What is al Qa’ida going to do? The AQ Strategy 2011-2012 poll sought to answer this question. The survey process assumed that if respondents could accurately forecast the future direction of AQ’s strategic planning then counterterrorism strategy could be appropriately and effectively applied to disrupt AQ’s critical tasks. The week prior to Bin Laden’s death 266 survey respondents answered the following query:
Which of the following will be most critical to AQ’s survival and resurgence over the next five years? (You can only pick one)
This question produced the most uncertainty across all available responses and all professional groups. Six of the eleven choices presented to respondents received 30 or more votes with no single choice receiving more than 46. Additionally, the voting distribution across all professional groups appears to be remarkably similar. No one response seems to have drawn significantly more preference from any particular professional group. Here are some results I found interesting:
- Prior to UBL’s death, the top response was “Infiltrating Arab Revolutions” -receiving 46 of 266 votes.
- Five responses received between 31 and 36 votes each – “Transition Current Leadership to Younger Generation”, “Sustaining Gulf Donor & Illicit Funding”, “Sustaining Global Foreign Fighter Flow”, “Ideological Inspiration from New Generation”, and “Executing a Spectacular Attack on the U.S.”
- Even prior to UBL’s death, the lowest vote receiving option was “Ideological Inspiration from Senior AQ figures”. “AQ Central strategic planning” and “Capitalizing on experience of veterans” also received few votes.
- The only professional group preference of significance appears to be ‘Private Sector’ respondents selection of “Infiltrating the Arab Revolutions”. They chose this response 27% of the time-significantly more than any other group.
- Lastly, the week prior to UBL’s death, only 4 of 266 people thought ideological inspiration from AQ’s senior leaders (Bin Laden for example) would be key to AQ’s future success. Respondents signaled that AQ senior leaders were not especially important to sustaining the organization.
Overall, I find the results of this survey question intriguing. For a decade, I’ve heard ‘experts’ tout AQ’s intelligent, strategic planning and retell the inspirational significance of AQ senior leaders. But, these were the least selected options by the crowd. I wonder if I had asked this question the week after UBL’s death if the results would have been significantly different?
In conclusion, I’d estimate, in this case, the crowd doesn’t collectively know what will be key to AQ’s survival and resurgence. Drone strikes on AQ Central and continued Arab revolutions sustain this question as the most difficult to anticipate. Thus the challenge remains, how can we accurately develop a strategy for countering AQ if we aren’t really sure what they intend to do?
Below are the raw vote results for each of the 11 responses to this question and then a second chart illustrating the preferences of professional groups (in %) for each of the eleven responses. Note, there were less than eight ‘Media’ respondents so the results of ‘Media’ in the second chart appear more volatile than other professional groups.