Cracking al Qaeda's code
But some experts see disturbing signs of continued strategic coordination. Husain Haqqani, a Pakistani journalist at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace who has written about "Jihadi Iraq," suggests that the article might come from someone in an informal network of al Qaeda sympathizers, a kind of electronic think tank. What is most striking to Haqqani, however, is the clarity, coherence, and effectiveness of al Qaeda strategy, whether it is formulated by al Qaeda cadres or by fellow travelers. "The biggest problem for those fighting radical Islam," Haqqani says, "is that the ideology that feeds al Qaeda has never been focused upon."
That ideology, many analysts hold, is one big reason that radical Islamists did not splinter into mutually recriminating factions after the great losses in Afghanistan. Cook, for one, gives large credit to the jihadists' resourceful use of traditional models of resistance dating from the earliest days of Islam. Even the post-Afghanistan shift from al Qaeda as a vanguard organization to al Qaeda as an ideological resource for freelance operations is rooted in the military strategies pursued by Mohammed and his followers after suffering a major defeat in the battle of Uhud in A.D. 625.
What the ideological al Qaeda does so successfully is to tap into its own radical reading of the Islamic heritage to formulate and validate its plans toward the larger goal of uniting Muslims in one state living under strict religious rule. As a first step in countering this ideological campaign, which appears to be swaying even many moderates, Western intelligence services, Cook says, "should be learning how to interpret and decipher the authority of these strategic documents." If it remains difficult to determine with certainty whether a particular document is authoritative, it is possible, both Cook and Weimann suggest, to discern which documents bear the markings of an authoritative voice.
But what should intelligence agencies do with this information? Obviously, Weimann says, they should share it among themselves and with allies. And they should make the jihadist strategies more widely known. "Maybe more public awareness of the ideas in the document would not have prevented the bombings in Madrid," Weimann says. "But the Spanish people might have been more aware of who was targeting them and why they were being targeted."
And maybe more reluctant to fulfill al Qaeda's apparent wishes.