Wednesday, July 11, 2007

More APing of unsourced "intelligence reports"

Need a reason to question another AP report based on a carefully couched description of an "intelligence report" leaked by an "official and others [who] spoke on condition of anonymity because the secret report remains classified"?

The headlines scream: "Classified Report: Al Qaeda at Pre-9/11 Strength."

Certainly an arresting caption, but what does that mean? To be accurate, wouldn't al Qaida have to be operating at a level comparable to their former camp complex in Afghanistan where every year thousands of jihadis casually cycled in and out from many different countries for terrorist training? But is such international travel even possible today?

Sure enough, a jump to the link reveals the following:
U.S. intelligence analysts have concluded al-Qaida has rebuilt its operating capability to a level not seen since just before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, The Associated Press has learned...

Al-Qaida is "considerably operationally stronger than a year ago" and has "regrouped to an extent not seen since 2001," the official said, paraphrasing the report's conclusions. "They are showing greater and greater ability to plan attacks in Europe and the United States."

Take each phrase separately and together. What does "regrouped to an extent not seen since 2001" really tell us? Suppose at its apex, al Qaida's strength on 9/10 was 100%. Now, wouldn't that assertion hold true even if that strength had been reduced by as much as 99% to 1% in 2002, and rose to only 2% since then?

Again, the same holds true for the phrase "considerably operationally stronger than a year ago," doesn't it? For example, say it was 2% in 2006, and rose to 4% in 2007. A doubling in a year. But still not necessarily anywhere near 9/11 strength.

None of this is an attempt to deny a resurgent threat. It just illustrates a continuing propensity on the part of elements of the press and intelligence community to use words that tend to mislead the casual reader and preserve to themselves the maximum amount of wiggle room after the fact.


Blogger EDH said...


4:39 PM  

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