Islamic State’s Leak Is a Public Relations Disaster
Documents detail Daesh’s super boring bureaucracy
Thousands of documents detailing the personnel bureaucracy of the Islamic State have leaked online. The files, if authentic, appear to detail the wannabe Caliphate’s human resources. The leak includes the enrollment applications for more than 22,000 ISIS fighters.
At first glance, the documents are intriguing, a rare glimpse into the inner workings of a secretive terror organization. But scanning over the assorted documents online reveals them for what they are — the dull paperwork of an evil militant movement.
And that’s the coup here. Security experts will pick over this info in the coming weeks and learn a lot about the Islamic State’s organization as well as individual fighters. That information is important, but even more important is that this info catches the Islamic State with its pants down.
Daesh is great at keeping up appearances and waging propaganda war. It regularly releases high-definition videos of beheadings and first-person combat, and publishes a slick and glossy magazine detailing life in the fabled Caliphate.
But governments and armies alike run on lots of paperwork, and it looks as if Daesh’s documents are as dull as everyone else’s.
Sky News first reported the leak on March 10 and shared the world’s first few glimpses at the paperwork that keeps the terrorist organization running. Sky News correspondent Stuart Ramsay obtained the files from an Islamic State defector calling himself Abu Hamed.
Hamed once fought in the Free Syrian Army but left to join the Islamic State. He later grew disillusioned, saying that former Iraqi Baathists had overrun the terrorist organization’s leadership and dismantled its Islamic laws. Before he took off he grabbed a memory stick full of thousands of documents.
Sky News has turned over copies of the files to authorities. British and U.S. officials have refused to comment, but Germany’s Interior Minister told the BBC the files are probably genuine.
Genuine … and old. The list of more than 22,000 Islamic State fighters appears to be from 2013 and 2014. A lot changes over two years, especially during a war, and it’s possible that the documents will tell investigators more about Islamic State’s organization, history and recruitment efforts than it will about the current makeup of its fighting force.
The documents are also boring. The bulk of the files are personnel documents, a kind of job application or file a recruiter fills out when a fighter first joins Daesh. It’s basic — just 23 questions that tells readers all about the new recruit.
Name, address, blood type and birthday are all required. So is information about the wannabe jihadi’s family. The Islamic State also wants to know how its recruits made their way into the Caliphate, which routes they took and who recruited them.
The more interesting questions come later when the registrar must explain the applicant’s level of understanding of Sharia law, how obedient they appear and what special skills they possess. The people doing the paperwork often left these spaces blank.
Which is hilarious and humanizing. I immediately imagined two normal schmucks sitting at a table in a dry desert town. “Have you heard of Sharia?” the interviewer asks.
“No,” the other replies. “But I want to fight.”
“That’s OK,” the first responds. “I’ll just put you down as a ‘beginner.’”
Governments and militaries require vast infrastructures to keep going. Clerks file paperwork, janitors take out the garbage and recruiters interview applicants. It’s not sexy, but it’s vital. Daesh has had such enormous successes over the past few years by only showing its tough and terrifying side that we often forget it governs, as well as lights people on fire.