Honesty in Analysis: The New al Zawahiri Message

By Douglas J. Hagmann, Director

“Bush, do you know where I am? I am among the Muslim masses.”

30 January 2006: Earlier today, al Jazeera Arabic Television broadcast two short segments of a taped message made by al Qaeda commander Ayman al Zawahiri, delivering a second message to the U.S. and Great Britain within an unprecedented ten day period. In the wake of the broadcast, professional and armchair analysts alike were abuzz, publicly advancing their own theories regarding the potential meaning of the latest message and wondering if, in fact, this message could indicate that attacks within and against the U.S. and Great Britain are imminent. At the same time, investigators from the Northeast Intelligence Network were talking to an intelligence official who was already in possession of the transcribed statements. Considering that scenario, it would be reasonable to suspect that we would have the distinct advantage in obtaining an “official” analysis of the message – or at least an “off the record assessment” from this intelligence official who performs threat assessments for a living.

“Aside from the obvious, and I mean the obvious message of the statement, we simply don’t know the significance of the message in terms of timing or attack coordination,” stated this 15-year veteran intelligence official. If anyone suggests that they have special insight into the messages portending an attack with specificity such as time and location, then they know more than we do, and we know a lot.” His candor was refreshing amid a sea of theories that have proven to be inaccurate. “One thing I can say, though, is that [Ayman al] Zawahiri wants everyone to know he is alive, and al Qaeda and their terrorist offshoots are intent on launching another attack on our soil. He said in the message that ‘the war will be transferred to Bush’s soil.’ It certainly does not take an analyst to understand that,” he added.