In general, the operational methods described are elementary to any graduate of a western intelligence organization but not to be underestimated, especially for their effectiveness in the under-developed world. There is some advanced knowledge of weapons and explosives techniques, however, their greatest asset — and most fearsome characteristic — is ideology, through which they stand to recruit those who can improve their level of sophistication. As they gain sophistication, the threat they present to the west increases proportionally.
The intelligence techniques described by the manual are low-tech, but rooted mainly in sound theory. The tradecraft described for cell structure follows basic principles of compartmentalization; that described for intelligence gathering follows basic techniques for avoiding pursuit, for minimalizing documentation, for recruitment, etc.; the assassination techniques described must be called rudimentary at best. While the low-tech nature of is a hindrance to Al Qaeda, it must also be accepted that, in the under-developed countries they operate in, low-tech is less of a disadvantage than it would be in the west. Furthermore, brothers of the organization are encouraged to substitute old-fashioned discipline for technology: thorough preparation, reconnaissance, practice, and patience can sometimes go farther than geosynchronous satellites and the great lengths to which the organization is willing to go must not be underestimated. These are, after all, operatives with an ideology of martyrdom and, in the face of martyrdom, what will a few hours, days, or even weeks on a stake-out matter?
Identifying this type of operative will require equal persistence and patience. Because they will operate through low-tech, undocumented means, it may often be necessary to follow them to the streets, go door-to-door, shop-to-shop, review long hours of video footage; in general to practice old-fashioned gumshoe work.
An important advantage of the organization is that, as compared to western intelligence agencies, it operates on home turf. A growing-up knowledge of culture, neighborhoods, people, and even the layout of streets can mean the difference.
It is important for western agents to study the battlegrounds extensively, not only to enter the mindset of the local culture, but also to remain ahead of their adversaries.
The weakness of the organization is that it employs zealots who may be over-eager, excitable, and will, almost certainly, not be trade professionals. Spotting unpracticed clandestine agents is again a process of tedious investigation combined with the ability to read people and situations. Agents of this organization may be overly dramatic in their use of tradecraft — choosing conspicuous meeting signals, for instance. It is important to remember the basic tenet of membership: zealotry. A zealot will be willing to go to lengths which better adjusted individuals would not. Notably, a zealot backed into a corner is more likely to try and fight his way out.
In short, in order to better a patient, well-prepared enemy it will be necessary to be more patient and better prepared than they are. Combined with the greater technology available to the west these methods should facilitate the apprehension of agents of the organization.
1. Author Unkown “Al Qaeda Training Manual” Captured by Manchester Police Department. Web. 15 May 2010 from:
2. Interview with Defense Minister Rabin on IDF Radio. (1990, Feburary 5). Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 11-12, Retrieved from http://www.mfa.gov.il/
3. (2005). Radical Islam in Egypt and Jordan. Brighton, GB: Sussex Academic Press.
4. Kahn, David. (1996). The Codebreakers: The Comprehensive History of Secret Communication From Ancient Times to the Internet. New York: Scribner..