Rightly or wrongly, my notion about al-Qaeda from the start has been that the American media and (so far as we can say from public signs) American intelligence has completely and willfully misunderstood the nature of the so-called network. They have approached it as though it’s a single entity with a command/control structure analogous to the sort we’re most familiar with the top-down hierarchy of US corporations and the American military.
It always struck me as more ad hoc and opportunistic than that. I’ve always suspected that what we call “al-Qaeda” is really just the most prominent node in an emerging, loosely confederated network of insurgent anti-imperialist/anti-US cells the world over. If you want a more American frame of reference, say that they are one venture capital firm in a growing industry, rather than a company.
There is, or course, much more.