From Cornell International Affairs Review VOL. 4 NO. 2
Adapt-Qaeda: Analyzing the Relationship Between Ideology, Organizational Transformation, and the Exploitation of Information Technology
Al-Qaeda is now actively adhering to al-Suri's understanding of the role information technology can play in the global and mass indoctrination and mobilization of Muslims.19 It employs web forums where members can discuss relevant issues and that link to manuals that provide guidance on various topics, including software packages and explosives. Videos of beheadings, sniper kills, and speeches, as well as other vehicles of propaganda such as online videogames that have strong jihadi sentiments, are continually uploaded and broadcasted.
Al-Qaeda has also used the Internet to spread scholarly writings that support al-Qaeda's worldview and discredit figures and writings that criticize their position. It has also exploited the Internet for fundraising, surveillance, and operational communication (Saltman 5; "Al-Qaeda: The Many Faces of an Islamist Extremist Threat" 27). yTimothy L. Thomas has labeled this array of online activities as "cyberplanning." According to Thomas, cyberplanning "provides terrorists with anonymity, command and control resources, and a host of other measures to coordinate and integrate attack options… [it] refers to the digital coordination of an integrated plan stretching across geographical boundaries that may or may not result in bloodshed. It can include cyberterrorism as part of the overall plan (Thomas 112-113).
A US Army Sergeant receives road activity reports from a local and his interpretor in Nuristan Province, Afghanistan.
Al-Qaeda's strategic exploitation of the Internet has resulted in the realization of al-Suri's vision of bringing jihad to the masses. Unable to conduct violent operations as a result of tactical limitations and forced to rely on independent-minded organizations that are apt to contradict its vision, al-Qaeda has turned to the Internet to ensure the coherence of its ideology and network with Muslim and non-Muslim "lone wolves" committed to the furtherance of its tenets.
Anyone interested in joining the al-Qaeda cause can access these web products and learn and understand the ideological underpinnings of the organization's efforts, discover operational tactics such as how to form an autonomous cell or create explosives, learn about propaganda and recruitment techniques, and acquire financial and other types of assistance for terrorism-related activities from al-Qaeda ("Al-Qaeda: The Many Faces of an Islamist Extremist Threat" 26-27).
Al-Qaeda's strategic exploitation of the internet has resulted in the realization of al-Suri's vision of bringing jihad to the masses.
As we can see from the above discussion, Al-Qaeda's exploitation of the Internet is directly related to the "dune" organizational qualities it exhibits. AlQaeda has strategically overcome its chaotic communication structure and minimal command and control by exploiting the Internet and other digital technologies. Indeed, this exploitation and advance use of technology is one attribute that separates alQaeda from other hierarchical and network terrorist organizations (see Intentions v. Capabilities in Appendix).
Thus, despite the crippling of al-Qaeda's leadership and the weakness present in its organizational structure, al-Qaeda has adopted an entrepreneurial and opportunistic approach to technology that provides for the globalization" of its ideology.20 The jihadi ideology espoused by al-Qaeda is now embedded in online discourses that are accessible by anyone interested in joining the cause. According to the Saudi researcher Khaled al-Faram, "[t]here are now about 5,600 Web sites spreading al Qaeda's ideology worldwide, and 900 more are appearing each year" (Hassan).21
Indeed, it is arguable that al-Qaeda's ideology no longer requires the support of a centralized organization to maintain its relevance. The Internet, rather than a hierarchical or network organization, contributes to the proliferation of al-Qaeda's Al-Qaeda's strategic exploitation of the internet has resulted in the realization of al-Suri's vision of bringing jihad to the masses. A US Army Sergeant receives road activity reports from a local and his interpretor in Nuristan Province, Afghanistan. "clash of civilization" paradigm.22 Paul Eedle has succinctly made this point: "Whether bin Ladin or al Qaeda's Egyptian theorist Ayman al-Zawahiri and their colleagues are on a mountain in the Hindu Kush or living with their beards shaved off in a suburb of Karachi no longer matters to the organization. They can inspire and guide a worldwide movement without physically meeting their followers— without knowing who they are" (Thomas 122).
Implications of the E-naissance
Most commentators concur that alQaeda has incorporated the Internet and other technologies into its propaganda, recruitment, and operations arsenal, but the extent to which "e-jihad" has translated into actual attacks—that is, terror—is debatable. The emergence of Muslims residing in the West engaging with al-Qaeda or one of its affiliates and executing attacks is directly related to alQaeda's ideological activities on the Internet: Recent cases show clearly how al-Qaeda's traveling, transnational ideology bridged the divide between class, space and recruitment techniques.
It served as an attractive magnet for high-achievers like the Christmas day bomber, Nigeria's Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab, an engineering graduate of London University; Fort Hood's Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan; five integrated American Muslims from northern Virginia; and a Jordanian doctor, Humam al-Balawi, an informant-turned suicide bomber who killed seven U.S. intelligence agents on the CIA base in Khost province, near the Afghan-Pakistan border. What these individuals had in common was that they were radicalized online, on their own, while living an integrated life mostly in the West (Gerges).
After discovering al-Qaeda's ideologies, the various individuals listed above contacted and sought guidance from al-Qaeda or one of its affiliates. The 7/7 bombings that targeted the London transportation system also illustrate the impact of al-Qaeda's Internet activities. Al-Qaeda provided no financial assistance to the terrorists that conducted this attack. Al-Qaeda's involvement in the attack was restricted to its posting of bombmaking instructions that the London terrorists had downloaded from an al-Qaeda website (Bruno). As evident from the above examples, the "networking" between Muslims in the West and al-Qaeda has been minimal and, in its current form, is unable to produce a wellcoordinated, devastating attack (Blair 11).
Evidently, the mass mobilization that al-Suri envisioned has not materialized. Whether this trend will continue, however, is unknown and likely dependent on the activity of other actors and other geopolitical considerations.23 Nevertheless, it is important to note that the Internet continues to serve as a repository and amplifier for al-Qaeda's ideology and an access point for individuals inside and outside the Muslim world seeking to join al-Qaeda's efforts and engage in terrorist attacks. AlQaeda's Internet activity has also factored into its relationship with its affiliates and other organizations and its funding.
This paper has traced the organizational transformation of al-Qaeda. It has noted that al-Qaeda initially exhibited a hierarchical system and then a hub network approach. Following 9/11 and the U.S assault in Afghanistan, the environment in which al-Qaeda acted within was drastically altered and organizational changes became necessary. Employing the concept of a "dune" organization to explain the unique and fluid organizational features al-Qaeda now exhibits, it was demonstrated that al-Qaeda no longer maintains an institutional presence and lacks effective command and control and communication chains.
In order to overcome these organizational limitations and their tactical disadvantages, al-Qaeda reconsidered its use of the Internet in particular and information technology in general. Al-Qaeda has established an institutional presence on the Internet by employing videos, forums, speeches, and other publications that support West and al-Qaeda has been minimal and, in its current form, is unable to produce a wellcoordinated, devastating attack (Blair 11). Evidently, the mass mobilization that al-Suri envisioned has not materialized. Whether this trend will continue, however, is unknown and likely dependent on the activity of other actors and other geopolitical considerations.
Nevertheless, it is important to note that the Internet continues to serve as a repository and amplifier for al-Qaeda's ideology and an access point for individuals inside and outside the Muslim world seeking to join al-Qaeda's efforts and engage in terrorist attacks. AlQaeda's Internet activity has also factored into its relationship with its affiliates and other organizations and its funding.
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