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Opinion

Opinion

Bin Laden obsessed with news media

March 24, 2012

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— Among the last known images of Osama bin Laden is a video seized at his compound the night he was killed, which shows the al-Qaida leader hunched before a television screen studying a video of himself. It’s testimony to bin Laden’s obsession with the media side of his war against America.

This modern face of bin Laden’s jihad comes through clearly in a 21-page letter from his media adviser, an American-born jihadist named Adam Gadahn. The letter is undated, but it appears to have been written after November 2010, in the last six months of bin Laden’s life.

Gadahn wrote much as if he were a media planner corresponding with a client. He included suggestions about the timing of video appearances after the 2010 U.S. midterm elections and use of high-definition video, and made snarky evaluations of major American networks.

As I wrote last week, Gadahn hated Fox News (“falls into the abyss”); he liked MSNBC but complained about the firing of Keith Olbermann; he had mixed feelings about CNN (better in Arabic than in English) and made flattering comments about CBS and ABC. Basically, he wanted to play them all off to al-Qaida’s best advantage. He also mentioned print journalists, most prominently Robert Fisk of The Independent of Britain. He cites three Americans (“Brian Russ,” “Simon Hirsh” and “Jerry Van Dyke”), though it’s uncertain whom he meant.  

The media guidance was among the documents taken from bin Laden’s compound the night of May 2. It was made available to me, along with a small sample of other documents in the cache, by a senior Obama administration official.

Gadahn’s memo shows an organization struggling to stay on the media offensive despite devastating American attacks. It’s partly aspirational, with dreams of jihad, but there’s a core of sharp self-criticism that makes clear that Gadahn, like his boss, understood that al-Qaida was losing its war.

Gadahn even worried that al-Qaida’s reversals in Iraq and elsewhere represented “punishment by God on us because of our sins and injustices.” Like bin Laden, he was deeply upset that al-Qaida’s affiliates had killed so many Muslims and listed 13 operations that showed “the tragedy of tolerating the spilling of (Muslim) blood.”

Gadahn is an intriguing figure whose life story would seem far-fetched if sketched by a Hollywood screenwriter. He was born Adam Pearlman in 1978, grandson of a California doctor who had served on the board of the Jewish Anti-Defamation League. Gadahn converted to Islam when he was 17, migrated to Pakistan at 20 and then disappeared in March 2001 into al-Qaida’s world. In 2006, he was indicted by the U.S. for treason.

In the letter, the media adviser focuses on “how to exploit” the 10th anniversary of 9/11 on television. He worries that CNN “seems to be in cooperation with the government more than the others,” though he praises its “good and detailed” Arabic coverage. “I used to think that MSNBC channel may be good and neutral a bit,” he continues, but then notes the firing of Olbermann.  

The media chatter continues: CBS “has a famous program (‘60 Minutes’) that has some popularity and a good reputation.” ABC “is all right; actually, it could be one of the best channels,” because of its chief investigator and terrorism expert, Brian Ross. But all the networks, he complains, will bring in analysts who will “conduct a smearing” of al-Qaida figures.

Gadahn discusses how to game the coverage. Bin Laden could offer “an exclusive press scoop” to one network; but better to spread the material “so that there will be healthy competition.” As for the print journalists, he suggests informing 30 to 50 of them that they’ve been selected to “receive special media material” for the 9/11 anniversary. If just a third of them respond, he notes, al-Qaida will have 10 journalists who “will display our mission.”

The al-Qaida spinmeister didn’t like Fox News (“let her die in her anger”), but it’s hard to understand why. Surely Rupert Murdoch’s network, with its saturation coverage of the war on terror, did more to elevate bin Laden’s profile than any other news outlet.

— David Ignatius is a columnist for Washington Post Writers Group.    

Comments

Mixolydian 2 years ago

The article doesn't say why Osama liked Olberman and MSNBC so much. Makes you wonder why, it's a reasonable question, I"m not trying to score any juvenile political points by asking. Why would mass murdering religious fanatic like to listen to Olberman and MSNBC?

The article hints at the reason, he wanted to play the American media to his advantage. Perhaps he thought MSNBC, ABC and CBS were easier targets in that regard. Perhaps he thought they were more likely to present a pro Islamic Al Queda slant on news stories.

Interesting to speculate, but thanks to our Navy Seals, we'll never definitively know.

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its_just_math 2 years ago

Olbermann is what now? Oh that's right, filed away with all the other washed up leftist "journalists" like Dan Rather and Charlie Gibson. Fox News has hurt the elite liberal establishment "journalism" badly and has taken on many former "closet" conservatives like Bernie Goldberg, Bill Hemmer, Geraldo and that guy from CBS---forget his name---John something. Leading Democratic pundits are very welcomed on FNC and understand that it's a place---maybe the only place left---for fair debate. The left is fuming mad and wants to shut down the opposition.....look at the deplorable mediamatters to name one. Obama and his lackeys hate Fox News.

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just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 2 years ago

I hear that bin Laden's favorite colors were crimson and blue-- therefore, all KU fans are terrorist sympathizers.

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cato_the_elder 2 years ago

No one hated America more than Osama bin Laden did. If he liked Olbermann, that's because they had much in common.

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FalseHopeNoChange 2 years ago

You seen "Binny's" women? I'd be interested in dying to snag some "72 V" action instead of supine in a cave with them.

And if The Obama hadn't "hidden" the body like the Mafia did Hoffa, scientific tests would have revealed that Binny was in fact tainted with "DRD4 Gene".

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its_just_math 2 years ago

I'll bet Obama, er, I mean Osama loved "The View". Imagine him sitting around in his underwear eating some hummis and laughing hysterically at Joy and Whoopi. Priceless.

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cato_the_elder 2 years ago

Interesting that bin Laden liked Keith Olbermann and hated Fox News. That should tell Americans a great deal.

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