One of our best hopes for defeating al-Qaida is that it is becoming more and more like an ineffectual medium-size corporation, one that has grown just large enough that proper completion of company paper work is more important that actually producing anything.
There were hints of this in captured document troves in Afghanistan and Pakistan but it was in Timbuktu the West discovered how deeply the red-tape rot had infested the terrorist organization.
There were HR manuals, regular performance reviews, personnel records and detailed monthly expense reports demanding receipts for the usual — office supplies, travel, vehicle repair, entertainment (whole goat or half?), weapons and explosives.
One of al-Qaida’s more effective commanders was dilatory about filing reports when he bothered to file them at all; he frequently refused to answer phone calls from headquarters and had what his superiors considered an offensively dismissive attitude toward paper work.
The 14-member Shura Council in North Africa, a sort of local board of directors, chastised Moktar Belmoktar for failing to keep up his paperwork, and hinted at his cowardice for not carrying out operations when there were money and manpower available.
Belmoktar finally had enough of demands from the corporate suits. The last straw was a letter with 31 bullet points laying out performance standards he was to meet to keep his job. In reply, Belmoktar went out on his own and killed 101 people in attacks on BP facilities in Algeria and Niger.
Now comes another move in the direction of corporate organization — the directives from the Information Technology department. Al-Qaida is not quite at the level of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act but it might prove to be an effective counterterrorism tool to airdrop cases of Arab translations of “Sarb-Ox” regulations into terrorist training camps.
The Pakistan-based extremist site, al-Minbar Jihadi Media Network, has published a list of tips on computer security, including disguising IP addresses, because, with a known IP address, the next visitor through the doorway may be a CIA drone.
According to The Wall Street Journal, the IT precautions sound like something a Western grade school would try to inculcate in their students when they receive their first iPads.
“For starters: You are never anonymous on the Web,” something Anthony Weiner could have told them, not that he tried to keep the identity of his private parts any kind of secret.
Some of the extremists’ other tips according to the Journal: Don’t trust anyone you meet online; use a different identity with everyone you deal with. The reason not to trust anyone online is that 19-year-old, model and cheerleader whose parents are out of town for the weekend may actually be a pair of 250-pound deputy sheriffs waiting for you when you show up on the doorstep with a bouquet of peonies. Deputy sheriffs hate peonies.
Here’s another: Memorize your passwords. The jihadis probably have very few functions that require passwords, but as their computer functions grow they’ll need more and more passwords. Here’s a trick you can use: Write your passwords down on Post-It notes and stick them up all over your cubicle. No one is going to take the trouble to copy them down. Besides, it’s an indication that what you’re hiding isn’t all that important. You could keep the plans to a budget nuclear bomb secret forever by using the name of your first dog as a password.
Al Minbar does have a scary new development. Says the site, “This pulpit has gone through days in which the enemies of Allah and the tyrants of the earth tried their best to kill it and close this vent of the Islamic lung.”
It used to be you had to mix your metaphors by hand. Now the extremists have software that does it for you.
Dale McFeatters writes for the Scripps Howard News Service.