WASHINGTON, DC—In a chilling development, the CIA announced Monday that it has acquired a videotape showing suspected al-Qaeda operatives engaging in what appears to be telemarketing.
"This video, obtained from a credible third-party source, features grainy footage of a group of men strongly believed to be al-Qaeda members making phone solicitations for vacation-home rentals, long-distance phone service, magazine subscriptions, and a vast array of other products and services," CIA Director George Tenet said at a press conference. "Many of these calls have occurred, unthinkably, during the dinner hour."
Added Tenet: "We had known about al-Qaeda's practice of raising money through drug trafficking and money laundering, but it seems the full scope of their depravity had barely been imagined."
The video is not the only evidence of telemarketing activity within al-Qaeda. According to Tenet, CIA agents tracking the terrorist organization over the past 12 months made steady progress infiltrating its communications network, eventually gaining access to transmissions to and from al-Qaeda operatives. These transmissions included a number of telemarketing "cold calls" to randomly chosen U.S. citizens.
Last December, during a sweep of caves near the Afghan-Pakistani border, Maj. Gen. Dan K. McNeill, leader of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, unearthed further evidence corroborating the phone-solicitation theory. Inside one cave, McNeill and his troops found a bank of empty cubicles with individual phone lines, a bullhorn, and 10 desktop bells, commonly rung in the event of a "sale."
"I couldn't believe what I saw," said McNeill, who also discovered bomb-making instructions and detailed maps of U.S. landmarks in the cave. "On top of all the destruction these people had already unleashed, plans were underway to harass the American people with a merciless assault of offers for everything from discounts on home DSL lines to pre-approved, low-interest credit cards."
For all the evidence collected by the CIA, the "smoking gun" in the investigation may turn out to be an alleged Osama bin Laden motivational videotape, currently in the possession of CNN. The controversial tape, which has never aired on the cable network, is rumored to feature bin Laden urging his followers to think positive and believe in the quality of the product they are pitching, closing on the grim slogan "Smile And Dial."
Among the victims of al-Qaeda's telemarketing efforts is Coral Gables, FL, retiree Bernice Parks, who last Friday spent nearly 45 minutes trying to say no to a pushy aluminum-siding salesman who identified himself only as "Mohammed," only to give in and order full siding for her home. It is believed that the $3,000 charged to Parks' credit card—an amount she thought to be "a rock-bottom value, especially compared to what big companies like Sears charge"—was funneled through al-Qaeda's extensive siding cartel.
Nearly all of the $3,000 became al-Qaeda profit after what Parks described as "worn, faded siding that seemed to have been removed from another house" was hastily installed by three Middle-Eastern-looking men in an unmarked van.
"These evil people are preying on bored receptionists, gullible housewives, and defenseless seniors like me," Parks said. "At home, at work... they simply do not care."
In spite of the mounting evidence, al-Qaeda leaders detained in Guantanamo Bay continue to deny that their group is involved in any over-the-phone solicitation.
"Al-Qaeda is willing to do many things to achieve its goals," said Tariq al-Salaam from his holding cell. "Disrupting people with intrusive, unwanted phone calls is not one of them."
Jerry Wiener, a Metairie, LA, 75-year-old who was recently scammed into buying a $4,200-a-month timeshare condominium in "Yumabad, Arizona," urged the U.S. to take action.
"If it was up to me, every last one of those animals would be drawn and quartered in the public square," Wiener said. "I thought these al-Qaeda guys were pretty bad before. But making pushy, aggressive sales pitches to random, innocent strangers who just want to eat their supper in peace? That's about as low as it gets."