- Nov 22, 2003
US is losing, badly:
Al Qaeda TV
A new 24-hour insurgent station reveals al Qaeda's increasing sophistication, and our continuing confusion.
by Daveed Gartenstein-Ross & Nick Grace
01/03/2007 12:00:00 AM
AL QAEDA AND its allies now have their own 24-hour television station. Based at a secret studio in Syria, its signal is broadcast to the entire Arab world from a satellite owned by the Egyptian government. This development highlights al Qaeda's increasingly sophisticated propaganda efforts.
Al Qaeda placed great emphasis on communicating its message effectively throughout 2006. Osama bin Laden and deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri issued more tapes in 2006 than in any year since the 9/11 attacks. In the past, al Qaeda tapes were generally released to Al Jazeera, but 2006 saw more Internet releases: the terrorist group's message was thus more quickly disseminated. Al-Zawraa TV, the 24-hour insurgent station, is an extension of this trend.
Al-Zawraa hit the airwaves on November 14. According to Middle East-based media monitor Marwan Soliman and military analyst Bill Roggio, it was set up by the Islamic Army of Iraq, an insurgent group comprised of former Baathists who were loyal to Saddam Hussein and now profess their conversion to a bin Laden-like ideology.
Al-Zawraa's value to the enemy is clear. The visual medium is extremely powerful, particularly in a part of the world with high illiteracy rates. This is not simply a station with an anti-American message: it is enemy propaganda, designed to further destabilize Iraq, empower the insurgency, and win support for the insurgency throughout the greater region.
The U.S. government, however, has thus far been unable to remove Al-Zawraa from the airwaves. A State Department official, asked to comment on efforts to combat the channel, told us, "We are strongly supporting the Iraqi efforts to work with the Egyptians to get this off the air."
Yet this statement doesn't accurately encapsulate the situation. Radio Netherlands' media analyst Andy Sennitt said of Al-Zawraa's broadcasts on Nilesat, "Nilesat is mostly Egyptian owned, so it means they will turn down any customer who is thought to produce material against Egypt's national interest. So apparently the Egyptian authorities are happy with al-Zawraa."
The United States provides Egypt with $2 billion a year in aid, more than it sends to any other country save Israel. This should provide the United States with a great deal of influence over Hosni Mubarak's government; however, it remains to be seen if the Bush administration is willing to exploit this leverage.
Removing Al-Zawraa from the airwaves through alternative means, including jamming its signal, may prove difficult since the physical location of the signal's feed would need to be located and, according to Sennitt, it could be anywhere. "All that's needed is a dish pointing at the satellite, and a transmitter on the correct uplink frequency," he said. "The satellite will carry whatever signal it receives." The easiest route to shutting down Al-Zawraa then is to persuade Egypt to remove the station from Nilesat.
In the five years since 9/11, the United States has failed to develop a message capable of winning over Middle Easterners, or turning them against bin Laden's radical worldview. The lack of a message is one thing, but the inability to combat inflammatory enemy propaganda is another. If the administration cannot act decisively to prevent Al-Zawraa from spreading its poisonous message, America will only be seen as the "weak horse" that bin Laden spoke of shortly after he succeeded in toppling the Twin Towers.