If you think PBS and the CIA have nothing in common, you're wrong. Tonight, public television becomes the envy of some intelligence circles as it broadcasts its documentary Inside Al Qaeda in Yemen, an eerie look into Al Qaeda's base in the Arabian Peninsular, widely-considered the most dangerous Al Qaeda stronghold.
The amazing thing about this documentary is that journalist Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, an Iraqi-born reporter for The Guardian, was able to negotiate his way into the Al Qaeda territory, scoring rare video footage and interviews in the country's strife-torn boondocks.
To get a sense of this accomplishment, just consider the ongoing federal investigations into the leaks about the Yemen underwear bomber in May. In that case, the CIA's successful infiltration of the Yemen branch was considered so precious that whoever leaked details of the undercover plot is facing prosecution following heated calls from both Republicans and Democrats for an FBI investigation. "This really is criminal in the literal sense of the word," said Rep. Pete King, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, earlier this month. He called the infiltration an "almost unparalleled penetration of the enemy."
PBS provided a preview of the documentary to The Atlantic Wire, and while Abdul-Ahad obviously didn't access the nerve center of Al Qaeda in Yemen that the British agent working with the CIA did, he did see some startling things.
In the film, Abdul-Ahad is taken to Jaar, a town captured by Al Qaeda a year ago. It's a fascinating look into a place where the terrorist group is free to impose its rules on residents. "For the first time in my experience, we see Al Qaeda actually trying to hold territory, and this is a departure from anything that we had seen before," U.S. ambassador Gerald M. Feierstein tells the filmmakers. The narrator is surprised to find that national Yemeni newspapers are available in Jaar and the al Qaeda spokesman offers Abdul-Ahad an interpretation of the news through an Al Qaeda-centric lens.
According to the Al Qaeda spokesman, the paper falsely attributes U.S. drone strikes to the Yemeni government because it's too "embarrassed." "We are at war with America and its allies," the spokesman says on camera. Elsewhere, the film features a host of experts speaking to the nature of the terror franchise.