It’s been out for a little while, but I finally got around to reading “Inside Al Qaeda’s Hard Drive”:http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200409/cullison, by Alan Cullison, in September’s issue of _The Atlantic_.
(Atlantic has recently limited most of its online content to subscribers; I’m not sure whether this article is open to everyone or not. When they did it took me all of two seconds to decide to shell out for a subscription, and I did so happily. Ironically I haven’t been keeping very close tabs on Atlantic content lately, but now that I’m paying for it, I probably will again.)
Anyway, it’s one of those read-it-if-at-all-possible sorts of things. Cullison got his hands on a couple Al Qaeda laptops in the aftermath of major fighting in Afghanistan, and managed to copy the contents of one of the hard drives before he had to turn them over to the CIA. The best parts of the article are excerpts from a variety of translated and decoded email messages and other documents that provide a glimpse into the iner workings of the organization.
No _huge_ surprises in the material — they’re still a bunch of psycho bastards. But I was surprised by their degree of infighting, bureaucratic finagling, and sheer naivete about Western culture. One thing that comes clear is how hard it was to attract followers to Bin Laden’s extremist vision. The group was seeking for imams to justify their attacks on innocent women and children. Al-Zawahiri had trouble keeping his old compatriots in Islamic Jihad in line, because they wanted to stay focused in Egypt and saw Bin Laden as a publicity hound. It’s not hard to see how a concerted attack on Al Qaeda’s assets, combined with a “well thought out response”:http://www.slate.com/id/2070210/entry/2070211/ to the larger issue of terrorism, might have successfully squashed these guys like the bugs they are. Instead, we got the Iraq War.