Monday, August 14, 2006

Within DAYS of a Dry Run

Informed Comment offers the antithesis of old media's breathlessly fact-free reporting, in his initial summary of the recent UK terrorist arrests. The key insight is towards the end:

If this operation is as advertised, then it underlines again the importance of plain old fashioned counter-terrorism and police work. An army of 136,000 men in the field can't stop bombs from going off in Iraq every day. What stopped the liquid bomb plot was something superior, a tool fitted to the task.


Blogger Management said...

Friday, August 11, 2006

The Pakistan Connection

Pakistani police on Thursday arrested a number of UK Muslims within Pakistan who were also suspected of involvement in the "Liquid Bomb Threat."

British authorities say that they have been investigating the group behind the airplane bombing plot for "about a year." The Scotsman says that the investigation began in 2005.

US authorities were only told about some details two weeks ago, apparently. It may be that the British counter-terrorism community learned its lesson from the loose lips of the Bushies in summer of 2004. I argued then that from what we could tell from open sources, it seemed likely that the Bush administration played politics with information about a double agent in Pakistan who was helping monitor a London al-Qaeda cell. It seems likely that the election-year leak allowed budding terrorists like Mohammad Sadique Khan to escape closer scrutiny, and so permitted the 7/7/05 London subway bombings to go forward.

This time, the MI5 and MI6 and the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) may not have told Washington everything.

The Financial Times has an interesting observation I haven't seen elsewhere:

' British security officials suspected the innovative use of liquid explosives smuggled on board could have evaded airport detection devices. They said the method of attack, if used to blow up an aircraft over the ocean on a flight from the US to the UK, could potentially have been used repeatedly because its detection would have been all but impossible after the event.

One official said: “We were very lucky to have acquired the intelligence about the modus operandi of the attacks. If we hadn’t got the intelligence, they probably would have succeeded and there would have been little or no forensic evidence showing how they had done it. The modus operandi could have made waves of attacks feasible.”

British police had liaised closely with US law enforcement agencies for some time, although US officials said they learnt the intelligence pointed to threats against specific US airlines only in the past two weeks. '

So how did we find out about this plot, and the deadly mode of operation, which might otherwise have been so hard to detect? The investigation was kicked off by an arrest in Pakistan "last year." (AP says the arrest in Waziristan was "a few weeks ago", but I think AP is confusing the contribution of some recent arrests to the case with the initial capture of the key informant a year ago).

Most of the investigation was carried out in the UK, but the Pakistanis are said to have provided "an important clue."

AP says:

' A Pakistani intelligence official said an Islamic militant arrested near the Afghan-Pakistan border . . . provided a lead that played a role in ``unearthing the plot.''

So this capture takes place roughly June, 2005.

Amjed Jaaved explained at The Nation on June 28 this year that:

'Pakistan has deployed over 80,000 troops in the "no-go tribal areas" (ilaqa ghair) along the border with Afghanistan to forestall inward and outward movement of Al-Qaeda's or other organisations' fighters.

Pakistan lost about 600 soldiers in operations against the militants - Pakistan's loss is more than the total casualties suffered by the coalition and Afghan forces in Afghanistan. Pakistan has handed over 700 Al-Qaeda fugitives to US authorities.

Pakistan's sincere cooperation with the US intelligence agencies is proving more fruitful. Suspected satellite telephone transmissions, e-mails and other internet traffic are being tracked. '

AP reports that ' "two or three local people'' suspected in the plot were arrested a few days ago in Lahore and Karachi. '

So I figure the guy they catch up in Waziristan or Quetta in summer 2005 rolls over on small cells in Karachi and Lahore. The Interservices Intelligence puts these two cells under email and telephone surveillance, and lo and behold they hare having very interesting conversations with some friends in London and Birmingham. The ISI alerts the UK, and there you have it.

Then a few days ago, the Pakistani police pick up two or three cell members in Karachi and Lahore. Why? There are some reports that the arrests in Pakistan precipitated (or were coordinated with) the British arrests, since the officials in the UK were afraid that the UK cell members would go underground once they knew their colleagues in Pakistan were compromised.

The only circumstance that I can imagine that would cause the Pakistani authorities to move in that way is that the Lahore and Karachi cells were planning to do something very violent in the very near future.

Dawn, cited at the beginning of this entry, says:

'Officials said intelligence agencies had lately arrested a number of Central Asian militants who had provided information on planned attacks on the US and British interests. A pre-dawn raid in June had led to the arrest of Balochistan chapter chief of Lashkar-i-Jhangvi, Usman Kurd.

The officials said clues from these suspects led the authorities to the militants arrested on Thursday. '

The Scotsman is also saying that the UK plotters were "days" from swinging into action.

If this operation is as advertised, then it underlines again the importance of plain old fashioned counter-terrorism and police work. An army of 136,000 men in the field can't stop bombs from going off in Iraq every day. What stopped the liquid bomb plot was something superior, a tool fitted to the task.

John Tirman draws six lessons from the affair.


8:21 PM  
Blogger Management said...

UK citizens held in Pakistan swoop

By Bahzad Alam Khan

KARACHI, Aug 10: Pakistani authorities on Thursday arrested an unspecified number of British nationals, believed to be Muslims, in a closely coordinated intelligence swoop that was said to be simultaneous with the arrests of 21 British Muslims in the United Kingdom, a top government official source told Dawn on late Thursday night.

The source, who wished not to be named, said closely guarded intelligence shared by Pakistan, the United Kingdom and the United States led to the arrests of militants thought to be planning to blow up trans-Atlantic flights from London.

The official declined to say where exactly the arrests had been made in Pakistan, but other sources said the British nationals had been arrested in southern Pakistan.

Foreign Office spokesperson Tasnim Aslam confirmed to Dawn that earlier arrests made by Pakistan provided the crucial intelligence that led to the timely arrests of more militants – in the UK and in Pakistan.

“The information gathered by earlier arrests provided the intelligence that led to the arrests of British nationals in the United Kingdom planning to blow up airliners flying between Britain and the United States,” she said, declining to give further details.

Interior Minister Aftab Ahmad Khan Sherpao also said intelligence provided by Islamabad led to the arrests of militants in Britain. He confirmed that some more arrests had been made in Pakistan.

Another government official, who also requested not to be named, said the first indication of the plot to blow up America-bound flights from the United Kingdom came from interrogation of suspects taken into custody in Pakistan, prompting an intense surveillance operation in intelligence liaison among Islamabad, Washington and London.

Officials said intelligence agencies had lately arrested a number of Central Asian militants who had provided information on planned attacks on the US and British interests. A pre-dawn raid in June had led to the arrest of Balochistan chapter chief of Lashkar-i-Jhangvi, Usman Kurd.

The officials said clues from these suspects led the authorities to the militants arrested on Thursday.

8:22 PM  
Blogger Management said...

Airline terrorists were days away from massacre at 30,000 feet

* Airports across the UK on alert as terror strike looks to have been foiled
* Nine aircraft may have been targeted for destruction
* Twenty-four arrested in raids, including recent convert to Islam

Key quote "We are confident that we have disrupted a plan by terrorists to cause untold death and destruction and commit mass murder," he said. Put simply, this was a plot to commit mass murder on an unimaginable scale." - Stephenson, deputy commissioner of the Metropolitan Police

Story in full
BRITAIN was only days away from "mass murder on an unimaginable scale" when police stopped terrorists blowing up nine transatlantic passenger planes in an atrocity that would have surpassed 9/11.

As an unprecedented security operation brought massive disruption to the UK's airports, security sources revealed thousands of people would have been killed if the audacious plot involving liquid explosives had succeeded.

Twenty-four people, most of them believed to be British-born, were in custody last night after overnight raids in London, Birmingham, and High Wycombe.

Most of those arrested were said to be of Pakistani descent. It was reported that they ranged in age from 17-35.

However, it was also revealed last night that one suspect was a teenager who recently converted to Islam.

Don Stewart-Whyte, 19, recently changed his name to Abdul Wahid to reflect his new-found religion.

Neighbours described him as "pleasant and polite".

A mother aged in early 20s was also taken into custody.

Sources told The Scotsman British intelligence first became aware a group of British Muslims was planning an attack last year when the service received information from Pakistani authorities following the arrest of senior al-Qaeda figures.

The men were put under surveillance and senior figures in government, including Tony Blair, the Prime Minister, were made aware of the situation.

The decision to arrest the group came as they were apparently just two days away from a "dry run", to see if they would be able to smuggle the needed materials aboard the planes.

There were reports last night that five more suspects were still being urgently sought in the UK, but police said they were "confident" the key people had been arrested.

British authorities have been sharing full details of the operation with their US counterparts, who last night started to disclose more details.

The ABC television network named three of those arrested as Rashid Rauf, Mohammed al-Ghandra and Ahmed al Khan. The three were the ringleaders of the plot, the network said.

One version of the planned attacks suggests that an explosive gel was to have been concealed inside a sports drink container. The electric pulse required to detonate the peroxide-based substance was to have been provided from the flash unit of a disposable camera.

Government officials in Pakistan said several arrests were made there in co-ordination with those in the UK.

One senior government official said "two or three local people" were arrested a few days ago in Lahore and Karachi.

As the operation was under way, Britain's security threat level was raised to "critical" for the first time.

Airports rushed in new security measures, stopping people taking hand baggage on to aircraft, scanning passengers' shoes and searching US-bound travellers twice.

More than 1,000 flights in and out of Britain were cancelled, including at least 80 at Scottish airports and more than 600 at Heathrow. Hundreds more were delayed and there were chaotic scenes at many airports.

Some passengers learned of the ban on hand luggage only as they arrived and had to hurriedly repack. Just a few items were allowed to be carried on board in transparent plastic bags.

For the most part, passengers said they accepted the delays were necessary, even if it later emerged there had been some kind of false alarm.

However, Paul Stephenson, the deputy commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, said the force was convinced the danger had been all too real. "We are confident we have disrupted a plan by terrorists to cause untold death and destruction and commit mass murder," he said.

"Put simply, this was a plot to commit mass murder on an unimaginable scale."

John Reid, the Home Secretary, said if the plot had been carried out, the loss of life would have been on "an unprecedented scale". He went on: "The police, working with the Security Service, MI5, have carried out a major counter-terror operation overnight to disrupt an alleged plot to bring down a number of aircraft through mid-flight explosions.

"While the police are confident the main players have been accounted for, neither they or the government are in any way complacent. This is an ongoing and complex operation."

Officials in the US said flights by American, United and Continental Airlines to five cities - New York, Washington DC and Los Angeles as well as possibly Boston and Chicago - were to have been targeted by the plotters.

It is believed they intended to blow up the planes in waves of three at a time over cities in the US and Britain.

Explosives experts said it was possible to use certain liquids to create an explosion without a detonator, but there were also claims that the alleged terrorists had planned to use an electronic detonator disguised as a mobile phone or an MP3 music player. They said it was likely a skilled bomber would have taken the constituent parts of the bomb to the toilet for assembly shortly before detonating the device.

Michael Chertoff, the US homeland security secretary, said the plot had been stopped just in time.

"This is not a circumstance where you have a handful of people sitting around, coming up with dreamy ideas about terrorist plots," he said. "The conception, the large number of people involved, the sophisticated design of the devices that were being considered and the sophisticated nature of the plan, all suggest that this group that came together to conspire was very determined, very skilled, and very capable."

Speaking from the Caribbean, where he is on holiday, Mr Blair said: "I would like to pay tribute to the immense effort made by the police and security services, who, for a long time, have tracked this situation and been involved in an extraordinary amount of hard work. I thank them for the great job they are doing in protecting our country."

The Prime Minister is believed to have been aware of the security threat for some time but not to have anticipated yesterday's events before leaving the country on Tuesday.

Tony Snow, the White House press secretary, said Mr Blair and George Bush, the US president, had held a lengthy tele-conference on Sunday and spoke again by phone on Wednesday, when the security services decided to arrest all the suspects. "There were some signs. They thought it was time to move," Mr Snow said of the British authorities.

Mr Bush thanked the British government for "busting this plot". He said: "This nation is at war with Islamic fascists who will use any means to destroy those of us who love freedom."

Professor Paul Wilkinson, of St Andrews University, an expert on terrorism, said police were working on the theory that nine planes were to have been targeted by the bombers.

"That's a very serious threat - we're talking about hundreds of people at risk," he said.

"The police and security services have done a very good job to thwart it, although they are being careful and saying they are not sure they have got everybody involved in this."

British officials have not confirmed that al-Qaeda was behind the plot but experts said it bore all the hallmarks of the group, or one of its affiliates.
Countdown to a day of drama as carnage in sky is averted

2005: Pakistani intelligence officials pass information from captured militants to MI5 suggesting that an al-Qaeda-inspired terrorist plot is being formulated in Britain.

Summer-autumn: MI5 officials begin background investigations on the British men believed to be at the heart of the conspiracy.

2006: The surveillance operation makes a crucial breakthrough earlier this year, giving intelligence analysts reason to conclude that the men are planning to explode bombs on board planes bound for the United States.

SUNDAY: Tony Blair first discusses the plot with George Bush, the US president.

WEDNESDAY: The leaders speak again about the plot.

10:30pm: Raids begin at addresses across Britain in a bid to foil the attacks. Among the first to be raided is a flat in Forest Road, Walthamstow, east London.

Midnight: John Reid, the Home Secretary, chairs a meeting of the government's emergency response committee, COBRA. John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister, is not present. A house in Mickefield Road, High Wycombe is raided.

YESTERDAY, 3am: West Midlands Police raid an address in St Mary's Road, Alum Rock, Birmingham, and make two arrests.

5am: Mr Reid chairs a second meeting of COBRA. Mr Prescott is absent again. Revised security procedures are introduced by the Department for Transport and circulated to airports.

6am: Airlines announce new measures to passengers and warn of delays.

7:58am: Heathrow Airport operator BAA asks National Air Traffic Services to suspend all inbound services not already in the air as aircraft and passengers build up. The hold is in force until noon.

9:40am: Airport authorities and air traffic controllers extend the ban on inbound flights to 4pm, then later to 7pm.

12:30pm: British Airways cancels all of its short-haul flights to and from Heathrow for the rest of the day.

3:21pm: Heathrow re-opens for all arrivals earlier than expected.

4pm: Mr Reid chairs another meeting of COBRA, with Mr Prescott in attendance.

5pm: Thames Valley Police raid a bungalow in Micklefield Road, High Wycombe, almost opposite the scene of Wednesday night's raid.
Airport misery with delays set to continue

PASSENGERS have been warned of further flight delays with no end in sight to the worst disruption to hit UK air travel since the 11 September terrorist attacks in 2001.

Chaos reigned across many airports as hundreds of thousands of travellers suffered huge delays, and stringent new hand luggage restrictions were imposed.

At Gatwick, airport staff resorted to standing on tables to shout information to passengers, while elsewhere photocopied notices were hastily taped to walls.

Worst affected were passengers using Heathrow and Gatwick, where British Airways cancelled nearly half of its 820 daily flights, including many to and from Scotland. BA expect disruption to continue for two more days and will only operate 60 per cent of UK flights at Heathrow today, but 80 per cent at Gatwick.

At least 80 flights were cancelled at Scotland's airports - up to one in 12 - while others were delayed by up to five hours. Cancellations included 30 at Edinburgh, 25 at Glasgow and 18 at Aberdeen.

EasyJet, which cancelled 300 flights yesterday, has scrapped all its London flights to and from Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen and Inverness today.

The airline information company OAG estimated that about 400,000 people in the UK were affected.

In Edinburgh, check-in queues snaked through the terminal and spilled outside, but the mood was one of frustration rather than fear.

Prague-bound Lucie Bakesova, said: "I can't get any information out here. I know there's a terror alert, but why is my flight delayed?"

Bill Gleeson, of Edinburgh, said the restrictions would hit business travellers hard. He said: "I am currently switching my travel to the train wherever possible and a lot of business travellers will do the same."

Virgin Trains said it had been "exceptionally busy", and GNER trains from London were "very busy".

At Glasgow airport, there was an atmosphere of calm, despite the police presence. Officers with machine guns patrolled as sniffer dogs wove in and out of the luggage.

Max Adamson, 16, from Utah, who was returning from a visit to the Edinburgh Fringe, said: "I am really worried about the threat of terrorists. Two of my relatives died in 9/11 and this brings back terrible memories. I loved Scotland, but it is sad to leave on this note."

At Aberdeen airport, Murray Walker, the veteran Formula 1 racing commentator, was among passengers whose flights were disrupted. He said: "If you are responsible for the lives of thousands of citizens and something happens because you took a chance, that would be inexcusable. It is better to be inconvenienced than killed."

Polly Byrne, from Edinburgh, who flew to Stansted with her husband and two young daughters only to find their connection to Valencia had been cancelled, said: "The pilot was giving us updates throughout the flight. There was quite a good feeling of solidarity."

Prestwick suffered just three cancellations and Inverness four.

The Department for Transport said the restrictions would be for a "limited time".

• An anti-war protest held outside Prestwick airport last night was condemned for tying up police resources.

Around 40 demonstrators gathered at the Ayrshire site, but an airport spokesman said: "We consider this completely inappropriate given the challenges that travellers and their concerned families and friends have had to endure today."

8:22 PM  
Blogger Management said...

August 14, 2006

Six Lessons from the London Airline Bombing Plot

What we now know about the London-based plot to destroy ten civilian airplanes points to six conclusions.

First, what stopped this plot was law enforcement. Law enforcement. Not a military invasion of Pakistan, Iran, Lebanon, Egypt, or Iraq. Old-fashioned surveillance, development of human sources, putting pieces together, and cooperation with foreign police and intelligence services.

Second, the conspiracy—if it resembles the London bombings of last summer—will likely be home-grown, another of the troubling jihad "fashion" in Europe that comprises the new street gangs of this world. It is not a religious movement, it is not fundamentalism. These are thin veneers. It is at root sheer violence undertaken by young men resentful of many things (not least the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and Lebanon) and ready to kill in return. Under different cirucmstances, it could be Tamils or Red Brigades or Michigan Militiamen, and has been.

Third, if al Qaeda was involved (allegedly from Pakistan), we can thank the failure of the war in Afghanistan and the cozying up to Musharraf.

Fourth, there was no involvement by any American-based “cells,” according the FBI Director Robert Mueller. As many of us have been saying for nearly five years, and as the 9/11 Commission Report showed, there is virtually no plausible American jihad organization at work, and never has been.

Fifth, the plot again reveals how ill-equipped the U.S. Government has been in anticipating plausible attack scenarios and taking steps to prevent them. Liquid bombs were so hard to figure out? Al Qaeda already tried it. DHS has almost completely missed the threat, just as they are missing the vulnerability of cargo holds and God knows what else. Thomas Kean, the former GOP governor and co-chair of the 9/11 Commission, called this liquid bomb error “appalling” and wondered, on an NBC program four months ago, why no progress had been made. Reports since Aug. 10 demonstrate how the administration was attempting to delete funding for research on liquid explosives. What are the tens of billions being spent on? This is Katrina II.

Sixth, and most important, we must end our involvement in Iraq and sharply refocus our presence in the region. The war president’s approach is not working. It’s a diversion from the real threat. It’s a spur to bitter revenge. It’s a big feedback loop that will endanger us for years, if not decades. Our lives are now at stake because the Bush catastrophe has created thousands of new terrorists.

Naturally, the politically expedient are trying to gain an edge. Defeated Senator Joseph Lieberman immediately attacked his victorious primary challenger Ned Lamont, saying that Lamont’s "leave Iraq" policy is somehow connected to threats like the London plot. It’s the opposite—the war distracts and inflames. We will see the crowing from the Bushies now, when in fact they were again asleep at the wheel, only this time the Brits saved the day. The war v. law enforcement contrast— remember how John Kerry was ridiculed by Cheney for suggesting that aggressive police work and human intelligence were anti-terror linchpins?—is now buried by conflating the “war against terror” in Iraq with this Scotland Yard and MI5 success.

Reversing America’s colossally destructive series of interventions in the Middle East—a cause, a trigger, a recruitment fountain, and a charity for jihad—will require an entirely different mindset, not just an adjustment or a measured retreat. When America responded, after being prodded, to the tsunami victims in Indonesia early last year, it profoundly changed Indonesians’ views of the United States. New attitudes of support and cooperation suddenly sprang forth. This “natural experiment” should be examined to learn from, possibly to emulate, in the Persian Gulf and elsewhere.

We’re now viewed as destroyers, and destruction is the retort. This is the “new Middle East” that is aborning—one of relentless violence—if we do not end our own relentless violence there. The would-be bombers in London are a reminder of how close it is.

--- John Tirman

8:28 PM  
Blogger Management said...

The Leak None Dared Call Treason

Tell A Friend

by Jpol

In the heat of silly season attacks from the right against The New York Times for its "exposure" of Bush administration surveillance of international banking transactions, the public and mainstream media have forgotten about another highly publicized leak just two years ago. That story, which also ran in the Times, dealt a serious blow to the fight against terror. It exposed a mole that had penetrated Al Qaeda, and it crippled a sting operation, allowing numerous subjects of investigation to escape. Some of those subjects may have participated in a major terrorist attack a year later. Unlike the bank records "revelations" of 2006, which were not really secret at all, the leak of 2004 jeopardized national security, and almost certainly cost lives. Yet the right wing Republican spin machine -- now calling for prosecutions under the Espionage Act, death in the gas chamber for Times' Managing Editor Bill Keller, and investigations of the media and of leakers in the name of "national security" -- were strangely silent in 2004. That leak, which occurred in the middle of a Presidential campaign, was clearly designed to advance a purely political agenda, and the leakers were unidentified sources within the George W. Bush administration.

The stage was set for this other leak in the early summer of 2004. The presidential campaign was heating up. The Democratic National Convention was just around the corner. And George W. Bush was sinking in the polls. His job approval ratings, which had been in the 80's and 90's just two years earlier in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, had fallen below 50% for the first time. The American public was even beginning to lose faith in the ability of the Bush Administration to protect it from terrorists. Most polls now showed more than 40% of Americans disapproved of Bush's handling of the war on terror. Significantly, a June 2004 ABC News/Washington Post poll even had John Kerry inching ahead of George W. Bush on the question of which one was better able to deal with terrorist threats, an issue where Bush had once held a formidable advantage.

The administration needed a break, and in June 0f 2004 it got one, or so it evidently thought. On June 12, 2004 Abu Mus'ab al Baluchi was arrested in Karachi, Pakistan. Baluchi was a nephew of alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, and he was said to be a terrorist "facilitator" who helped others move and plan their attacks. News of his capture was a closely kept secret.

Information provided by Baluchi led Pakistani investigators to Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani whom they captured on July 25, 2004 on the eve of the Democratic National Convention. Ghailani, an occupant of the FBI's "Most Wanted" list had a $5 million price on his head. He was suspected of involvement in the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in which 224 people had lost their lives.

Though Ghalani was apprehended July 25th, his capture was not made public until four days later on July 29th, when it was revealed amid much fanfare by Pakistani Interior Minister Faisal Saleh Hayat, in what The Washington Post described as "an unusual late-night announcement on Pakistan's Geo television network." The Post also noted that similar high-profile arrests of terrorist suspects were usually reported to the media "almost immediately." "What difference will it make if we do not rush to make a hasty unconfirmed claim?" the Post quoted Hayat as saying, adding that Hayat "said he saw no connection between the late announcement of Ghailani's arrest and the Democratic National Convention in the United States, where Sen. John F. Kerry of Massachusetts was about to accept his party's nomination for president." [Emphasis added]

Virtually no one in the mainstream media mentioned an article that had appeared in The New Republic ten days before on July 19th entitled "July Surprise?" by John B. Judis, Spencer Ackerman and Massoud Ansari, excerpted below:

...This spring, the administration significantly increased its pressure on Pakistan... to do more in the war on terrorism...

This public pressure would be appropriate, even laudable, had it not been accompanied by an unseemly private insistence that the Pakistanis deliver... high-value targets (HVTs) before Americans go to the polls in November... Introducing target dates for Al Qaeda captures is a new twist in U.S.-Pakistani counterterrorism relations--according to a recently departed intelligence official... official who works under [Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI)] director, Lieutenant General Ehsan ul-Haq, informed tnr that the Pakistanis "have been told at every level that apprehension or killing of HVTs before [the] election is [an] absolute must." What's more, this source claims that Bush administration officials have told their Pakistani counterparts they have a date in mind for announcing this achievement: "The last ten days of July deadline has been given repeatedly by visitors to Islamabad and during... meetings in Washington." ...according to this ISI official, a White House aide told ul-Haq last spring that "it would be best if the arrest or killing of [any] HVT were announced on twenty-six, twenty-seven, or twenty-eight July"--the first three days of the Democratic National Convention in Boston.[Emphasis added]

The announced arrest of Ghailani just hours before John Kerry's scheduled acceptance speech for the Democratic presidential nomination in Boston diverted public attention and considerable news coverage away from John Kerry and his acceptance speech. Two days later that was followed by the declaration of a new terror alert by then Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge. "We have no specific information that says an attack is imminent," Ridge declared in a 2pm press conference on Sunday, August 2nd. He announced that Al Qaeda operatives were preparing to bomb specific buildings in the financial districts of New York City, New Jersey, and Washington, D.C. The timing of the Ridge press conference and the heightened alerts would come under scrutiny only two days later when it was learned that the surveillance upon which the alerts was based had actually taken place three to four years earlier, prompting questions as to just why the U.S. government had suddenly perceived an imminent threat immediately following the official start of the presidential election campaign.


The day after Ridge's "revelations" regarding the financial districts "plot," The New York Times went to press with an Exclusive story: "THREATS AND RESPONSES: INTELLIGENCE; Captured Qaeda Figure Led Way To Information Behind Warning," excerpted below:

The unannounced capture of a figure from Al Qaeda in Pakistan several weeks ago led the Central Intelligence Agency to the rich lode of information that prompted the terror alert on Sunday, according to senior American officials.

The figure, Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan, was described by a Pakistani intelligence official as a 25-year-old computer engineer, arrested July 13, who had used and helped to operate a secret Qaeda communications system where information was transferred via coded messages.

A senior United States official would not confirm or deny that Mr. Khan had been the Qaeda figure whose capture led to the information. But the official said ''documentary evidence'' found after the capture had demonstrated in extraordinary detail that Qaeda members had for years conducted sophisticated and extensive reconnaissance of the financial institutions cited in the warnings on Sunday.

One senior American intelligence official said the information was more detailed and precise than any he had seen during his 24-year career in intelligence work. A second senior American official said it had provided a new window into the methods, content and distribution of Qaeda communications...

In fact, Khan was not the source of the financial district plot "intelligence" which had actually been gathered years earlier, nor was there any intelligence to indicate that an attack on New York area and Washington, D.C. financial centers was imminent. On this count the Times article contained some serious mis-information:

"The American officials said the new evidence had been obtained only after the capture of the Qaeda figure. Among other things, they said, it demonstrated that Qaeda plotters had begun casing the buildings in New York, Newark and Washington even before the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001."

While the Times article seemed to suggest that the original leak about Khan had come from a "Pakistani Intelligence official," that also was not the case. The mainstream media did some reporting on the back end of this story, but a major debt of gratitude is owed to Middle East authority Juan Cole, who closely monitored and chronicled events on his respected and widely read web site, Informed Comment as they unfolded.

Within a few days a different version of events began to emerge, like this one in The Washington Post on August 4th:

"Bush administration officials said the terror alert for financial sectors in Washington, New York and Newark was based in part on the contents of a laptop computer, disks and other materials seized during an arrest of an al Qaeda fugitive in Pakistan in late July showing that al Qaeda operatives had conducted detailed surveillance of the five buildings. U.S. officials did not make clear until Tuesday that the surveillance was conducted three to four years ago and that authorities were not sure whether it had continued [Emphasis added]."

It soon became abundantly clear that the outing of Khan in the New York Times had seriously damaged the national security of the United States, Great Britain, and Pakistan, among others. Juan Cole's report dated August 7, 2004:

Did the Bush Administration Burn a Key al-Qaeda Double Agent?

Simon Cameron-Moore and Peter Graff of Reuters reveal the explosive information that the Bush administration blew the cover Monday of double agent Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan. On Sunday August 1, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge announced a new alert against an al-Qaeda plot concerning financial institutions in New York and Washington, DC.

...Reuters alleges, "The New York Times published a story on Monday saying U.S. officials had disclosed that a man arrested secretly in Pakistan was the source of the bulk of information leading to the security alerts... The newspaper... did not say how it had learned his name. U.S. officials subsequently confirmed the name to other news organizations on Monday morning. None of the reports mentioned that Khan was working under cover at the time, helping to catch al Qaeda suspects."

...Reuters implies that once the Americans blew Khan's cover, the Pakistani ISI were willing to give [New York Times reporter David] Rohde more details in Karachi.

...Anyway, Khan had been secretly apprehended by Pakistani military intelligence in mid-July, and had been turned into a double agent. He was actively helping investigators penetrate further into al-Qaeda cells and activities via computer, and was still cooperating when the "senior Bush administration" figure told [New York Times reporter Douglas] Jehl about him.

Pakistani military intelligence... told Reuters,'"He sent encoded e-mails and received encoded replies. He's a great hacker and even the U.S. agents said he was a computer whiz... He was cooperating with interrogators on Sunday and Monday and sent e-mails on both days..."'

In other words, the Bush administration just blew the cover of one of the most important assets inside al-Qaeda that the US has ever had.

The announcement of Khan's name forced the British to arrest 12 members of an al-Qaeda cell prematurely, before they had finished gathering the necessary evidence against them via Khan. Apparently they feared that the cell members would scatter as soon as they saw that Khan had been compromised. (They would have known he was a double agent, since they got emails from him Sunday and Monday!) One of the twelve has already had to be released for lack of evidence, a further fall-out of the Bush SNAFU. It would be interesting to know if other cell members managed to flee.

Why in the world would Bush administration officials out a double agent working for Pakistan and the US against al-Qaeda? In a way, the motivation does not matter. If the Reuters story is true, this slip is a major screw-up that casts the gravest doubts on the competency of the administration to fight a war on terror. Either the motive was political calculation, or it was sheer stupidity...

On August 9th Juan Cole observed:

...Then on [August 6th], after Khan's name was revealed, government sources told CNN that counterterrorism officials had seen a drop in intercepted communications among suspected terrorists."

Read between the lines, and CNN is suggesting that the outing of Khan has led to greater caution in al-Qaeda and similar groups about using electronic communications, which may make it more difficult to monitor them.

And the Washington Post reported on August 13th:

According to a Post report attributed to a senior U.S. official, "Khan became part of a sting operation organized by the CIA after he was captured last month [July 13] and agreed to send coded e-mail messages to al Qaeda contacts around the world." That sting operation was blown instantly by the leak of Khan's name.

Meanwhile, Condoleeza Rice had acknowledged to CNN's Wolf Blitzer on August 8, 2004 that the source of the Khan leak was the Bush administration, not Pakistani intelligence officials:

BLITZER: He was disclosed in Washington on background.

RICE: On background. And the problem is that when you're trying to strike a balance between giving enough information to the public so that they know that you're dealing with a specific, credible, different kind of threat than you've dealt with in the past, you're always weighing that against kind of operational considerations. We've tried to strike a balance. We think for the most part, we've struck a balance, but it's indeed a very difficult balance to strike.

Apparently neither Pakistani nor British officials were comforted by the "balance" Condoleeza Rice found so comforting. Juan Cole, August 8, 2004:

It turns out that both the United Kingdom and Pakistan are extremely angry with Bush for going public with the details gleaned from the computers of Khan and Ghailani.

In an article for the Observer, British Home Secretary David Blunkett lashed out at the Bush White House over last Sunday's announcement by Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge of an old al-Qaeda plot against financial institutions in New York and Washington. Blunkett writes, is important to be able to distinguish if there is a meaningful contribution that helps to secure us from terrorism. And to understand if there isn't. And there are very good reasons why we shouldn't reveal certain information to the public...

Blunkett's measured tones barely disguise his fury at the Bush administration for having gone public with details that have endangered an ongoing British investigation and forced the premature arrest of twelve suspects, against whom it is not clear a case can be made at this point...

Pakistan's Interior Minister, Faisal Saleh Hayat, was also annoyed, according to Dawn:
Interior Minister Faisal Saleh Hayat, in an interview on Friday, drew a veil over Khan's contribution to the breakthroughs against Al Qaeda. "This is a very sensitive subject. We must be very careful, we must exercise extreme caution in coming out with such names and such information," the minister said.

On August 9th Juan Cole wrote about and commented upon further fallout from the outing of Khan:

Neville Dean of PA News reports that... "Reports last week also claimed that five al Qaida militants were on the run in the UK after escaping capture in last Tuesday's raids." If this is true, it is likely that the 5 went underground on hearing that Khan was in custody. That is, the loose lips of the Bush administration enabled them to flee arrest...

...One [of those being held], Abu Eisa al-Hindi, is a high al-Qaeda official also wanted by the US. Because Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan's identity was prematurely released, however, the British may not have enough evidence to extradite him. [note: to date al-Hindi apparently remains in British custody despite having been indicted in the United States -- Jpol] noted Monday morning:
"The effort by U.S. officials to justify raising the terror alert level last week may have shut down an important source of information that has already led to a series of al Qaeda arrests, Pakistani intelligence sources have said.

Until U.S. officials leaked the arrest of Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan to reporters, Pakistan had been using him in a sting operation to track down al Qaeda operatives around the world, the sources said...

The Boston Globe reported the following day:

...several senior intelligence officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, expressed dismay at the level of information that has been revealed to the media -- particularly the role that Khan's arrest has played.

''Most of the people I talk to are most shocked by some of the recent details being revealed about Al Qaeda," said one senior CIA analyst who works on terrorism issues.

On August 7, 2004 John Loftus, a former Justice Department prosecutor and a terrorism expert, told FOX News that "By exposing the only deep mole we've ever had within al-Qaeda, it ruined the chance to capture dozens if not hundreds more."

On September 16, 2004, more than seven weeks after Kahn's identity was leaked to The New York Times, then-Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, in London for consultation with British officials, publicly acknowledged that the U.S. had been responsible for the leak and apologized for it. He told reporters that the leaking of the intelligence about alleged terrorist suspects in London was "regrettable."


The story does not end here. Remember those alleged plans to attack financial centers in New York, Newark and Washington? It turns out that wasn't true either. Michael Isakoff and Mark Hosenball reported in on the real targets in Newsweek two weeks after the November 2004 election:

The latest analysis of evidence that led to last summer's Code Orange alert suggests that Al Qaeda operatives were plotting a "big bomb" attack against a major landmark in Britain-but had no active plans for strikes in the United States, U.S. intelligence sources tell NEWSWEEK.

The reassessment of Al Qaeda plans is the latest indication that much of the Bush administration's repeatedly voiced concerns about a pre-election attack inside the United States was based in part on an early misreading of crucial intelligence seized months ago in Pakistan.

The new view is that there was indeed an active Al Qaeda plot underway earlier this year-one that involved coded communications between high-level operatives in Pakistan and a British cell headed by a longtime associate of September 11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed.

The plot was aimed at setting off a large bomb at a prestigious economic or political target inside the United Kingdom-in effect to make a political statement against the British government...

Some U.S. law-enforcement officers based in London, NEWSWEEK has learned, have become extremely concerned about evidence regarding possible active Al Qaeda plots to attack targets in Britain. According to a U.S. government official, fears of terror attacks have prompted FBI agents based in the U.S. Embassy in London to avoid traveling on London's popular underground railway (or tube) system...[Emphasis added]

...The indications that plotters linked to a big election-season terror alert actually were actively planning to attack Britain rather than the United States is at least the second revelation which seems to partly undermine administration assertions that the U.S. homeland faced a heightened risk of attack during the presidential campaign.

Shortly before the election, administration officials quietly acknowledged that at least one informant who last winter had provided lurid intelligence about a possible pre-election attack in the U.S. had apparently fabricated his allegations. Yet given the importance that waging the war on terror had assumed during the presidential campaign, administration officials apparently were reluctant to announce a lowering of the Orange-alert threat until after the election...


Fast forward to July 7, 2005 when a series of suicide terrorist attacks upon the London public transportation system left 52 dead and hundreds injured. Were these the attacks being planned in 2004 when the U.S. government outed Khan? Did members of a terrorist cell who escaped following Khan's exposure go on to carry out their plans after all, a year later? ABC News reported on July 17, 2005:

...Officials tell ABC News the London bombers have been connected to an al Qaeda plot planned two years ago in the Pakistani city of Lahore.

The laptop computer of Naeem Noor Khan, a captured al Qaeda leader, contained plans for a coordinated series of attacks on the London subway system...

Security officials tell ABC News they have discovered links between the eldest of the London bombers, Mohammed Sadique Khan, 30, and the original group in Luton...

One of Khan's friends informed the BBC today that Khan had undergone training for explosives at terror camps in both Pakistan and Afghanistan. This piece of information only strengthened the London-Pakistani connection.

So there you have it. A politically inspired election-year leak from the Bush administration to The New York Times outed an Al Qaeda mole and disrupted an ongoing sting operation that had the potential of uncovering and leading to the capture of untold numbers of Al Qaeda terrorists. Instead many remained unidentified while others escaped. A year later scores died in London.

To those who are screaming for the head of Bill Keller for "exposing" a bank-records program that the Bush administration had been openly boasting about for years, I ask: Where was your outrage back in 2004 when a Bush administration leak to the very same New York Times placed all of us in jeopardy?

I've paid my rent through the years in ad sales management, but I've been extensively published in publications that include Rolling Stone, The Village Voice, New Times Magazine, The Washington Star, The New York Times Op-Ed page, The Realist, and in several book anthologies. My primary area of expertise is the JFK assassination. I am a front-page blogger at Booman Tribune and frequently cross-post at Daily Kos.

9:16 PM  

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