Please see first our prior post, "James Foley and Jihadi John: Time/Time/Time."
They say that truth is stranger than fiction.
Corollary 1. When fiction is taken for truth, the truth becomes even stranger.
For starters, please watch this video, "How They Faked The James Foley Execution." It presents elementary magic tricks behind what otherwise seems amazing, astounding, impossible. Seeing should not = believing.
Forensic experts are now coming forth and declaring that the video decapitation of James Foley was staged, faked. They say the real execution may have taken place off-camera. In that regard, they voiced the assumption accepted worldwide: “No one is disputing that at some point an execution occurred.”
Gentlemen, I am disputing that an execution occurred.
Only by rejecting that universally-held assumption, do the pieces of the Foley video puzzle fall into place.
In addition to forensic experts, video experts are now expressing doubts. They are noting the obvious scripting of Foley´s and Jihadi John´s spoken lines. One video specialist in productions of beheadings concluded, as did Nurse Kristie in our prior post, that Foley was abnormally calm -- that when the cutting started, "there was no single sign that he was terrified... It could be that that particular knife wasn't the one that killed him, that that was a play-acting thing."
At present, we are stuck with three whys:
(i) An obviously staged event with rehearsed lines, play-acting, lights, camera, action. Why?
(ii) Incredible calm on the part of James Foley. Why?
(iii) ISIS did not do what other terrorists have done in videos -- show a full beheading. Instead, the ISIS video fades to black, then displays what appears to be a headless corpse. Why?
We think the three whys fit together to form a picture, never before seen, of what really happened in the James Foley video. A new explanation.
* * *
First, to clear the air, we need to identify the unidentified video producer.
For better or worse, there are legitimate doubts about whose show it was. To discover the perpetrator, we will apply the standard grid for determining guilt in criminal cases: means, motive, and opportunity. As always, the final conclusion is never beyond unreasonable doubts.
Hypothesis 1. The CIA made the video of the beheading of James Foley.
Nobody doubts the CIA has the technical, audiovisual means to make the Foley video. As for having other requisite means which are non-technical and non-audiovisual, as we shall see, serious doubts are in order.
Regarding a motive, our prior post noted that the CIA had an exceptionally powerful one: "to manufacture a gut-wrenching cry by the American people for justice (read: revenge), which would serve as the perfect pretext to bomb Syria where part of the terrorist ISIS base is located. That bombing is exactly what General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is calling for."
Finally, we come to opportunity. Here, an either-or possibility arises:
(i) Either. The James Foley in the video is the real James Foley. That would mean that to make the video, the CIA had access to, if not possession of, James Foley.
Everything is possible, but not everything is probable. Francois Didier, a French journalist, was imprisoned with Foley for eight months in Syria. Following his release in April, Didier described life at the hands of ISIS, e.g., mock executions and especially rough treatment of Foley at the hands of jailer Jihadi John.
For Hypothesis 1 (the CIA produced the video) to make sense, Didier would have to be either lying or seriously deluded. Ditto Daniel Rye Ottosen and Nicolas Hénin, who were also imprisoned with Foley and subsequently released, in June and April respectively.
Again, although everything is possible, not everything is probable. I will indicate in a moment why Hypothesis 1 is less probable than this: Didier, Ottosen, and Hénin are neither liars for the CIA nor innocent dupes of a brilliant CIA scam. They are telling the truth.
(ii) Or. The James Foley in the video is not the real James Foley. Given modern-day technology, the odds are stacked heavily against anybody getting away with such a hoax. And with the unraveling of the hoax, the CIA´s motive for perpetrating it -- fabricate an emotionally-supercharged pretext to bomb Syria -- would turn to dust.
To appreciate what is at stake: imagine General Colin Powell testifying before the United Nations on February 5, 2003 that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, then being unequivocally exposed the following day -- before, not after, the Iraq war started -- as lying. We have cause to ask: would the war have occurred?
Sure, all three ex-prisoners of ISIS could be liars or dupes; the whole "imprisonment" could have occurred not in Syria but in a barn in Langley, Virginia; ISIS could be a CIA-owned and operated enterprise whose sole purpose is to provide a pretext for U.S. arms sales; James Foley is alive and well with a new face and working in rebel-held Ukraine, etc., etc. My response to such arguments consists of two words:
On April 14, 2013, the Venezuelan presidential election took place between Nicolás Maduro and Henrique Capriles. The game was well worth the candle -- incredibly so: Venezuela is the number one country in proven world oil reserves. Maduro is an acolyte of Hugo Chávez and admirer of Fidel Castro.
The CIA threw everything it had at Maduro and lost. The election was a squeaker, 50.75% for Maduro and 48.98% for Capriles, so you can´t say Maduro was out of reach. We exposed barnstorming CIA bungling in Venezuela in our posts of April 15, 2013, ("James Bomb in Venezuela"), April, 14, 2013 ("Venezuela Today: All The Marbles") and April 8, 2013 ("Venezuela Presidential Election: Backing Into Victory.")
After it failed to win an easily winnable election, the CIA tried to remove Maduro by massive street violence. Again, it failed. Maduro is still in power.
Conclusion from the Nicolás Maduro Affair:
The boys and girls of the CIA are not even close to being capable of fabricating and managing a conspiracy of the complexity and magnitude which "conspiracy theorists" are attributing to them in the Foley Affair. Opportunity and motive, yes; means, no.
Regular readers of this blog know that we do not underestimate the capacity of the CIA for harebrained schemes, a phony Foley beheading video among them. (An exploding mollusk to kill Fidel Castro...really...) Nevertheless, it is wiser to start with more likely explanations and, if they don´t pan out, proceed to less likely ones -- not vice-versa. And we definitely have a more likely one.
Not only is it more likely, it is the only explanation which answers the three whys in common sense terms. To arrive at it, no high-tech audio-visual equipment was used; no data from billion-dollar outer space vehicles were needed.
2. Hypothesis 2. ISIS produced the Foley video, not the CIA.
As does the CIA, ISIS has the technical audiovisual means and ability to make the Foley video. In fact, as we noted in our post of June 10, 2014 "The Baddest Terrorist: Poison, Dagger, Noose, Etc.," ISIS has demonstrated highly advanced capabilities in its video productions. But don´t take my word for it; to see what professionals think, click here.
And now, opportunity. Unlike the CIA, with Foley as their captive ISIS unquestionably had the opportunity to produce the video.
For the moment, I will pass over ISIS´ motive.
* * *
What you are about to read has never been presented before anywhere, much less investigated -- much less confirmed or denied.
Here is how our explanation answers the three whys:
(i) The Foley video was obviously staged, play-acting. Why?
Answer: Foley´s fellow prisoner Francois Didier reported that mock executions were standard operating procedure for ISIS, and that Foley was subjected to them. How many? 5? 10? More? Only ISIS knows.
The video released to the world was a video of one of Foley´s mock executions.
The standard explanation of why a mock execution is performed: to terrify the prisoner. That explanation has merit; however, it is not the only explanation. In fact, in Foley´s case, the standard explanation manifestly does not hold water. More on that point shortly.
Why make videos of mock executions? After all, if you only want to terrify a prisoner, you don´t need to make a video.
I think the ISIS execution videos were training exercises. I say that because, given its wooden dialogues and their mechanical delivery, the Foley video did not go the extra mile to even pretend to be a final cut. It was a dress rehearsal in the full sense of the term.
By rehearsing -- reciting dialogues, fixing stage positions ("blocking"), editing, preparing camera angles and lighting, etc. -- ISIS was perfecting its beheading video technique; it was literally getting its act together. ISIS is clearly anticipating that, as its victories mount and more foreigners are taken prisoner, videos of beheadings will become de rigueur.
As noted, ISIS places a top priority on the quality of its videos. Given that priority, rehearsals and videos of them are to be expected. But that priority makes the stilted, phony dialogue in the Foley video all the more out of place. How can the paradox be explained?
Only one conclusion makes sense. ISIS never anticipated releasing to the world its video of the mock execution of Foley. A practice session or dry run for study or teaching, it was originally intended for in-house use only.
Then why did ISIS release the video?
We will answer that question shortly. It is ISIS´ motive.
(ii) Foley was abnormally calm. Why?
If the purpose of the mock execution was to frighten Foley, it indisputably failed. As just noted, however, the real purpose was different. Foley was not frightened because he had been through the same play-acting before, who knows how many times.
Foley knew he was not going to be executed -- and he wasn´t. The when-I-get-home letter he sent his parents reiterated that knowledge. But, we are getting ahead of ourselves...
(iii) We come to the last of the three whys. It is the clincher.
Unlike al-Qaeda, ISIS did not make a full video of Foley´s beheading. Why? Why fade to black at the instant the knife was wielded, then cut to a few seconds of what appears to be a decapitated corpse?
The third why is all the more provocative given ISIS´ video capabilities and the value they place on good productions.
The answer: ISIS could not show the full beheading of James Foley because Foley was already dead.
I believe Foley did not survive his harsh treatment and conditions of captivity. His jailers may have known for months that Foley was terminally ill. Or, they may have arrived at his cell one morning and found him dead.
Either way, a valuable asset had been lost.
And Foley was indeed valuable; otherwise, ISIS would not have kept him alive for almost two years.
What, then, was Foley´s value?
(i) In an email exchange with Foley´s family, ISIS tried to ransom him for $132 million. The family reportedly had raised $3 million when ISIS suddenly fell silent. Why?
We come to the clincher in the clincher. By its silence, ISIS gave its game away.
After Foley died or became gravely ill, ISIS was unable to meet the sine qua non for kidnappers everywhere seeking a ransom. They could not prove their hostage was alive.
(ii) Elsewhere, ISIS tried a laundry list approach, one demand being a prisoner swap for Aafia Siddiqui, a Ph.D. neuro-scientist with ties to al-Qaeda who is imprisoned in Texas. Information on the proposed prisoner exchange is sketchy, however, the Siddiqui exchange apparently is still being sought by ISIS.
Sidebar: why did ISIS pick Siddiqui? Symbolic value or is there something else? A peripheral note that may turn out to be not peripheral at all: Dr. Siddiqui is a vintage middle-class rebel; her father is a neurosurgeon. Ditto the bride of Isis, Aqsa Mahmood, ISIS recruiter with solid middle class credentials from Glascow. Ditto ISIS social media chief Ahmad Abousamra, Boston-bred doctor´s son and Northeastern University graduate in computers. Enough said for now. I believe we just saw the key to ISIS -- what its thoughts are; the logic of its emotions; where it comes from; why it is doing what it does. Who it is.
We return to our explanation. ISIS discovers Foley dead in his cell. Now what?
I think ISIS decided to make the most of a bad situation. Not just bad -- potentially disastrous.
We come to the motive of ISIS for releasing the video.
If word got out that Foley had died in captivity, the entire ISIS kidnapping-for-ransom operation could go down the drain.* After all, why would anybody pay them one single penny if ISIS had proven itself incapable of keeping its hostages alive?
To cover up what happened, they pulled a mock execution video off the shelf, then recorded and spliced on the scene of the supposed headless corpse of Foley.
The above explanation accounts for how the James Foley in the video could be the real James Foley; why he was unafraid; why the dialogues were so wooden; why the whole production was so obviously staged; why ISIS did not video the full decapitation of James Foley in a straightforward fashion; why ISIS suddenly stopped communicating during the ransom negotiations.
What if it is proven that the James Foley in the video was not James Foley?
In that case, it simply means that Foley died/became gravely ill before he could be videoed -- at least satisfactorily -- in a mock execution; hence, a double was needed. Everything else stays the same.
When did Foley die? According to the Daily Mail, ISIS went silent "months" before ISIS sent a hate-filled email to Foley´s family on August 12. Key point: that email contained no ransom demand. Its closing rant, "You and your citizens will pay the price of your bombings! The first of which being the blood of the American citizen, James Foley! He will be executed as a DIRECT result of your transgressions towards us!"-- is pure hokum. Foley was already dead.
Although I am sure it would like to, not even ISIS can execute a dead man.
Until more information is forthcoming -- especially, until more prisoners who were with Foley are released -- a reasonable guess for the time of Foley´s death is June/July. If he was comatose or otherwise gravely ill, even August is possible. Ottosen, who was released in June, can narrow the time frame by identifying the last time he saw Foley alive.
Heart attack? Pneumonia? Unattended leg infection? Cancer? Whatever the real cause of Foley´s death in captivity, that part of our explanation is unacceptable to Washington. Lacking the color and high drama of a beheading, it kicks the legs out from under any hysterical cry for revenge by the American people. The wind would be knocked out of Washington´s plan to bomb Syria.
That cry is what counts. You hear it and see it and read it daily in the Western media, from politicians and TV pundits and personalities and viewers and internauts from Abbeville, Lousiana to Zonepoint, England. Whenever Jihadi John´s picture appears, the clarion call goes out: Get him!! Damn it... GET HIM!!! Boil him in pig fat. You know things are serious when Joe Biden gets into the act: he promised to follow the murderers of Foley and Sotloff "to the gates of hell." You cannot say Biden does not know where he is going.
Journalists, government officials and the general public reading these words: before sharpening your blades for an old-fashioned vendetta -- curious occurrence -- you should consider one disturbing fact. Look around; so far, there is no proof anywhere that Jihadi John killed James Foley. Likewise, there is no proof that the second Jihadist in the video killed James Foley.
The depth of the shock, surprise, unease, anger, whatever you just felt on reading those words is the exact depth to which you have been manipulated by the mainstream media. Truly, you took what they offered, which is a totally unsubstantiated assertion, to heart.
The shock doesn´t stop there.
Contrary to what every government official and journalist in the world is telling you, to date there is no proof that James Foley was executed. Think about it.
* * *
Washington knows that nowhere is there conclusive evidence that James Foley was executed, which is why it played hurry-up offense and shut down the Foley video everywhere. For a magic trick to work, the magician must move quickly, create distractions. Time/Time/Time: the last thing a magician wants is for the audience to take its time, to ponder, to examine and analyze, to become witnesses as opposed to spectators.
You´ve heard it a thousand times: politics makes strange bed fellows. Although they have different motives, both ISIS and the CIA are using the Foley video to further their own financial (ISIS) and military (CIA) ends. For both, the video was made to order. For both, the video is even better now that it has disappeared from the Internet.
Never let it be said, however, Washington´s policy of let´s-play-along-with-ISIS has no hard, real-life consequences:
(i) Instead of concealing the ISIS Foley execution hoax, by revealing it the CIA would have ripped the bottom out of ISIS´ kidnapping for ransom program (see above). A solid -- fatal? -- blow would have been delivered to terrorist financing around the globe.
The CIA had an astonishing, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. A la Nicolás Maduro, the CIA blew it. Future terrorist kidnap victims and their families, take note. Our explanation has juridical implications. Monetary ones, too.
(ii) Is the Foley video connected to the war emerging right now in Ukraine?
The Ukraine crisis had cooled down, when it heated up all over again in August. Why?
Russia could not have failed to notice that U.S. policy in Iraq took a dramatic turn on August 7 when President Obama allowed airstrikes in Iraq against ISIS; the bombing began on August 8. The Foley video was posted on August 19. Three days later, Russia reportedly moved artillery units inside Ukraine. On August 28, NATO released satellite images of what it said were Russian troops and heavy weaponry inside Ukraine.
Hypothesis: Russia took note of the ever-deepening military involvement of the U.S. in Iraq against ISIS. That involvement was underscored by Washington´s clear intention to bomb Syria. Russia concluded the U.S. would not divide its military forces between two, geographically-distant combat fronts. The Kremlin pounced on the occasion, and made its move in Ukraine.
We are not saying the Foley video caused the present Ukraine crisis. We are saying the video was a contributing factor.
(iii) The Foley Affair enabled Western governments to do what they tried and failed to do for decades: censor the Internet. Scotland Yard took that censorship to the hilt; it threatened U.K. internet viewers of the video with imprisonment: "We would like to remind the public that viewing, downloading or disseminating extremist material within the UK may constitute an offence under terrorism legislation."
Scotland Yard, nobody is fooled. You and you higher-ups aren´t sold on your own extremist material; your weasel-word may gives you away.
It is easy for the CIA and Scotland Yard to refute what has just been said:
(i) Allow the Foley video -- all of it -- to be posted again without threat of arrest or Internet account cancelation. Let people take their time, ponder and analyze it, and decide for themselves.
(ii) CIA, answer this question. If your intention in censoring the Foley video is truly apolitical, e.g., you don´t want children to watch it, then why do you permit much more gruesome terrorist beheading videos to continue to be up and running on the Internet? Could it be that little or no political hay can be made from them -- unlike the censored Foley video which helps you achieve your goal to bomb Syria?
To conclude this post, we return to where we began, but with a nuance:
Corollary 2. When fiction is taken for truth, the truth becomes even stranger than truth.
UPDATE, September 3, 2014. Yesterday afternoon, ISIS posted a "beheading" video of a second American hostage, Steven Sotloff. As expected, it followed closely the format of the James Foley video. Conclusion: ISIS almost almost has its beheading video act together.
Our hearts go out to the Sotloff family.
The James Foley video was released just over two weeks ago. To date, there has been no official statement by British or American intelligence that they have identified Jihadi John.
There are two plausible explanations for the delay.
(i) British intelligence knows/is about to know who Jihadi John is, but is not releasing the information. The "close" version was first floated publicly on August 24, by British Ambassador to the U.S., Peter Westmacott.
The very same day the "knows" version appeared -- well, sort of. The Sunday Times announced, "MI5 and MI6 have identified the British fighter suspected of murdering the American journalist James Foley, senior government sources confirmed last night."
Have identified? Ah,...not really. The Times proceded to speculate that Jihadi John was a former rapper, Abdel-Majed Abdel Bary. Today, September 3, however, the rapper was cleared.
(ii) British Intelligence agents are no closer to identifying Jihadi John than the day they started.
Without exception, all media reports starting with the Westmacott interview note that "sophisticated" voice recognition equipment, state-of-the-art vein comparison imagery, etc., are being employed in the search for Jihadi John.
Assuming those reports are true, British Intelligence fell into the trap our previous post warned about, viz., they are relying on fancy-pricey technology of the Americans instead of engaging in the old-fashioned scut work which this blog recommends and systematizes for identifying terrorists. As our prior post showed, anybody with a phone book and legs can use our technique. It works. Had it been employed, Jihadi John would no longer be a mystery.
There is something else Jihadi John would no longer be. Emboldened. I´ve got a secret; close; soon; any day now; we´re taking names; voice and vein recognition. Jihadi John read between the lines; British and American intelligence agencies are stumbling and fumbling.
The upshot was not long in coming. "I´m back," Jihadi John teases and taunts in the Sotloff video. A big mistake on his part: Jihadi John´s sense of humor reveals more about him than 1,000 voice scans,10,000 vein comparisons, 10 million telephone conversations bugged or 100 million emails tapped. See our post of November 12, 2010, "Terrorist Humor, Anwar al-Awlaki, and Dandyism." See also our note above on Dr. Aafia Siddiqi.
Coming next. ISIS: What Is To Be Done?
*How important is kidnapping for cash to terrorist organizations? According to an investigation by the New York Times, "Kidnapping Europeans has become the main source of revenue for Al Qaeda and its affiliates, which have earned at least $125 million in ransom payments in the past five years alone..."
**When all is said and done, is the video hoax working for the CIA? Is the James Foley "beheading" moving the American people to support the bombing of Syria?
The question has yet to be posed directly to Americans; however, an August 20-24, 2014 PEW poll suggests Americans are headed in the general direction of favoring the bombing of Syria. 67% think ISIS is a "major threat" to the United States. The percentage that thinks the U.S. is doing "too little" in world affairs almost doubled from November 2013, from 17% to 31%. Finally, 54% think Obama is "not tough enough" on national security, up from 38% in 2008. (Note: ISIS posted the video on YouTube on August 19).
Another PEW poll conducted August 14-17, 2014 showed 54% of Americans approved of U.S. airstrikes in Iraq. 51%, however, feared greater involvement. To lower that 51% is Washington´s challenge and goal.
Update, September 9. A Washington Post/ABC poll released hours ago shows 65% of Americans favor bombing ISIS targets in Syria. 91% view ISIS as a "serious threat to the vital interests of the United States."