SpyCast 4.12.22
Ep 534 | 4.12.22

"ISIS Leader al-Mawla: Caliph. Scholar. Canary. Snitch." – with Daniel Milton, West Point CTC Director (Part 2 of 2)

Show Notes


Daniel Milton (Website; Twitter) joins Andrew (Twitter; LinkedIn) to discuss the former Caliph of the Islamic State. Al Mawla was killed in a U.S. raid in February 2022. 

What You’ll Learn


  • The origin of the term “Canary Caliph”
  • The mythology of Islamic State and the reality
  • Battlefield intelligence and understanding an enemy
  • The Combating Terrorism Center being on the radar of terrorists


  • The presentation of “self”
  • The relationship between organizational priorities and organizational hierarchies

And much, much more…

Episode Notes

Daniel Milton joins us again to discuss a series of interrogation reports of Al Mawla, at the time leader of Islamic law in Mosul for the Islamic State in Iraq (ISI). ISI was the successor to Al Qaeda in that country and the predecessor of Islamic State (Islamic State is a larger umbrella category, while ISIS, ISKP, etc. come with geographical designations, e.g., Islamic State of Iraq and Syria). Al Mawla gave up the names of over 50 people within his own organization: and that was only in the first 3 of 56 interviews. 

One interesting insight you can glean from the documents is that Islamic State while very different from many organizations in many respects, is just like them in others: empire building, clashing personalities, struggles over process, paperwork, committees, territorialism, jealousy, prejudice, insecurity – like The Office, but with much more malevolent intent.


If you want to read a document that captures (a) an important inflection point in the transition from Al Qaeda to Islamic State and (b) was one of the West Point CTC publications captured during the Bin Laden raid, read “Al Qaeda Secedes from Iraq.”

Quote of the Week

"I think we get a sense of it as an organization that exists and has similar struggles as any other organization does. Having said that, clearly, it's a clandestine organization, and so one of the overriding imperatives is security. Individuals are trying to stay alive and not get arrested or killed. And that affects a little bit of the way that you carry out business. I do think that you also see some element of the things that you described. There is competition. There are people who don't like each other." – Daniel Milton


*Headline Resources*


  • Enemies Near & Far, D. Gartenstein-Ross (CUP, 2022)
  • The ISIS Reader, Ingram et al. (Hurst, 2020)
  • The Rise of Global Jihad, T. Hegghammer (CUP, 2020)
  • Foreign Fighters in the Armies of Jihad, D. Byman (OUP, 2019)
  • Anatomy of Terror, A. Soufan (W.W. Norton, 2017)
  • The Far Enemy, F. Gerges (CUP, 2005)
  • Best Books on the Middle East (Five Books)





Primary Sources

*Wildcard Resource*

  • Camp Bucca Newsletter #1
  • A U.S. forces newsletter from the time-period when Al Mawla was interrogated at Camp Bucca, in the vicinity of Umm Qasr, Iraq.