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AQ October Surprises

Al Qaeda’s October Surprises

(A focused summary of Bin Laden’s Plan[i])


Summary:  On the eve of the U.S. national elections in 2000, 2002 and again in 2004, Al Qaeda launched its most successful terrorist plots against America.  Unlike the glaring physical destruction of the 9/11 attack, the colossal devastation wrought by the two October surprises[ii] passed through the public consciousness virtually unacknowledged.  The deceptively subtle impact of these pre-election psychological operations understated Osama bin Laden’s grand Machiavellian achievement.  By provoking a crucial fraction of the superpower’s voters into a characteristic display of American indomitability, Al Qaeda swayed both closely-contested elections in favor of war hawks.  The inauguration and sustenance of the belligerent foreign policy of George W. Bush ideally suited the crusader-baiting strategy orchestrating the 9/11 War.  Echoing the Soviet experience in Afghanistan two decades earlier, the depletion of America’s ideological, financial and military resources in a Middle Eastern quagmire promised to cripple today’s superpower and galvanize Bin Laden’s war effort.  After three successful October-surprise plots had redirected U.S. foreign policy to make Al Qaeda “as strong as ever” by 2007[iii], the ascent of President Obama enacted the syndicate’s greatest fear: a popular, dovish American president capable of defeating Al Qaeda on the main battlefield, the ideological front.  Desperate to reverse America’s greatest victory in the 9/11 War, the high command appears more likely than ever to continue its October-surprise campaign using meticulously constructed catastrophes that can be anticipated and prevented.


Although Bush’s military crusade against terror in the Middle East is typically dated from 9/11, America’s entrapment in this war of attrition actually began a year earlier.  In the final months before the millennium in 2000, Bin Laden attempted to launch the largest terrorist attack in world history against the United States.  This catastrophic October surprise was designed to generate a shocking national security crisis that would have powerfully impacted the imminent American presidential election.  Acting on this plan in the days after September 20th, Bin Laden ordered the unprepared 9/11 plotters to proceed with the four kamikaze attacks on New York and Washington, D.C.  The plotters informed their cult leader that the truncated time schedule was not feasible for such a complex operation.  Apparently desperate to launch a major, sophisticated terrorist attack inside America during October of 2000, Bin Laden then ordered the 9/11 cell to abandon the strategically important kamikaze scheme and simply crash the hijacked planes anywhere[iv].  After the election-eve time frame had passed, Bin Laden’s urgency to attack America abated and he allowed his agents to fully prepare the cataclysm eventually unveiled on 9/11. 

In the weeks before the U.S. presidential election in 2000, Bin Laden realized that he was unable to rush forward the plane hijackings inside the United States to coincide with this politically influential period.  Bin Laden then promptly ordered a sophisticated suicide bombing to sink a U.S. naval destroyer off the Arabian Peninsula.  While only succeeding in crippling the USS COLE and killing seventeen American servicemen, this unprecedented naval terrorist attack needed only to sway a tiny fraction of American voters or political powerbrokers to swing the tightly contested millennial election in favor of the candidate who polled highest on the issue of strong national security.  Revealingly, Bin Laden repeatedly expressed frustration to his inner circle about the COLE bombing’s military aftermath, lamenting not because he had failed to intimidate the United States into leaving Muslim lands, but rather because he had failed to instigate America to invade the Middle East[v].  Nevertheless, he had succeeded in helping to elect a president who would respond as hoped to his planned 9/11 attack.


After the stunning success of Al Qaeda's first October Surprise, the high command directed affiliates in Russia, Indonesia and the Arabian Peninsula to repeat the tactic by launching the network's greatest terrorist surge since 9/11.  While the American people continued to experience the shock of the 9/11 attack one year later, the Al Qaeda syndicate rekindled these fears by launching the first catastrophic terrorist attacks of the post-9/11 age.  Targeting some of the most powerful U.S. allies in the war against Al Qaeda, the syndicate executed multiple major operations against Australia, Russia and France during the pivotal weeks in October before America’s mid-term elections.  These incidents included the Bali bombing, the Moscow theatre siege and the the COLE-style attack on a French oil tanker off the Yemeni coast of the Arabian Peninsula, attacks that collectively killed over three hundred civilians.  The election-day victory by congressional supporters of the hawkish Bush doctrine greatly facilitated Bin Laden's crusader-baiting strategy.


On the eve of the second presidential election of the Bush/Cheney Administration, America’s foremost nemesis launched his most conspicuous October surprise in the form of a stunning rhetorical attack on America’s wartime president[vi].  In his only video recording since December 2001, the mass murderer behind 9/11:

1.         Made his first direct claim of responsibility for the 9/11 attack,

2.         Cited Bush as an example of the American imperialism that “justified” 9/11,            

3.         Warned that America would continue to deserve 9/11’s if Bush was reelected,

4.         Promised to fulfill his threat in this event,

5.         Echoed popular Democratic criticisms targeting the commander-in-chief of America’s 9/11 War,

6.         Launched a vitriolic diatribe against Bush’s father, a former president and popular statesman,

7.         Avoided any criticism of Democratic administrations while denouncing the three most recent Republican administrations[vii], and

8.         Offered a strong implicit endorsement of the Democratic contender John Kerry to American voters as the candidate best equipped to defend the nation.

In addition to these reverse psychological tactics, Bin Laden’s 2004 October surprise speech encouraged voters to support Bush by implicitly suggesting that Al Qaeda was unable to deliver a more menacing warning because of Bush’s apparent success at securing the post-9/11 homeland.  Successfully focusing American voters on Bush’s strongest polling issue on the eve of the election, national security from terrorism, Bin Laden’s incitement of patriotic ardor popularized the conception that a vote against Bush represented either support or surrender to the 9/11 mastermind.  Bipartisan consensus agreed that Bin Laden’s speech assisted Bush’s reelection[viii].

Even before the Halloween video, Al Qaeda had begun its 2004 October surprise plot.  As America entered the final decisive weeks before the 2004 presidential election preoccupied by the disastrous U.S. invasion of Iraq, Al Qaeda refocused voters’ attention on the syndicate’s ongoing threat to the United States by launching the largest and most horrifying post-9/11 terrorist attack to date.  The Beslan school massacre in Russia slaughtered hundreds of children in a heavily armed assault that targeted America’s most powerful (albeit uneasy) ally in the war against Bin Laden’s network.  During the following weeks, Al Qaeda prompted a national terrorism alert in the U.S. homeland for another group of the syndicate’s Chechen terrorists who had purportedly infiltrated America to launch more attacks targeting children at schools[ix].  Along with this highly publicized threat, late 2004 headlines buzzed with news of an Al Qaeda plot to attack financial institutions in New York.  The new terrorist scare coincided with a surge in Al Qaeda terrorist attacks against America targets, an embassy in Uzbekistan (in July) and a hotel in Egypt (in October), that marked only the second and third such acts of major terrorism since 9/11.  Buttressed with these complimentary plots and attacks, Bin Laden’s shocking Halloween video delivered a jolting psychological assault on U.S. voters.  Without actually attacking the United States, Al Qaeda had succeeded twice in manipulating Americans to abet the expansion of the Bush crusade.

2006, 2008 and Beyond

Beginning with the millennial surprise the high command has unfailingly designed its most stunning terrorist plots against the United States to coincide with the politically influential weeks before American national elections.  After triumphing in its first three bids at influencing U.S. national elections during 2000-2004, Al Qaeda failed in its next two attempts.  In 2006, the high command scheduled its first operational 9/11-sequel plot to occur during the weeks before the mid-term election.  The highly publicized scheme had aimed to detonate liquid explosives onboard ten hijacked commercial airliners bound for America.  Although the thwarted plot did prompt stricter airport security measures, the terrorist scare seemed to have a negligible impact on voter mentality during Election Day when the faltering war in Iraq dominated the national debate.  Al Qaeda’s inability to become the leading campaign issue facilitated the Democratic victory over Bush’s party in 2006, marking a major strategic setback for the group’s overarching effort to portray America as a belligerent crusading empire. 

Unfazed (and perhaps emboldened) by its only failure to support the Republican ticket of war hawks, Al Qaeda executed[x] its greatest post-9/11 surge of terrorism against the United States in the weeks before the 2008 presidential election.  Major attacks in the capitals of Yemen and Pakistan preceded the postponement of the infamous hunt for Americans in Mumbai from its scheduled launch on September 30th.  Muffled by domestic security forces, the appropriately premature “October Surprise” was immediately eclipsed as a campaign issue by the concurrent U.S. financial meltdown.  Through a scheme that involved Pakistan’s 9/11, India’s 9/11 and its most stunning attack on a U.S. embassy, Al Qaeda implemented a concerted effort to sabotage Barack Obama’s election.  The victory of the dovish Democratic challenger Barack Obama represented[xi] a devastating reversal for Al Qaeda’s crusader-baiting strategy.  On the war’s main battlefield, the ideological front, American voter’s had achieved the country’s greatest victory to date. 

Despite its two failures to support the Bush war policy, the terrorist syndicate’s consistent preoccupation with the October surprise tactic augured future election-eve attacks.  The failed U.S. air cargo plot of October 2010 continued the pattern, followed by the successful three-pronged strike on U.S. diplomatic missions in the Arab world in September 2012 and the failed truck-bombing of the Federal Reserve Bank in New York City in October 2012.  More than any other weapon in Al Qaeda’s arsenal, voter manipulation can redirect U.S. foreign policy to suit Bin Laden’s designs for America’s destruction.  Having witnessed its election weapon demonize America during the Bush years, Al Qaeda’s high command will likely continue to overlook the potential cost of relying on this highly predictable tactic.  As demonstrated in 2008[xii], perpetuation of this crusader-baiting trend provides Al Qaeda’s enemies with a means to anticipate and deter terrorist attacks.  This counterterrorism tool begins with the knowledge that Al Qaeda’s offensive capabilities against America are strictly curtailed by strategic limitations on the time frames, locations and severity of any terrorist attacks on America.  Al Qaeda can only launch major terrorist attacks on America during the two months before biennial national elections (barring any major diplomatic gaffes by the U.S. administration, like the invasion of Iraq in spring 2003, President Bush’s reelection in fall 2004, and the inception of an Iraqi civil war in fall 2005).  American security is bolstered by the guaranteed absence of major Al Qaeda terrorist attacks against the United States throughout twenty-two of every twenty-four months.  Furthermore, identification of this trend strengthens America’s ability to deploy effective counterterrorism measures to thwart future plots during the two-month time frame.  Finally, public awareness of Al Qaeda’s tactic for election manipulation can mentally fortify the swing voters targeted by these psychological operations.



Bin Laden’s Plan: The Project for the New American Century by David Malone, Trafford, 2006


In American political jargon, an “October surprise” is a news event with the potential to influence the outcome of an imminent election, especially the U.S. presidential contest, by swaying voters during their final deliberations.  The October timing relates to the fact that the Tuesday after the first Monday in November is the date for U.S. national elections.  Proximity to Election Day instills the surprise with greatest potential to alter mindsets in the voting booth.  As a generic term for major events occurring in the final weeks before a U.S. national election, the phrase “October surprise” can also refer to a politically influential surprise occurring in the late September or early November before an election.



9/11 Commission Report, p.250, PDF version [available at]


9/11 Commission Report, p.191, PDF version [available at]



Omitting the three oft-cited grievances from his 1998 declaration of war on America and overlooking the Clinton administration’s entire record of military intervention in the Middle East, Bin Laden instead adopted a highly partisan perspective for his speech that only criticized the Republican administrations of Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush.