This is the 14th audio or video tape released this year by Ayman al-Zawahri or Osama bin Laden and the ninth by Zawahri.
Senior U.S. intelligence and counterterrorism officials tell NBC News that while the production -- and even promotional -- apparatus has grown increasingly sophisticated, the main point of the messages remains the same as it has been for the past several years: Al-Qaida wants to show themselves as relevant within the jihadist movement by commenting on any major event in the Muslim world, whether it be a new French law outlawing head scarves or a war between Muslims and Israelis in Lebanon.
Some in the intelligence community wonder, in fact, if the wave of messages isn't reaching a "saturation point" in that the messages are no longer anxiously awaited, but rather rote recitations of what could be called jihadi conventional wisdom. And no one believes any longer that whenever Zawahri speaks it's a trigger for an attack somewhere in the world.
That said, the propaganda remains "a critical part of their jihad... and the more sophisticated the production, the more it gives an impression he and Bin Laden are operational rather than in a mud hole somewhere... and that is what we believe is the main point of the improved production values," said one official.
Moreover, they want the messages to be first class to make those who watch believe that the organization, as well as its leaders, is a sophisticated operation, although as one official remarked, this could be accomplished "by a laptop with Final Cut Pro" or some other video editing software.
"They want to let their own rank and file and the public at large know they are still out there, still relevant...and increasingly secure," he added.
A third official said an early production analysis of the tape indicates that Zawahiri is not in some studio, but is "superimposed" over a blue screen or other digital background, again, not outside the capabilities of commercially available software.
The production values are but one part of a "streamlined" propaganda campaign that is quite different from the past, involving promotion, production and re-purposing of material [words familiar to anyone who works in television].
"They are streamlining the process to get it done quicker as well," said a second official, saying while tapes used to take a week to two months to get to air, now the process appears to be telescoped to a point where it can be done in less than a week, post-production included.
Some other differences:
--Unlike tapes from the past, this and others in recent months have been preceded by a PROMOTIONAL campaign, a buildup of interest on the jihadi sites, attempting to build an audience among supporters and tension among enemies. The buildup has included a flashing graphic in some cases alerting the community something important is on the way.
--Tapes now first appear on al-Jazeera or al-Arabiya in a headline form, then a few days later in a more complete form on jihadi Web sites, much like MSNBC.com repackages material earlier aired on Nightly News or Today.
--Once aired, they are sometimes repackaged on DVDs or CDs for distribution to those who do not have access to the Arab satellite channels.
"It depends on how long it takes to get the donkey down the mountain," joked one senior U.S. intelligence official, noting that tapes often are brought down from mountains along the Afghan/ Pakistan border by mule and then moved through a network of couriers before showing up on air.