The Organizational Structure of Al Qaeda
| Peter Klein |
Speaking of organizational structure, here’s former O&M guest blogger Craig Pirrong on Al Qaeda:
There is a concerted effort underway to portray Bin Laden as exerting operational control over Al Qaeda, based on material collected during the raid on his compound. Color me skeptical.
First, it’s hard to imagine how he could exercise any control at anything but the broadest strategic and conceptual level while he was relying on couriers to communicate with subordinates. Second, this hierarchical model is contrary to virtually all that has been written about Al Qaeda going back to its early days: the organization has been consistently portrayed as networked and distributed rather than hierarchical. Indeed, the conventional characterization of Al Qaeda represents it as more of a franchise operation in which the franchisees have considerable autonomy.
But let’s assume for a moment that the organization was hierarchical, and that operational elements required direction and approval from Bin Laden to implement any attack. If that’s true, we may have actually done ourselves a disservice by killing Osama. For it would be almost trivially simple to get inside AQ’s OODA (“observe, orient, decide, and act”) loop and disrupt and destroy its operations. Even if we didn’t know what AQ was up to, we could disrupt their plans just by mixing (randomizing) our strategies, by unexpectedly changing up the way we do things. If response to such changes required the locals carrying out missions to report back to OBL via a painfully slow communications system, await a decision, and wait for the decision to be couriered back, they would be unable to do anything serious. In this case, killing OBL would free the locals to be more flexible and responsive — and hence more dangerous. It would permit AQ to become more of a network, less predictable, and more able to adapt to our moves.
I too doubt this emerging meme on OBL as operational figure, perhaps for somewhat different reasons: I assume that any official information about the operation and its significance is primarily propaganda, not transparent disclosure. Naturally the Administration would want to exaggerate the significance of Bin Laden’s, um, “retirement.”