Top Expert on Al Qaeda Victim of Budget Cuts

Marc Lynch extols the work of Radio Free Europe analyst Daniel Kimmage “on al-Qaeda’s internet operations, including his definitive study of Iraqi insurgent media (with Kathleen Ridolfo) and his more recent report on al-Qaeda’s internet media production network. There are very few people inside or outside the government who have worked harder or thought more deeply about how jihadists use online media, drawing on the original Arabic sources rather than from second and third-hand conjecture.”

Naturally, then, he’s moving onward an upward? Alas, no, he’s been sacked, along with his whole team.

[Today], the regional specialists at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty will put out the last issue of Newsline, the daily publication that over the last 11 years helped shape the broadcasts of that station and more importantly both informed analysts in the West and served as a check on the actions of governments in the post-Soviet world.

Yesterday, the president of RFE/RL informed the analysts there that because of budgetary shortfalls, he had no choice but to fire them and thus end what has been the journal of record for developments in a part of the world that remains vitally important however much some may believe we can safely ignore it.

Lynch responds,

That’s right: the US government is cutting loose one of its best analysts of al-Qaeda’s use of the internet in order to save money which doesn’t even amount to a rounding error in the Pentagons budget. Whether it’s because of the fall of the dollar or because of the costs of Iraq, or more narrowly because of the Broadcasting Board of Governors need to pay the bills of the al-Hurra TV white elephant, this speaks volumes about both our real resource constraints and our real priorities.

Actually, my strong guess is this is just bureaucratic stupidity. Kimmage was a generalist doing big picture work on al Qaeda out of an office aimed at the Soviet successor states in Central Asia. Had he been in a counter-terror bureau or the Iran desk, he’d have been promoted. Because of where he fit on the budget line, though, he was deemed expendable.

One would presume that he’d be able to find work immediately in a different shop. After all, in addition to his regional expertise, he’s an “English-Russian bilingual” and “fluent in Arabic and reads Farsi, French, German, and Uzbek.” Then again, the interagency hiring bureaucracy isn’t all that efficient, either, set up to promote from within if they have someone even remotely competent-on-paper available, turning to outside experts only as a last resort.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Dave Schuler says:

    In 1941 when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor there were something like a half dozen PhD’s in Japanese in the entire U. S. One of them was an old family friend of ours. When he volunteered for the military they assigned him to Europe where he carried a searchlight. Moral: government priorities, particularly military priorities, don’t always make sense by the standards of us mere mortals.

  2. Triumph says:

    I know nothing of this guy, but the whole Radio Free Euope/Radio Liberty enterprise is a propagandist anachronism that should be phased out.

  3. yetanotherjohn says:

    Who ever is in charge of their budget should be fired.

  4. James Joyner says:

    Who ever is in charge of their budget should be fired.

    For all we know, though, they’ve faced budget cuts and they certainly can’t justify having their Central Asia guys spend most of their time doing something other than Central Asia.

  5. JKB says:

    Look, he’ll get snapped up by a security consulting contractor who will then provide the government with the same analysis for 5 times the previous cost. He’ll make some good cash and avoid the GS BS. It is win-win unless you’re a taxpayer.

  6. yetanotherjohn says:


    Congress is in charge of their budget.

  7. James Joyner says:

    Congress is in charge of their budget.

    Sure. But I doubt they’re budgeting down to the level of the individual expert.

  8. teqjack says:

    This goes back quite a way: when they think of it at all, Congresscritters think “Radio? How antique! Why are we still doing this?”

    It is in the same vein of thought that killed Humint to rely entirely upon Elint, which was in the air and was able to do away with old-fashioned foreign spies following the Noriega business. “We actually pay people who are criminals to get intelligence? This must stop! In today’s world, we do not need to work with such people, just tap phones!”