Monday, April 14, 2008

Al-Qaeda Media Nexus: The Virtual Network Behind The Global Message (RFE)

Daniel Kimmage, a senior regional analyst at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty has put together an excellent analytic paper (download full text here) designed to answer two questions (Note: taken directly from the Introduction): "What does the structure of jihadist media tell us about the relationship between Al-Qaeda central and the movements that affiliate themselves with it? And what can the priorities of jihadist media tell us about the operational priorities of Al-Qaeda and affiliated movements?" I found the large number of detailed charts and graphs (Click on the full text link above to get the report and the legend to the chart below) to be particularly useful as well.

Key Findings from the paper include (Boldface is mine):

  • The ”original” Al-Qaeda led by Osama bin Laden accounts for a mere fraction of jihadist media production.
  • Virtual media production and distribution entities link varied groups under the general ideological rubric of the global jihadist movement. The same media entities that “brand” jihadist media also create virtual links between the various armed groups that fall into the general category of Al-Qaeda and affiliated movements.
  • Three key entities connect Al-Qaeda and affiliated movements to the outside world through the internet. These three media entities — Fajr, the Global Islamic Media Front, and Sahab — receive materials from more than one armed group and post those materials to the internet.
  • Information operations intended to disrupt or undermine the effectiveness of jihadist media can and should target the media entities that brand these media and act as the virtual connective tissue of the global movement.
  • While video is an important component of jihadist media, text products comprise the bulk of the daily media flow. Within text products, periodicals focused on specific “fronts” of the jihad are an important genre that deserves more attention from researchers.
  • The vast majority of jihadist media products focus on conflict zones: Iraq, Afghanistan, and Somalia.
  • The priorities of the global jihadist movement, as represented by its media arm, are operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, and North Africa.
  • Jihadist media are attempting to mimic a “traditional” structure in order to boost credibility and facilitate message control. While conventional wisdom holds that jihadist media have been quick to exploit technological innovations to advance their cause, they are moving toward a more structured approach based on consistent branding and quasi-official media entities. Their reasons for doing so appear to be a desire to boost the credibility of their products and ensure message control.
  • In line with this strategy, the daily flow of jihadist media that appears on the internet is consistently and systematically branded.

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