11:42 AM, Apr 16, 2014 • By THOMAS JOSCELYN
A video of a large al Qaeda gathering in Yemen has raised eyebrows in the press. Nasir al Wuhayshi, the head of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), as well as general manager of al Qaeda’s global network, can be heard saying to a crowd of more than 100: "We must eliminate the cross. ... The bearer of the cross is America!"
CNN’s Barbara Starr first reported on the brazen meeting, pointing out that “the CIA and the Pentagon either didn't know about it or couldn't get a drone there in time to strike.” When Obama administration officials and some within the U.S. intelligence community speak about al Qaeda its sounds like the group’s senior leaders are cowering in fear somewhere, waiting for the next missile to strike. They are not supposed to be openly hosting a large anti-American rally.
And then there is how American officials speak about AQAP and Wuhayshi. They are supposedly “affiliates” of al Qaeda, distinct from al Qaeda’s “core” in South Asia. But this is simply not true. Wuhayshi is as “core” as they come.
Wuhayshi was Osama bin Laden’s protégé. The first head of al Qaeda handpicked Wuhayshi to serve as his aide-de-camp out of a group of Yemenis who had traveled to Afghanistan to serve as bodyguards. Bin Laden saw Wuhayshi’s potential and decided to groom him to be something more than muscle. The diminutive, but brilliant, Wuhayshi faithfully served at bin Laden’s side through the Battle of Tora Bora in late 2001. He eventually fled to Iran, where he was detained for a time, before being shipped off to his native Yemen. There, in 2006, he took part in a prison escape that freed up al Qaeda “core” talent to do the organization’s bidding in bin Laden’s ancestral homeland.
Al Qaeda’s goal has always been to launch insurgencies in Muslim countries it thinks are ripe for a jihadist takeover. Saudi Arabia and Yemen have been high on al Qaeda’s list in this regard. But a fierce counterterrorism campaign begun by the Saudis in 2003 quashed al Qaeda’s post-9/11 push inside the kingdom. Some al Qaeda leaders fled to Yemen, but it was Wuhayshi’s newfound freedom, alongside other prison escapees and Guantanamo returnees that really rejuvenated al Qaeda’s leadership in Arabia.
It was Ayman al Zawahiri, then Osama bin Laden’s top deputy, who first publicly recognized Wuhayshi as al Qaeda’s leader in the Arabian Peninsula. In early 2009, Wuhayshi relaunched AQAP, swearing allegiance to al Qaeda’s senior leadership in the process. And, in the summer of 2013 Zawahiri appointed Wuhayshi to the position of al Qaeda’s general manager. Wuhayshi’s appointment coincided with a large-scale terrorist threat. This was detected when U.S. intelligence officials learned that Zawahiri had hosted an internet-based communication with more than 20 of his subordinates, including Wuhayshi. More than 20 U.S. diplomatic facilities were shuttered in early August 2013 as a result.
Al Qaeda’s general manager serves a “core” function, which was previously filled by terrorists in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The position gives Wuhayshi broad power within al Qaeda’s network far outside of Yemen. Even before Wuhayshi’s official appointment AQAP was busy expanding its geographic footprint.
For instance, AQAP helped Muhammad Jamal, a longtime subordinate to Zawahiri, establish his own al Qaeda network after his release from an Egyptian prison in 2011. Jamal has since been re-imprisoned, but his organization (dubbed the Muhammad Jamal Network, or MJN, by Western intelligence authorities) continues to operate in Egypt, Libya and elsewhere.
10:22 AM, Apr 9, 2014 • By GABRIEL SCHOENFELD
My review of former top CIA lawyer John Rizzo’s book Company Man appears in the current issue of this magazine. A friend in a high place who read the review pointed out to me that the book adds something significant to our understanding of the Valerie Plame, Scooter Libby, Richard Armitage, Judith Miller, Robert Novak imbroglio.
3:47 PM, Mar 1, 2014 • By DANIEL HALPER
A White House official emailed some reporters to say that President Obama's team met today to discuss the ongoing situation on Ukraine. It appears President Obama did not attend.
"The President's national security team met today to receive an update on the situation in Ukraine and discuss potential policy options. We will provide further updates later this afternoon," reads the full statement.
10:24 AM, Feb 25, 2014 • By DANIEL HALPER
Vice President Dick Cheney ripped President Obama's defense drawdown in a phone conversation with Sean Hannity:
"They’re basically making the decision in the Obama administration that they no longer want to be dominant on the seas and in skies and space," says Cheney.
"The fact of the matter is having a huge impact on the ability of future presidents to deal with future crises that are bound to arise."
11:11 AM, Feb 3, 2014 • By DANIEL HALPER
Al Qaeda is not on the run. And John Kerry, according to a report in Bloomberg, is finally admitting it.
"[T]he al-Qaeda threat is real, it is getting out of hand,” Kerry told a delegation.
It's in stark contrast to President Obama's repeated claims. “A day after 9/11, we are reminded that a new tower rises above the New York skyline, but al Qaeda is on the path to defeat and bin Laden is dead,” Obama said in the run up to his reelection in 2012.
9:01 AM, Feb 3, 2014 • By GARY SCHMITT
In the immediate days leading up to President Obama’s January 17 speech on the National Security Agency, news stories and leaks from the White House suggested the president would largely ignore the set of overhauls that had been put forward by his own presidential review panel—Peter Baker’s New York Times front-page story, “Obama’s Path from Critic to Overseer of Spying,” is a good example. But then the president gave his speech and, while the changes he offered up were not as radical as the panel’s recommendations, he did go farther than the pre-speech spin stories led you to believe by requiring each and every search of the NSA database to have judicial approval, which is a major modification to the program.
11:13 AM, Jan 24, 2014 • By DANIEL HALPER
In a little noticed interview President Obama did with German media last weekend, he defended his positioning on the NSA by saying, "I am one figure, one man in this broader process."
Feb 3, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 20 • By GARY SCHMITT
In the wake of all the “leaks” by Edward Snowden of the National Security Agency’s collection programs and the resulting debate over those programs, one constantly hears from elected officials and the commentariat about the need to strike the right balance between privacy and security. More often than not, this is followed by a suggestion that, as a country, since 9/11, we haven’t.
The NSA on trial.Jan 13, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 17 • By GARY SCHMITT
Not that long ago, one could assume that a judge with an activist approach to interpreting the Constitution was probably left-of-center politically and, accordingly, believed that overturning precedents was often necessary in order to make the Constitution relevant to present issues and alive to evolving democratic mores.
3:01 PM, Dec 21, 2013 • By GARY SCHMITT
When the “President’s Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technology” issued its report (Liberty and Security in a Changing World) this past week, an honest and objective newspaper headline the next day would have read: “Rogue Panel Reports on Non-Rogue NSA Program.”
12:20 PM, Dec 11, 2013 • By ROGER I. ZAKHEIM and THOMAS DONNELLY
A future historian would describe the Budget Control Act of 2011 (BCA) as having a profound effect on the United States. The BCA, he would write, was a critical step toward making America into a social democracy while ensuring its decline as a global military power. He would conclude that the law transformed the U.S. government into an entitlements agency that occasionally paved a road or killed a terrorist.
4:25 PM, Dec 4, 2013 • By ROGER I. ZAKHEIM and THOMAS DONNELLY
House Armed Services Committee chairman Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon doesn’t look like an insurgent. The quintessential Californian – a man of Reaganesque optimism whose congressional district now includes the Gipper’s presidential library – McKeon has been a steadfast supporter of House speaker John Boehner in turbulent times. Yet, to the green-eyeshade editorialists of the Wall Street Journal, McKeon is leading a “rebellion” of defense hawks, an “act of masochism” threatening the Holy of Holies: the sequestration provision of the Budget Control Act (BCA). McKeon’s crime is that he’s hoping for a 2014 budget deal that would reduce the amount of defense sequestration by half.
Dec 9, 2013, Vol. 19, No. 13 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
A new study from the Cato Institute asks the question many travelers have pondered after a pat-down gone awry: Can’t we replace the TSA? The agency’s embarrassing record of waste and mismanagement makes a compelling case.
In more than one instance, the agency has wasted tens of millions on technology that ended up being a flop. It bought hundreds of explosive-detector machines that turned out not to work outside the lab.
The pressure is on to sell to China’s military.Nov 18, 2013, Vol. 19, No. 10 • By JOSEPH A. BOSCO
Next month’s meeting of the U.S.-China Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade in China will feature a familiar ritual. American negotiators will face intensified pressure for Washington to lift restrictions on the sale of military and dual-use technology to China. Over time, the perennial drip-drip of Beijing’s complaints against U.S. trade discrimination in this area, bolstered by American business desires to close the trade gap, has proved effective.
6:14 PM, Oct 17, 2013 • By DANIEL HALPER
The president will "nominate former Pentagon attorney Jeh Johnson as the next secretary of homeland security," USA Today reports.