Al Qaeda’s use of nation-state intelligence tactics, techniques and procedures (TTP).


Al-Qaeda (AQ) uses robust and comprehensive intelligence techniques. Consequently, intelligence officials at large states fear that AQ will employ many of the same tactics, techniques and procedures (TTP) as nation states. Its training manuals provide comprehensive guidance on gathering open-source intelligence, conducting surveillance, interviewing prisoners, and recruiting staff to work in foreign governments. The belief that it is barbaric and operating in a world of religious fervor carries no weight. It is important that AQ is familiar with methods of intelligence gathering and counterintelligence.

What is less known about AQ is that large states propagate many of the intelligence TTPs they use from long and complicated relationships. In particular, the United States, Russia, Iran and Great Britain. Great powers mostly did this unintentionally. Nonetheless, AQ has customized these TTPs to fit their needs and survive in the hostile environment in which they operate.

What is clear is that the major powers have shared TTPs with allies and proxies. This ultimately led to non-state actors, and AQ included them in their TTPs.

1. AQ TTP and the Iran/Hezbollah relationship

Iranian intelligence at the beginning of the 20th centuryth century was insufficient. In 1957, the Iranian State Intelligence and Security Organization (SAVAK) was established. Its genesis is attributed to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in hopes of preventing Soviet expansion. They sent SAVAK personnel to the United States for intelligence and counterintelligence training. They estimated that nearly 6,000 SAVAK agents were trained by the CIA. Because of this training, Iranian agents received valuable TTPs from the CIA.

Britain also played a role in training Iran’s intelligence personnel. Independent of the CIA, MI6 maintained a HUMINT network within SAVAK. This shows how British Intelligence TTPs were passed on to SAVAK agents.

After the Iranian revolution of 1979, SAVAK was dissolved and replaced by SAVMA. Many of the CIA/MI6-trained SAVAK personnel remained. Consequently, major power TTPs continued within Iranian intelligence.

In 1982, Iran began supporting the party of God, Hezbollah, in Lebanon. It provided operational support to the Hezbollah organization against Israel. provided to Iran Hezbollah with intelligence supportwho also runs training camps for the terrorist organization.

During this time, AQ became aware of Hezbollah’s capabilities. AQ wanted to expand its capabilities. Therefore, in exchange for money and fighters, Hezbollah agreed to train AQ. his agents attended training camp Mid 1990s where they were trained in explosives and evaded detection by enemy forces. They indirectly disseminated Iranian TTPs during this training.

1.1. Direct relations Iran/AQ

However, Iran facilitated a direct connection with AQ in the early 1990s when Osama bin Laden was living in Sudan. Iran agreed to supply AQ with explosives, intelligence and security training through proxies. Despite this agreement, after 9/11 Iran has attempted to outwardly distance itself from any affiliation with AQ. But what is clear is that Iran was still a hub for AQ fighters and leadership to travel to Afghanistan. In addition, the SVR (Russian military intelligence) in 1995 educated Iran in the latest intelligence TTPs. As a result, Iran has leaked the latest intelligence TTPs to both AQ and Hezbollah.

Additionally, leaked documents released by Wikileaks provide evidence of Iran-AQ relationship. The documents describe how Iran has developed new suicide vests for AQ in Iraq. In the published assessment, they claim that new suicide bombing techniques come from Iran and Syria. In addition, the newly developed suicide vests contained miniature cameras that allowed remote surveillance by the attacker’s handler. This level of sophistication points to state-level involvement, particularly by Iran.

No doubt the intelligence and counterintelligence TTPs entrusted to Iran by both the UK and US found their way to AQ from Iran and Hezbollah.

2. Pakistan and AQ TTP

The British established Pakistan’s Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI) Directorate in 1948 after the decolonization of India. As many of the staff were British and had remained in Pakistan, any intelligence training they received would have been passed on to their native successors. Therefore, British Intelligence TTPs were part of ISI from the start.

ISI gained in stature and effectiveness after the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan in the 1980s, where support came largely from the CIA. ISI supported the mujahideen both financially and with training. The relationship between the ISI and the CIA allowed the CIA to plausibly deny. The CIA has given this operation a code name cyclone. It was the most expensive operation the CIA has ever conducted. It also gave ISI access to large sums of money and the opportunity to cultivate its ties with the mujahideen. In addition, this relationship meant that ISI agents were given Intelligence training in the United States from the CIA.

The relationship between ISI and the mujahideen led to the latter receiving Training in intelligence tactics. These included surveillance, counter-surveillance of targets, moving behind enemy lines unnoticed, and communications security. At that time, ISI also began communicating with Osama bin Laden.

2.1. Q-Pakistan relations up to the 1990s

The relationship between ISI and Osama bin Laden grew stronger in the 1990s. ISI actively participated in leading Al Qaeda training camps. It is very likely that they taught AQ members the ISI and CIA TTPs because ISI intelligence operatives gave the training camps. Therefore, they would undoubtedly have achieved AQ since ISI and Hezbollah knew the same TTPs. In addition, AQ actively provided intelligence training prior to September 11, 2001 and continues to place intelligence at the heart of its operations to this day. Importantly, ISI established this relationship to support its war in Kashmir against the Indian government.

Adding to this historical relationship, in September 2019, former Prime Minister of Pakistan Imran Khan confirmed that ISI had trained AQ. In his statement, Khan surmised that even after the September 11 attacks, there were individuals within the ISI who maintained close ties. Subsequently, these ties continued until the US killed Osama bin Laden because it was the ISI and the Pakistani military that were training AQ to fight jihad.

Therefore, ISI Intelligence TTPs prepared by British Intelligence and the CIA were likely leaked to AQ. AQ successfully used these TTPs to ensure group survival and continued ability to attack major powers.

3. Al Qaeda – Learning from open source

The West supports AQ in gathering information and developing its TTPs. Western powers support this by continuing publication of military and intelligence doctrines. AQ and other non-state actors need only do a quick internet search to find the latest operating procedures from both the US and UK militaries. This gives AQ an updated version of the TTPs used by the UK and US in military and intelligence operations against them. Therefore, AQ is able to implement more robust counterintelligence methods. This is because it is able to study its enemy more closely.

4. Major powers continue to spread their TTPS

Without a doubt, the global war on terror has reduced AQ’s capabilities. However, the knowledge gained from direct and indirect relationships with major powers is now being digitized and continued Internet.

Consequently, as the West continues to support and train unstable states and questionable allies such as Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan, AQ will have updated TTPs. American intelligence agencies have trained Iraqi intelligence Services since the fall of Saddam Hussein, which Iranian agents have undoubtedly infiltrated. Given the relationship between Iran, Hezbollah and AQ, it is this penetration that will keep AQ’s TTPs current. After all, the CIA was in Syria armament and training Opposition forces, while this relationship is currently mutually beneficial to both parties. The loyalty of the trainees cannot be guaranteed. Therefore, it is likely that some of the training provided by the CIA in Syria will find its way to AQ and other terrorist organizations such as Islamic State.

5. Summary

Major powers have inadvertently supplied their TTPs to terrorist organizations over the past century. AQ has benefited from its relationships with states such as Iran and non-state actors [email protected] by being able to continuously update its TTPs. Although AQ does not have the resources of the great powers, it can customize these TTPs to suit its goals and the environment in which it wishes to operate


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