The letter, take 2

Eli Lake has an interesting article in today’s New York Sun on the possible inauthenticity of the Zawahiri letter that John commented on last week: “Doubts are mounting on Al Qaeda letter aired by Negroponte.” On the one hand:

“This does not read like an Islamist text,” a terrorism analyst at the conservative-leaning Hudson Institute, Chris Brown, said in an interview yesterday. “It only uses the word ‘infidel’ twice and makes five references to ‘crusaders.’ They are talking about the U.S. military in Iraq, which all Islamists, including Al Qaeda, always refer to as the crusader nations, but in this letter Zawahiri refers to America almost exclusively.” Mr. Brown added that the letter also uses references to both the Christian and Muslim calendar: “We know that Al Qaeda leaders will use the Islamic calendar in private correspondence and the Christian calendar for statements meant to be public, but never both in an internal communication.”

On the other hand:

Other observers, however, say they have reason to believe the letter is real. One expert on Al Qaeda, Peter Bergen of the New America Foundation, yesterday cited Mr. al-Zawahiri’s preoccupation with winning over Muslims as a reason why he suspected the July 9 letter was real. “One of Zawahiri’s preoccupations is, ‘We don’t have the masses on our side.’ In his book, ‘Knights Under the Prophet’s Banner,’ he says two causes the masses can get behind are Palestine and the United States’ intervention. These themes are in the letter. That is consistent with his thinking,” Mr. Bergen said yesterday. “I don’t have sufficient confidence in our intelligence agencies to think they would be able to dream up a fake like this.”

Bergen’s doubts would be persuasive if the hypothesis is that the CIA fabricated the letter. Is that the hypothesis? Lake’s article doesn’t identify a specific suspect; in one of Lake’s unattributed quotes, reference is made only to “a foreign intelligence service.”

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