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A Canard or a Canary?

al-Qa’ida has a new home base: it is the Islamic Republic of Iran. We ignore this Iran-al-Qa’ida nexus at our own peril.” Mike Pompeo

“The enemy of my enemy is my friend.” Ancient Arabic Proverb

“Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake.” Napoleon Bonaparte

“Beware of no man more than yourself; we carry our worst enemies within us.” Charles Spurgeon

Have you ever heard of a canard? I am sure you have heard of a Canary. A canard has a couple of distinctly different definitions. According to Merriam-Webster dictionary, a canard is a false or unfounded report or story, especially: a fabricated report.

In 16th-century France, “vendre des canards à moitié” was a colorful way of saying, “to fool” or “to cheat.” The French phrase literally means, “to half-sell ducks.” Today, no one knows what was exactly meant by, “to half-sell.” The proverb was probably based on some widely known story at the time, but the details have not survived. At any rate, the expression led to the use of the word, canard, the French word for “duck,” meaning, ”a hoax” or “a fabrication.” English speakers adopted this meaning for the word in the mid-1800s.

 A Canary, on the other hand, is a small finch of the Canary Islands that is usually green to yellowish and is kept as a cage bird and singer. Throughout history, both canards and Canaries have played special roles in the demise and rescue of human beings.

As late as 1986, many coal mines relied on Canaries to detect dangerous carbon monoxide fumes in the mines. Canaries, it turns out, are much more sensitive to carbon monoxide and other poisonous gases than humans. Around 1911, miners started carrying Canaries into the mines with them, and they quickly became a metaphor for warning signs – when the Canaries keel over, it’s time to evacuate the mine before you become the next victim. 

In this week’s edition of “More than Meets the Eye,” we will look at an interesting report that came out of the State Department and was announced throughout major news outlets, by none other than the US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo. It was a report by the State Department that Iran was generously giving vital assistance to the terrorist organization, al Qaeda. On the surface, this may seem like a “no brainer,” but when we scratch below the surface, looking at a series of events, we can begin to understand whether these reports are canards or Canaries, ie: Are these just fabricated reports, or are they warning signs that ought to be heeded by the international community? 

The difficulty we face today is that there are no mainstream media sources that can be believed at face value. We must learn to dig deeper, to search harder for the truth. Truth is something that needs to be mined today; it is not simply laying around on the ground waiting to be freely picked up. I believe this so intently that I am happy for you to challenge this work as well. “More than Meets the Eye” is a fallible publication, however, if you find anything untrue, or laced with personal conviction that seems disingenuous, I would be thankful for your correction. 

I place resources and links throughout my documents because I want you to know where I got my information. There is too much sloppy writing out there today for me to contribute to it.

So for today, let’s take a look at Mike Pompeo’s announcement last week, and see if there are some ways we can understand it better. Let’s determine if there is veracity behind it, or if it is the result of wishful thinking. One thing is for certain; we will discover that there is more than meets the eye.

The review.

During the second week of January 2021 at a foreign press club gathering, Mike Pompeo, the US Secretary of State made an announcement to the world.  He said, “al-Qa’ida has a new home base: it is the Islamic Republic of Iran. We ignore this Iran-al-Qa’ida nexus at our own peril.” 

What are some reasons we might believe that last week’s announcement from the US Secretary of State is a canard? To be honest, after reviewing the literature, the evidence is rather circumstantial. Logic dictates that “it is not supposed to be this way,” Shi’a and Sunni working together, therefore it must not be true. There is actually a word for this: hypostatization, to treat or regard (a concept, idea, etc.) as a distinct substance or reality. 

There are a number of reasons that many in the world do not want Iran and al Qaeda to be in a strategic partnership. There is an assumption that the JCPOA is the world’s best bet for bringing Iran back into the global community fold. The very real possibility that Iran could be harboring and nurturing al Qaeda, does not bode well, considering JCPOA’s resurgence under the next US presidential administration. All of this, of course, is going on as Iran is openly enriching uranium to higher concentrations (though still far short of the purity required for weapons.) They also began developing new centrifuges to accelerate uranium enrichment; resuming heavy water production at its Arak facility; and enriching uranium [PDF] at Fordow, which rendered the isotopes produced there, unusable for medical purposes.

In 1988, Osama bin Laden, himself led a group of Taliban fighters to suppress a shiite revolt in Gilgit, Pakistan, which resulted in the massacre of several hundred Shiite civilians. Sunni and Shiite groups in Pakistan continue to target each other in tit-for-tat sectarian attacks, but al-Qaeda-linked Sunni groups are having, by far, a higher death toll. These are a few significant instances, where there certainly seems to be enough antimony against Shi’as by al Qaeda leadership, to keep Iran from providing any support to al Qaeda, because of their sectarian views on Sunni vs Shi’a beliefs.

In the days since Pompeo’s announcement, several commentators, including in these pages, have dismissed these purported connections as exaggerated, pushed by the White House and its allies to justify the administration’s hostile posture toward Iran. But important new evidence, including interviews with senior al-Qaeda members and Osama bin Laden’s family, gathered by the authors over the past five years, tells a surprising history of the post-9/11 epoch, and it’s one that severely undercuts the conventional view.

A letter from bin Laden, found by the Navy SEALS during the Abbottabad raid, sums up the relationship since 9/11 very well: In his own words, quote: “Iran is our main artery for funds, personnel, and communication…There is no need to fight with Iran unless you are forced to,” end of quote.  These are bin Laden’s own words about his and al-Qaeda’s relationship with the Islamic Republic of Iran.

In 2013, the Canadian Government disrupted an al-Qaeda plot against a passenger train that linked Toronto and New York.  The Canadian government stated that the plotters received, quote “direction and guidance,” end of quote, from al-Qa’ida members living inside Iran. 

There is much we don’t know about the relationship between Iran and al-Qaeda. As Churchill described Germany and Stalin with their Union in 1939, it is “a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.’’ In many ways, this unholy union defies a host of logic. But there is enough evidence to suggest that even the unimaginable is imaginable in this situation.

I am not suggesting that Iran and al Qaeda are necessarily conducting terrorist operations together. I believe that from much of what I have considered, this has a low probability. The existing information suggests that the relationship is best understood as a “tactical cooperation”—one that, despite the intervention of Iran and its proxies in opposition to al-Qaeda in the Syrian civil war, is likely to continue for as long as the parties perceive the benefits of cooperation to exceed the costs.

I am discerning from my research, “that the Iranian calculation was that they were willing to allow, for several years, some al Qaeda members and their families on their territory, as long as they were not involved in plotting attacks.” My analysis is not that they are just being allowed to reside there, but that they are using Iran as a base of operations, even if it is without the express permission of the Iranian government. 

The why.

Why is this important? It is a case study in cognitive biases theory. Increasingly, people are developing their hypotheses on subject matters, with little to no genuine information of which to speak. They hear or read someone say or write something that sounds reasonable to them. This information-less anecdote, then begins to provide the basis for a complete narrative. Factual information is not necessary to form this narrative. The reasonableness of the argument and who said it, is what is necessary. If a person says something, a person who has previously said other things supporting your narrative, then it must be true. 

This causes each of us to approach information with a hermeneutic of suspicion. If we are not careful, we will only read or consume information sources which we already know, which come from a slant that leans to our predilections. This is a natural human bias. To make matters even more complicated, search engine algorithms tend to sort out information based on our previous searches. One has to work hard to get outside that informational rut. It leads you to a dead end. All of us will automatically point out how others are guilty of this kind of behavior, while we swim in the sea of our own biases.

Being able to look at situations such as this Iran/al Qaeda nexus, requires work. I will repeat what I stated above. “Truth is something that needs to be mined, it is not simply laying around on the ground waiting to be freely picked up.” 

The action.

Here are a few suggestions that might help you read more effectively and give you a better understanding of reality.

  1. Read broadly. If you really want to understand issues covered by analysts and journalists, intentionally search for information sources that promote viewpoints as opposed to your own. Most people are afraid of the opposing view. My guess is, it is because they have not taken enough time to really shape their own view on particular matters. These matters are usually ones they think they are passionate about, but in the end, spend little time really seeking to understand them.
  2. Read carefully. Don’t let headlines be the sum of your news/information intake. Choose one or two stories each day and read them thoroughly. Identify the source of the stories, and ask yourself what other sources you would have appreciated hearing from. Consider how you would write the story.
  3. My suggestion: Read your news, don’t watch it. News is better consumed in print than in images. The images in a news story can convey meaning that the reporting itself does not intend. It is also much easier to miss a phrase or to be distracted by the visuals when consuming televised news.

These are just a few suggestions as to how you can become a better consumer of information, leading you to make much better conclusions about what is happening around you and in the world. 

The follow-up.

The Tragedy of Social Media Moderation…

What to worry about this year…

The feed-back.

For your comments or questions about any of our digests, please feel free to write to me at:


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