So Are Other al-Qaeda Affiliates Looking to Hit Us at Home?
A subtle but strategically significant point raised by White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan at his press conference right now: The intelligence community didn’t fully understand that al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula was looking, for the first time, to strike the U.S. homeland; and that in turn didn’t set anyone’s hair on fire in the analytic community. If that’s true, it’s an important fact worth underscoring. And it raises the question: Are al-Qaeda’s other regional affiliates now looking to hit the U.S. at home?
To explain, a bit of background: al-Qaeda has a variety of franchise organizations, with varying degrees of command and control back to al-Qaeda’s senior leadership in the tribal regions of Pakistan. Most important are al-Qaeda in Iraq, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (the Yemeni group) and al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. Those organizations, however, have tended to focus their operations on their specific regions. The task of hitting what Osama bin Laden has called the “far enemy” — us — has tended over the past decade to fall to al-Qaeda’s senior leadership. Or so the U.S. intelligence community has long believed. Training, recruiting, funding, planning — that’s all been work the franchises reserve for their specific areas of operation.
But al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula’s use of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab changes that picture. Brennan said that he believes AQAP has a pretty direct link back to al-Qaeda Senior Leadership. Does that mean it’s uniquely focused on establishing its global reach? Or does it herald that the other franchises are moving in that direction as well? In other words, if the analytic community is now pulsed to look at AQAP, as Brennan indicated (“no one entity, team or task force” was assigned to “prioritize AQAP,” he said in the press conference), does that risk missing the next attempted coming from a different al-Qaeda franchise? After all, the National Counterterrorism Center, designed to bring together the analytic dots, has a questionable allotment of resources already.
It’s a shame no one in the briefing asked about that, but I know for a fact that Air America ace Ana Marie Cox wanted an answer to it. If only Robert Gibbs called on her!