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.

The Stephen Sotloff and Jihadi John Morality Play: A comment on ‘A Second Message to America’

Preamble

This post examines ‘A Second Message to America’ from, we are told, Islamic State. The video features the testimony and apparent death by beheading of Steven Joel Sotloff, a citizen of both the United States and Israel, who plied his trade as a journalist most recently in Syria where he was captured a little over a year ago.

The video is said to have been discovered on September 2, 2014. By whom? I will address at the end of this post.

Like its predecessor, ‘A Second Message to America’ begins with a clip of President Obama. In this case, it’s his 20 August press conference in which the he responds to the beheading of Foley, another American citizen. Obama tells the world that America looks after its own citizens. Harm any one of them, and America will avenge them. In more diplomatic terms, ’We act against ISIL, standing alongside others’. The remainder of the video essentially mocks Obama’s words.

It’s worth mentioning that President Obama looks noticeably less upbeat than in his appearance in A Message to America, i.e., before he knew of these videos. He is tie-less. He looks down at his notes, not side-to-side at his teleprompter as is usual.

Act One: In which Sotloff mocks Obama

Act One features Sotloff himself. Outfitted in orange Guantanamo-like attire, he is knelt on desert terrain, hands behind his back as if tied. To his left is the man in black, his would-be executioner, who we have come to know as ‘Jihadi John’. His knife glistens in the sun, full of menace.

Sotloff looks square into the camera and does not flinch. For all the notice he takes of him, the man in black might as well not be there.

Sotloff speaks thus:

I am Steven Joel Sotloff. I’m sure you know exactly who I am by now and why I am appearing before you. And now this is the time for my message: Obama, your foreign policy of intervention in Iraq was supposed to be the preservation of American lives and interests, so why is it that I am paying the price of your interference with my life? Am I not an American citizen? We’ve spent billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars and we’ve lost thousands of our troops in our previous fighting against the Islamic State, so what are the people’s interests in reigniting war?

From what little I know about foreign policy, I remember a time when you could not win an election without promising to bring our troops back from Iraq and Afghanistan and to close down Guantanamo. Here you are now, Obama, nearing the end of your term, and having achieved none of the above and deceivingly marching us the American people into the blazing fire.

Some preliminaries.

Sotloff seems in good shape considering he’s been a prisoner of the sadistic Islamic State for just over a year. His face reveals no signs of stress or trauma. He looks well-fed. His teeth look clean and well cared for. He doesn’t look nor does he sound like a man about to be  beheaded. There are people living on the streets of most cities who look a lot worse than this after just one night of sleeping rough.

Note how his tunic ripples in the breeze, very much as Foley’s did, from exactly the same direction, although this is supposed to be a different location. That same wind, then as now, is there to persuade us that these figures are outside and not in a studio and that the depthless panorama behind them is not an image superimposed on a green screen. It doesn’t persuade me. As with Foley, this stiff breeze does not trouble the shrubs dotted around this tableau. Curiously, at several points in the video, Sotloff’s body casts no shadow, while that of his executioner does.

Sotloff speaks deliberately and with feeling. There is something in his tone of voice when he says, ‘I’m sure you know exactly who I am by now’ that strikes me as odd. It is accusatory. ‘Exactly’ is a word we would use when addressing someone who feigns ignorance of some misdemeanour. As in ‘don’t pretend you don’t know who I am. You know exactly who I am’. Presumably, this accusatory tone of voice is aimed at Obama, the man he blames for his death.

Sotloff speaks as if these are his words. He sounds as if he believes in what he is saying. This is surprising, for they are patently dishonest words and as a journalist working in the Middle East  he must know this.

He is not ‘paying the price with his life’ for Obama’s ‘interference’ in Iraq. If there is any price to be paid it is for Sotloff’s foolishness in choosing to go to the hellhole that is Syria, journalist or no. He must have known that as a Jew and an Israeli citizen he was taking a big risk. Obama cannot be blamed for his predicament.

As for ‘We’ve spent billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars and we’ve lost thousands of our troops in our previous fighting against the Islamic State’ this is not true. Thousands of American troops died fighting the Iraqi resistance to the invasion and occupation—ordinary men and women doing what anyone would do when a foreign power invades their country.   There was no ‘Islamic State’ until a few months ago. Sotloff’s  words are a means of giving the Islamic State a pedigree that it does not have. Claims made elsewhere that it is the successor to ‘al-Qaeda in Iraq’ led by the infamous al-Zarqawi are true only in the sense that all have the same characteristics of a deception operation. Neither actually existed except as deceptions. I will show how in a later post.

What do Sotloff’s words on his plight hope to achieve?

First, to weaken Obama by making him seem ineffectual. In the opening clip, Obama tells the world that America looks after its own citizens. Sotloff essentially says ‘You promised to look after Americans and aren’t I an American citizen?’ (yes, and an Israel citizen as well so what about having a go at Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu). It’s a foolish, dishonest argument.

Second, to shift responsibility for his immanent death away from the man with the knife at his side and towards the distant Obama’s ‘interference’ with Islamic State. ‘When you avenge the deaths of Americans you make things worse, so stop doing it.’ This heaps guilt on Obama with the intention of weakening him.

Sotloff’s, patently dishonest, argument relates to his complete emotional detachment from his executioner. All his emotions are directed at his audience, especially Obama, on the other side of the camera lens. It’s as if he really believes that Obama is killing him. In other words, Sotloff is acting.

One might argue that these words were written for him to speak under duress. Since he is about to die, however, what has he got to lose by refusing, and why does he have to speak them with such authenticity? It’s an odd and dishonourable way for a journalist to depart this world.

Act Two: In which ‘Jihadi John’ is ‘Back’

I’m back Obama, and I’m back because of your arrogant foreign policy towards the Islamic State, because of your insistence on continuing your bombings and [unclear] on Mosul Dam, despite our serious warnings. You Obama, through your actions, have yet again killed another American citizen. So just as your missiles continue to strike our people, our knife will continue to strike the necks of your people.

‘I’m back’! is something a character in a horror movie might say. And a horror movie is exactly what this is. He’s like Jack Nicholson in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, or Heath Ledger as the Joker, but, unlike them, JJ lacks irony, an awareness of his own ridiculousness. With this humourless attitude he wouldn’t last long in South London, if that’s where he’s from, however shiny his knife. In this series of morality plays, he plays Death, in this case to Sotloff’s Innocence. He’s a modern day Mephistopheles of the Faust legend, trapped in his own hell, collecting the souls of the damned. What he isn’t is himself.

He can be accused of many things, but not of bad manners. He complains of America’s ‘arrogant foreign policy towards the Islamic State.’ For its critics, especially in the Middle East, it’s not ‘policy’ that’s objectionable; it’s what America actually does that’s beyond the pale. ‘Policy’ is a euphemism for death and destruction, but this character is too polite to say so. He may (or may not) decapitate people, but he doesn’t want to offend anyone. This is aimed at America and American politicians speak in euphemisms so JJ does too. In Act Five he says ‘we take this opportunity’ as if he were attending one of the Queen’s garden parties.

With lines like these, it’s no wonder he’s angry. As he accuses Obama of this, that and the other, he punctuates his words with knife jabs in the direction of the camera operators. If he carries on like this he’s going to have someone’s eye out.

We can usually understand what angry people say because the emotion expels the words cleanly. But Mr. Prickly Bear here slurs his words. He sounds like Darth Vader with a cold. If he’s got A Second Message to America he should speak clearly so we know what it is. But this is not the Dark One’s real voice. He wears a mask, in part, to disguise this deceit. It’s a dubbed voice and there is a trade-off between clarity and scariness. In some places they got that balance wrong.

He is so angry it is almost as if the real Obama was there in person. But he’s waving this knife at the camera operators and—who knows—costume, make-up and catering. Since he’s not angry at them and Obama isn’t there, we must conclude that he’s acting.

Act Three: In which Sotloff simulates his own Death

So this is it. The time has come. Having bad-mouthed his President, Sotloff is at peace with himself and awaits his fate with no complaint. For the man about to decapitate him, Sotloff has no words at all, not even glances. But why should he? It’s not the man with the knife who is to blame. That’s right, it’s Obama’s ‘interventions’.

Death moves behind the passive Innocence, seizes his chin in his right hand and makes the now familiar cutting motions with the knife in his left. Sotloff’s eyes are closed. His mouth responds slightly to the presence of the hand on his chin and then the knife on his throat. His body leans, or is drawn, back a little.  As his torso reclines darkness descends, but if we look carefully and quickly we can just make out that Sotloff’s left knee moves up off the ground and then his right. He is about to fall over and if that head is going to come off the Dark One is going to have to get his pristine clothes dirty and wrestle Sotloff on the ground like a cow hand with a loose steer. It’s a sight I find difficult to imagine. The Islamic State does not secure their victims before beheading them? It just assumes they’ll stay there like well-trained Labradors, that they’re not going to make a run for it? How very unprofessional.

I have two observations here. First, as with Foley there is no blood and, especially in that part of the human body, if there is no blood there has been no cutting and if there was no cutting there was no pain. There was certainly no sign on Sotloff’s face that he was in the process of being decapitated. Compare with actual, real-life beheadings, all too common and available on the Internet. Second, Sotloff’s clumsy and unconvincing knee-jerk was a response to critics who spotted Foley’s lack of response to the knife. The people producing these videos are professionals. They note criticisms of their productions and make the necessary changes. Sotloff is acting, but not very well.

Act Four: In which we view the evidence of Sotloff’s death

The camera pans left to right revealing human legs and torso. That ever constant wind blows with the same rhythm and from the same direction to ripple the prostrate tunic. Continuity. Sure enough, on its back is a severed head looking very much like that of Sotloff. Before we can inspect that which it is severed from, his neck and shoulders, the considerate director fades to black and we are spared this agony. But we have already seen enough.

What more proof do we need that the poor man’s dead? Well his body for one thing, and not just an image of it. Murder investigations normally require the production of an actual dead body, for otherwise we cannot be sure that a crime has been committed. Corpus delicti. Not in these cases apparently, but, then, there have been no investigations either. We’re prepared to take Islamic State’s word for it.

This is an age of simulation in which just about anything can be faked, even authenticity. 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. We see their work in most movies these days. With digital technology, they can produce a realistic looking image of a severed head too.

For these reasons, I am unmoved by these images of torsos and severed heads. If these were common murders, here at home, the police would want a body and they would set their digital forensics people to work on these videos to deconstruct how and where they were created. Instead we are expected to suspend our disbelief as if this were just a movie.

Act Five: In which David Haines is introduced

Death holds David Cawthorne Haines by the scruff of his neck and speaks thus:

We take this opportunity to warn those governments that enter this evil alliance of America against the Islamic State to back off and leave our people alone.

Now this man looks like a prisoner. He is grim faced and haggard. He looks like he could do with a good meal and a shower. The backcloth is slightly different but that same wind blows.

The Emotional Dynamics of ‘A Second Message to America’

This video is a vehicle of emotional marketing. The brand being marketed is War With Islamic State. As with all emotional marketing, the video attempts to stimulate certain emotions among its target market, in this case it’s the United States. Sotloff’s bitter words against Obama attempt to stir feelings of compassion among Americans for their doomed fellow citizen and to isolate Obama by heaping guilt on his doorstep for failing to protect him. These feelings are compounded by anger at seeing Sotloff’s severed head and the cruel act of beheading. America’s righteous (and fearsome) anger maneuvres Obama towards putting ‘boots on the ground’ to destroy Islamic State. It’s digital goading. The overall effect is to say one thing and stimulate emotions that will lead to its opposite. It says both ‘don’t interfere’ and ‘interfere with a vengeance’. It’s clever, dishonest and effective.

 Where and how was this ‘message to America’ delivered?

Finally, any serious forensic examination would want to know where and how this video was acquired. One might assume that the billion dollar US intelligence community earned its keep by spotting this. But we’d be disappointed. It didn’t. Just as well then that Search for Terrorist Entities or SITE was on the ball. SITE apparently discovered this and the video featuring John Cantlie in some Jihadi chat room. Perhaps all of these videos were discovered in this way.

In fact, just about every dubious looking video and audio tape related to terrorism aquired over the ten years that I’ve been researching this has been discovered by either SITE or IntelCentre—never by the US military and intelligence apparatus. Both are highly secretive organizations with apparent Zionist credentials. They exist in the shadow of the Pentagon and the White House but at arm’s length from both. They maintain just enough distance from the political and military wings to sustain plausible deniability.

The only forensic examination (in 2007) of one of these videos (one discovered by IntelCentre) that I’m aware of found evidence that suggests that the same organization that discovered the video had a hand in creating it in the first place. [See Kim Zetter, Researcher Analysis of al Qaeda Images Reveals Surprises. Wired. 08.02.07.]

All videos of this nature should be forensically examined by an impartial and qualified person and the results made public.

As for the credibility of SITE, this is best researched on your own.