Faa' for Fake?

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Juan Cole has an interesting post raising questions about the authenticity of a letter, allegedly from Al Qaeda's number two man, Ayman al-Zawahiri, to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. On the one hand, even on the basis of my admittedly cursory knowledge of Islam, it certainly seems weird that a Sunni would use a form of greeting that invoked a blessing on the Prophet's family. On the other, if even someone like me finds that incongruous, why would a forger include what must, to someone in the region, be an obvious tell? Might a real terrorist include such incongrous bits in a potentially compromsiing correspondence so that it could be discounted as a forgery if intercepted? And how meta can you go pondering the similar sorts of measures either forgers or terrorists might take before you go totally mad?

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  1. the sky’s the limit on metaspeculation. i get bored after about two layers.

  2. I can go meta for a while then I remeber “The Princess Bride” and laugh.

  3. Juan Cole claims it’s most likely part of a ‘US Black Psy-Ops operation’ (isn’t that redundant?). I didn’t even know we did ‘psy-ops’ but whatever they are they sound cool.

    I’d basically like to think that if Juan Cole can crack the forgery in a 2 paragraph blog post, I’d hope that it isn’t OUR forgery. I think that probably demonstrates a foolish underestimation of the capabilities of our ‘psy-ops’ division, whoever they are, and that this is either real or not a forgery by us.

  4. The guy who forged the uranium documents named the wrong Nigerois trade minister. Whoever forged the TANG memo…well, we all know what was wrong with that document.

    These people just need to create something that looks authentic enough to one person that they can take their $200 in cash and go score.

    Not all forgers are passing cashier’s checks at Bank of America.

  5. The “Hello Kitty” stationary should have been an immediate tip off

  6. I had some doubts about that from the beginning, some of his statments seemed almost too obvious.

  7. What convinced me that it was fake was this rather incongruous passage tacked on near the end:

    I saw the best jihadis of my generation made apostate by madness, fasting hysterical naked, dragging themselves through the infidel streets at dawn looking for a blessed fix, turban-headed allahsters praying for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of Mohammed…

  8. meta meta meta meta meta meta meta meta meta meta meta meta meta meta meta meta meta meta meta meta meta meta meta meta meta meta meta meta meta meta meta meta meta meta meta meta meta meta meta meta meta meta meta meta meta meta meta meta meta meta meta meta meta meta meta meta meta meta meta meta meta meta meta meta meta meta meta meta meta meta meta meta meta meta meta meta meta meta meta meta meta meta meta meta meta meta meta meta meta meta

  9. My suspicions were piqued by the opening of the letter:

    “Dear Mr. ZARQAWI:

    It is with heartfelt hope that I write to seek your co-operation and assistance in the context stated below, I am AYMAN AL-ZAWAHIRI ,The personal Physician to the late Mr. Osama bin Laden…”

  10. How about “Faa” in the song by the Deutschrock group, Die Aerzte: Fa Fa Fa…

  11. Where is Dan when we need him to help decipher these things?? “The letter is fake, but the contents are true”.

  12. First, if the letter said things Juan Cole liked or fit his views of the world, is there any doubt he would either ignore or downplay any evidence pointing towards a forgery? Second, you don’t have to get around much in the world before you realize blanket statements like “a Sunni Muslim would never say that” or “a pure land Buhdist would never talk that way” are not really of much use. People are pretty diverse and say and do uncharacteristic things sometimes. You better come up with something stronger than that to prove that the document isn’t what it appears to be.

    Beyond that as frequent reader of Cole’s blog (don’t ask me why other than some strange twisted desire for self punishment), it is astounding how he consistently hits Al Quada’s talking points and they his. I don’t keep close enough track to know whether Cole or Al Quada first accused the U.S. of forging the document but whatever Al Quada is saying ussually pretty much mirrored in his website and vice versa. Its amazing the cross polination in information warfare and propaganda between the pro-Islamist left and Al-Quada. Hell, Bin Laden’s last tape sounded like it was lifted from the cutting room floor of a Micheal Moore movie. But, remember, guys like Cole are patriots and not a fifth collumn or anything.

  13. Cole isn’t as bad as John says, but pretty close. Cole feels US ground troops should leave immediately but the US should provide air and tactical support against large groups of insurgents to prevent a civil war from developing. Al Queda just wants the US out of all Muslim countries. And they want us all to convert to their particular branch of Islam. Etc. Also Cole wants the put-upon Sunnis to engage in civil disobedience until they get their fair share.

    But Cole is at pains to deny any cooperation between Al Qaeda and the “insurgents,” which is why I always view his blogging on this with suspicion.

    Fred Kaplan at Slate writes today:“Third, it is not clear whether this letter is authentic or, if it is, to whom it was sent. It’s signed “Your loving brother, Abu Muhammad,” indicating Zawahiri. But there’s something odd about the DNI’s claim that the letter was addressed to Zarqawi. Near the end of the letter, he writes, “By God, if by chance you’re going to Fallujah, send greetings to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.” Clearly, he wouldn’t tell Zarqawi to send greetings to himself. Could the letter have been intended for one of Zarqawi’s aides? (Thursday afternoon, I asked a National Security Council spokesman about this anomaly. He replied, “Hmm,” and said he’d get back to me. So far, he hasn’t.)

    Al-Qaida released a statement Thursday, dismissing the letter as a U.S. fabrication. I doubt this is so. John Negroponte, the director of national intelligence, can be a diabolical fellow, but if he and his chums forged the note with the intent of claiming it was sent to Zarqawi, why would they scribble this greeting? Juan Cole, in his blog entry today, cites peculiarly un-Sunni-like language in the letter and speculates that it’s a Shiite forgery.

    I guess it’s better that the Shiites try to trick the “insurgents” into not slaughtering their civilians rather than engaging in an all-out civil war. As much as I dislike the religious, I’ve been impressed with Sistani.

  14. Do terrorist leaders really say things like “Say hi to Zarqawi for me”? Shouldn’t they be making cryptic references to 12th Century events?
    This thing screams FORGERY so loud I have to cover my ears.

  15. Julian, this thing about the family and companions and its supposed Shiite exclusivity is utter nonsense. I’ve just posted on it here. It may very well be a fake but be careful with these things.

  16. blind leading the blind

  17. I supported the GWOT.

    I still support the GWOT.

    Nevertheless, I must admit, I have no idea whether stuff like this Z-Z letter is real or fake.

    The stuff we _know_ is really true (like the kidnapping and videotaped murder of Margaret Hassan, an incredibly brutal and incomprehensibly stupid act) is enough to bolster my POV.

    Meanwhile, Iowahawk drills down to the essential truth: http://iowahawk.typepad.com/

    Thanks!
    gp

  18. The intel business is called a wilderness of mirrors for a reason.

  19. Meanwhile, TechCentral and The Heritage are both running articles today which take this letter as gospel…..

  20. Regardless of Mr. Cole’s views on the matter, I find it hard to imagine that embattled leaders of an underground insurgent movement routinely exchange 6,000-word missives with each other outlining basic philosophies, strategies, etc., particularly when there is a high chance of said letters being intercepted by the enemy. My guess is that Al-Qaeda and their pals commit as little real information on hard copy as they can get away with, relying on verbal instructions or coded signals.

    The hardest aspect of unconventional warfare to grasp is the constant smog of disinformation and misdirection engaged in by all parties. This letter could be a product of “black ops,” a ploy by Al-Qaeda, or even a genuine message, but there’s no real way to tell which it is.

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