Al-Qaida's "Legion of Doom" Conference Call

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Aug. 7 2013 10:53 AM

Did a Conference Call Involving Al-Qaida's "Legion of Doom" Prompt All Those Embassy Closures?

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In this undated photo, Osama bin Laden sits with his adviser Ayman al-Zawahiri during an interview with Pakistani journalist Hamid Mir at an undisclosed location in Afghanistan

Photo by Visual News/Getty Images

As was widely reported yesterday, the previously unknown threat that prompted the widespread closure of American embassies in the Middle East and North Africa this week allegedly came when the United States managed to intercept some type of message from the leader of al-Qaida to the group's Yemen affiliate giving it the green light to carry out an unspecified attack. But in turns out, at least according to the Daily Beast's sources, that intercepted communication was a good deal more interesting that the initial reports suggested: It was, unnamed U.S. officials now say, actually an international conference call that included more than 20 high-ranking al-Qaida members who operate everywhere from Pakistan and Iraq to Nigeria and Uzbekistan.

"This was like a meeting of the Legion of Doom," was how one U.S. intelligence officer described it (presumably comparing those on the call to the group of supervillians led by Lex Luthor and not the Philadelphia Flyers' Eric Lindros-lead line from the mid-90s). "All you need to do is look at that list of places we shut down to get a sense of who was on the phone call." The Beast with more:

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To be sure, the CIA had been tracking the threat ... for months. An earlier communication between [al-Qaida chief Ayman al-Zawahri] and [Nasser al-Wahishi, the head of the terror network's organization, based in Yemen] delivered through a courier was picked up last month, according to three U.S. intelligence officials. But the conference call provided a new sense of urgency for the U.S. government, the sources said. ...
Al Qaeda leaders had assumed the conference calls, which give Zawahiri the ability to manage his organization from a remote location, were secure. But leaks about the original intercepts have likely exposed the operation that allowed the U.S. intelligence community to listen in on the al Qaeda board meetings.

Go check out the full report here. It provides the latest look into the alleged inner workings of al-Qaida, which apparently has rather corporate-sounding job titles and requires its operatives to file monthly expense reports.

Update 2:30 p.m.: Something that I should have gone to greater lengths to point out above: The "Legion of Doom" story is coming from unnamed sources, so it's difficult if not impossible to verify. And, as the Associated Press' Adam Goldman reminds us, there's nothing preventing a CIA official, particularly one not speaking on the record, from twisting the truth or downright lying. For more on that, head on over to Gawker, which has a nice rundown of the doubts a host of national security reporters have expressed with the latest unofficial official version of events offered to the Beast.

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Josh Voorhees is a Slate senior writer. He lives in Iowa City. Follow him on Twitter.