Pulling Back the Curtain: An Inside Look at the Islamic State’s Media Organization

The CTC is committed to continuing to search out unique sources of data to provide insight into the
workings of terrorist organizations and, when possible, making them available to the broader research
community, which will undoubtedly add its own insights and continue to enhance our collective understanding.
To further this end, all of the documents (both the original Arabic as well as English
translations) referred to in this report are being released on the CTC’s website at ctc.usma.edu.5 These
13 documents provide interesting and important insights on four main topics regarding the Islamic
State’s media organization.
The first insight is that these documents offer, for the first time, a conclusive link between the Islamic
State’s central media bureau and Amaq News Agency. More specifically, these documents show that
the central media bureau considered Amaq to be on par with other previously recognized central media
entities such as Al-Naba and Al-Bayan. Furthermore, the Islamic State’s Diwan of Central Media
encouraged local media bureaus to send content to Amaq, going so far as to make cooperation with
Amaq a part of each local media bureau’s monthly evaluation.
The second is that these documents show the emphasis the organization placed on producing diferent
types of products in order to convey a broader narrative about the caliphate. Although examining
the group’s propaganda products after they have been released demonstrates this as well, the level of
detail and effort put in by the group to this end, as highlighted by these documents, is more expansive
than previously acknowledged.
Third, these documents show very clearly how the Diwan of Central Media created rules, evaluations,
and internal memos that were designed to strengthen the centralization of the group’s media bureaucracy,
solidifying the central media organization’s control over what and how the local media bureaus
carried on their propaganda work. This finding runs counter to some discussion on decentralization
as one of the main reasons for the success of the group’s media operations.6
There certainly is an element
of decentralization to the group’s online activities, but these documents show there is a limit
to the group’s willingness to decentralize in the media realm. Indeed, in a document titled “General
Guidance and Instructions,” we find the following counsel:
“We also advise the brothers to avoid innovation because it is mostly the main cause of mistakes.”7

Finally, the documents show that the Islamic State’s media organization exercises self-awareness in
terms of its potential vulnerability. Indeed, the documents provide several insights into how the media
side of the organization recognized that its role in promoting the group meant that the media components
of the group would be in possession of information that could result in harm if it were known or otherwise obtained by the enemy. This led the group to focus on the importance of information
security among media operatives.
The Islamic State’s efforts in each of these four areas provide a more detailed understanding not only
of how the group organized and implemented its media strategy, but also how a militant organization
was able to capture the world’s attention using the art of propaganda. This report proceeds by examining
each of these four areas in turn.

Tags: ISIS, Media