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2008 Forecast


By David Malone


On July 9, 2008, I issued a nationally publicized warning from the New York Times headquarters about an imminent Al Qaeda plot to launch its greatest surge of terrorism against America since the 9/11 attack.  Based on a trends analysis that had accurately predicted the 9/11 plot, I provided actionable intelligence about an impending terrorist campaign that would be designed to influence the U.S. presidential election.  In particular, my trends analysis offered previously undisclosed intelligence about this new Al Qaeda campaign, accurately forecasting that the 2008 plot for attacks on American targets would aim aim to:

·        Begin imminently and climax during the influential election-eve weeks in September-October,

·        Necessarily preclude the possibility of a 9/11-scale attack by Al Qaeda at any time prior to the election-eve period,

·        Mark Al Qaeda’s greatest post-9/11 surge of terrorism against America,

·        Involve a wave of catastrophic terrorism on highly symbolic U.S. targets abroad, possibly in strategically crucial, U.S.-allied Muslim nations where Al Qaeda is most heavily infiltrated, and

·        Sway a closely contested U.S. presidential election in favor of John McCain without violating Al Qaeda’s ban on post-9/11 terrorist attacks inside the U.S. homeland*. 

The "Bin Laden’s Plan Trends Analysis of Major Al Qaeda Plots Against America” pinpointed the approximate timing and locations targeted by this major plot in 2008.  Coupled with the forecast that Al Qaeda would not launch any other catastrophic terrorist attacks in the meantime, this accurate information provided actionable intelligence for counterterrorism leaders to focus limited resources most efficiently.


Although my trends analysis considers multiple competing factors in order to make a projection, certain dominating factors led me to determine these times and targets for Al Qaeda’s 2008 election plot.  The timing was most clearly foreshadowed by Al Qaeda’s consistent habit of attempting to influence American national elections (in October 2000, October 2002, October 2004, and September 2006) with a surge of terrorist threats or attacks during the final decisive weeks before Voting Day.  The targets of the 2008 plot were indicated primarily by three operational requirements.

(1)    IMPACT ON AMERICANS:  The need to generate a major U.S. national security crisis that would powerfully impact voter decisions indicated that the terrorist attacks would likely target highly symbolic American targets abroad and occur in a strategically crucial location for the superpower, such as the world’s oil heartland (the Arabian Peninsula) or the most precipitous nuclear stand-off (Pakistan-India).  Additionally, the bid to startle voters with an “October Surprise” indicated that Al Qaeda would refrain from any 9/11-scale attacks during the time prior to the seven weeks before the U.S. election in order to maximize the shock value of the plot.

(2)    FACILITY OF EXECUTION:  The need to ensure operational success by the election-eve deadline indicated that the attacks would likely be launched in areas where Al Qaeda was most heavily infiltrated (and immune to heightened security precautions).

(3)    DEPICTING DEFENSIVE JIHAD:  The need to portray a gradually mounting defensive war arising from the domineering military and economic presence of American imperialism in Muslim lands indicated that the attacks would likely occur inside the Muslim world within the country of a preeminent U.S. ally in the 9/11 War. 

In particular, my trends analysis identified Al Qaeda’s previous October-Surprise campaign for the 2004 U.S. presidential election (painstakingly detailed in my published book Bin Laden’s Plan (Trafford, 2005)) as a model for the 2008 plot.  For example, this model slated the 2008 plot to begin in July with a smaller terrorist attack on a hard U.S. target in the Muslim world within a pivotal U.S. ally, mirroring the Al Qaeda attacks on the U.S. and Israeli embassies inside U.S.-allied Uzbekistan in July 2004.  Conducted within the most crucial site for U.S. bases bordering the war zone in Afghanistan, this attack against the most preeminent American symbol in the country marked the first major Al Qaeda terrorist attack on an official U.S. target since 9/11.  The 2004 October-Surprise model also projected the 2008 plot to continue in the September-October months before the election with the worst terrorist attack since 9/11 and a major terrorist attack on a U.S. target in the Muslim world within a preeminent U.S. ally.  In September 2004, Al Qaeda’s Beslan school massacre marked the worst terrorist attack since 9/11, killing hundreds of school children.  Weeks later in October 2004, Al Qaeda’s bombing targeting Israeli tourists in a U.S. hotel within the country of America’s most crucial Muslim ally in the Middle East, Egypt, marked only the third major terrorist attack on the superpower since 9/11.  As the first major terrorist attack targeting America inside Egypt, this hotel bombing signified the most striking escalation of Al Qaeda terrorism against America since 9/11.  

This 2004 October Surprise coupled with Bin Laden’s only seemingly authentic video recording since 2001, a “Halloween” media release in which he finally claimed explicit responsibility for ordering the 9/11 attack.  Implicitly endorsing President Bush’s Democratic challenger by condemning the Bush war doctrine and promising future 9/11’s if America continued this policy, Bin Laden’s most famous video message issued three days before the election was widely credited as a substantial factor in swinging a closely contested election in favor of Bush.  Along with Bin Laden’s conspicuous attempt to terrorize Americans into supporting a war hawk on the eve of the 2004 presidential election, my trends analysis also highlighted his October surprise in 2000 (painstakingly detailed in my published book Bin Laden’s Plan (Trafford, 2005)).  Three weeks before Americans decided between the hawkish Bush team and the dovish Al Gore, Bin Laden decided to launch only his second overt terrorist attack on America, the bombing of the USS COLE.  Crippling a preeminent U.S. target at moor in the Arabian Peninsula (in Yemen), this major escalation of Al Qaeda’s war on America need only have swayed a crucial faction of American voters in order to rig the election in favor of the Bush/Cheney ticket.  As clearly highlighted by my trends analysis, Al Qaeda’s October-Surprise campaigns in 2000 and 2004 accurately projected the syndicate’s 2008 plot to rig the U.S. election.


Beginning minutes after I issued this dire warning from the New York Times fire escape on July 9th, 2008, Al Qaeda began the campaign I had anticipated by launching its first major strike on a U.S. civilian target abroad since the Jordan bombings in November 2005.  As a preamble to a September-October plot for large-scale attacks against American targets in Yemen, Pakistan and India, Al Qaeda’s armed assault on the U.S. consulate in Istanbul signaled the next stage of its incrementally increasing terrorism against American civilians in the Muslim world.  When the wide-reaching plot was finally completed, the truck bombing of the premier American hotel in Islamabad and the delayed Mumbai massacre targeting American congregations were christened Pakistan’s 9/11 and India’s 9/11, respectively.  Al Qaeda’s plots for these four major attacks constituted a precise fulfillment of my forecast about Al Qaeda’s 2008 October-Surprise campaign.  In particular, following my nationally publicized warning on July 9th, this 2008 terrorist campaign:

·        Began imminently and climaxed during the influential election-eve weeks in September-October,

·        Omitted any 9/11-scale attacks by Al Qaeda prior to the election-eve period,

·        Marked Al Qaeda’s greatest post-9/11 surge of terrorism against America, including:

o        Three major terrorist attacks against America within a three-month period that collectively murdered (along with the delayed fourth attack in Mumbai that was originally scheduled for September 30-October 2) over two hundred civilians in a bid to kill five thousand, a campaign that included a partially aborted plot for the largest terrorist attack in world history inside India’s “New York City” (Mumbai) that would have targeted the U.S. consulate, singled-out American civilians and demolished two hotel towers where American tourists resided,

·        Involved a wave of catastrophic terrorism on highly symbolic U.S. targets abroad in strategically crucial, U.S.-allied Muslim nations where Al Qaeda is most heavily infiltrated, attacks that included:

o        A commando raid on the U.S. consulate in Istanbul (on the pivotal border between Europe and the Muslim world), a brazen commando raid on the U.S. embassy in Yemen (inside the Arabian Peninsula, the world’s oil heartland), a bombing of an American hotel that nearly assassinated the U.S.-backed Pakistani government, and a commando raid targeting American tourists and Jewish people in India’s “New York City” that almost ignited a war between the U.S-allied nuclear rivals India and Pakistan,

·        Nearly succeeded in swaying a closely contested U.S. presidential election in favor of John McCain without violating Al Qaeda’s ban on post-9/11 terrorist attacks inside the U.S. homeland. 

After this Al Qaeda terrorist campaign occurred in September 2008, the world's top counterterrorism experts echoed my warning about the syndicate’s plot to influence the election in favor of a war hawk (i).  Had Al Qaeda succeeded in this scheme, its October-Surprise campaign would have caused a global security crisis that reframed the imminent American presidential election as a referendum on John McCain's most popular issues, national security and terrorism.  However, operational failures in this terrorist plot coupled with the U.S. economic crisis, which diminished support for another Republican administration, to ensure that Al Qaeda’s preferred presidential candidate was not elected.


My purpose for publicizing this warning about Al Qaeda’s election plot was to help prevent the attacks and foster public awareness of the Bin Laden threat.  By providing actionable intelligence that was resoundingly heard above the daily clamor of terrorist threat warnings, I attempted to help focus limited counterterrorism resources most effectively.  In particular, I aimed to assist in identifying the terrorist cells before they executed the operations or else prompt a heightened alert for these limited times and targets that would force a postponement of the attacks.  Considering the importance of the election-eve deadline to the plot’s success, simply delaying attacks could thwart the scheme to influence American voters.  As it turned out, the heightened alert status for Mumbai in September 2008, largely prompted by CIA warnings, postponed the plot’s climactic attack in Mumbai. 

Aside from thwarting the attacks, preventing the manipulation of voters figured centrally in my counterterrorism initiative.  The election plot primarily posed a threat because of the American voter's ignorance of Al Qaeda’s nature that allowed Bin Laden’s inner circle to intervene successfully in American presidential elections and choose a U.S. commander-in-chief who best suits the syndicate’s war strategy.  If the American public were to be effectively informed about the psychological operation to manipulate their vote beforehand, the bid to rig the election would not succeed.  Even if public-awareness efforts fail and the terrorist attacks do occur, demonstration of the veracity of this trends analysis will help direct Americans to support the effective counterterrorism policy advocated at 

Although the 2008 election plot failed, the fact that Al Qaeda has tried in this manner to sway the past five U.S. national elections indicates that counterterrorism efforts to thwart October Surprises still bear contemporary relevance.  The likelihood of a repeat of these Al Qaeda psychological operations in 2010 and 2012 mandates a continuation of this public awareness campaign.  Beyond its importance to understanding Al Qaeda’s overarching strategy and future plans, the election plot tactic should be scrutinized in light of the fact that the Palestinian group HAMAS imitated this judo terrorism tactic to support the 2009 election of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Bush's neo-conservative replacement in the U.S.-Israeli alliance against Islamic extremism.


The high probability that Al Qaeda would pursue this 2008 election plot indicated that it might have possibly pursued correlated schemes in the event of its failure.  Although these prospective plots did not appear nearly as likely as the election plot, they still suggested a need for heightened security alerts at particular targets during certain times.  Following the inability of Al Qaeda’s election plot to sway the election of President Bush’s ideological successor, John McCain, the prospect of a diplomatically astute American administration foreshadowed possible attempts by Al Qaeda to provoke Bush into military aggression during his final months in office.  At the end of 2008, I issued two warnings about a heightened possibility of Al Qaeda launching particularly instigative attacks on civilian targets in the U.S. homeland for this purpose.  These terrorism advisories cited Al Qaeda plots to attack major shopping malls during Christmas Eve and Times Square during New Years Eve.  Like my most vociferous warning about the likelier election plot, both of these cautionary alerts were precisely echoed by classified U.S. intelligence notices to the nation’s law enforcement personnel.  It is possible that heightened security deterred these holiday terrorist operations. 

Al Qaeda’s continued efforts to attack America requires that the highly accurate trends analysis described at can be utilized in the future to neutralize this terrorism against the United States.  See our latest projections of Al Qaeda October-Surprise plots in 2010 and 2012.


*  The onset of the U.S. economic meltdown in late September 2008 profoundly impacted the presidential race in favor of Barack Obama.  At that point, Obama’s substantial gains in a campaign that had previously been closely contested altered the parameters of Al Qaeda’s election plot.  Instead of needing to sway a tiny fraction of American voters, Al Qaeda was then presented with the much more difficult challenge of swaying a large fraction of the electorate.  Burdened with this new mandate, Al Qaeda’s large-scale attacks on Americans abroad no longer would constitute an effective October Surprise.  Only a 9/11 sequel on the American homeland might have delivered the required votes to swing the election in favor of John McCain.  Although this would violate Al Qaeda’s ban on post-9/11 terrorist attacks inside the U.S. homeland, and possibly backfire by demonstrating the failure of the Bush war policy to combat Al Qaeda, these new parameters for an October Surprise offered Bin Laden’s syndicate the only hope of repeating its successful strategy for intervening on the eve of U.S. national elections to favor war-hawk candidates.  Based on the modified conditions of the U.S. presidential contest resulting from the economic crisis, I revised my warning about Al Qaeda’s October-Surprise plot to include the possibility of a 9/11 sequel on the U.S. homeland.  Following the election of a U.S. president that Al Qaeda is committed to discrediting, a 9/11-sequel for its October Surprise operations has become the dominant scenario forecasted by my trends analysis.