The amount of decentralization is also significant. Gistaro stated that "we do not see" communications between al-Qaeda in Iraq and al-Qaeda in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan, though that doesn't necessarily mean such communication doesn't exist. Retired General James Clapper, the chief of defense intelligence, conceded that of the "several thousand" members of AQI, "90 percent of the foot soldiers are going to be Iraqis," even as the U.S. military has emphasized that its leadership is entirely foreign-based. (A prominent AQI detainee told U.S. interrogators that its "Iraqi face," an operative called Omar al-Baghdadi, is fictional.) AQI's current focus befits the composition of most of its membership, if not its leaders. "The bulk of AQI's resources are focused on Iraq," Gistaro told the joint committee. Similarly, al-Qaeda in Waziristan doesn't exhibit "tactical control over AQI," he said.
But it goes way too far to conclude that AQI and AQ are separate organizations without a relationship to one another. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the first AQI leader, whom the U.S. killed in 2006, swore a loyalty oath to Usama bin Laden in 2004, which Gistaro said is when the intelligence community begins referring to the organization as "al-Qaeda in Iraq." Similarly, in a July 2005 letterto Zarqawi from bin Laden deputy Ayman Zawahiri, Zawahiri asks Zarqawi to send cash back to the al-Qaeda senior leadership, as well as to pass along a message to the "Algerian brothers," a reference to a terrorist group that now calls itself al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. Greg Miller in the Los Angeles Times reported in May that AQI is still kicking money up to al-Qaeda in Pakistan.
There's a lot that remains unclear after the hearing -- probably because it remains unclear to U.S. intelligence. How can money be traveling from AQI to AQ but not communications? Has the relationship between AQI and AQ changed after the death of Zarqawi, who planted AQ's flag in Iraq? Judging from the hearing, it's fair to conclude that both organizations benefit from the association with one another: al-Qaeda gets to say it's participating in the jihad against the U.S. in Iraq, and AQI can associate with something larger than itself to claim prestige and outside support. That may not turn out to be such a bad thing from a U.S. perspective -- as even Sunni Iraqis are turning against AQI, raising the prospect that the association with Iraq will go from being a "cause celebre" for AQ (in the language of the 2006 terrorism NIE) to a strategic miscalculation.