The Businessman’s Briefcase of ISIS Propaganda

The Guardian has a story today about what it claims is ISIS’ manual in state-building which explains — the Guardian concludes — how it became the richest and most destabilizing Jihadi group of the past 50 years (as if that’s a category tracked somewhere).

A leaked internal Islamic State manual shows how the terrorist group has set about building a state in Iraq and Syria complete with government departments, a treasury and an economic programme for self-sufficiency, the Guardian can reveal.

The 24-page document, obtained by the Guardian, sets out a blueprint for establishing foreign relations, a fully fledged propaganda operation, and centralised control over oil, gas and the other vital parts of the economy.

The manual, written last year and entitled Principles in the administration of the Islamic State, lays bare Isis’s state-building aspirations and the ways in which it has managed to set itself apart as the richest and most destabilising jihadi group of the past 50 years.

It explains that this manual came from a businessman “working within ISIS” who in turn handed it onto scholar Aymenn al-Tamimi.

The document came from a businessman working within Isis via the academic researcher Aymenn al-Tamimi, who has worked over the past year to compile the most thorough log of Isis documents available to the public.

For safety reasons, the Guardian cannot reveal further information about the businessman but he has leaked nearly 30 documents in all, including a financial statement from one of Isis’s largest provinces.

That’s the news in this article, in my opinion — that this documents, as well as a slew of other purportedly ISIS documents, including a widely-cited financial one that “proved” ISIS was funding itself using extortion rather than donations from US Sunni allies — all came from the same businessman.

I had been pondering the financial one for some time, mostly wondering why it is that everyone believed this document that showed up out of nowhere. Now we learn there’s a series of documents showing up out of nowhere, forming a key basis for public understanding of ISIS.

And yet somehow that businessman keeps wandering off with ISIS’ founding documents without getting executed.

That’s, um, rather incredible.

Which, I suggest, ought to raise questions about who might want to produce the understanding we’re getting from these documents, and why that entity would be pushing this particular understanding.

Let me be clear. It is possible this really came from ISIS. But I would suggest its continued supply means either that ISIS wants it out or it’s not from ISIS.

Of related interest is that this story keeps getting fed, first, to non-US media outlets.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

33 replies
  1. bloopie2 says:

    On the one hand, these documents are rather meaningless. On the other hand, your point is well taken – how do we know they are (1) really ISIS and also (2) not propaganda?
    .
    In that regard, I’m curious — just how does one know that an alleged ISIS document is ‘true’? What would cause you personally to believe that (1) it is really from ISIS and also (2) it is not propaganda?

    • bloopie2 says:

      Just how does one know that an alleged ISIS document is ‘true’? What would cause you personally to believe that (1) it is really from ISIS and also (2) it is not propaganda? Anyone care to educate an ignorant? I guess I can tell from the circumstances of this particular data dump that it’s questionable, but what are the features of a data dump that says “it’s credible”? Thanks.

  2. orionATL says:

    let me guess – each was originally found in a briefcase left on the same bench in the same train station in ankara. at least one of the briefcases appeared to have been previously used.

    • orionATL says:

      under flouroscopic examination, the most clearly worn briefcase revealed scribblings that may have been cyrillic.

  3. Gina says:

    This “businessman” wouldn’t have been a Syrian photographer codenamed Caesar with a stash of 55,000 photographs showing evidence of Syrian government torture in another life, would he?

  4. bevin says:

    This a comment on Craig Murray’s blog:

    “The Guardian is running this as it’s main story . The documents on which it is based on are attributed to a man named Aymenn Jawad Al Tamimi who runs his own website but in his info informs us he is a member of the Middle East Forum , the US neo-con think-tank set up by the infamous Zionist warmonger Daniel Pipes who was involved in concocting the WMD story for George Bush . The Guardian is presenting the ‘ story ‘ as a major ‘ Scoop ‘ !!”

    The Guardian just keeps on slipping downwards.

      • orionATL says:

        doesn’t the ap’s reporting also fit into a picture being painted of desperate times and drive to war?

        what other than “threat to the nation” can one of the current class of republican candidates get elected on?

    • Anon says:

      Interesting The Guardian described his an “Academic” but he is as you say part of a group that has as its subhead “Promoting American Interests” and is run by Daniel Pipes of all people. Not exactly known for accuracy or objectivity.
      .
      Fun fact, they are also affiliated with Campus Watch a group dedicated to “monitoring middle eastern studies on campus.”
      .
      The author of the article Shiv Malik has been writing for the guardian for some time and has dealt with issues such as this before. But you would think, given the history of Curveball, that they would treat single-sourced gold like this as radioactive until proven otherwise.

  5. orionATL says:

    next up – a weapon of mass destruction deployed.

    here, i think a gas attack attributed to isil would fit the bill; the chaos of syria and bordering areas of iraq allow that possibility quite nicely.

    after that in the mo’ war playbook? – “isil suspected of having acquired long hidden iraqi biochemical warheads.”

  6. bmaz says:

    What is a “weapon of mass destruction”? Tell me.
    .
    Because from what I see in criminal courts (a fair amount, but, granted, far from everything), a “WMD” is anything from the Cherry Bomb/M-80 many of us used to play with, and have any numbers of, as kids and full on nukes. This kind of expansive “definition” did not used to be so, well, expansive.
    .
    Does it make any sense, even in these times of such fear and “terror”, for that kind of expansive definition to apply? And I think that question is geometrically more pertinent when it comes to preparatory and adjunct crimes like “attempted”, “material support” and “conspiracy”.

    • orionATL says:

      bmaz –

      yes.

      but there’s the political definition, which is the one that rules all reason in the short run.

      a weapon of mass destruction is any object or thing that a politician or prosecutor can use to freighten uninformed citizens.

      initially, a nuclear weapon was, legitimately in my mind, described as a weapon of mass destruction. the nuclear weapon remains the one and only wmd at present.

      for various reasons having to do with the possible reach of the object or thing, i don’t think there is any other legitimate wmd than a nuclear bomb – not anthrax, ebola, ricin, botulin, saren and other gases, polonium, not m-80’s for god’s sake – though replicating meterological effects and crop or animal diseases have great potential. what about hordes of genetically modified chimpanzee soldiers? we’re not there just yet, but dont give up hope, the micomplex is always looking to increase shareholder value.

      on the other hand, just for contemplation, in the very, very old days smallpox brought from europe by english, french, spanish, and dutch exploiters reduced a native americas population from possibly 20 million to possibly 2 million in a few decades.

    • Cheryl Rofer says:

      Well, bmaz, you are the lawyer, so you should know that in some circumstances, a WMD is what the law says it is. And yes, that definition was greatly expanded in the years after 9/11.
      .
      For those of us who come at it more technically, the only real WMDs are nuclear weapons. Nothing else comes close in destructive (“mass”) power. Then chemical and biological weapons got included, I think because of their sheer horror.

  7. bloopie2 says:

    Also this ignorance: In the “documents” themselves, is there anything that strikes you all as wrong or made-up? Do they seem “unreasonable” for ISIS? If so, on what other knowledge do you base that judgment?

  8. haarmeyer says:

    …including a widely-cited financial one that “proved” ISIS was funding itself using extortion rather than donations from US Sunni allies…

    Which ones? Because at least one has perhaps the most to lose of anyone if any khilafat movement succeeds. After all, the whole raison d’etre of Wahhabism is to justify hereditary rule for the house of Saud.

    • orionATL says:

      i’m interested in your last paragraph, particularly reference to kilafat, wahhabism and ksa longevity, but dont have the backround to pick up meaning from those brief references.

      • haarmeyer says:

        Sorry. A khilafat movement is a movement to establish a caliphate. The word “caliphate” means “succession”, and a caliphate is an islamic temporal authority with jurisdiction over Muslims because it is the rightful succession. Sunni Islam does not believe that succession is hereditary. Wahhab and the house of Saud collaborated to create a fundamentalist sect of Islam that allows the seat of Islamic authority (with respect to the holy places) to reside in a hereditary lineage.

        So by definition, the Saudi government would stand to lose their moral claim to authority if any khilafat movement, IS included, were to succeed. Likewise, the emirates would have to swear allegiance and become sultanates under the Caliphate if it succeeds as well. Regardless of what various people with money do or don’t do in those countries, the notion that any of those governments would be supporting the creation of a caliphate over all of Islam is ridiculous.

        • bevin says:

          But is it any more ridiculous than, for example, Israel’s protection of al nusra? Or Turkey’s collaboration in the oil trade?
          Surely the point in both of these cases, and in the more general one of US policy towards ISIS, is that all of the powers involved-and I’m unsure why the Gulf states including Saudi should be different- think that they can use ISIS, ignore its megalomaniac propaganda and achieve short term aims.
          The people who run the polities share Keynes’s view that “in the long term-we’re all dead”. An insight that loses none of its lustre as the Paris talks wind up.

          • haarmeyer says:

            You’re saying the Saudi state views its authority within Islam using Kissingeresque realpolitik? Is that a Saudi thing, or is it American ethnocentrism?

            Saying there are choices that the Saudis have made that contribute to this movement, which is deleterious to them on face, or saying there are wealthy people in Saudi Arabia who actually do support the movement, are both not only valid points but assuredly true. Saying that they wittingly and governmentally support their own downfall as a spiritual authority is just Americans projecting, or more likely recruiting into theories which recent events should have swept away by counterexample.

            • bevin says:

              You seem to hold a very idealised version of the “Saudi state”. Maybe justifiably so. My assessment is that, like many other states, it harbours several power centres, often pulling in different directions.
              To put it simply I don’t think that the “Saudi state” knows what it is about. The king appears to be incapacitated and the Crown Prince a man in a hurry in over his head. Advice seems to come from all directions and much of it is bad. ( Attacking Yemen was a bad idea, for example.)
              As to its authority with Islam, this is solely dependent on its control over the Holy sites. I suspect that the reverse may be true too: it’s abuse of its rule over Mecca and Medina will hasten its downfall.

        • orionATL says:

          re #22

          this is very informative. i’ve wondered how the state (ksa) and the religious sect were entertwined.

          thanks.

  9. orionATL says:

    another curiousity for me is that, unlike with iran, in s.arabia the religous leaders never seem to show up by name in public, at least re american media.

  10. Drew Mochak says:

    I like how the Guardian piece links to the website upon which the vital context that he works for a think tank and is thus paid to advance conservative US policy interests, but does not bother to point this out in the article, in the interests of “safety.” That’s how to earn A+s in Journalism school!

  11. Drew Mochak says:

    I like how the Guardian actually links to his website that contains his bio, but deliberately chooses to omit who he works for in the interests of “safety.” A+++ journalism, U GUYZ!

  12. wayoutwest says:

    The responses to these documents is even more interesting than the already well known contents that show the Islamic State operates just as any other State. It has similar structures and organization and depends on taxes and fees (extortion) and natural resource revenues.

    There are still a large number of people who cling to denial about the Islamic State and they desire and hope that the IS is not independent of the Western contaminated Gulf Monarchies who will have no place in the Caliphate except as ornaments at the end of a pike. They can’t turn off what they don’t control.

    I thought that this denial of reality would have dissipated by now with the evidence of the IS attacking everyone in their path including the KSA, Israel and even other Jihadists but fear of the unknown is still too strong.

    These continuing document releases are probably intentional valid propaganda to inform Muslims of their progress and stability and attract more volunteers. It seems to be working as one report states that new volunteers doubled in the last year.

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