Leah Farrall, an Australian former al-Qaeda security specialist turned academic, has a very humble-looking Wordpress blog where she dispatches insight and original research on al-Qaeda that, according to Spencer Ackerman, "is attracting ever-more attention in U.S. defense circles." She gained wide attention in December when she managed to contact and extensively interview a leading Afghan mujahideen thinker.
Her authoritative analysis was on full display today dissecting America and the West's response to the failed Flight 253 bombing. In her appraisal of the specific Flight 253 incident and its connection to al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, Farrall simply runs circles around most commentators. Unlike others just now discovering Yemen-based terrorism, Farrall has followed it closely for years.
Bottom line: There is very little that is new here. AQAP has always had an external attack capacity and sought to use it. It has always recruited internationally. The only *new* thing here is the type of device used and reaction to the plot. But even in terms of IED’s, AQAP has always been on the sharp end of the stick when it comes to innovation. That’s because it has a great core of IED engineers who cycle in and out of the organisation. But that’s not new either. That core was developed in 02-06.
She goes on to express concern that commentary on al-Qaeda is largely driven by non-experts ignorant of such nuances and whose "hysteria" inflate both the perceived threat and the called-for response. She connects this tendency to past responses to Iraq and Afghanistan and, increasingly, our view of Yemen and Yemen-based terrorism.
The problem is that without historical background people see change instead of continuity, they see a new threat instead of an extension of an existing one or they miss things all together.
And when this type of commentary influences decision makers and also creeps beyond AQAP into the issue of Yemen more generally it is extremely concerning, especially when it essentially calls for opening another front in Yemen and escalating US involvement. The lesson of Iraq and to a lesser extent Afghanistan has not been learnt, and it is rapidly becoming the greatest failure of the war on terror: the failure to learn that lionizing al Qaeda only further empowers it. Add this to calls for greater US involvement, especially in a country like Yemen and with the sensitivities this entails, and you have the perfect propaganda recruitment recipe for al Qaeda.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.