Islamic State’s hot emotions and cool calculations

In the case of ‘Islamic State’ there is a marked contrast between the emotions necessary to commit the atrocities for which they are known and the emotions necessary to create those staged videos of the deaths of their captives.

Islamic State is a swirling vortex of disgust, contempt, anger and hate which cuts a swath wherever it goes. What connects these emotions is a negative evaluation of their victims that is driven by the ideology that has captivated these young men and women.

Anger is typically directed at a person’s actions rather than his or her fundamental characteristics. Hate is typically directed at those whom we believe to possess fundamentally evil qualities. They are hated not because of what they have done but for who they are. We want those we are angry with to suffer because they have hurt us. We want those we hate to die because their continued existence poses a threat to us and the intrinsic nature of their evil traits makes it impossible change the object of our hatred. To cause such suffering and death these Islamic Statists must be in the grip of anger and hatred and be devoid of compassion for their victims. This vortex of emotions spreads by contagion. Like a forest fire it can leap improbable distances.

So it is not quite true to say that Islamic violence is ‘senseless’. There is a certain logic to it, albeit of the emotional kind.

Contrast these ‘hot’ emotions with the cool calculations evident in the series of videos in which captured hostages are seemingly executed, beginning with James Foley (last August), up to the video purporting to show the killing of 21 kidnapped Egyptian Coptic Christians. No anger or hatred here.

These videos are clearly staged. There is no camera in the crowd capturing a real execution. Victims are arranged for the benefit of the camera, as if on a film set or in a studio. Jihadi John holds a knife in his left hand, not because he is left-handed, but because protagonists are always positioned to the right of a movie screen. Evidence of digital manipulation connecting events at different times in different places abounds. As in a Hollywood movie, there is no ‘where’ or ‘when’ in these Islamic State videos.

There is a common pattern of events surrounding these videos. First there is the warning, i.e., the appearance of the hostage and a statement of the conditions that must be met for his release. Then a letter from the hostage to his family will be disclosed, or a desperate, pleading letter or video tape from one or both of the hostage’s parents, or we will be told of a rescue attempt that almost succeeded, but didn’t. Almost immediately, it is headline news that the hostage has been executed after all and we are presented with the pained face of a grieving parent or sibling. The sequence of events is cunningly diabolical. Hopes are raised only to be dashed. The emotional knife is twisted bit by bit, ever deeper.

As in a Hollywood movie, the director’s intent is to stimulate certain emotions in the Western viewing public—to shock, disgust and horrify; above all to use these emotions to elicit a particular course of action from us and our governments. To this end, these IS videos have been remarkably successful.

Consider: The execution, if that is what it was, of two British and two American hostages is all it took to disarm critics of the return of Anglo-American forces to Iraq (unthinkable but six months ago). The execution of the downed Jordanian pilot, lieutenant Muadh al-Kasasbeh, simultaneously gave renewed intent to Jordan’s air strikes against IS while undermining public support for them. The execution of 21 Egyptians in Libya brought Egypt and Libya into the war against IS. Finally, the realization that IS is on the shores of the Mediterranean has caused panic in Rome.

Let us note that these are reactions to highly choreographed videos, not to any direct communications from an IS leader or to strategic actions of forces on the ground. In each case our rulers have responded exactly as the director of these IS movies intended. One would hope for a little more emotional intelligence, but Islamic State is running this show.

Whoever is behind these IS videos, and my views on that are in past posts, they have a good understanding of Western emotions, and they are divorced from the emotions of those acting in the name of this ‘Islamic State’. It is almost as if they were separate groups of people.

‘Did ISIS doctor the footage of Japanese hostages?’ No way!

‘Did ISIS doctor the footage of Japanese hostages?’  asks the Daily Mail here. ‘Experts’, they say, suggest that it is. No kidding.

All these ISIS videos are, not ‘doctored’, because that implies that there is a core of authenticity to them, but simulations—composites comprised of people and things at different times or different places assembled using video deception techniques. They could be created anywhere, Tel Aviv, Ankara, London, Virginia, or wherever the Search for International Terrorist Entities (SITE) hangs its hat these days. This much can be established without doubt using well established forensic techniques.

And so I have been arguing for months now. For those interested in reviewing those posts click on ‘Islamic State’ in the menu to the left or click here. They are best read in the order in which they were written. Draw your own conclusions.

Try to find a named ‘intelligence’ professional who will testify that these videos are what they say they are. Traditional news media usually cover their backsides by prefacing their accounts with a cautious ‘appears to show’ and such like. The US and UK governments will vouch for them, but only via ‘official sources’.

No one with any sense working in intelligence will vouch for them because they know what any child who watches them knows, that these videos are not what they seem. They also know that this is a high stakes deception operation and the costs of stepping out of line are equally high.

The one exception to this rule is the for-profit SITE Intelligence and President Obama. Only today SITE confirmed that the Japanese hostage beheading video is ‘authentic’; or, more precisely and more cautiously,  it said that ‘it believed the image of Mr. Yukawa’s dead body was authentic’ (New York Times JAN. 24, 2015).

SITE is said to have close and direct links with the White House. Sure enough, shortly after SITE gave the nod, President Obama, choosing his words carefully, professed his outrage at this ‘murder’. Since only a conspiracy theorist doubts the President, all doubts are supposed to cease. This ‘narrative’ established, other Western leaders fell into line and acted as Obama’s croaking chorus.

There surely must be a legitimate reason why the private for-profit Search for International Terrorist Entities (SITE) discovers and authenticates all these Jihadist videos, while the CIA and MI6, funded in the billions from the public purse, remain silent, but at the moment I can’t think of one.

It surely couldn’t be because there is truth in the old rumour that SITE has a hand in creating the very videos it miraculously discovers. Could it?

Dr. Richard Marsden

Comment on ‘The race to save Peter Kassig’ by Younes et al (Guardian, 18 December, 2014)

Comment on ‘The race to save Peter Kassig’ by Younes et al (Guardian, 18 December, 2014) by Dr. Richard Marsden

On Thursday, December 18, 2014, The Guardian published ‘The race to save Peter Kassig‘ by Ali Younes, Shiv Malik, Spencer Ackerman and Mustafa Khalili. To refresh memories here is the preface to the story:

The American aid worker was killed by his Isis captors on 16 November. Here, for the first time, is the story of an extraordinary effort to secure his release, which involved a radical New York lawyer, the US government, and the world’s most revered jihadi scholar.

Listen to The Guardian team tell of the daring and extraordinary effort to secure Kassig’s release.

The radical New York lawyer in question is Stanley Cohen, ‘one of America’s most controversial lawyers’. In January he begins an 18-month prison sentence after pleading guilty to a charge from the US Internal Revenue Service. The Guardian article tells a gripping tale of how Cohen put together a team of Islamic scholars and al-Qaeda fellow-travellers to negotiate the release of Peter Kassig from Islamic State’s captivity—only to be thwarted at the last minute by an ill-timed intervention by Jordan’s secret service.

Clearly it’s an important story deserving of a wide readership. How curious then that The Guardian first broke the story just before Christmas, when readers are busy with other things, and that since then corporate news media in the United States have ignored it. On Twitter it’s another matter. Cohen is lauded as a hero for selflessly attempting a rescue mission while the authorities did nothing and his prison cell beckoned. There is talk of a film deal. The Pardon Stanley Cohen movement has more of a spring in its step.

All well and good, then.

And yet, to my ears, ‘The race to rescue Peter Kassig’ does not ring true. Lest it be sanctified by Hollywood without the bother of critical evaluation, I want to register some questions and comments so that we might better understand the fate of Peter Kassig. I fear that Guardian readers, the article’s authors, and even Stanley Cohen, have been taken advantage of by altogether more diabolical forces.

1. Let’s start at the beginning: Where is the evidence that Peter Kassig was ever held captive by ‘Islamic State’ or that they decapitated him? This is so widely assumed that the question is seldom asked. It should be. Questioning assumptions should be a starting point for investigative journalists. If he is to be ‘rescued’ we ought to ask, From whom and where?

Surely the 15 minute video ‘Although the disbelievers dislike it’ is all the evidence we need, even if few have seen it? I do not think so. I’ve studied it carefully and can find evidence only of the Tarantino-like film making skills of whoever created this little masterpiece of deception. (See ISIS Lessons in Terror Marketing: How to Change the World by Deception). No one is decapitated in that video; not anyone of those Syrian servicemen; not Peter Kassig. It’s all camera angles, special effects and clever editing.

What about Kassig’s severed head at the feet of ‘Jihadi John’ in the final segment of that video? It certainly looks like a severed head and it resembles Kassig’s and this is proof of what exactly? The props department of most major theatre and opera companies can produce a severed head on demand, even of a specific individual. Here the Royal Shakespeare Company shows how it is done. Props departments have their counterparts in film; they’re called digital artists. Look carefully: ‘Kassig’s head’ is a digitally inserted prop. It’s not proof of Kassig’s death. It’s proof that someone is attempting to deceive us.

Questions such as these are not asked because ‘we are passive consumers of the pornography of violence’ (Will Self, The Guardian, 2014-12-23). Effectively, public opinion defers to the testimony of ‘Jihadi John’. So when he says ‘This is Peter Edward Kassig, a US citizen of your country’ it surely must be true. From this shaky assumption Ali Younes, Shiv Malik, Spencer Ackerman and Mustafa Khalili set forth on their investigation.

2. Strictly speaking, the byline of ‘The race to save Peter Kassig’ should be ‘Stanley Cohen as told to Younes et al’ for the entire account is based on what Cohen told them he recalled, felt and did. The article reads like an extract from a novel, in which Cohen is the protagonist and Younes et al attempt to breath some life into the character by seeing the world through his eyes. For example, Cohen ‘had other things on his mind’; ‘as he returned from court’; ‘To Cohen, it seemed like fate’; ‘Cohen saw something of himself.’ And so on. The entire article is written like this.

Investigative journalism surely calls for more critical distance from those it investigates. This is especially important since three of the central players in this drama are anonymous and we have no way of checking their account: the FBI official (‘Mike’), the federal prosecutor and an ex-Guantanamo, ‘Kuwaiti member of al-Qaida’ (‘Food’). Essentially, Cohen speaks for them and the coauthors document what he says. The article’s rhetorical style leaves readers no room to make up their own minds about what happened.

3. Even fictional narratives must be plausible; this article stretches plausibility to its limit.

(a) Readers are asked to believe that the United States, with its vast intelligence and diplomatic resources, has no one capable of negotiating with Islamic State for the release of one of its citizens—apart from this maverick Jewish soon-to-be imprisoned lawyer. If so, what’s the point of those ‘diplomats’ in that vast US ‘embassy’ in Baghdad?

(b) How plausible is it that Cohen was given a free hand to negotiate with Islamic State? Let’s look at what he so nearly did with it. According to the article, he concluded that the only way to achieve Kassig’s release was to bring about rapprochement between Turki al-Binali and Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi; or, put another way, to bring about reconciliation between ISIS and al-Qaeda. No kidding. And this would be a good thing? The life of this one American would be worth this exorbitant price would it? Apparently so. The US intelligence and diplomat community, it would seem, was indifferent to this prospect, which, but for the bungling interference of Jordan’s secret service in arresting al-Maqdisi, would have come about.

(c) How likely is it that Jordan’s secret service would act contrary to the wishes of their American counterparts, especially on a mission of such vital importance?

(d) Why would anyone reasonably expect ‘Islamic State’ to be so magnanimous as to free Kassig just so it could have the pleasure of dedicating his release ‘to Muslim political prisoners around the world, including those in Guantánamo’, as Cohen suggested? What is there in ‘Jihadi John’s’ demeanour that suggests this? Yet this prospect, apparently, was enough for Islamic State to agree that Kassig would not be harmed ‘while Cohen was still engaged on the ground.’

(e) The ‘tentative proposal for Kassig’s unilateral release’ was put together by Cohen with the help of three anonymous characters—the FBI official (‘Mike’), the federal prosecutor and an ex-Guantanamo, ‘Kuwaiti member of al-Qaida’ (‘Food’). Why would they want to conceal their involvement in this noble but tragic rescue mission, when others with more to lose are named?

(f) Turki al-Binali is an elusive character. Just 30-years old, but ‘Isis’s chief scholar’ ‘who has his own English language Facebook page’ and ‘the only person who could stay Jihadi John’s knife with a single edict.’ (‘Jihadi John’, then, is in charge.) Just as ‘Jihadi John’ is a man whose face we have not seen and whose voice is not authenticated, Turki al-Binali is encountered more in the virtual realm than in the flesh. No one actually sees him during these negotiations nor is there any mention of where he is physically located. It’s all done via WhatsApp.

(g) Why would the venerable Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi, newly released from 5 years in a Jordanian prison, want to jeopardize his freedom by messaging with al-Binali, Islamic State’s ‘scholar-in-arms’, over such a harebrained scheme and then have his private conversations published in a national newspaper for the whole world to gawp at? Incredibly, he takes the word of Cohen, who he has just met, and his anonymous FBI handler (‘Mike’).

(h) In fact, it’s not clear why al-Maqdisi, ‘who may be the world’s most revered living jihadi scholar’, would agree to meet with Cohen in the first place, let alone immediately invite this stranger into his home. ‘The flat was tidy: on the floor were children’s toys and, on the walls, framed religious quotations.’ This is as close as we come to an explanation:

When Cohen told Mike about his travel plans, the FBI official was surprised. “He said ‘Maqdisi is going to meet with you?’” Cohen recalled. “I said ‘Yeah, he’s waiting for me.’ He said ‘Go’.”

As easy as that then. Could the following help explain this instant cordiality? In an article published in the Arab Daily News, October 28, 2014, one of the authors of ‘The race to save Peter Kassig’, Ali Younes, writes of an interview he conducted with the said Abu Mohamad al-Maqdisi. (There they are together in two photographs, friendly as anything). Younes reveals that he had spoken with al-Maqdisi ‘on several occasions in the past few weeks’. This is the very period that Cohen claims to have been communicating with al-Maqdisi. It surely wasn’t the case that one of the authors of ‘The race to save Peter Kassig’ was a party to these negotiations? We would have been told. Wouldn’t we?

(i) According to ‘The race to save Peter Kassig’ al-Maqdisi and al-Binali tried to reach an agreement on the release of Kassig, not by meeting face-to-face, speaking on the phone or even by writing letters, but via WhatsApp (‘one of Isis’s favoured modes of communication’).

By now it was evening, and for the next two hours or so, Maqdisi and Binali messaged each other on WhatsApp. Their exchange was “very warm,” Cohen says. Maqdisi jokingly called Binali “my ungrateful son” and Binali messaged back and said, “Abu Muhammad [Maqdisi] is my father. All these other sheikhs [in Isis] are my uncles.” Binali was eager to show off: he prefaced some of his messages by saying there was a drone overhead or there had just been an air strike, to impress Maqdisi. He also sent his former teacher a picture of himself wearing an ammunition vest and holding a Qur’an.

Quite touching. These are Cohen’s recollections, mind, not al-Maqdisi’s or al-Binali’s.

Maqdisi told Cohen that he’d had an additional WhatsApp discussion with Binali. They made progress towards a personal rapprochement and had even started to resolve their religious differences. Tomorrow, Maqdisi said, he planned on specifically broaching the subject of Kassig with him.

I cannot even imagine the bookish al-Maqdisi using WhatsApp. Is this really how Jihadi scholars do business these days? They are so trusting. Neither could know for sure who he was messaging with. Having ‘made progress towards a personal rapprochement’ they were to ‘resolve their religious differences’—by WhatsApp. This is how the reconciliation between Islamic State and al-Qaeda was to be achieved? This is how the fate of this young man was to be decided? This is the very best the United States could do to rescue him?

Incidentally, where was al-Binali during these exchanges? This isn’t mentioned in the article. Did Cohen or anyone on his team see him or know where he was? Other than by his appearances on WhatsApp, Twitter and Facebook, how would the skeptical know that the elusive al-Binali actually exists?

For these and other reasons I am not at all persuaded by ‘The race to save Peter Kassig’. I do, however, have a more plausible explanation of the events depicted in the article. As I have argued at length elsewhere, the suite of Islamic State beheading videos (of Foley, Sotloff, Henning and Haines, along with ‘Although the disbelievers dislike it’) are works of military deception (MILDEC) aimed primarily at Western public opinion. No one dies in those videos. Their immediate objective was to facilitate Anglo-American military reengagement in Iraq (unthinkable only a few months ago) by goading an emotional reaction among Brits and Americans. Mission accomplished. Their broader objective is to disguise the real forces behind Islamic State and their motives. Things are not as they seem. I do not know for sure who is behind these particular Islamic State beheading videos, other than that it is not ‘Islamic State’, but if a faction within US/UK intelligence did not create them they surely know who did.

To return to the fate of Peter Kassig and the ‘race’ to save him.

Whenever an American hostage meets an untimely demise the US feels obliged to tell us of the heroic efforts they made to save him or her, only to be foiled by circumstances beyond their control. It happens every time. For simulated hostages there are simulated rescue attempts. The day after the release of the Foley beheading video, for example, ‘senior Obama administration officials’ told of an unsuccessful secret operation to rescue Foley and several other Americans held captive in Syria. The Syrian government said it never happened. ‘The race to save Peter Kassig’ tells of the diplomatic equivalent of these heroically unsuccessful military rescue missions. Even if some or all of the participants were sincere, it was a simulated rescue that was designed to fail. Jordanian and American intelligence are like heart and lung on these matters. They work in unison. If Maqdisi was arrested just as the deal was about to be sealed it’s because the US wanted it.

No actual diplomats would fall for this pantomime, but an amateur one facing prison might. No seasoned journalists would fall for it either; they would raise questions such as the above. So what happened to these Guardianistas? The accompanying audio (by Phoebe Greenward) tells us that the ‘race’ began with ‘a series of emails obtained by the Guardian.‘ ‘Obtained’ suggests some active investigation. A more accurate word I suggest is ‘fed’ (given to Shiv Malik). By whom? And why to a British rather than an American newspaper? Mustafa Khalili’s first response when he read them—’disbelief’—was correct. But these journalists were so intoxicated by the romance of what they read that their investigation lapsed into fleshing out a narrative on the bare bones of those emails, the whole lot marinated in sentiment. The name for this is ‘creative nonfiction’, not investigative journalism.

The correct answer to ‘What happened to Peter Kassig?’ is ‘We don’t know’. This is a more honest position than seeing beheadings where there are none and taking ‘Jihadi John’s’ word as gospel. To answer the question, researching how ‘The race to save Peter Kassig’ came to be would be a good start.

December 24, 2014

Dr. Richard Marsden

Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences

Athabasca University

Alberta, Canada T9S 3A3


ISIS Lessons in Terror Marketing: How to Change the World by Deception

The story so far: a handful of videos, which most of us have never seen, featuring a man-in-black whose face we cannot see and whose voice we cannot authenticate, together with four strangely fearless hostages, whose beheadings we do not witness, and whose divorced torso and head could be created by any half-decent theatre or opera company, have facilitated the once unthinkable return of Anglo-American armed forces to the land from which they were routed, Iraq, and have precipitated the further erosion of civil liberties in the UK and the US. Truly, we live in an age of marketing—emotional marketing.

Now read on.

I have argued that this marketing campaign—‘We’re Islamic State: Come Get Us Before We Get You’—is a work of Military Deception (MILDEC). To wit: it is a creation of a handful of professional MILDEC officers (whose identity I leave until later) and a much larger number of unwitting people whose belief in the deception makes it work. This nest of professional conspirators are using techniques normally deployed against an external enemy against “us”; in the first instance, the citizens of the UK and the US, more broadly, world public opinion.

A child could spot the anomalies and inconsistencies in these videos because children lack preconceptions, they say what they see. Most grown ups don’t spot them because they don’t bother to look and they don’t bother to look because they blithely assume that this kind of thing does not happen. To recognize the hand of military deception in these videos one needs only an understanding of how it works. This series of posts are a modest step in this direction. I defy any competent, independent expert in MILDEC to vouch for the authenticity of these videos.

Nothing I say here or in earlier posts denies the reality of the often brutal military maneuvers on the ground in Syria, Kurdistan and Iraq in the name of ‘Islamic State’ and I will turn to this in due course. My argument is that this campaign of deception disguises the real intent, motives and the powers behind these maneuvers.

Now I turn to the video that surely makes a nonsense of all of the above: the self-titled ‘Although the disbelievers dislike it.’ It was ‘released’ into the public domain on Sunday, November 16, before disappearing again, just as its predecessors had done. To protect us from its gore, you understand—for now Westerners are afraid not just of fearsome things but of the very idea of fearsome things.

Fortunately, American intelligence briefed corporate news media on what the video contained and what it meant. The big news: the video shows the tragic beheading of young Master Kassig, whose only fault was to want to help people (it doesn’t; it wasn’t). The fate of the 18 young Syrian military men (‘Nusayri officers and pilots in the hands of the Khilafah’)—each someone’s son, brother—was scarcely mentioned. In this indirect way we learn that the death of one American is worth the lives of 18 Syrians. In the event, only six of them are ‘beheaded’.

If the earlier beheadings were a bit iffy,  as in ‘no one was actually beheaded’, this was the real thing, we were told: we get to see the brutal ‘look away now’ decapitations. Actually, we don’t. If the earlier videos were ‘made for television’ (see The Secret of Islamic State’s Beheading Videos Revealed), this production uses techniques perfected in the motion picture business. We ‘see’ only one ‘beheading’, performed by ‘Jihadi John’ and his victim who can’t stop looking at the camera. The rest is slight of hand, slick editing and special effects. If it seems ‘just like a movie’, it’s because it is.

And it’s executed quite brilliantly. Let me show you how.

The video has these sections:

  1. Opening sequence: 00:00-1:00
  2. A narrated video of Islamic State’s brief history: 1:00-7:45
  3. The choreographed simulated ‘beheadings’: 7:45-11:35
  4. Finale: featuring  ‘Jihadi John’ with a prop head at this feet: 11:35-15:53

The entire video ‘Although Disbelievers Dislike It’ can been seen at ISIS Although The Disbelievers Dislike It Video and Location which is a page of  Aid Drops and Airstrikes, a web site belonging to the People’s Protection Units of Kurdistan. To understand one aim of the IS deception, look to what these People’s Units are protecting.  The featured image shows some women fighters of the PPU in Kobané.

Opening Sequence (00:00-1:00)

The opening scene (one minute) features a blue borderless, interactive map of the Middle East (see screenshot below). There are names, but no territorial boundaries. There is Lebanon. Here is Jordan, Iraq and Syria. Just over there we see Turkey, Iran and Bulgaria. Oddly enough, Israel is not identified although the equally small Kuwait is. But then these Islamic State people have a blind spot when it comes to Israel.

As we are taking in this panorama, a digital black flag and white flag pole descends and inserts itself at the border between Syria and Iraq. This black flag brings with it a bright light. The English names for these countries are joined by their Arabic names. Syria becomes ‘Sham’. Funnily enough, there is no Saudi Arabia, only the Arabian Peninsula. Why is Rome identified?

opening sequence-map

The map of the Middle East morphs into a map of North America. Mexico is labelled such. Canada is not (subsumed under the United States?) The brightness brought by Islamic State spreads from the east coast to the west. And then, low and behold, this glow envelops the entire world. Just in case there was any doubt about what that means:

Indeed, Allah gathered the Earth for me, and thus I saw its eastern and western extents, and indeed the reign of my Ummah will reach what was gathered for me from the Earth. (Sahih Muslim)

Now we begin to understand why ‘the Disbelievers Dislike It’. These characters are intent on world domination. So pay attention to what follows.

 Islamic State’s Cast of Characters (1:00-7:45)

Between 1:00 and 4:20 we are treated to an illustrated history of Islamic State told via the deeds of its deceased leaders. Think of it as Islamic State’s Greatest Hits. The Arabic narrator’s tone of voice is portentous BBC Terrorism. He sounds as if he is reading the Shipping Forecast. He narrates a film strip of images moving left to right. Frames springs forth and come to life when addressed. This is fitting since so much of what we know about ‘Islamic State’ comes in video form. Essentially this is a  roll call of fabricated IS characters interspersed with real footage to give them a patina of authenticity.

An English translation accompanies voice and images. Let’s consider this example:

The invasive crusader forces announced the collapse of Baghdad [April 9/14, 2003]. While they enjoyed the ecstasy of false victory, the sons of Islam were preparing themselves for a battle whose flames would not wane until they struck the armies of the Cross near Dabiq.

Leaving aside (for now) the atrocious overwrought terrorist language, note that this ‘history’ makes no mention of the many thousands of Iraqi men, women and children who resisted these ‘invasive crusader forces’ and perished in the process—while these dissolute ‘sons of Islam’ ‘prepared’ themselves for some future, much-promised ‘battle’. This narrated video casually substitutes the nascent ‘Islamic State’ for the actual resistance who are passed over in silence. This leaves the impression that the only people resisting the occupation were these vainglorious IS dilettantes. At a stroke, to resist the Anglo-American occupation is to support Islamic State. This is no accident.

The narration continues. ‘So some of the jihadi battalions and factions were formed.’ Just one moment. ’So’ normally refers back to something already established. In this case the word points to a history that isn’t there. But to continue: ‘including Jama’at at-Tawhid wal-Jihad, which was established by Shaykh Abu Mus’ab az-Zarqawi’.

Including in the pantheon of Islamic State greats Mr. al-Zarqawi—so elusive that some doubted his existence—is crucial evidence that this video, indeed Islamic State itself, is a deception, a sham. Let me explain.

The actual Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was killed by American bombs at an Ansar al-Islam camp in the Sulaimaniyah mountains of northern Iraq, most likely during April, 2003, i.e., at the very beginning of the occupation.

Al-Zarqawi’s career as an agent provocateur began during U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell’s, now infamous, presentation to the U.N. Security Council, in February, 2003, the aim of which was to secure its backing for the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq. Powell talked of a ‘sinister nexus between Iraq and the al-Qaeda terrorist network’.

Iraq today harbors a deadly terrorist network headed by Abu Musab Zarqawi, an associate and collaborator of Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda lieutenants.

These claims were false, just as the rest of his presentation was full of falsehoods. Powell didn’t lie. He really believed what he was told about al-Zarqawi. Deceptions work via the unwitting. The honest, trustworthy Powell unwittingly sold the deception to the Security Council and Iraq’s fate was sealed.

Because the real Zarqawi was dead, he could be blamed for all manner of atrocities, to suit political expediency. Here are just a few examples:

(i) When the Shiites seemed likely to join the Sunni-driven resistance, the Americans paraded a letter, which they alleged was written by Zarqawi, calling for a civil war against the Shiites.

(ii) Only weeks later, the Americans blamed Zarqawi for the suicide bombing of Shiite mosques in Karbala and Baghdad.

(iii) Zarqawi came to America’s rescue shortly after publication of photographs of torture at Abu Ghraib, in the form of the kidnapping of Nicholas Berg. The Americans told us that he had been decapitated by Zarqawi himself.

(iv) Zarqawi’s alleged presence in Fallujah was the pretext for America’s razing to the ground that city, in November, 2004. Thus:

Fallujah had become a hub for foreign guerrillas who joined Zarqawi’s network, U.S. military officials have said.

So they really had no option but to raze Fallujah, you see. The then Prime Minister, Iyad Allawi, warned the city to hand Zarqawi over or else face a full scale assault. This was impossible because he wasn’t there. He wasn’t there because he was dead. In a letter sent on Oct. 14, 2004, to Kofi Annan, the Fallujah Shura Council, which administers the city, said:

In Fallujah, [the Americans] have created a new vague target: al-Zarqawi. Almost a year has elapsed since they created this new pretext, and whenever they destroy houses, mosques, restaurants, and kill children and women, they said: ‘We have launched a successful operation against al-Zarqawi.’ The people of Fallujah assure you that this person, if he exists, is not in Fallujah … and we have no links to any groups supporting such inhuman behavior. We appeal to you to urge the UN [to prevent] the new massacre which the Americans and the puppet government are planning to start soon in Fallujah, as well as many parts of the country (my emphasis).

These words made not a jot of difference then, but we should heed them now when making sense of Islamic State’s gallery of rogues. ‘This person, if he exists’. The people of Fallujah couldn’t find this ‘al-Zarqawi’, when their very lives depended on finding him, and, after the massacre, neither could the Americans. And why? Because he has been dead since 2003 and his name was used as cover for atrocities committed by other forces. Islamic State is the descendant of these ‘other forces’.

‘Al-Zarqawi’ allowed the US military to create the impression that the resistance to their occupation of Iraq was the work of this evil monster and al-Qaeda. It was nothing of the kind. It also gave them cover for creating divisions within that resistance by instigating attacks against Shiite Iraqis. They are doing exactly the same thing now in the form of ‘Islamic State’.

Zarqawi screenshot

If al-Zarqawi died in 2003, who is the rotund ‘al-Zarqawi’ in this screen shot from the IS ‘Although the disbelievers dislike it’ video? He is a limited term  ‘actor’, motivated by force of circumstance and/or financial incentive. The same was true of this ‘al-Zarqawi’s’ successor Abdullah ibn Rashid al-Baghdadi. The same is true of ‘Jihadi John’ and the current leader of Islamic State, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. All these characters meet the same end. They are ‘retired’, nearly always at a politically opportune moment, courtesy of a US airstrike that obliterates all trace of them. And then a new leader emerges.

The inauthenticity of this video al-Zarqawi is easily established. For a start he looks nothing like the earlier authenticated photographs of al-Zarqawi. This hater of all things American is holding an American M-249; out of shot, he’s wearing a pair of New Balance trainers, sparkling white. Then there is the matter of how this video was acquired by the US. It was the great good fortune of American forces to have chanced upon it during a raid on an al-Qaeda safe house in the Baghdad area. Funnily enough, so much of what we know about al-Qaeda and Islamic State comes from lap tops, audio-tapes and videos chanced upon by American troops and, the ever popular, ‘intelligence’. Nevertheless, while al-Qaeda may be careless and unlucky, the al-Zarqawi video does a passable job of inspiring his supporters and intimidating his Western enemies with his military prowess. Until, that is, we see what is not shown in this IS video—the next few frames of the al-Zarqawi-with-a-machine-gun video.


The al-Zarqawi video (labelled ‘October 2003’ in the IS video) was released to the public early May 2006 by the US military. It was released to the public as part of a campaign to both show that he exists and undermine al-Zarqawi’s credibility. Means to this end were scenes which revealed al-Zarqawi to be incompetent with a machine gun:

It’s supposed to be automatic fire, he’s shooting single shots. Something is wrong with his machine gun, he looks down, can’t figure out, calls his friend to come unblock the stoppage and get the weapon firing again …. And, his close associates around him … do things like grab the hot barrel of the machine gun and burn themselves.

A screenshot of this comedy of errors is shown in the screenshot above. Most adult Iraqis are familiar with this figure-of-fun al-Zarqawi ‘blooper’, for as The Guardian tells us:

The footage was broadcast repeatedly on Iraqi state television and the pan-Arab satellite channel Al-Arabiya across Iraq today as many people began their weekend. (The, Friday 5 May 2006)

So why would ‘Islamic State’ in this promotional video use a clip from a video which ridicules al-Zarqawi? Answer: because the IS video isn’t directed at Iraqis, it’s directed at Western audiences and they know nothing about all this. Iraqis themselves have long grown weary of this game of invented al-Qaeda leaders. How likely is it that this leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq cannot handle a machine gun? How likely is it that the most wanted man in Iraq, whose features were unknown, would reveal his face in a video and then leave it to be found in a safe house? Real guerrilla leaders are not fools. The ‘al-Zarqawi’ in the video is an actor who is paid to behave foolishly.

Even fictional characters have to die sometime. The narrative had run its course. ‘Al-Zarqawi’ was ‘retired’ when the USAF dropped two 500 lb. bombs on his  ‘safe’ house, June 7, 2006. Only then did we understand his faced had been displayed on every television screen in the Middle East a month earlier—it was to identify his body now. The screen shot below from this IS video is a photograph released by the Americans  to demonstrate his death. Everything else in the house was reduced to dust, but this character proved super-human even in death. There’s barely a scratch on him. But give the character its due. In his name atrocities were committed against the Shi’a with the sole aim of turning parties to the armed resistance against each other. Dividing its enemies along sectarian lines had been perfected by the British. Here the Americans continued this treacherous tradition. The Iraqi national resistance was divided and fragmented into bloody sectarian strife. The big question, By whom?

al-Zarqawi death face

So much for ‘Shaykh Abu Mus’ab az-Zarqawi’ and his ‘Jama’at at-Tawhid wal-Jihad’. Let’s look at the next cartoon villain-of-the-piece:

‘After him [Zarqawi], the banner was carried by Shaykh Abu Hamzah al-Muhajir.’

Iraqis are known to dislike outsiders, so note the name: ‘Al-Muhajir” is Arabic for immigrant. Zarqawi was Jordanian. We know that al-Muhajir was appointed as al-Zarqawi’s successor because a dubious audio-tape from Osama bin Laden told us he was just the chap to lead the jihad against the dastardly occupiers. The only problem was that a bona fide Egyptian lawyer vouched that this Mr. al-Muhajir had been in an Egyptian prison for seven years, where he recently visited him. Immediately, ‘al-Muhajir’ became ‘better known as’ ‘Abu Ayyub al-Masri’ and this embarrassment was accommodated.


The narrator informs us ‘time did not pass long before’ (in less flowery language, ‘in October 2006’) al‐Muhajir announced the formation of the Islamic State of Iraq and named Shaykh Abdullah ibn Rashid al-Baghdadi as the leader of this council, it’s ‘Emir’. Wait a moment! Where have we heard that name before? You will recall from an earlier post that the US Military admitted that the very same ‘Abdullah ibn Rashid al-Baghdadi’ was a fiction of their own creation. (Michael R. Gordon. Leader of Al Qaeda group in Iraq was fictional, U.S. military says. New York Times. July 18, 2007.) This would go some way in explaining the lack of a photograph for this character.

To recap: Of these two leaders of the ‘Islamic State of Iraq’, one was imprisoned in Egypt and knew nothing of all this and the other didn’t exist. No wonder no one set eyes on them. To be fair, to do their job they didn’t actually have to exist, they had only to facilitate a narrative capable of explaining the sectarian killing and this they did admirably.

In any event, these characters were retired simultaneously courtesy of a ‘Crusader’ air strike in Salaheddin province, west of Baghdad, April 2010. Even boy scouts and girl guides know that terrorist leaders should not travel together. But not these Keystone terrorists. And they learn nothing from this calamities. Recall that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi nearly lost his life when his ten vehicle convoy was hit by US missiles (see Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s Near Death Experience). If you keep paying attention you’ll find that this happens to him over and over again.

At this point in the narrative, there is an interlude during which Islamic State establishes its moral authority to kill whomever, wherever, however and without mercy. Beneath this caption ‘Nusayri airstrikes against the Muslims of Sham’ (Nusayri is often used as another name for Alawites) we have this:

By Allah, we will never forget our people in Houla. By Allah, we will never forget what you did to our people in Ghouta. By Allah, we will never forget what you did to our people in Baniyas.

Here Islamic State bathes in the moral outrage over these massacres and vows revenge. They can’t be faulted on this, surely? Yes, they certainly can. Followers of traditional news media know that in each case ‘those loyal to Syria’s President Assad’ were guilty of these heinous crimes. This has certainly been the line of the United States and its ‘international community’. But look a little more closely and a rather different position emerges. Or would you rather take the word of Islamic State?

‘Our people in Houla’ refers to the Houla massacre on May 25, 2012, at two opposition conrolled villages north of Homs. 108 people were killed, including 34 women and 49 children. Most were executed. It is by no means clear who did it. Some, including, it would seem, Islamic State, say the pro-government Shabiha were to blame. The Syrian government blamed al-Qaeda, i.e., a forerunner of Islamic State. The UN Commission of Inquiry ‘with the available evidence could not rule out any of three possible perpetrators.’

‘We will never forget what you did to our people in Ghouta’ refers to a chemical attack on August 21, 2013, on the people of East Ghouta, a suburb of Damascus which killed around 1500 people. The whole world it seemed, with the exception of Russia, decided almost immediately that the government of President Bashar al-Assad was responsible and the United States was on the verge of attacking Syria. Putin regarded the attack as a provocation to this very end. There is plenty of evidence that opposition forces backed by Saudi Arabia carried out these attacks. This line of argument is supported by an MIT report Possible Implications of Faulty US Technical Intelligence in the Damascus Nerve Agent Attack of August 21, 2013.

‘We will never forget what you did to our people in Baniyas’ refers to massacres committed in the village of Bayda and the city of Baniyas in North Western Syria in the first week of May 2013. Here Islamic State sides with the American and NATO view that Syrian troops, supported by paramilitaries, killed Sunni residents of this village and this part of the city. But here again there is an alternative explanation, that US and NATO sponsored terrorists killed these people.

Islamic State’s claimed moral outrage in this promotional video is important because it provides the justification for what comes next—the apparent beheading of the 18 young Syrian military men (‘Nusayri officers and pilots in the hands of the Khilafah.’) Clearly, this self-justification should not go unchallenged. This moral outrage can be turned around. There is compelling evidence that each of the above massacres were committed by people very much like those under the banner of Islamic State—to implicate someone else.

We should ‘never forget’ that either.

The choreographed ‘beheadings’ (7:45-11:35)

The above is a mere preamble to the main event. Having airbrushed out of existence the actual resistance to the occupation and established al-Qaeda/Islamic State in its place, and having established its moral right to ‘cleanse’ the land of anyone who gets in their way, who can object if they want to decapitate a few ‘Nusayri officers and pilots’? But just as the preceding part of the video reeks of deception, so too does this beheading segment. Cue the procession of the doomed and their baby-faced executioners.


The first thing to note is that this mass beheading forms a tableaux, a ‘living picture’. This isn’t some fly-on-the-wall production. Everything is ordered, designed, choreographed with an eye for the cameras. The most important person is the one we cannot see, the director. The cameras don’t simply document what was done, they shape our perceptions and feelings of what was done.

As with previous videos, can we distinguish between authentic and simulated emotions?

The caption ‘ Nusayri officers and pilots in the hands of the Khilafah’ is all we are told about their identities. Some of the executioners have been identified as new recruits from the West, attracted liked moths to a flame. Of the identities of the Syrian ‘officers and pilots’ I have heard nothing in Syrian news media. Has no mother recognized her son?

The presumed Syrian ‘officers and pilots’  wear blue uniforms. They are clean-shaven and  barefoot. Their body language gives them the demeanour of beaten dogs and yet they display no signs of ill-treatment. Their faces look down. Their torsos stoop forward, apparently of their own choosing for there is no sign of compulsion. Their hands are restrained behind their backs with some sort of plastic tie. At 9:49 we catch sight of a prisoner whose restraint is not restraining him because it is well below his wrist. He could free himself if he wanted to, but does not. The word to describe these would-be victims is meek.

Insecure binding

If you knew you were about to be beheaded, in the most gruesome fashion, wouldn’t you try to escape from these bindings?

The presumed jihadis are young, bearded and serious looking. Perhaps they look serious because they are looking ahead to what they have to do. But their faces do not look as if they’re about to behead anyone. No nervous apprehension. No wondering if they can actually go through with it. Their confident demeanour reveals their innocence, not their hardened experience. We later learn that some of them are recent recruits from the West.

It is only the defeated demeanour of the Syrians that allows us to recognize the jihadis as victors. Imagine the Syrians standing proud and defiant—like, for example, those two British and two American victims in earlier videos. Question: Why don’t these Syrians behave in this way? They know they are being filmed. They must know that what is filmed will be broadcast to all and sundry, including their families. Answer: Because they are not British or American the video tells us—they are just Syrians! The intent is to humiliate these young men—and with them all of Syria.

None of the condemned look as if they know they are about to be beheaded. Not even when they’ve caught sight of the knife and have been pushed face first to the ground do they display any signs of fear. Even animals at an abattoir have more sense than these young men. They go like lambs to the slaughter.

Our sight is arrested by a box of knives. These are much more substantial than those of the earlier videos. They have aggressive serrated edges. As each couple passes the box the jihadi takes a knife and the tension builds. The camera concentrates our attention on one knife, fingered in anticipation.

These duos arrange themselves in a line. The prisoners are pushed to the ground, face first. This, I understand, is the best way to behead and it reveals the nonsense of the earlier videos. But it is normal practice to blindfold the victims, not only to spare them the horror of seeing what awaits them, but also to make them docile. Not here though. We can see their faces and their faces can see the cameras.

When this video was released we were told that this was the ‘real thing’. Whereas the Sotloff, Haines, Henning et al videos hinted at beheading, in ‘Although the Disbelievers Dislike It’ we see knives cut through necks. Certainly the video leaves this impression. To know what actually happens we need to view the segment frame by frame. That reveals that we see but one throat being cut and it’s cut by ‘Jihadi John.’ While there is much gore following these frames it is the aftermath of beheadings we don’t actually see. We don’t see them because the camera directs us to look at Jihadi John and his victim. In the first frame (below) both look directly at the camera. They look at the camera to capture the attention of viewers. In the second we see the young man looking at the camera. Is that the look of a man who knows his death is imminent? In the third and fourth, we see the knife drawn across the young man’s neck and there’s blood, sure there is. As with severed heads, however, to create a knife that simulates cutting is no great task for theatre and film companies. For Military Deception units it’s child’s play. You can buy one on Amazon $15.95 ( This is the only ‘throat cutting’ in this IS video and it is entirely consistent with the use of a prop knife and actors. If the fifth and final screen shot (below) Jihadi John holds the head by its hair as if it were a trophy and looks us in the eye just to make sure that we’ve comprehended what he’s just done.




wlokareh1-mp4-2014-11-16-15-54-38-1-e1416166919167 wlokareh1-mp4-2014-11-16-15-59-53-1-e1416166859544

In the last screen shot above note that ‘Jihadi John’s’ hands are free of blood. This is inconsistent with cutting that young man’s throat. Either or both carotid arteries when severed would spurt blood far and wide. Anyone who has witnessed accidental contact between an ice hockey player’s skate blade and an other players neck knows this. For example, when one of Jason Peters‘ carotid arteries was cut in this way ‘the initial spurt of blood shot at least six feet.’  And yet wherever we look as the camera scans the gore of decapitated (prop) heads we see clean hands, boots and clothing.

In the midst of all this (see the first screenshot above, Mr. ‘John’ (or Abu Abdullah al-Britani as he sometimes prefers—’Britani’, just so we know where he’s from) finds time to say this:

To Obama, the dog of Rome, today we are slaughtering the soldiers of Bashar and tomorrow we will be slaughtering your soldiers. And with Allah’s permission, we will break this final and last Crusade, and the Islamic State will soon, like your puppet David Cameron said, will begin to slaughter your people on your streets.

This is clever: ‘Like your puppet David Cameron said’, as indeed he did, removes the need for Mr. Britani to convince us that this is no idle threat. Britani merely echoes the Prime Minister of Britain. Before too long, the authorities in the US and the UK will further curtail civil liberties in the name of national security and anyone who doesn’t like it will be referred to the ‘Although the Disbelievers Dislike It’ (which is almost impossible to obtain.) It’s beyond clever, it’s devious and diabolical.

Finale: featuring  ‘Jihadi John’ with a prop head at this feet (11:35-15:53)

Finally, the man-in-black (the identity of whom the FBI claims to know but are too shy to tell us) addresses us thus:

This is Peter Edward Kassig, a U.S. citizen of your country. Peter who fought against the Muslims in Iraq while serving as a soldier under the American army, doesn’t have much to say. His previous cellmates have already spoken on his behalf, but we say to you Obama, like our Sheikh Abu Muhammad al-‘Adnani said, you claim to have withdrawn from Iraq four years ago. We said to you then that you were liars, that you had not withdrawn, and if you had withdrawn, that you would return, even if after some time. You would return. Here you are. You have not withdrawn. Rather, you hid some of your forces behind your proxies and withdrawn the rest. Your forces will return, greater in number than they were before. You will return, and your proxies will not benefit you.

Prop head of Kassig

Prop head of Kassig

An interesting feature of traditional news media’s relationship with this ‘Jihadi John’ is that they believe pretty much everything he says. So when he says ‘This is Peter Edward Kassig, a U.S. citizen of your country’ it surely must be true. It’s certainly a head, on that we can agree, and it may resemble Mr. Kassig (‘Peter’ to ‘Jihadi John’). But where—other than in his word—is the evidence that this head once belonged to Peter Kassig? That it may be a prop or theatrical head, that this chummy Mr. John may be trying to deceive us is a thought too dastardly to entertain—because we’ve grown to trust him. And we trust him because he fulfills all that we could wish for in a villain, for he has been designed this way. I half-expect him to appear in the next James Bond movie. He is, after all, acting.

This, then, is my assessment of this video ‘Although the Disbelievers Dislike It’.  It is a work of deception from start to finish. To what end you must work out for yourselves from the clues herein.

Whatever one might think of them, the people who put this MILDEC campaign together certainly have a sense of humour. The final scene featuring the man with the flag is an idea lifted from Monty Python.

MILDEC humour

MILDEC humour


Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s near death experience

When Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi had a narrow brush with death a week ago, I wasn’t at all surprised. He was due for one. The best way of breathing life into a fictional character is to threaten it with death. The timing was right too. What better way for a President to sell an unpopular decision—the announcement of 1500 more US troops bound for Iraq—than by reminding Americans of the price of not doing so. The President spoke Friday evening, November 7, always a good time to say something you don’t want scrutinized too much. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi nearly died from an American air strike only hours later. Or did he? No one really knew. Could be he was just injured. But that really didn’t matter. They almost got him and with this new ‘surge’ in troops they surely will. Al-Baghdadi’s role is to be always just one step ahead.

You will find no firm evidence of any attack or any casualties or even the presence of the Islamic State ‘leadership’ on that day. All you will find is a ‘confirmation’ by Colonel Patrick Ryder, a spokesman at US Central Command, that US aircraft struck a ten-vehicle Islamic State (IS) convoy and some claims from anonymous sources. This is enough for credulous journalists to cobble into a passable story. There once was a time when some wise newsman could be relied upon to say ‘this can’t be right, surely?’ But those days are gone. The establishment newspapers and television stations are fed information directly from the military and no one thinks to sniff, let alone bite, the hand that feeds them.

A ten-vehicle convoy was hit by a missile or missiles, so where are the damaged vehicles? A Mosul ‘morgue official’ said 50 bodies of IS fighters were brought to the facility after the air strike, so where is the proof of this? From where did we learn that this ‘al-Baghdadi’ somehow survived while at least 50 people around him perished? From a Twitter account, no less, ‘attributed to the ISIL’s spokesperson Abu Mohammed al-Adnani’ who wished the ‘critically injured’ al-Bagdhadi a ‘speedy recovery’. At least this air strike killed someone with a name, Abdur Rahman al-Athaee, also known as Abu Sajar. We know this because a ‘senior Iraqi official’ ‘confirmed’ it to the Guardian.

You will find no firm evidence because the incident never happened. It was one more episode in the Islamic State Deception Story:

a plausible, but false, view of the situation, which will lead the deception target into acting in a manner that will accomplish the commander’s goal.’ (US Field Manual 4-18) Although ultimately false, ‘the deception story must be believable, verifiable, and consistent (4-21).

Such stories don’t have to be true for us to believe them; they only have to be plausible, believe-able, in much the same way as movie narratives. So we suspend our disbelief. No one thinks it odd that a guerrilla army has a Western-style ‘leadership’ and command and control. That such apparently brilliant commanders, capable of cutting a swath through Iraq and Syria, lack the basic common sense not to travel in a ten-vehicle convoy at night along a deserted road under a sky full of US surveillance we scarcely notice. Real guerrillas don’t behave like this. Fictional ones do. Truly, as Baudrillard argued, we are in an age of simulation.

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi isn’t even the first fictional al-Baghdadi. There was another circa 2007, Abdullah Rashid al-Baghdadi.

For more than a year, the leader of one the most notorious insurgent groups in Iraq was said to be a mysterious Iraqi named Abdullah Rashid al-Baghdadi.

As the titular head of the Islamic State in Iraq, an organization publicly backed by Al Qaeda, Baghdadi issued a steady stream of incendiary pronouncements. Despite claims by Iraqi officials that he had been killed in May, Baghdadi appeared to have persevered unscathed.

On Wednesday, a senior American military spokesman provided a new explanation for Baghdadi’s ability to escape attack: He never existed.

Brigadier General Kevin Bergner, the chief American military spokesman, said the elusive Baghdadi was actually a fictional character whose audio-taped declarations were provided by an elderly actor named Abu Adullah al-Naima.

(Michael R. Gordon, Leader of Al Qaeda group in Iraq was fictional, U.S. military says’ New York Times, July 18, 2007. My emphasis.)

At least with the current al-Baghdadi we know his features from a video of him giving a 20-minute sermon said to be in Mosul’s Great Mosque, in which he called on the world’s Muslims to ‘obey’ him as ‘the leader who presides over you’. The video was posted to the internet the weekend of July 5-6, 2014. This video of al-Baghdadi is his only public appearance. This is the only live image we have of him. No wonder he’s usually referred to as ‘reclusive’ and ‘mysterious’.

There he is, all posed piety—and with a fondness for expensive wristwatches (Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi ridiculed for flashy wristwatch, Daily Telegraph, June 6, 2014). We ‘know’ that is him because it was acclaimed as such by those who believe it is and if so many people believe it’s him it must be because it’s true. That’s about it for proof. Personally, I’d want a little more than this before I opened the gates of hell.

The Iraq government insisted that this was not al-Baghdadi because the real one had been killed or badly injured by one of their attacks the month before. Again. Iraqi clerics argued that his speech was full of mistakes regarding Sharia and history that no serious cleric would make. The White House said that Intelligence was still studying the video. Since the video had not been authenticated the White House couldn’t comment on it. Perhaps they’re still studying it because no one has vouched for its authenticity.

So is this Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi the real deal? Or is he, as I argue, a character in a Military Deception Operation? This, dear reader, is for you to decide. Ultimately it’s a matter of assessing the emotional authenticity of the cast of characters we’ve examined in this study of Islamic State.

I do know that if I were running this Deception Operation, I would want to steer enquiring minds in some other direction. I would want to ridicule the very idea of suggesting that it is a deception. Step forward Mr. Simon Elliot, aka Mr. Elliot Shimon, aka al-Baghdadi, born of Jewish parents, Mossad agent. This explanation has, as they say, gone ‘viral’ of late. It’s all a Jewish plot! Well, it may yet prove to be a Zionist plot, but not for those reasons. Alan Kurtz takes apart this explanation in The Snowden Hoax. My guess is that this al-Baghdadi, like so many IS leaders, is a former prisoner of the Americans at Camp Bucca, near Omm Qasr in southeastern Iraq, who was ‘turned’. They sold themselves for freedom and money and this is why they look and act like men who have no honour.

Rest assured, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi will have more near-death experiences, at politically opportune times, before he is finally ‘retired’.

Objective achieved: Anglo-America returns to the scene of the crime

[This post assumes you have read the preceding posts on Islamic State. The argument is cumulative.]

The argument I’m developing is that the ‘beheading’ videos that are attributed to ‘Islamic State’ are not what they seem. They are creations of a military deception (MILDEC) operation targeted at Western public opinion.

The immediate objective of this deception was to create the conditions in the US and UK for public support of military attacks in Iraq and Syria, or, at least, to minimize opposition. This is why two American and two British victims were selected for ‘beheading’. It outraged public opinion in those two countries and made public objection to renewed military involvement well neigh impossible. It’s a very clever move. A MILDEC check-mate.

The explanation of the narrator of these videos, (‘Jihadi John’), that British and American hostages were singled out for beheading because, unlike other nations, the UK and US did not pay ransoms for their citizens is a load of old nonsense. In MILDEC terminology, this pseudo explanation is part of the Deception Story. It was crafted to cater to British and American assumptions and prejudices. It portrays the ‘Islamic State’ as depraved and irrational, not to be reasoned or negotiated with. How else to describe someone who ‘beheads’ a man for something his government does or does not do? This storyline places the UK and US on the moral high ground where they can rest on their laurels, adamant in their refusal to negotiate with terrorists. Most people have little difficulty in accepting stories in which they are morally superior.

All this, I assure you, was by design, and it wasn’t the design of ‘Islamic State’. And what a brilliant design it was. The videos of ‘beheadings’, two British, two American, certainly did the trick. (As I argued in earlier posts, no one died in those videos.)

On September 2nd, 2014, the British newspaper The Independent reported the results of a survey: only one in three people support Britain launching air strikes against ISIS in Iraq and Syria. The apparent beheading of David Haines (British) was on September 13, 2014. On Friday, September 26, 2014, British parliament, supported by public opinion, approved air strikes against IS in Iraq. The apparent beheading of Alan Henning (British) was on October 3, 2014. On November 5th, 2014, The Telegraph announced ‘Britain prepares to send troops back to Iraq’, something unthinkable only a few months ago.

A similar transformation happened in the United States. As late as this summer there was little support for military intervention in Iraq. But then there were the ‘executions’ of James Foley (American) on August 19, 2014, and Steven Sotloff (American and Israeli) September 2, 2014. A Washington Post-ABC News poll published on September 9 revealed ‘wide support for striking ISIS’ in Iraq and Syria. On November 7th, President Obama announced that another 1500 more troops were heading to Iraq, to add to the 1400 already there. This was sold with the usual ‘training mission’ patter that hoodwinked so many over Vietnam, but, the principle of their presence conceded, no one seriously believes that this isn’t the beginning of a permanent Anglo-American presence in Iraq. Sure enough, today we learn that ‘US military considers sending combat troops to battle Isis forces in Iraq: General Martin Dempsey tells House committee that he would consider abandoning Obama’s pledge and send troops to fight Isis in Iraq’. Expect 10,000 troops there by the spring.

It’s all very simple. All it takes is a handful of people and a lot of unwitting participants. Once you know how military deception works it’s not too difficult to see it in action. All it takes is attention to detail, doggedness and patience. But most of the people who know how military deception works work for some military or other and they know the meaning of ‘operational security’ and keep their mouths shut. No one should forget that, for the architects of this deception, we are the adversary.

This is a much used strategy, certainly by the United States. Wherever it wants to be it identifies a terrorist group of its own creation. Some attack on US ‘interests’ is contrived and the whole world stays silent while the US invites itself into the villain’s host country. The apparent injustice it has suffered gives it the moral right to do what it wants and no one has the heart or the guts to challenge it. This is how the US gained entry to Yemen and Pakistan, but that’s for another time. It’s using the same technique to invite itself back into Iraq and to ignore the sovereignty of Syria. This time ‘Islamic State’ is to perform the role vacated by al-Qaeda. Britain is invited along to provide some Old World moral legitimacy. No one seriously suggests that it’s there for military reasons.

None of what I have written here or in other posts suggests or implies that there are not rebel forces on the ground in Iraq and Syria some of whom have committed atrocities. To my eyes ‘Islamic State’ looks like a bunch of mercenaries doing their best to impersonate rabid Islamists. I am suggesting that this ‘Islamic State’ propaganda conceals what they are actually up to and diverts attention from the legitimate struggles of the people living there. To which I will turn later.

Next: ‘Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s’ near-death experience.

When the Enemy is Us: MILDEC and Islamic State

That ‘All warfare is based upon deception’ (Sun Tzu, The Art of War) is well known and accepted. Less well known and, no doubt, hotly disputed is that the same techniques used to deceive an external enemy can be turned upon the civilian population of the armed forces’ host country and ‘allied’ countries. A modern day Sun Tzu might write, ‘All warfare is based upon deception, but not all military deception targets an external enemy.’ For example, it can target domestic public opinion, to legitimate what would otherwise be illegitimate acts of aggression against other countries and to delegitimate resistance to those acts.

The Islamic State beheading videos bear the hallmarks of a campaign of military deception (MILDEC), by parties so far unnamed, in which we, Western public opinion, are the adversary. They ‘work’ by manipulating our emotions into supporting action we would not otherwise support. Military deception is the one type of conspiracy that cannot be denied. All armed forces do it. Of necessity, they do it secretly. To ensure realism and to avoid detection, deception operations are strictly limited to a tight group of people, who conspire to deceive others, to get many unwitting people to do what they otherwise would not do wittingly. This is as much true when the enemy is internal as when it is external.

‘False-flag’ or ‘inside job’ does not do justice to the subtleties of domestic military deception, for these labels infer the result (‘what’) from a motive (‘why’). As Sherlock Holmes might put it, they reason forward from an assumed motive. Without an understanding of the ‘how’ we are asked to accept false-flag charges on faith. To reveal the ‘how’, to detect military deception, one must know what to look for, i.e., we must know what it is and how it works. Military deception has its own terminology, rationale and techniques. Like a disease, military deception is seldom directly observed, but we can infer its existence from its identifying signs, provided we know what to look for.

Here I present a brief account of the basic concepts of Military Deception. What follows draws on Chapter 4 ‘Military Deception’ of the US Army’s Field Manual No. 3-13 Information Operations: Doctrine, Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures. Department of the Army, Washington, DC, 28 November 2003. Manuals of this kind tend to assume that deception hinges on information that misleads. They need updating to take account of deception by manipulating emotions for this is the predominant mode of deception aimed at civilian targets.

While this post describes MILDEC alone, in practice it works in conjunction with psychological operations (PSYOP), Information Operations (IO) and ‘Intelligence.’ MILDEC is planned right into a military operation and integrated with its every aspect.

Deception works only if it is not perceived as such. To ensure the appearance of authenticity and to prevent deception operations being revealed as such, their secrecy or ‘security’ is paramount. So much of ‘security’, it seems is of this kind. For this reason:

(a) The deception is always to be denied; and

(b) Knowledge of each aspect of a MILDEC operation is tightly restricted to only those personnel who meet strictly defined need-to-know criteria (4-8). Typically, each Deception Operation will be run by a Military Deception Group (MDG) or Cell. Outside of this MILDEC operations are carried out by the unwitting. Their authenticity is one reason the deception is undetected.

The audience the MDG wants to deceive is the Deception Target. One might suppose that this target is the enemy, but ‘enemy’ is a flexible term. ‘Not all adversaries are military’ (4-1). They may, for example, be civilians, and not only those of the opposing country. ‘Commanders may … want to deceive others who are not adversary host-nation civilians’(4-1).

The desired result of a deception operation is the Deception Objective: what the adversary is to do or not to do at the critical time and/or location (4-15). At the centre of military deception is a Deception Event, i.e.: ‘a deception means executed at a specific time and location in support of a deception operation’ (4-22). Some examples of Deception Events:

  • Hannibal’s use of the double-envelopment tactic or pincer movement against the Romans, at the Battle of Cannae, in 216 BC, was a deception event.
  • Schwarzkopf’s well publicized prewar amphibious exercises, in 1991, to convince Iraqis that the Americans were planning to mount a major seaborne assault was a deception event.
  • The 1964 Gulf of Tonkin incident was a Deception Event targeted at Americans, intended to justify US escalation of its war against the Vietnamese.
  • The Joint Chiefs of Staff’s Operation Northwoods, in 1962, which envisaged CIA initiated terrorist attacks on fellow Americans, were also Deception Events. They were to be blamed on Cuba, to justify US military involvement.
  • The August, 1980, Bologna bombing, which killed 85 people and wounded more than 200, was a Deception Event. It was caused by fascist paramilitaries, the Nuclei Armati Revoluzionari (NAR), part of Operation Gladio, but blamed on the left. It’s aim? To drive frightened people into the arms of the State.

It is not the Deception Event, in itself, that deceives, but the explanation of that event, or the Deception Story: ‘a plausible, but false, view of the situation, which will lead the deception target into acting in a manner that will accomplish the commander’s goal.’ (4-18) Although ultimately false, ‘the deception story must be believable, verifiable, and consistent’ (4-21).

MILDEC planners must have fertile imaginations, ‘because the ability to create and execute an effective MILDEC often depends upon the creativity used to develop and maintain a story’. Deception Stories are consciously crafted, tailored to their audience’s beliefs about reality, for people tend to accept information conforming to their preconceptions. Such information must be disproved to become ineffective (4-10). ‘The influence of biases is very strong. In many instances, the target may believe a well-crafted deception story until it is too late to act effectively, even in the face of mounting contradictory evidence’ (4-44).

The Deception Story is dynamic, fed and developed in response to feed-back events, intelligence collection and analysis (4-109). This is done by means of Deception Indicators, items of information, some true, some false, designed to the Deception Target’s intention or capability to adopt or reject a course of action (4-20). The most effective way to convince the deception target of the deception story’s truth is to provide indicators in several different ways, each supported by different elements of truth. Wherever the target turns, there must be information that confirms his preconceptions, that makes any questionable parts of the deception story seem believable (4-8).

One way of developing the Deception Story is by allowing Indicators to ‘fall’ into adversary hands. For example: via Operation Fortitude, Allied forces deceived Nazi-occupied France into believing that the impending invasion would be at Pas de Calais, rather than the actual Normandy. The deception means included controlled leaks of misinformation through diplomatic channels, simulated wireless traffic, and British controlled German double-agents. Operation Rockingham, set up in 1991 and run by military and intelligence officers and civilian Ministry of Defence personnel, fed information in support of the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq. Operation Mass Appeal later played a similar role. If Deception Indicators are well-crafted, the Deception Target develops the narrative of the Deception Story all by itself. A snippet of information is picked up by news media and woven into a plausible story.

Note that much of what we know about al-Qaeda came via fortuitously found laptops, letter, email, and audio-visual material. Remember the incriminating video in which Osama bin Laden ‘admitted guilt’ for 9/11, a video that was ‘found’ by U.S. forces in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, in late November, 2001. Then there was the bizarre series of bin Laden audio and video tapes which always eluded the Intelligence we pay for. Lucky for us that the very private IntelCenter and SITE were there to discover them, no questions asked. The so-called al-Qaeda-in-Iraq, the precursor to Islamic State, were forever leaving laptops and letters around to be discovered by U.S. troops. Perhaps fortune favours aggressors. A book could be written on what we know about terrorism from misplaced laptops.

We should not be surprised that the narrative about Islamic State started to grow ‘legs’ in the August 28, 2014, issue of Foreign Policy: Found: The Islamic State’s Terror Laptop of Doom. Great title. Non-existent investigative journalism. Apparently this Dell laptop was found by the commander of a ‘moderate’ Syrian rebel group in northern Syria. They attacked an ISIS hideout. ISIS ‘all fled before he and his men attacked the building’. And there was the ‘terror laptop of doom’, with power cord, just waiting for them. Then there was the ISIS document ‘supposedly obtained in March [2014] by an Iraqi special forces unit during a raid on the home of an ISIS commander.’ This document—’which has been examined by western security officials – who believe it to be authentic’—tells of plans to get hold of nuclear weapons with the help of Russia in exchange for access to gas fields in Anbar province and the Kremlin giving up support for Iran and President Bashar al-Assad of Syria. [Report: ISIS plots to seize Iran’s nuclear secrets] For an outfit supposedly bent of world domination, Islamic State is remarkably careless with its documents. In fact, that they feel the need to have ‘planning documents’ at all should alert our skepticism. Like al-Qaeda before it, Islamic State is organized on Western lines. Isn’t that odd?

Now I come to think of it, much of the narrative about Islamic State comes from the very same organization said to have discovered the beheading videos: Search for International Terrorist Entities (now the SITE Intelligence Group). Its INSITE blog on ‘Terrorism & Extremism’ is a veritable font of knowledge, not only about what Islamic State does, but also about what Islamic State does means. And then there is Islamic State’s in-house glossy propaganda magazine Dabiq. Very much like Inspire, of ‘al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula’. (I wonder where these magazines are produced.) You can get into a lot of trouble by simply linking to the Inspire site, so I’m not going to. Strangely, Dabiq is readily available. See ‘Does Anyone Take These Al-Qaeda Magazines Seriously?’ The answer, unfortunately, is yes. This is true of Dabiq too. Not everyone can distinguish between authenticity and deception. The narrative carried in these magazines lures them to their doom.

It is easy to deny the existence of military conspiracies for the very nature of military deception makes them difficult to detect. It is, however, not impossible: what can be invented, can also be discovered. Discerning the deception and discovering how it is sustained, by whom and to what end, takes dogged detective work.

A comment on Alan Henning and ‘Another Message to America and its Allies’

This post examines the video ‘Another Message to America and its Allies’ which purports to show the decapitation of the British taxi driver Alan Henning. As with previous videos in this series I look for evidence of emotional authenticity and emotional deception. Is this video what it claims to be?

This video is suspended due to terms of service violation

The video follows a now standard format. It begins with a short news report on the British parliament’s 26 September decision to authorize British air strikes against Islamic State targets in Iraq, earlier that very day Friday October 3, 2014. This is ‘why’ Henning ‘has’ to die.

After the title shot, we see Alan Henning in an orange Guantanamo-like ‘detainee’ uniform. He is knelt on the ground, hands behind back. Henning looks noticeably thinner than in his pre-captivity photographs. He looks up at the camera. This gives his face an especially plaintive and poignant expression. He is the very image of sorrow. I suspect that he’s the only innocent and honest man in this gallery of rogues. An original among counterfeits. He lacks the guile to comprehend the evil he has stumbled into (and by ‘evil’ I don’t mean the obvious contender for this label).

To his left, our right, stands the familiar man-in-black, the would-be decapitator ‘Jihadi John.’ This Jihadi John is not the same man who appeared in the earlier videos. His build is slighter, less athletic, less powerful. His gesticulations with his knife are less forceful and menacing. What we can see of his face looks different too. The hooded eyes of the ‘real’ Jihadi John are missing. These eyes are closer together. His voice, of course, is exactly the same but I believe the voice is dubbed. The emotions of the voice do not match the gestures of the body.

The familiar blowing wind is absent from this video.

Henning looks into the camera and speaks for a fraction over ten seconds, just long enough to say this:

I am Alan Henning. [pause] Because of our Parliament’s decision to attack the Islamic State [ISIS], I, as a member of the British public, will now pay the price for that decision.

About the only thing he seems sure about is his name. Hence the slight pause before reading words prepared for him, the implications of which he does not comprehend. He’s a long way from Eccles and Salford, Lancashire. He might as well be on another planet for all the sense it makes to him.

Henning’s 12 second contribution ends with a fade to black. Then his apparent executioner speaks:

The blood of [fellow slain captive] David Haines was on your hands, [British Prime Minister David] Cameron, Alan Henning will also be slaughtered but his blood is on the hands of the British Parliament.

Henning continues to look to the camera. He looks haggard and drawn. Fade to black.

This decapitation scene is different to the others in that it begins with Jihadi John’s right hand over Hennings face. We must assume that it’s him. He saws away at that neck, again with no evidence that the knife is doing what we imagine it is. A muffled cry is heard, but not from the direction of the victim. It sounds like something added post-production. Fade to black.

Then the evidence of the beheading. The camera pans left to right, from the feet to the shoulders. The severed head, which doesn’t particularly resemble Henning, is in the small of the torso’s back. As I argued earlier, severed heads are not difficult to simulate and only those who have suspended disbelief would accept this as proof of a decapitation.

Finally, in the final scene, a message to Obama. Another prisoner appears, the screen text tells us it is Peter Edward Kassig (American). Jihadi John:

Obama you have started your aerial bombardment in Sham (Syria), which keeps on striking our people, so it is only right we keep on striking the necks of your people.

As far as we know, Peter Kassig lives on.

Serena Shim sees behind the Islamic State deception and is killed

This fine map is courtesy of Akhil Kadidal of Hermes' Wings. Click to enlarge.

This fine map is courtesy of Akhil Kadidal of Hermes’ Wings. Click to enlarge.

A week ago, the Lebanese-American journalist Serena Shim reported that she had evidence that Islamic State combatants were being smuggled back and forth to the besieged town of Kobane from Turkey in the back of convoys of vehicles of the World Food Organization and other aid organizations.

If true, the implications of this news for how we understand the Islamic State and the war against it are enormous. It questions the neutrality of humanitarian organizations and it implies that the government of Turkey (a NATO member and ally of the United States) is covertly supporting the organization widely regarded as evil personified.

Shortly after breaking this news, Serena Shim was harassed by the Turkish intelligence agency and accused of being a spy. She feared the consequences, as is plain in this interview with her Friday October 17. Listen to the fear in her voice:

Two days later, on Sunday, she was dead—the car in which she was travelling with her photographer was hit by a ‘large vehicle’, so far unidentified. Accident or assassination? I doubt if many journalists working on this topic in this area believe it was an accident. Certainly, I do not. It silenced forever a courageous and tenacious journalist and it warned those remaining that they would pay for future revelations with their lives. As did this young man: Treachery works both ways: the life of Edward Snowden and the death of Michael Hastings.

Serena Shim was an American citizen (from Tennessee) but not a word from the United States on the death of this brave young woman. Compare her tragic death with the honours feted upon two rather dubious journalists, with even more dubious deaths, James Foley and Stephen Sotloff. There is so much more to the ‘Islamic State’ than first meets the eye—as I hope to show.

A lot of the best reporting in this dangerous part of the world comes from women like Serena Shim. She was buried in Beirut, Lebanon Wednesday, October 22. Serena leaves two young children, Ali, age 4, and Ajmal, 2.