Point counter point: Aaron Zelin & Phillip Smyth

[ by Charles Cameron — a simple jeu d’esprit ]


It’s actually rather sweet, and possibly a matter of GMTA, but Aaron Zelin and Dan Byman both favor a word I’m fond of myself: archipelago.

SPEC DQ Zelin Byman


Aaron noted the commonalities of topic and phrasing, and tweeted:

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery pic.twitter.com/0xVzGm7cCg

— Aaron Y. Zelin (@azelin) February 21, 2016

to which Phillip Smyth responded:

@azelin Happens to the best of us…

That's why, post-coup, we go after editors first. 😉 pic.twitter.com/xuPDWP98eH

— Phillip Smyth (@PhillipSmyth) February 21, 2016


Phillip’s example of imitation / flattery involves a pun on the name of the Prophet’s first battle, that of Badr:

SPEC DQ Smyth George


Please note that there is absolutely nothing to be gained from these juxtapositions but sheer delight — there’s no “actionable intelligence” therein — yet two extremely sharp analysts nevertheless find them of sufficient interest to exchange tweets about them.

An eye for symmetries, similarities, parallelisms and oppositions will not always come up with useful correlations, but it’s nonetheless an aspect of mind that’s close to both creativity (see Arthur Koestler) and what bin Laden analyst Cindy Storer (in Manhunt) called “magic” —

not the analysts doing it, but other people who didn’t have that talent referred to it as magic.



  • Aaron Zelin, The Islamic State’s Archipelago of Provinces
  • Daniel Byman, The Islamic State Archipelago
  • Phillip Smyth, Hizballah Cavalcade: Breaking Badr
  • Suzannah George, Breaking Badr
  • The useful analysis is in the sources, and the useful description of analytic magic is currently easily accessible at the 9’14” point in HBO’s Manhunt on YouTube.

    2 comments on this post.
    1. zen:


    2. Charles Cameron:

      Ha! Thanks, Zen.