January 24, 2011
Mark Stout, SPY Historian
A manual on intelligence captured during the course of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, Coalition Forces offers a unique take on intelligence from a jihadist perspective. Coalition forces found copies of the 300-some page manual on intelligence at Al Qaeda-associated facilities, notably at the Kandahar home of Mohammed Atef (aka Abu Hafs al-Masri), Al Qaeda’s military chief until his death in November 2001. This particular manual was written not by Al Qaeda but by a group that was once ideologically aligned with it, the Egyptian Islamic Group (EIG). EIG has since renounced violence. However, this document, which probably dates to the late 1980s or early 1990s remains behind as a snapshot of the views of elite Arab jihadists about the world of intelligence at the time.
Copies of this document are available at the Conflict Records Research Center in Washington, DC. (For instance, see document AQ-INSE-D-000-033 in their database.) Most of the manual relates to technical details of the intelligence business, such as defining terms, describing various types of intelligence collection disciplines, discussing how to recruit clandestine sources, enunciating security guidelines, etc.
Nevertheless, the introduction of the document is interesting as it explains pragmatically and theologically why the EIG—and one imagines the al Qaeda members who retained this document for many years—believed that intelligence was important. Among many interesting points, it is clear that the authors believed that intelligence is a form of power in its own right, not merely a means of assisting leaders in making good decisions as most (though not all) Western intelligence theorists would have it. The document also makes clear the radical jihadist view that Islam does not hold its rightful place in the world and that one of the reasons is that the rest of the world is so good at intelligence. Given the importance of intelligence, the document suggests, the creation of an Islamic intelligence capability is a necessary part of an Islamic resurgence.
The translation at the CRRC of this document is of ragged quality, so I have edited somewhat. I have done quite a bit of work in jihadist studies, but it is important to note that I do not read Arabic, so caveat lector. All comments in [square brackets] are mine.
Herewith the introduction to the EIG intelligence manual:
All praise be to Allah only and peace and salvation be upon His Messenger.
The reader of these lines will see that politics, the economy, the military and the other vital fields are under the control of the world intelligence community. Muslims do not have any role in these fields except subordinating, yielding, and imitating.
Accordingly, if the Muslim nation wants sovereignty, leadership, independence and prominence, it must have a special and distinguished intelligence system. This system must be capable of lifting the nation from its fall and weakness to look around at the world around it. Allah says in this regard, “O believer, beware,” and He also says, “Those who disbelieve wish that you would neglect your weapons and your baggage so they could come down upon you in one attack.” [Quranic verse.]
Accordingly, the life of nations and organized groups and their growth and continuation depend on recent and developed information they obtain about other countries as well as the surrounding world.
Intelligence is similar to the feelers of an insect by which it finds its way for the truth and saves it from dangers. Intelligence is not new; it is as old as man himself and as integral a part of him as the soul is to the body. However it develops according to the economic development and according to the requirements of the age. It is not an academic science published in books and distributed to people on [computer] discs but a live acquired experience necessitated by the welfare of the nation and the need for safety and security. A person who is studying intelligence will know that.
In olden days, man looked for information pertaining to his food and drinks from fortune tellers and preachers. When Islam was revealed, intelligence was introduced to all aspects of life. The Prophet never fought a battle before sending surveillance teams, sources [informers] and spies until he got all the information about his enemy. In the Middle Ages, intelligence was used on a wide scale, especially by the [Muslim] Mogul [Empire in India], during the Crusades, and the Ottoman Caliphate.
One of its most important features is using sources, surveillance agents, and spies for gathering information about their enemies.
In the present age, technology and modern technical equipment are utilized in intelligence. Some of the types of equipment are listening, photographing, recording, early warning and satellites. This has introduced the intelligence system, information gathering information in all aspects of life, military, political, and other.
War nowadays is mainly a war of intelligence before it becomes a war of [military] equipment. Intelligence circles expanded, and competition between intelligence agencies took place. Some of these agencies became prominent due to their power and influence on the political media. Some of these agencies are:
- The American intelligence agency (CIA) was founded in 1949. [It was actually founded in 1947.]
- The Soviet intelligence agency (KGB) was founded in 1917.
- The British intelligence agency (MI6) founded in 1573. [MI6 was actually founded in 1909. This seems to be a reference to the intelligence activities of Sir Francis Walsingham who was Queen Elizabeth I’s spymaster from 1573 to 1590.]
- The French intelligence agency (OAS) founded in 1815. [This reference is unclear. 1815 was the year that Napoleon was finally overthrown. The OAS was the Organisation de l’Armée Secrète, a far-right French organization that violently opposed the granting of independence to Algeria during the Algerian War, 1954-1962.]
- The Jewish intelligence (MOSSAD) founded in 1937. [The authors are probably referring to the Mossad LeAliyah Bet, which loosely translates as the Institute for Illegal Immigration. This organization operated from 1938 to 1948 helping Jews to immigrate to Palestine. The intelligence agency known as the Mossad was founded in December 1949.]
However, our intelligence system did not see the light after the collapse of the Islamic Caliphate. [Kemal Atatürk, the first President of Turkey, abolished the Caliphate in 1924.] It is still controlled by informers and cowards who are from our people, speak our language, and claim that they are Muslims although Islam has nothing to do with them. We place our hope in you, our righteous fellow young men and the ancestors of Mus’ab and Ammar [two renowned Muslim leaders] to restore to the nation its glory, rescue it from its setback, awaken it from its slump, and prepare the necessary tools to lift it to its prominent position.
“Against them make ready your strength to the utmost of your power, including steeds of war, to strike terror into the hearts of the enemies of Allah and your enemies and others besides.” [A Quranic verse.]
With men like you, Constantinople [once the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire] was occupied, and with you Rome will be occupied, and with your ingenuity, our intelligence system will be restored by which we can defeat our enemies.
This call to arms to form a global intelligence system for Islam may warm the heart of conspiracy theorists, but as a practical matter, it is not realistic. It is important to recall that the Egyptian Islamic Group wrote this document at a time when it was a relatively organized group. The manual went into Al Qaeda’s files when it, too, was an organized hierarchical group. Groups like that have some hope of creating an intelligence organization. Today, however, EIG has changed its stripes and Al Qaeda is a brand, an idea, a social movement more than an organization. In such a case, some of the low-level intelligence techniques that the manual discusses have applicability, but it is hard to imagine how a formal intelligence organization could serve something as nebulous as Al Qaeda today.