From the archive, originally posted by: [ spectre ]
U.S. Says Insurgent Leader It Couldn’t Find Never Was
By MICHAEL R. GORDON / July 18, 2007
BAGHDAD, July 18 – For more than a year, the leader of one the most
notorious insurgent groups in Iraq was said to be a mysterious Iraqi
called Abu Omar al-Baghdadi.
As the titular head of the Islamic State in Iraq, Mr. Baghdadi issued
incendiary pronouncements. Despite claims by an Iraqi Interior
Ministry official in May that Mr. Baghdadi had been killed, he
appeared to have persevered unscathed.
On Wednesday, the chief United States military spokesman here, Brig.
Gen. Kevin J. Bergner, provided a new explanation for Mr. Baghdadi’s
ability to escape attack: he never existed.
General Bergner told reporters that a senior Iraqi insurgent captured
this month said that the elusive Mr. Baghdadi was actually a fictional
character whose declarations on audiotape were read by a man named Abu
General Bergner said the ruse was devised by Abu Ayyub al-Masri, the
Egyptian-born leader of the insurgent group Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia.
Although the group is mostly Iraqi, much of its leadership is foreign,
and Mr. Masri was reportedly trying to mask the outsiders’ dominant
The general’s briefing was part of an American effort to counter the
psychological aspects of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia’s campaign as well as
the military ones. The news conference seemed tailored to rattle the
90 percent of the group’s adherents who are believed to be Iraqi by
suggesting that they were doing the bidding of foreigners.
General Bergner said that Mr. Masri’s ploy was to invent Mr. Baghdadi,
a figure whose very name was meant to establish an Iraqi pedigree,
install him as the head of a front organization called the Islamic
State of Iraq, and then arrange for Mr. Masri to swear allegiance to
Adding to the deception, he said, the deputy leader in Osama bin
Laden’s group Al Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahri, publicly supported Mr.
Baghdadi in a video and Internet statements.
The captured insurgent who was said to have alerted the Americans was
identified as Khalid Abdul Fatah Daoud Mahmud al-Mashadani, who was
said to have been detained by American forces in Mosul on July 4.
According to General Bergner, Mr. Mashadani is the most senior Iraqi
operative in Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia. According to some reports, he
served in Saddam Hussein’s Special Republican Guard and later became
an insurgent with the group Ansar Al Sunna. About two and a half years
ago, Mr. Mashadani joined Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, where he served as
the Media Emir, or publicity director, the general said.
General Bergner said that Mr. Mashadani was also an intermediary
between Mr. Masri in Iraq and Mr. bin Laden and Mr. Zawahri, whom the
Bush administration says are remotely supporting and guiding Al Qaeda
in Mesopotamia. Critics of the administration have accused it of
exaggerating the relationship between the groups, however.
An important part of the American strategy against Al Qaeda in
Mesopotamia has been to drive wedges between the group, other
insurgent groups and the Sunni population, and General Bergner’s
briefing continued that theme.
“Mashadani confirms that al-Masri and the foreign leaders with whom he
surrounds himself, not Iraqis, made the operational decisions,”
General Bergner said.
As proof that Mr. Mashadani had been captured, the military displayed
a picture of him and an identification card the general described as
the false ID he was found with.
Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia has fired its own shots in the publicity war.
Videos have been issued under the banner of the Islamic State of Iraq
that were said to show a bomb attack in Diyala on an American Bradley
armored vehicle and an assault on an Iraqi military checkpoint.
In one recent statement, the Islamic State of Iraq made light of the
American code name for its offensive in Baquba, Arrowhead Ripper, by
saying that “the arrows have been returned to the enemy like
boomerangs,” according to the SITE Institute, a United States group
that monitors international terrorist groups.
Bruce Riedel, a former C.I.A official and Middle East expert,
acknowledged that experts had long wondered whether Mr. Baghdadi
actually existed. Still, Mr. Riedel suggested that the briefing on
Wednesday may not be the final word.
“They say we have killed him,” Mr. Riedel said, referring to earlier
statements by Iraqi government officials. “Then we heard him after his
death, and now they are saying he never existed. That suggests that
our intelligence on Al Qaeda in Iraq is not what we want it to be.”
Mr. Riedel said the military needed to guard against the possibility
that Mr. Mashadani might be trying to protect a real person by telling
the Americans that Mr. Baghdadi was imaginary. The military insists
that Mr. Mashadani provided his account because he resented the role
played by foreign leaders in Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia. They say he has
not repudiated the group.
A larger question is what influence senior Qaeda leaders, believed to
be hiding in Pakistan, may have over the operations undertaken by Al
Qaeda in Mesopotamia. General Bergner said Mr. bin Laden’s group
provided guidance and general support. By way of example, he said that
three foreign fighters – Khail, Khalid and Khattab al-Turki – were
dispatched to Iraq by Al Qaeda to help Mr. Masri strengthen his
organization in the northern part of the country.
“There is a flow of strategic decision, of prioritization, of
messaging from Al Qaeda senior leaders to Al Qaeda in Iraq
leadership,” he said. But he did not provide any examples of a
specific raid or operation that was ordered by Pakistan-based leaders
of Al Qaeda.
An unclassified National Intelligence Estimate on terrorism made
public in Washington on Tuesday indicated that there was some link
between Al Qaeda and Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia. But the intelligence
estimates also suggest that Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia has some autonomy
and described the Iraqi-based group as an “affiliate” of Al Qaeda.
A statement issued just last week in the name of a Mr. Baghdadi
suggested that his group’s enemies were varied and that some were much
closer to home. A tape, posted on a jihadist Web site, warned Iran to
stop supporting Iraqi’s Shiites.
“We are giving the Persians, and especially the rulers of Iran, a two-
month period to end all kinds of support for the Iraqi Shiite
government and to stop direct and indirect intervention,” the
statement read. “Otherwise, a severe war is waiting for you.”
PAGING EMMANUEL GOLDSTEIN
Researcher’s Analysis of al Qaeda Images Reveals Surprises — UPDATED
By Kim Zetter / August 02, 2007
Neal Krawetz, a researcher and computer security consultant, gave an
interesting presentation today at the BlackHat security conference in
Las Vegas about analyzing digital photographs and video images for
alterations and enhancements.
Using a program he wrote (and provided on the conference CD-ROM)
Krawetz could print out the quantization tables in a JPEG file (that
indicate how the image was compressed) and determine the last tool
that created the image — that is, the make and model of the camera if
the image is original or the version of Photoshop that was used to
alter and re-save the image.
Comparing that data to the metadata embedded in the image he could
determine if the photo was original or had been re-saved or altered.
Then, using error level analysis of an image he could determine what
were the last parts of an image that were added or modified.
Error level analysis involves re-saving an image at a known error rate
(90%, for example), then subtracting the re-saved image from the
original image to see every pixel that changed and the degree to which
it changed. The modified versions will indicate a different error
level than the original image.
You can see the difference in the two pictures (below right) of a
bookshelf. Krawetz added some books and a toy dinosaur to the original
image — both of which show up clearly in the second picture after
he’s completed the error level analysis.
But more interesting were the examples Krawetz gave of al Qaeda
images. Krawetz took an image from a 2006 al Qaeda video of Ayman al-
Zawahiri (above right), a senior member of the terrorist organization.
The image shows al-Zawahiri sitting in front of a desk and banner with
writing on it. But after conducting his error analysis Krawetz was
able to determine that al-Zawahiri’s image was superimposed in front
of the background — and was most likely videotaped in front of a
Krawetz was also able to determine that the writing on the banner
behind al-Zawahiri’s head was added to the image afterward. In the
second picture above showing the results of the error level analysis,
the light clusters on the image indicate areas of the image that were
added or changed. The subtitles and logos in the upper right and lower
left corners (IntelCenter is an organization that monitors terrorist
activity and As-Sahab is the video production branch of al Qaeda) were
all added at the same time all have the same error level, while the
banner writing was added at a different time has a different error
level, likely around the same time that al-Zawahiri was added, Krawetz
says. (See 2nd update below.)
Even more interesting is the analysis he conducted on another 2006
video image of Azzam al-Amriki showing him in a white room with a
desk, computer and some books in the background. Error level analysis
shows that the books in the lower right-hand corner of the image have
a different error level than the items in the rest of the image,
suggesting they were added later. In fact the books register the same
error level as the subtitles and As-Sahab logo.
Further analysis also shows that the books have a different color
range than the rest of the image, indicating that they came from an
alternate source. Krawetz wasn’t able to determine what the books
were but says if they were religious books, they might have simply
been added to lend authority and reverence to the video. It’s also
possible, he says, that such details could be added to a picture to
send a message in code to al Qaeda operatives.
UPDATE: For those of you who asked for Krawetz’s program, you can view
the source code here.
You can also view his BlackHat presentation here (PDF). For those of
you who think the software is better used to catch media manipulations
of photos and video, Krawetz did present examples of these in his
And to “Ann” who commented that she doubts al Qaeda would put
subtitles on a video, As-Sahab, the logo in the lower left corner of
the two al Qaeda videos is the production arm of al Qaeda. Yes, the
organization has its own media production team.
2ND UPDATE: I quoted Krawetz as saying that the evidence indicates
that the IntelCenter and As-Sahab logos were added to the al-Zawahiri
video at the same time. Ben Venzke of IntelCenter says his
organization didn’t add the As-Sahab logo. He points out that just
because the error levels are the same for two items in an image, that
doesn’t prove they were added at the same time, only that the
compression was the same for both items when they were added.
3rd UPDATE: I was finally able to reach Neal Krawetz at the BlackHat
conference to respond to the questions about the IntelCenter and As-
Sahab logos (Krawetz doesn’t have a cell phone on him so finding him
at the conference took a while). He now says that the error levels on
the IntelCenter and As-Sahab logos are different and that the
IntelCenter logo was added after the As-Sahab logo. However, in a
taped interview I conducted with him after his presentation, he said
the logos were the same error levels and that this indicated they were
added at the same time. Additionally, after I’d written the first blog
entry about his presentation, I asked him to read it to make sure
everything was correct. He did so while sitting next to me and said it
was all correct. He apologizes now for the error and the confusion it