Lighting The Path: The Evolution of the Islamic State Media Enterprise

TIME: 10th January 2017, 13:00 – 14:00

VENUE: Committee Room 3, House of Lords, Palace of Westminster, London, SW1A 1AA

SPEAKER: Dr Craig Whiteside, Associate Fellow, International Centre for Counter-Terrorism

Lord Kilclooney: Terrorism, as you know, is a subject of great concern right across the world. Not only because it affects the economy of countries, it affects tourism, affects trade and it is a denial of democracy and of course it brings about many people personal problems such as Frank Gardner that I mentioned. I myself when I was a minister of Northern Ireland responsible for security was attacked by the IRA terrorists (inaudible) ten bullets in my body (inaudible) my head mostly. I’m still sane I think but it is a big problem and spreading right across the world and of course as we look at the Middle East it’s quite terrifying what’s happening. I have been a regular visitor to Turkey over the last forty years since 1972 and I have seen the drift towards extremism in Turkey over those years, particularly the last five years, especially under President Erdogan and it is worrying the way Turkey is going at the moment because of terrorism and of course we all know about Syria and about Iraq and so on. Can I just say how pleased we are to have Dr Whiteside with us. He is an Associate Fellow at the International Centre for Counter-terrorism, I hope we can have successful Counter-terrorism, an Associate Professor (inaudible) the Naval War College at Monterey and teaches at the Naval Postgraduate School. He’s a Senior Associate with the Centre on Irregular Warfare and Armed Groups at the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island and lectures at US Air Force Special Operations School. Dr Whiteside’s current research focuses on the doctrinal influences of the leadership of the Islamic State movement, the evolution of its political-military doctrine since 1999 and the tribal engagement strategy that has fuelled its return since 2008. His Doctoral research investigated the political world view of the Islamic State of Iraq. He is a graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point and Washington State University. Dr Whiteside I’m really looking forward to this because I’ve (inaudible) ISIS right throughout the Middle East and Islamic extremism across the world including cases like the Philippines and Indonesia and so on, it’s all over it’s not just the Middle East, so I look forward to listening to you very much indeed.

Dr Craig Whiteside: Thank you for that introduction. Thank you for coming to talk. I apologise up front, I have a little bit of a sinus issue so if you can’t hear me just yell at me from the back but thank you for coming and I’d like to thank the Henry Jackson Society for having me. As Lord Kilclooney said I’m a Washington State graduate, Henry Jackson was a famous politician from Washington State so there’s a great connection there. It’s a pleasure to be here. I’d also like to thank Kyle for making this happen, Kyle and I have collaborated and debated and talked quite a lot about some of these issues which, some of them, will come up so Kyle if you don’t like what I’m saying just feel free to kick in. I’ll try to keep my remarks very limited, oh I’d like to also thank Alistair (inaudible). Can you say hi Alistair? He sponsored his paper, this paper would not have been written if he hadn’t asked me to write it which is the way things go. A lot of this stuff goes in my head from research on my dissertation but also follow on research that I’ve done with another fellow from the ICCT. This talk is based on this ICCT paper called Lighting the Path and my partner who helped me write it is a journalist based out of Europe and he’s a silent partner because, as many of you know, journalists who work in Iraq and in Syria and in Libya are in a very dangerous occupation. Since I’m a Naval War College professor he did not want that association with me, a lot of people do not want an association with me but he particularly, for his own safety, did not but we share something in common which is an interest in this organisation and how it’s developed over the years. This paper is a history so it’s quite dry and boring and I’ll try to highlight some of the parts that I think are important and it’s also a set of observations of what I think this history might tell us about the group. From Sun Tzu’s kind of (inaudible) know your enemy and your adversary, that’s where that’s coming from. This paper does not try to presuppose any solutions to this particular problem. I know some of you might be disappointed to hear that but it’s quite a complex problem and I don’t think there’s any one particular answer but hopefully what I talk about in the twenty minutes, so Kyle keep your eye (inaudible), is helpful. We can open it up for questions and you can ask me questions, I do study the strategy of the group but other than that I’d prefer to talk about media and information. There’s been a lot of content analysis of this group’s videos, their messaging, any of their propaganda products and it’s quite good. Charlie (inaudible) from the UK is one of them and has done extensive research on what the content is, what are they trying to say, what’s their message what are their themes, how prolific are they and that’s usually what people really want to understand. I spend a lot of time in organisations and I think for business folks and people who spend a lot of time in bureaucracies and organisations, you’re more interested, a little bit, in how these organisations are able to survive adversaries and to expand operations. So, for example, at the peak of their propaganda output in 2015 there was about two hundred unique products a week, all high quality products. That’s pretty phenomenal and what inspired me and my partner to research this was: what is the organisation that is behind this, that can produce this and how did they evolve into that over time? How did they innovate to become as successful as they are? Which I think we can admit they are somewhat successful. So we looked at the people, the ideas and the structure, those three things, and how they worked together to create this relative success. As I call it in the Paper they are easily the most successful insurgent organisation we’ve seen in quite some time. Not only that, they’ve created the most successful propaganda influence arm I think without peer and I’m not sure that there is anyone out there who’s done (inaudible). In this talk I’ll talk more about the people because, to be honest, structure and how they expanded and some of their products are very well known and it can be boring sometimes and also because Clausewitz reminds us to never underestimate the soldiers and (inaudible) the people that actually make thing happen. So I’m going to talk about three people you’ve probably never heard of but they helped create this organisation which is the Islamic State Media Department and talk about its other leadership. If the history of the Islamic state movement, as I call it, can be confusing to most people as far as being called Al-Qaeda in Iraq previously or the Islamic State of Iraq or (inaudible) Jihad or any number of names that they’ve had, the Mujahedeen Shura Council. These are political evolutions which I think most politicians would understand but it’s not pretty, they’re different people at different times coming together. The Propaganda or the Information Department is the most continuous organisation, which I find to be very interesting. It was created in 2004 and it’s had a very straight line of development since that particular time period and I’ll start with the first spokesman and I’m going to talk in each of these time phases of the history of this Media Organisation in terms of their spokesman and their Media Emir, or the CEO if you will of the Media Enterprise. We’ll start with the first one, Abu Maysara was the very first spokesman of the Islamic State Movement, he was a young college student with no media experience. This was their first spokesman his background was a religious student which is common to all of the spokesmen that this organisation has had. He was in the underground movement pre 2003 under Saddam in the Salafi movement which is an extremely extreme religious Sunni Islam proponency group and interestingly enough he was Shia. So for those nations and people who are trying to come to grips with the fact that Americans or Europeans are joining this particular group you have a Shia, someone who was born Shia, who took up or adopted this particular brand of Sunni Islam and he was born in (inaudible) Baghdad. He studied under Subhi al-Badri which is most likely the same teacher that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who is the current Caliph, studied under along with many others in this underground Salafi movement. I think what is of interest for a lot of us here is these underground movements where they came from. A lot of times we try to attribute causation to external influences, let’s say the United States invasion or the Coalition invasion of Iraq in 2003, however disastrous that decision was, it doesn’t necessarily follow that this particular group and people like Abu Nasr al-Iraqi were inflamed or that this caused their participation in that movement. He joined Zarqawi, he’s one of the first Iraqi recruits to join Zarqawi, who is the founder of the Islamic State. He had spent time in Saddam’s jails as an extremist already. He spent two years as a spokesman and again his primary qualification was his ability to marry up the actions of the group with the religious prescriptions that existed and he was able to do this as a religious student, of course he was a young religious student. The other was that he was computer savvy in 2004 which allowed him to conduct early uploads of videos from what was appearing all over Baghdad internet service providers and he was able to upload propaganda from Iraq and it would get a worldwide viewing. Now granted those were somewhat restricted views on Jihadist websites. At any point the United States and the Coalition spent a lot of time trying to track him down and stop him doing what he was doing, particularly in the cyber domain, and failed which is ironic. He was to (inaudible) the value of technology and was able to basically outsmart or outmanoeuvre the United States and all its assets in trying to get him off of the web, it’s obviously a problem that exists and continues to this day. He was eventually killed and tracked down in, what I estimate to be, one of the earlier casualties of cyber war itself. There was a book called Relentless Strike which describes how the Joint Special Operations Command bugged and hacked computers in Baghdad and were able to trace the uploads to this particular person and he so eventually killed. So Abu Maysara, the first spokesman, was killed after about two and a half years as a very highly wanted man. His partner was an unknown. The Media Emir, the person who ran the organisation was relatively unknown, he was captured by the Americans sometime in 2006. His capture most likely led to, he was captured by British Special Forces by the way, Zarqawi’s death; that story is fairly well known so I won’t touch on it but he did not have any media experience either. His background was completely religious, he was the executive in making the organisation run but he did not have any experience whatsoever. So mid-2006 the organisation, which is at its peak militarily and in its activities in Iraq at the time, has lost both of its media figures due to a relentless chase of this particular organisation. Not only that their close connections to Zarqawi are what get him killed because Zarqawi has to interface with the Media Department. He has to do videos, to do strategic communications and this vulnerability is what almost destroys the organisation around 2006, particularly the Media Department, and they have to reconstruct it. The problem is that, despite their ability to kind of outfox the coalition and get their propaganda on the web, the Media Department is too small, is too centralised and is too close to the leadership and so what they decided to do was to expand it beyond just a central office. This is a key decision in 2006 that enables this group to be resilient. With Zarqawi dead, the Media Department hired on Muharib al-Jibouri who was not a member of Zarqawi’s original group. He was the Salafi leader of another resistance group that merged with the Islamic State movement. Why is this important? Well I think it shows some political, savvy when you’re merging different insurgent groups to be able to divvy up prizes, political prizes, and this particular prize was no small prize: the Media Spokesman of what was to become, what was, the Islamic State of Iraq in October of 2006 was given to Muharib al-Jibouri. Strangely he was well known to the organisation even though he was not in it. He was Abu Maysara’s teacher, he was his religious teacher at the University of what used to be Saddam University and he was well integrated into that particular network and again he was most likely a peer of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the current Caliph, who was also a religious student at the same schools, studying the same subject of course but also having the same mentors. So it’s an interesting network here to look at. Muharib al-Jibouri was kind of midwife to the creation of the Islamic State through a series of videos in October 2006 and became fairly famous during this time period. He did not last very long, he was killed in 2007 as this time the coalition, who were very tired of its inability to disrupt the online activities of this group and their ability to get propaganda on the web and disseminate it not just worldwide but also throughout Iraq, chose to prioritise the targeting of the Media Department and were able to chase down the Media Department and again Jibouri only lasted about a year. He was eulogised though as a founder of the Islamic State movement, as a founder of the Islamic State as well as his (inaudible) for quite some time. His partner was, if he was the spokesman his partner was, the Media Emir at this time; he was a guy named Khalid Mashadani. Khalid Mashadani again was not an original member of al-Qaeda in Iraq, he was not a Zarqawi peer, he came from Ansar al-Islam. So he was part of another Salafi group that existed in Iraq that did not eventually ever join up with Zarqawi’s group, the Islamic State Movement, but Mashadani did. When he did defect to the Islamic State, he brought over quite a few very influential figures and I think that’s another thing to think about this movement which has a reputation for being my way or the highway or very exclusive or you’ll join us or you’ll die. They’re very adept at recruiting. They haven’t survived this long without being good recruiters and getting people to join their organisation and this was one of them and they gave him a very high profile job of being the Media Emir just like Jibouri. Again the relentless targeting of this leadership means that he did not last long either, about the same time Jibouri gets killed in mid-2007, about a year after Zarqawi dies Mashadani is captured as well and Mashadani, when he is captured, tells the US that there is intense foreign fighter divisions within the Islamic State of Iraq/al-Qaeda in Iraq sometimes called al-Qaeda in Iraq but also that the Emir, the current Emir, the first Iraqi selected to lead this political movement, if you will, Abu Omar was fake. These are things that the United States did not understand, the coalition as well did not understand, and wanted to believe and it turns out to have all been false. So now you have the Information Emir using information as a weapon to confuse to enemy and misdirect. Misinformation, which of course, is a common technique but it’s successful enough in fooling the United States who makes a series of press releases proclaiming exactly what Mashadani told them and all of it turns out to be false. The Islamic State in Iraq at the time is almost all Iraqi, with some significant senior level foreign fighters, so the nature of the organisation is Iraqi which is why it has staying power. 2007 also coincides with the Sunni backlash against the Islamic state that has a significant impact on their future and between 2008 and 2010 they see a downward trend in both activities, fighters leaving them, continued fighters being picked up by the coalition and what they do is they have to rely on their media. They’ve done two major innovations at this point. One is to diversify again and decentralise so one of the major decisions they did, really post Zarqawi’s death, was to push media activities out to what they call the provinces but they basically pushed them out to a series of maybe eight to ten sub-offices that produced most of the material and then it came to the Central Office for quality control and that is what the overall emirs did. The Central Office was targeted by the Coalition’s militarily and physical targeting, and their Alpha Com media operation was found in 2007 and destroyed with a large production facility of propaganda, videos and CDs for local consumption. When all of these things happened they still had this level of resilience because of the branches that were in different places. My research partner found that as early as 2008 in Nineveh province, where Mosul is, you see an actual video from a province as early as 2008. It’s not great quality but it’s on par with what the overall organisation was doing in 2008 and obviously they have improved significantly since. The other interesting thing is that they were experimenting at the time because they proclaimed a state and didn’t really occupy large parts of territory, as a matter of fact their territory continued to shrink throughout 2007 and 2008. They tried to portray themselves as a state so this particular 2008 video that we mention in the report has a broadcaster, so he’s almost in a news format, they have a computer off to the side which is pretty funny to be honest. This is an organisation that started out with head cutting videos so they’ve kind of morphed into this state like media CNN style program which was a disaster. I mean they recognise that it was not (inaudible) this is where they are at in 2008. In 2009 they get two new individuals to come in to take the reins of a dysfunctional but existing Media Organisation and one is not a familiar face, Dr Wael Rawi, he is kind of a mystery man and he is the executive who ran the organisation and helped expand it from 2009. The other is Abu Muhammad al-Adnani who is very well known nowadays as the spokesman but also as the Chief of External Operations for the Islamic State and both of them were responsible for this expansion. Some of the things they did was expand into social media, create foreign language presentations, they had a music division that created very popular songs that went along with their videos, newsletters. They created more recently a news agency al-Amaq news agency which allows reporters to use them as a citation source so it actually facilitates bridging the gap from this particular organisation’s propaganda and translating it into western media, and it is kind of in the grey zone because reporters and journalists need something to cite and something official and this actually fits that bill so it’s an example of one of their innovations since. Adnani is an interesting choice for the spokesman, again like all the other spokesmen that I’ve talked about he is extremely religious and fairly well tested, had a reputation amongst the organisation for having memorised the Koran at a very early age and being very adept at defending the religious practices of this particular group. He was also a fighter, he was captured in 2005, he was a battlefield commander and he spent four years in Camp Bucca. He was inexplicably released in 2009 during a series of amnesties that were probably well intentioned but poorly executed because he was a Syrian foreign fighter. He was somehow able to pass himself off as an Iraqi and be released as part of this amnesty. So both of those men were pretty responsible in the recent rise of the Media Department and what we found they did was they were able to continue to experiment. Once they realised that that CNN format did not work for them they kind of went back to a little bit of what they did previously and that is where you see this emphasis on combat and they developed this formula for videos that seemed to be very successful at least in popularising (inaudible). Again they did not invent any of these techniques they really picked and chose what they liked from other groups whether it was Hezbollah, activities in Chechnya, the Afghan war against the Soviets. They picked and chose a lot of these and put it together in a formula that worked for them. (Inaudible) talk about my six observations. One: they are who they say they are; the credibility of this organisation is key for them. When they murder someone on camera and show it to all of us they’re not trying to hide who they are, they’re trying to actually make a statement about who they are and also, at the same time, say we believe what we believe and we are so confident in what we believe that watch us do this. So that’s one thing it is credibility and it’s the reason they had their religious experts as spokesmen throughout this (inaudible) and their next spokesman will be similar I would imagine. Those religious experts help bend reality, what is really happening, what we watch into the narrative that they already have and those experts are the ones that are responsible for doing that in the Media Department. The next one is that the media are their special operations. In the West we really glorify our special operations community and have them really do all kinds of things for us right now, mission creep is very strong. That is the media for the Islamic State, the Islamic State has their own Special Operations Force but they are not as important as the media. This organisation understands very clearly how important the media is. All of the people who have led these organisations are very highly educated a lot of them were doctors either in religious studies or something else. Other political figures like I’ve talked about, Jibouri and Mashadani, they’re used to try to gain some type of popularity outside of their in-group and then they were fighters in some cases but they were able to do many different things. The Media Department is their first line of defence. Again, after Zarqawi was killed they learned that the leaders have to do strategic communications but in an insurgent organisation or a terrorist organisation that can have a devastating impact when you lose your charismatic leader like they did with Zarqawi. Their next sets of leaders all the way through to today, the Media Department has been able to protect them. Adnani is dead; Abu Bakr is still alive. So the Media Department serves as kind of a shield to protect the leadership and it is something that they learned the hard way but they were very successful in doing it on several different occasions. Experimentation in failure is our fourth point and I’ve talked about that so I won’t really elaborate on that but the different formulas that they use to put together popular viral videos are something that came through a lot of trial and error. Trust me, if you look at their early stuff you’ll see vast improvements and a lot of experimentation. Controlling the message: a lot of times we tend to think with the Islamic State that this isn’t purposeful that any time anybody can get on the internet and put stuff on there and it travels and it does the job for them. It’s absolutely the opposite. The Islamic State, they’re control freaks, they might have twenty to thirty different media offices that are decentralised from them but all the material comes back to the Central Office and all of it is always controlled and edited, heavily edited and rejected in some places as not being quality. The other thing they do is a lot of times the Central Office when they do produce media releases they’re the ones setting the parameters for let’s say violence. This type of violence is acceptable and here is the religious rationale and then the subordinate offices can go ahead and execute those types of videos and just copy whatever the Central Office is doing. So control is a major factor and it has become harder because in the internet age control of media is very difficult as we see today. Staying on message: (inaudible) it’s absolutely an imperative for this particular organisation, it has been a characteristic of it. Finally what is the future of this Media Department? They’re missing, the leadership is gone. Kyle I’m not sure if you know who their current leadership is?

Kyle Orton: There aren’t many left.

Dr Craig Whiteside: So, they’ve taken a hit. I’ve focused on the history of the media and six observations. The future is that even though the media is important in amplifying their message and getting their message across, we can’t defeat the Islamic State through the media. You have to delegitimise the causes that they use in their media and that is the key. That is what they say, they say that until you can prove that we are not the champion of the Sunnis then these efforts to defeat us are going to be for nought and we will be able to use these in our propaganda and it is the propaganda that was able to keep them alive from 2008-10, a critical period where the Islamic State was defeated but not permanently defeated and we are all where we are today. That is something we should pay attention to. I’ve talked to a lot of US Military types and they are asking me questions, a lot which worry me like what’s next after the Islamic State? And my answer is what do you mean what is next after the Islamic State? Didn’t we just learn that the Islamic State didn’t go away because we killed some of their leaders or we had a full throat military press on them or we killed their media figures? None of these in and of themselves were successful in pushing back this organisation and getting it to a spot where it would eventually die on its own, so that is something to think about and with that I will open it up for questions.

Lord Kilclooney: Well thank you very much indeed for that address Dr Whiteside. You’ve emphasised a lot about the media and religion and of course since I come from Northern Ireland I realise the importance of religion in politics and I well remember back to Turkey, which I mentioned in my introduction. I was in the European Parliament and I went to observe an election in Diyarbakir in the town of Mardin right near the border with Iraq and Iran and thought to myself, isn’t in wonderful that they have this election in Turkey and besides us are two dictatorships and as I walked up the hill I well remember, nearly twenty years ago, this is before the Islamic State you see that is what I’m trying to get back to, religion. I walked up this hill and a young man about eighteen or nineteen ran across, he said “you speak English?” I said “yes”, I was with some German and French MEPs at this time and I said “yes”. He says “oh I’m trying to learn English. Please have a cup of coffee with me.” So I thought I’d better help him out and I went and had a cup of coffee with him and as I got to (inaudible) I said to him “and who is going to win the election here in Turkey?” To which he immediately replied “we will not win” and I said “who are we?” “Oh” he said “The Islamic Party but we will win in twenty years’ time” and I said “How do you know?” By the way twenty years’ time is now, I said “How do you know?” He said “I’m going to make ten children”. (Inaudible) the mentality from twenty years ago, it is happening now in this particular year. Islam itself is growing right across the world and I find here in the United Kingdom, and in other parts like Turkey and so on, that when you get terrorist events by Islamic extremists, that the moderate leadership of Islam is not speaking out to criticise it. You get the Church of England speaking and you get the Roman Catholic Church speaking but the leadership of moderate Islam generally remains silent when terrible incidents take place. So what are we doing to counteract extreme Islam? Because moderate Islam is quite good and most Muslims do not support radical Islam. So what are we doing about that?

Dr Craig Whiteside: That is a question that is difficult for me to answer especially since, as I’ve hopefully not bored you in the last half hour talking about the Islamic State, I study the Islamic State. I’m probably more familiar, let me say this carefully, with what the Islamic State would do then with what we would do. I will tell you how the Islamic State treats moderate Muslims, as targets. I’m sure you’ve seen the same dynamic with many other terrorist groups, in particular ones closer to home for you. You’ve mentioned the Iraqi Islamic Party in my dissertation research, I was very surprised to find that they are a common target of Islamic State assassination campaigns that dated back to 2004 and is fairly significant that they were killing their moderate opposition. So even the Iraqi Islamic Party, when al-Qaeda in Iraq/the Islamic State is out there, are fairly moderate and the Islamic State would assassinate them. I’ve documented Islamic Party assassinations including some of their senior politicians. So these are Islamists going through the political realm and they are being assassinated by a terrorist group, that is what terrorist groups do, and it is very effective and it shuts down that avenue for the moderates to actually be influential on the shape of Islamist trends and desires but also the mitigation of this extreme. So what you’ve had is under Zarqawi, a kind of a crazy mad genius, the strategy that he was going to divide and conquer and that he was going to turn everyone against themselves and that’s destroyed, to the point where, it’s easy to say it is not fixable, I worry about the Sunni community in Iraq and whether or not anyone will come forward that is a moderate because a pre-emptive strike has been done on them and now all that’s left are the extremists or people who have left or want to leave because they don’t want to live in that particular style, if that answers the question.

Lord Kilclooney: Well, it does. Let’s open it up to the floor of the House. Yes there we are at the back.

Question 1: Student of War Studies at King’s College London. Earlier in the spring Daniel Byman wrote in Foreign Affairs that as IS has lost more territory their media operations have emphasised activities in the provinces, especially the Sinai and Libya. How does that square with the strict level of quality control that you mentioned?

Dr Craig Whiteside: Are you saying that they are now having more videos from the provinces?

Question 1: Yes. It’s more emphasised in the provinces then in Syria or Iraq where they are losing territory.

Dr Craig Whiteside: Relatively. The majority of the propaganda that is produced is still about Syria and Iraq. The majority of the actual products come from the provinces and they always have, not always have, but certainly now the majority of the propaganda comes out of the provincial media departments. There is still quality control though at the Central Office. They can have more videos about the Sinai but the interesting fact is that they are almost, I don’t want to say micromanage but it’s centralised. So there are connectivity issues in being able to send that kind of material to the centralised office. I would say an important point is as long as the Islamic State holds territory not just in Iraq but in Syria, they’ll have the facilities. We often think of these media offices being virtual, they actually exist. They exist in places and while insurgents can exist in very small places and still produce certain types of things; right now the Islamic State is able to produce the kinds of things it does because it has unfettered control over places like Raqqa where they are able to run a very high performing media centralised office. Now can the coalition find where they are? I’m sure they try all the time but obviously, like I said, the operational security of the Media Department is fairly well developed so hopefully that will answer your question.

Lord Kilclooney: Frank Gardner, yes.

Question 2: Thanks, Frank Gardner BBC Syria Correspondent. The decision by ISIS to use Western hostages as propaganda tools for them and to execute them in a particularly grizzly way was incredibly popular amongst their followers and led to some recruitment but it also ultimately hastened their military demise. It brought the (inaudible) US led coalition much quicker to the battlefield and possibly brought it in which they wouldn’t have otherwise done. To what extent do you think the leadership of IS, the surviving leadership, is involved in directing these kind of propaganda videos particularly the one recently the one in the playground using the dwarfism child and the apparently very young children executing prisoners?

Dr Craig Whiteside: So that’s an excellent question, I’ve often used that. So I teach Strategy at the Naval War College, this is just a research area of mine, and I often point to that. That is a crucial mistake that they made to give the ok to torture and kill those journalists on camera. As best as I can guess not having been there but having followed the organisation and looked at their strategies and studied their personalities like Kyle has, they thought that the United States and Western countries were going to back off. It was almost a deterrence strategy of: this is what will happen, your soldiers will come here and it won’t be just journalists it will be your soldiers et cetera and like they’ve done in the past in 2006 and 2007 and they thought that was going to work. All of the leadership who made this decision had survived 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2007. So this is what they thought and they were wrong, catastrophically wrong, to the point where it will destroy their Caliphate something they had worked very hard to establish. I don’t think, getting to the actual decision making, I don’t think Abu Bakr’s in the day to day decision making; if he was I think he would be dead. Adnani was in the day to day decision making both in external operations and in the propaganda as you point out, accurately, and he is dead. I am surprised he lasted as long as he did and his counterpart Dr. Wael Rawi and both of these guys were in the Media Department since 2009. As best as I could tell, Adnani for sure, not entirely sure about Dr Rawi but both of them were killed within a week of each other which means that they had been exposed and there had been an intelligence finding. I don’t think Abu Bakr, I think he’s mostly a figurehead right now after the loss of several leaders. He is the third leader of the Islamic State movement; all of whom have been killed in decapitation strikes. Fantastic question, thank you.

Question 3: Thank you very much indeed. (Inaudible) a former Law Enforcement intelligence analyst covering transnational organised crime; I have worked in Pakistan and Yemen. My question is based on the comments you’ve made about the length of time to track down people, obviously references to Osama bin Laden and also recent comments by Mr Younger, the Head of SIS, about the success of organisations could perhaps be measured by how they fuse HUMINT and SIGNINT. Do you see any signs that this fusion is indeed improving based on the work against IS?

Dr Craig Whiteside: That’s a very tough question and first I study the history of the Islamic State, while I have a security clearance I don’t study anything on IS with my security clearance or I wouldn’t be able to talk about it or write about it. So I stay away from all of it, I’ve never ever looked at anything that was classified on the Islamic State on purpose. So I can’t answer that question; I can just guess. One, I would say that one of our weaknesses is our failure to use HUMINT period. That we, and particularly the United States, are technologically focused and those are the solutions to all of our problems. So we would probably be much more likely to direct a strike against one of these leaders using SIGINT or something else then we would any other. Especially since HUMINT can sometimes be a little tricky on whether people are telling the truth. If I were the Islamic State I would use HUMINT just as disinformation and try to create more collateral damage which would backlash and create problems for the Coalition and try to split the Coalition. So those are some problems there but I think your overall point, which I can’t talk too much to, is an excellent one and we have to improve our HUMINT across the board; particularly since our bias is towards technological solutions. One of the major political figures in the Islamic State was captured in 2006 in the same raid that I mentioned, his name was Abu Ali al-Anbari. He was technically Zarqawi’s superior, his political leader for sure, in this merger of insurgent groups that happened in 2006 that nobody really seems to talk about or understand. He is captured by the US in 2006 but because he has five different kunyas no one ever knew who he was and he was released in 2012. What’s the first thing he does in 2012? He goes to Syria and helps knit together what will eventually be the Syrian part of the Islamic State in 2012. That is what he does and the US government and the Iraqi government, the Iraqi government is the one that release him, didn’t know who he was somehow even though he was the leader of the Islamic State movement at a particular time and place. That tells me that our HUMINT is terrible, even in prisons we can’t even get that kind of information on who people are. Adnani, he also leaves prison. Any number of these figures of the Islamic State Media Department all had been imprisoned multiple times during the Iraq War. So we have an issue with that.

Question 4: What is the function of the Muslim Brotherhood, which after all has been going since 1928, in sustaining the religious validity of what IS is trying to do?

Dr Craig Whiteside: That’s a fantastic question. I would say that in general although the Islamic State would not admit anything of it they are influenced by, not the Iraqi Islamic Party but certainly the history of the Muslim Brotherhood in general. Qutb and those ideas are in the Islamic State, they would never admit to it because they hate the Muslim Brotherhood. So it might be difficult for us to understand but they hate the Muslim Brotherhood more than they do anyone else because they see them as a threat. They see the Muslim Brotherhood as the Iraqi Islamic Party but they’re too ideologically, I don’t want to say they are ideologically similar but they are close enough in the same spectrum that they are a threat to them and they have prioritised, like I’ve said, making it a dysfunctional organisation. It has been very popular politically amongst many Sunni Iraqis, the Iraqi Islamic Party or the Muslim Brotherhood. They are very well politically organised just like they are everywhere else but the Islamic Party I think is crippled down to the point where they’re dysfunctional, they’re corrupt and they’re not very popular and they are also afraid; they are afraid of the Islamic State because when Islamic Party people run for office they end up dying. So it is a weird dynamic.

Question 5: (Inaudible) thank you very much, of the Iraqi Democratic Movement. I would like to know whether your research has looked at the role of the Gulf States, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, in helping and supporting and building up the machine of ISIS. As we all know the ISIS ideology is rooted in the Salafi camp which is very strong in the Gulf States, that is one side of it. So there’s logistic and financial support in building that machine but also the (inaudible) of the media owned by these Gulf States in actually using ISIS material as second hand and recycled material because, as it happens, the political foes of ISIS are the same political foes of the conservative Gulf States i.e. the Iraqi government, the Syrian government and the Movement in the Yemen.

Dr Craig Whiteside: So, this is a very common idea. It does have something to do with the media, the different Gulf media and the way the Islamic State looks at it. First they hate Saudi Arabia, they hate the rulers of Saudi Arabia, they call them the hypocrites and Saudi Arabia is on their target list, even though it is very difficult to distinguish the Salafi thought that the Islamic State operates on with Wahhabism. You’d have to be, probably, an Islamic scholar to really understand the differences between the two but it doesn’t matter as they still hate each other and they are still rivals over who has the most correct interpretation for this particular part of the spectrum. The Saudis have long ignored the problem and I think that is fairly well documented but they’ve woken up to the fact that it is a danger. Saudi Arabia used to produce most of the foreign fighters that went to the Islamic State movement; they don’t any more. Scarily it is Tunisia, a democratic country, and places like Jordan, per capita it is Jordan which is frightening. As far as the media, there are many instances where the Islamic State has targeted those same Gulf media. Al-Arabiya, they literally blew up the station in Baghdad and claimed it and were very proud of it. Again they hate anything from the Gulf, they love the foreign fighters the people that migrate, as they see it, correctly migrate to the correct state. RAND has done studies on the funding for the Islamic State. Prior to 2006 they were funded externally mostly by al-Qaeda; after 2006 they are self-funded and it is what they have always wanted to do, to be independent. They do not want anyone to tell them what to do or how to do it; I think that resonates with what we know about the group. Al-Qaeda spent six to seven years trying to tell them what to do and they never listened to them: stop the beheadings and they didn’t stop as a matter of fact they anted up. So they are fairly independent and it is very difficult to convey that sometimes. It stretches the belief I understand but everything I’ve seen both internally from the captured Islamic State documents and two RAND studies which are very good, also on captured documents that they had access to, show that they are self-sufficient. They are criminal gangsters who now how to make money. Unfortunately that money does not go into profit or shareholders, it goes into future operations. Which going back to the Lord’s point about this being a growing menace; Ideologues we haven’t been used to them but ideologues are back.

Lord Kilclooney: Now, we have to bring it to a close. We have one question here, yes. Make it brief and we’ll ask the lady as well.

Question 6: War Studies student at King’s College London. So you have talked about what was good about ISIS propaganda but if we specifically look at the Coalition’s information (inaudible) what lessons can be learned from ISIS propaganda?

Dr Craig Whiteside: That is a great question. On one hand it is very difficult, if you are the powerful and they are the powerless you can’t mirror image; you don’t want to mirror image that although it is enticing to try to get into that trap. Well if we produce something that looks like they do then maybe we can break through, the problem is that once you have a Coalition stamp on that nobody that we are interested in watching this stuff is going to watch it. It is a credibility issue and again that is what we learn from the Islamic State that credibility has always been important. If their video is going to turn you off: they didn’t want you in the first place and they are fine with that but they are still targeting people who, and we know the dark parts of human nature, it does work for. So if you look at the very first 2004 videos that the Islamic State did, they were all beheading videos. It horrified Americans because this was an American citizen that was being killed and it horrified al-Qaeda who said this is going to hurt our branding and our image. Again they were ignored and this became a continuous staple of their propaganda but you saw recruiting increase within Iraq because of it and that was 2004, al-Qaeda in Iraq was a very small group that had outsized ambitions; by 2006 they were running the resistance.

Lord Kilclooney: A brief final question. Ladies at last.

Question 7: Thank you very much. Glynne Evans, Olive Group. I wondered if you’d had the chance to look at the role of women in the propaganda exercises. I think that they have been used and been instrumental on social media not least in recruitment and did you look at that at all and can you comment on it?

Dr Craig Whiteside: They’ve tried, that is very new so, I’m still observing it. I don’t really know what to make of it. There was one ISIS version of a feminist in a Dabiq issue that was making arguments on why Yazidi slavery, sexual slavery of the Yazidi women, was ok, dehumanising it really and it was written by a woman and it was very shocking but again if you believe the ideology then effective. A smart person wrote it, it was articulate and if you didn’t have any values it would be convincing but I think those are experiments.

Kyle Orton: There was a Finnish foreign fighter, woman, she wrote in it as well about moving to the Caliphate and her son had been killed and she said she was so happy about it because he had died in a pure state and she didn’t know what terrible corruptions he would have had if he had stayed in the West. They’ve also got an intelligence network in Raqqa which runs through some of the women but that is the foreign fighters as well. Beyond that I couldn’t see much either.

Lord Kilclooney: I’m afraid we must bring the meeting to a conclusion. We’ve talked a lot, Doctor, about the media and Iraq and the Islamic State and the Middle East area but I still come back to my theme that the growth of Islam itself is a problem because it is right across North Africa, radical Islam, in Europe as we saw. I’ve just had a flash: another twenty have been killed in Kabul within the last hour by extremists no doubt. We have it in the southern Philippines, southern Malaysia, Indonesia and I say that as one who is not an opponent of Islam, I admire the faith, and the majority of Islamic people are opposed to extremism but very little is being done to counteract radical Islam by the leaders of Islam itself and by Democratic nations. So this thing is growing as a threat to society not just in the Middle East but in the wider world and I see it as a great problem in the years ahead unless something is done about it. Thank you very much indeed.


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