The Al Qaeda Files: Memes, Conspiracy, and the FDD
Earlier this month, the CIA released a massive tranche—nearly 325 gigabytes—of images, audio, text, and video collected by Navy SEALs on the night of Osama bin Laden’s death. According to the CIA, “The material is posted in its original Arabic format and in as close to the original form as possible, modified only so the files cannot be edited.” Viewing the bin Laden files, however, might come with a price. A warning on the CIA’s website reads, “Please understand that this material was seized from a terrorist organization. Out of an abundance of caution we took the site down to resolve technical issues associated with the initial posting – and to remove additional detected malware – but we cannot guarantee that all malware has been removed.”
While it will take open-source researchers years to sift through all the material, notable information is beginning to emerge. The files contain everything from how-to manuals on explosives manufacturing to Tom and Jerry cartoons to United States civil aviator interception documents to crocheting instructional videos. The eccentricity of the material might seem out of place, but recall that the bin Laden compound was home to over twenty people, some of whom were women and young children.
Among the memes, pornography, home videos, and children’s movies, however, are documents that corroborate the belief that Iran harbored Al Qaeda members following the 9/11 attacks. The CIA provided advanced copies of many of the files to the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, a Washington, D.C.-based thinktank. FDD’s publication, The Long War Journal, released an analysis of the documents in tandem with the CIA’s public release of the documents, noting the presence of a 19-page assessment from a “senior jihadist” of Al Qaeda’s relationship to Iran. According to the FDD, “The author explains that Iran offered some ‘Saudi brothers’ in al Qaeda ‘everything they needed,’ including ‘money, arms’ and ‘training in Hezbollah camps in Lebanon, in exchange for striking American interests in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf.’ Iranian intelligence facilitated the travel of some operatives with visas, while sheltering others. Abu Hafs al-Mauritani, an influential ideologue prior to 9/11, helped negotiate a safe haven for his jihadi comrades inside Iran.”
What appears to be an act of government transparency seems less forthright when one considers just what it is that the FDD does. The FDD has been central to Iran policy discussion in D.C. for some time now. It adamantly opposed the Iran Nuclear Deal. Shortly after President Trump’s inauguration, CEO Mark Dubowitz submitted a seven-page policy proposal to the National Security Council, the goal of which was establishing a “free and democratic” Iran. In effect, the proposal is urging for an Iranian regime change.
Combine this with the White House’s recent refusal to certify the Iran Nuclear Deal to Congress, and it appears that conflict with Iran may be eminent. Of course, there are many reasons to disavow the current regime: the country’s terrible human rights record, support for anti-Israel groups, flagrantly anti-U.S. rhetoric, and, now, potential links to Al Qaeda. Is this enough evidence to convince U.S. officials to attempt toppling the current clerical regime? Only time will tell.