When Navy SEALs raided Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, a year ago, they took home with them a treasure trove of documents and computer files, including private communications between Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda leaders around the globe. (This windfall of valuable intelligence was one reason President Obama decided against simply bombing the compound into oblivion.) Today, West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center released seventeen of those captured correspondences, which they also helpfully translated into English. One of the most interesting discussions revolved around Al Qaeda’s media strategy for the tenth anniversary for 9/11. They would prepare some kind of propaganda message, of course, but who should they give it to? Bin Laden’s pick? CBS. (Congrats on the endorsement, CBS!)
“We should also look for an American channel that can be close to being unbiased, such as CBS, or other channel that has political motives that make it interested in broadcasting the point of view of al Mujahadin,” bin Laden wrote on October 21, 2010, to Atiya Abdul Rahman, at one time Al Qaeda’s No. 2 man. “Then, we can send to the channel the material we want the Americans to see. You can ask brother Azzam about the channel that you should send the tape to and let me know your opinion and his.”
Brother Azzam — better known as Adam Gadahn, the American-turned-spokesman for Al Qaeda — had a different take: American media is all the same … for the most part. “From the professional point of view,” Gadahn writes in a January 2011 letter to an unknown recipient, “they are all on one level — except (Fox News) channel, which falls into the abyss as you know, and lacks neutrality too.” Gadahn then provides commentary on the minor differences between the other networks:
- CNN: “[S]eems to be in cooperation with the government more than the others (except Fox News of course).”
- MSNBC: “I used to think MSNBC channel may be good and neutral a bit,” until they fired Keith Olbermann and Octavia Nasser, Gadahn writes.
- CBS: “It is like the other channels,” although 60 Minutes has a solid reputation.
- ABC: “Could be one of the best channels, as far as we are concerned,” because of Brian Ross’s interest in “Al Qaeda issues.”
In conclusion, Gadahn decides that any channel would probably “distort” Al Qaeda’s message, and he floats the possibility of setting up an interview with bin Laden himself. “The first press interview of Shaykh Usama … since 10 years ago!” he proposes, with evident excitement. Barring that though, Gadahn suggests providing the anniversary message to multiple outlets “so that there will be healthy competition” between them. “It should be sent for example to ABC, CBS, NBC, and CNN, and maybe PBS and VOA. As for Fox News,” Gadahn writes, “let her die in her anger.” Al Qaeda is really not a fan of Fox News.
As it turns out, bin Laden was killed before he could record a message for the 9/11 anniversary, which Al Qaeda marked by releasing an audio clip of its new leader, Ayman al Zawahiri, on some jihadist Internet forums.