Debate rages: Is Al Qaeda's dopey new jihad magazine for real?

I’m leaning towards yes, but this front-page feature headline gives me pause:

Danger Room on why it might be real, and why not:

Online and viral media is the most efficient distribution mechanism for the extremist message, which is why al-Qaida’s as-Sahab media unit is so prolific. And as-Sahab products run the gamut of information offerings, from high-production-value online films to cellphone videos, serving as both a recruitment tool and a rapid-response messaging shop for the numerous attacks from Muslim clerics on al-Qaida’s Islamic credentials. In its creation of a distributed virtual training camp for propaganda, recruitment and development of al-Qaida’s bench, as-Sahab is the literal version of Lifehacker.

Which makes Inspire look anomalous. It’s not, apparently, online yet. Ambinder reports that a virus corrupted an attempted upload on extremist websites on Wednesday. And it’s not apparently an as-Sahab product: It bears a banner of al-Malahem Media, the publishing arm of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, a franchise of al-Qaida that trained Abdulmutallab on putting bombs in his underwear. And that’s even more fishy: Al-Jazeera’s Gregg Carlstrom tweets that it’s not al-Malahem’s typical logo.

“It is difficult at this point to confirm its authenticity,” says Marc Lynch, a George Washington University political science professor who specializes in Arabic-language media. For one thing, al-Qaida PDF uploads tend not to be corrupted by viruses.

Viruses? Yep: Apparently, when you download the PDF, everything after page three is irretrievably garbled by some form of digital debris. And, according to Marc Ambinder, that’s probably no accident.

From a counterintelligence standpoint, adding debris to a file is the best way to make sure that no one reads it. Whether or real or not, the U.S. government is quite worried about even the prospect of English-language Al Qaeda propaganda. So it would be within their interests — and the interests of a number of countries — to sabotage any document that exists, whether it’s a hoax or not.

The Navy’s 10th Fleet, based in Massachusetts, and various active Air Force elements conduct offensive cyber war, and one can’t put aside the possibility that they, or some other entity, created a semi-foolish Al Qaeda-type magazine in order to confuse and demoralize the enemy by subjecting it to ridicule, or that they managed to somehow hijack the copy and mess with it, either adding a tracking trojan (to see who downloaded it) or just rendering most of the content illegible.

The “tracking trojan” theory makes sense; obviously, the feds are keen to know which budding Faisal Shahzads are out there downloading terrorist propaganda. If the magazine was cooked up by the U.S., it also makes sense that all but a few pages would be corrupted. Filling dozens of pages with jihadi boilerplate would arguably do more harm than good since even rote material might make an impression on an aspiring killer. And besides, the “how to build a bomb” section would be a dead giveaway as to authenticity; American intelligence isn’t going to put instructions on constructing a workable device into a piece of disinformation aimed at the enemy. If/when that section appears online ungarbled, an explosives expert will be able to tell straightaway if the magazine’s legit. But if it’s not legit, why hasn’t AQ already denounced it? Logically they would want to put out the word ASAP that this is a digital trap before any of their fans fall into it. And another thing: Why would AQ go to the trouble of putting together an entire magazine when they can put these articles out individually as separate downloadable files? Do they have so much time on their hands that playing with page layouts is now a valuable use of resources?

While you meditate on the answer, new video from a spokesman for the group.

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