Inside Islamic State's spookocracy


The leaked secret strategic plans of Samir Abd Muhammad al-Khlifawi -- who served in the Iraqi army under Saddam and later masterminded the Islamic State -- reveal the surveillance at the heart of Islamic State's military success.

Samir Abd Muhammad al-Khlifawi was one of thousands of Sunni officers who were summarily dismissed by Paul Bremer, GWB's head of occupied Iraq. A hyper-nationalist, he assumed the mantle of Islamism, moved to Syria, and masterminded a program for seizing control of large pieces of Syrian territory to use as a beach-head from which to invade Iraq. At the center of his program was deep surveillance, built on his experience in Saddam's Iraq, where spies used domestic surveillance to undermine any opposition to the state.

A source has leaked the 31 page plan to Spiegel. It explains how spies would be sent in advance of military forces, to gather information on Syrian rebels who had seized territory from the Assad government. This intelligence was used to wage a terror campaign through which leaders -- from councillors to novelists -- would be kidnapped and tortured. The spies would also root out blackmail information -- transgressions that were punishable by death under Islamic State's bizarre version of Sharia law -- that could be deployed to soften opposition when the military rolled in.

Al-Khlifawi is dead, but his strategy carries on. The spies of IS have amassed so much material that they are incapable of destroying it all when they are forced into retreat -- much like the East German Stasi, who simply could not shred or burn their files fast enough to keep them from falling into enemy hands when the wall fell. These files reveal that IS remains a surveillance state, true to al-Khlifawi's plans.

An examination of the hundreds of pages of documents reveals a highly complex system involving the infiltration and surveillance of all groups, including IS' own people. The jihad archivists maintained long lists noting which informants they had installed in which rebel brigades and government militias. It was even noted who among the rebels was a spy for Assad's intelligence service.

"They knew more than we did, much more," said the documents' custodian. Personnel files of the fighters were among them, including detailed letters of application from incoming foreigners, such as the Jordanian Nidal Abu Eysch. He sent along all of his terror references, including their telephone numbers, and the file number of a felony case against him. His hobbies were also listed: hunting, boxing, bomb building.

IS wanted to know everything, but at the same time, the group wanted to deceive everyone about its true aims. One multiple-page report, for example, carefully lists all of the pretexts IS could use to justify the seizure of the largest flour mill in northern Syria. It includes such excuses as alleged embezzlement as well as the ungodly behavior of the mill's workers. The reality -- that all strategically important facilities like industrial bakeries, grain silos and generators were to be seized and their equipment sent to the caliphate's unofficial capital Raqqa -- was to be kept under wraps.

Over and over again, the documents reveal corollaries with Haji Bakr's plans for the establishment of IS -- for example that marrying in to influential families should be pushed. The files from Aleppo also included a list of 34 fighters who wanted wives in addition to other domestic needs. Abu Luqman and Abu Yahya al-Tunis, for example, noted that they needed an apartment. Abu Suheib and Abu Ahmed Osama requested bedroom furniture. Abu al-Baraa al Dimaschqi asked for financial assistance in addition to a complete set of furniture, while Abu Azmi wanted a fully automatic washing machine.

The Terror Strategist: Secret Files Reveal the Structure of Islamic State [Christoph Reuter/Spiegel]