main reason why even that happened is that I caught some testimony by him around the time my brother joined the Marines and paid attention because of that connection. I don't remember the topic or substance of his Congressional testimony at that time but do remember that I was impressed that he wasn't a blowhard hawk like the Chiefs of Staff in the movie 13 Days. I was furthermore interested in Zinni when he was sent to the Middle East following his retirement as a peace envoy. Other than these incidents, I didn't know much about him but maintained a passing respectful interest.
I then heard that he and Tom Clancy had written a book that criticized President Bush and the war in Iraq. I knew that a number of military leaders had spoken out against the proposals to go to war and was interested in what Zinni said. Even Tom Clancy has been interviewed and expressed his deep dissatisfaction with the President on this issue. So I bought the book and finished it today.
It's mostly written by Zinni. The earlier chapters have some historical background provided by Clancy but the later chapters are almost entirely Zinni. The book is a professional biography (as in biography of a professional) that looks at Zinni's military career. It begins in Vietnam and ends during Zinni's post-retirement diplomatic career, which appears to be dead, at least for now, following his critique of the administration's plans.
It's all about Zinni and predictably talks only in the most glowing terms. Zinni himself comes off as humble but Clancy pumps him up almost laughably in places. The book has a few main themes: Zinni's career, his philosophy and the events that contributed to it, and an insider's look at a number of major events and operations.
It was interesting and enjoyable but disappointingly didn't really take on the Bush administration at all. He mentions that he was sidelined because of his opposition and talks about how certain expectations he has for leadership are not being met, but these don't come to center stage at any point in the book. It is clear that Zinni would not have executed the war the way he did, but he doesn't take time to delve into why or what he would have done differently. So in that respect the book was unfulfilling.
Zinni's was an advisor in Vietnam and rode shotgun with Vietnamese soldiers. It seems that we tend to forget that Americans weren't the only soldiers fighting that war and the the South Vietnamese had an indigenous army that was really the main protagonist. Zinni's stories about working as a rookie advisor and his development trajectory are insightful and interesting. He gets REALLY sick towards the end of his first tour and then gets his back blown off by short-range small arms fire in his second.
His career moves on up and he talks about challenges he faced as commander of larger and larger units in the US Marine Corps. His experiences in dealing with racial conflict on his base, refugees following the Gulf War, and Mogadishu, Somalia, were of special interest. We see the duties and expectations of Majors and Generals in action and are provided with a birdseye view of what happened. I found Zinni's perspective of the Somalia incident to be of particular interest if for no other reason than his balanced opinion of the demonized enemy Aideed.
He closes the book with a general discussion of some of the influences on his philosophy (Catholic school and a big Italian family, mainly) and then goes on to talk about the need for military men and women to be principled and put those principles beyond their careers. He highlights how politics interferes with military matters. He impressed me with his realizations of the changes happening and the need for the military to respond to them. It is reassuring to know that people like Zinni are in charge of our military and I hope that more people like him continue to be promoted. I wish that more politicians and planners would listen to his pleas for help in reorganizing the purpose and function of the military as well.
The final theme that he closes the book with is that the days of classic warfare are essentially over or are minimally drastically reduced. The US military has perfected battlefield execution (no pun intended) but has failed to develop peripheral aspects taht typify modern conflict. Development and prevention are the tools that are most useful in securing our feature, he claims, yet the military is not well equipped in that regard. Winning the peace should become a more important if not the most important focus in the aims of the armed forces. He challenges our leadership to develop and implement a vision that gives the military a prominent role in developing security outside of the battlefield. Whether that will happen or not remains to be seen.
Comments on this book or review are welcome.
House of Bush, House of Saud.
Craig Unger's book has gotten more airplay since the tidal wave of media attention sparked by Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 movie. It is usually mentioned as a book that explores Bush's close relationship with the Saudi Royal family and is represented as almost a smear attempt. I've vacillated on whether to buy it or not and finally picked up last week as part of a big batch of books I bought.
I finished it yesterday and was very impressed. It is fairly non-partisan throughout, although there are a few places where the author does stretch a little bit (calling Bush the "Arabian Candidate" following his relations with American Muslims in the 2000 relationship was a bit much, I thought). These are few and far between though and do not represent the overall tone of the book.
The whole "House Of Bush/Saud" notion is a bit forced and contrived and actually a bit off target for the scope of the book. It is actually more about the Saudis and their attempts to create contacts in power in American government. Their course takes them through Texas beginning in the 1970s and they do connect up with George H. W. Bush early on. Undoubtedly the relations between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia have been enhanced by the relationship between GHWB and particular Saudi family/ gov't (they are the same) members but it is less about Houses and more a history of what happened over the last 30 years.
It's an interesting story of how influential relationships are forged and maintained and there are plenty of nuggets of information that will surprise people. The book isn't intended to be a non-critical history but it does play fair. Part of the fairness comes from Unger's clear representation of his dissatisfaction with the current President's behavior and Unger's belief that the history of relations between Saudi Arabia and powerful people in US government who are also close to the Bush family has affected Bush's behavior following 9/11, which was an attack by Saudi Arabians more than anyone else.
Unger's book is detailed in exploring the relationships between Saudi Arabia and American government. Leaving George W. Bush out of it (he actually doesn't even come into it until the end anyway), the book deserves to be read just so people can see how our government (and Saudi Arabia's) work. Amazing, really.
Unger presents a balanced view to his general arguments. There are many immediate footnotes (at the bottom of the page, not hidden at the end of the book, so you can read them right away) that provide qualifications and counterpoints. If the FBI disputes reported facts, he mentions it. One particularly damning relationship for GWB was with a Florida Muslim leader who helped GWB win 88% of the Floridian Muslim vote but ended up being arrested for his leadership and fundraising ties to pro-Palestinian terrorists groups. This man is also on record at Muslim rallies calling on the death of Jews (he once said something akin to he'd kill a Jew for $500). Unger grants a footnote to this guy's lawyer who reports that the man regrets saying things that feel good in the heat of the moment at a rally but in retrospect aren't such good things to say. Other times Unger notes that allegations and trials have not been confirmed or convicted. He doesn't just talk about the information that helps his theme. It comes across very balanced in spite of the few exceptions I mentioned early on.
It is an easy to read book. There are a lot of Arab names but Unger does a good job of reminding us who was who throughout the story. There is a lot of good information provided and most of it is historical and unrelated (directly at least) to the sitting president. Even ardent conservatives and enemies of the left who think this is just a muckraking book of lies ought to give it a gander. They won't agree with everything but the overall trend presented is rather disturbing even outside of current events. It is about 270 pages but it reads easily.
Feel free to comment on this post.