By Eli Lake:
In 2002, Osama bin Laden dispatched an aide to Nigeria to hand out $3 million in local currency to a wide array of Salafist political organizations there that shared al Qaeda’s goal of imposing Islamic rule.
According to an overlooked report from a well-respected international watchdog, one of those organizations was Boko Haram, the terrorist outfit that’s become globally infamous for its threat to sell girls into slavery. In other words, bin Laden helped provide Boko Haram’s seed money, this report maintains.
Officially, the U.S. intelligence community assesses that the group has only tangential links to al Qaeda’s north African affiliate, and that reports of bin Laden backing the Nigerian outfit are off-base. But inside the secret state, many analysts believe that the ties between Boko Haram and al Qaeda global leadership go much deeper—and are about more than a little seed money.
“There were channels between bin laden and Boko Haram leadership,” one senior U.S. intelligence offical told The Daily Beast. “He gave some strategic direction at times.”
At issue are still secret documents captured from Osama bin Laden’s lair in Pakistan in 2011. According to two senior U.S. intelligence officials, the trove of documents includes correspondence between leaders of Boko Haram and al Qaeda’s central leadership, including Osama bin Laden. Other U.S. intelligence officials who spoke to The Daily Beast have stressed that the documents only include letters from Boko Haram to bin Laden—the terror leader never replied back.
The dispute inside the intelligence community falls along familiar lines about al Qaeda. The White House has emphasized the distinctions between al Qaeda’s core and its affiliates and other aspiring jihadists, who the White House sees as operating almost entirely independent of the central group.
However, another faction inside the U.S. intelligence community—one that comprises the current leadership of the Defense Intelligence Agency and others working in the military—see al Qaeda as a flatter organization that coordinates between nodes and operates through consensus in the model of an Islamic Shura council.
In the case of the Boko Haram debate, this latter group inside the intelligence community have pointed to documentation and raw intelligence that suggested the Nigerian group had evolved over time—particularly after 2010—into something that resembles an unofficial al Qaeda affiliate and a threat to the west.
That debate was one factor that delayed the official branding of Boko Haram as a terrorist group until November, despite the fact that many U.S. agencies like the FBI pressed the State Department to list the group as a foreign terrorist organization far earlier, according to two senior U.S. intelligence officials.
One senior intelligence official said that by 2012, White House officials like then-counterterrorism coordinator John Brennan downplayed these documents, saying that they only represented the vague aspirations of al Qaeda’s central leadership and Boko Haram’s chiefs to work together. Another U.S. intelligence official said, “Boko Haram is really on the periphery of the al Qaeda universe.”
Read more at The Daily Beast