Fox News released a quick post last week regarding open-source analysis of Weinstein’s video. The posting isn’t terribly detailed, but some of the highlights from Fred Burton at Stratfor, an open-source intelligence analysis company, and my reaction:
1) Weinstein’s clothing indicate he’s likely being held in colder climate, maybe underground. Much like one of the Bergdahl videos in which he’s seen wearing the Army PT tracksuit, Weinstein wears a watch cap and track suit. I agree with the cold climate take, but underground, I’d debate the necessity. There’s a lot of freedom of movement inherent to a place like the FATA, so I doubt the need to keep him underground. You could put him in one of a million mud compounds in the FATA, and he’d be out of sight of the general populace. There isn’t a good precedent for hostages underground in Pakistan (read David Rohde’s accounts for corroborating information) so if he is underground, I’d go out on a limb and say he’s not in a well-populated area. To take things further and assume both a complicit populace and local law enforcement/military, keeping him in a cave just makes things more logistically difficult on the captors. As far as the cold, I concur. FATA is a rugged place with peaks up to 3500m (11,482′). Even at 7000′, in summer, it gets cold out of the sun.
2) The presence of the watch cap could indicate hair loss due to malnourishment. This is certainly possible. His face is visibly drawn, but then again, he’s 72 years old, and other images of him indicate the thinning of hair and baldness typical of elderly Caucasians. If it’s cold, it makes sense he’d have a cap. Again, I’ll go back to my last post. The modus operandi for American hostages in Pakistan is as bargaining chips, and you can’t bargain with a dead man. Weinstein is probably being fed just fine by his captors. But he no longer has access to Western medical care, and he’s under significant stress. So any cold, flu, or stomach bug is going to affect him for a longer period, and repeated instances will have an accumulated deleterious affect on his health. Add to this a steady diet of local food and associated food borne-illness and he’s going to lose weight over time.
3) His eyes scroll, which may indicate either a written or rehearsed script. Again, nothing new here. Terrorist information operations, especially those as slick as As-Sahab, are as solid as ours. I’d argue they’re even better because they maintain the constant position of initiative when it comes to hostages. What I did think was an interesting take, and something I missed, is the lead this potentially provides. The polish of the speech indicates a high degree of Western mass communications influence. If As-Sahab is AQ’s IO directorate, it makes sense to recruit the best and the brightest. So in this case, whomever produced the video becomes the lead. The article quotes Heritage Foundations’ Charles Stimson, who believes someone involved was “Western-educated.” Under this assumption, I think a good place to start would be a Pakistani who graduated a Western college or university with a strong mass-communications program. That’s a wide dragnet, but a good place to start.