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Intelligence Fiasco

When New York Times reporters Richard Stevenson and Douglas Jehl published the name of captured al-Qaida operative Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan last weekend they were outing an someone who was cooperating with Pakistani authorities. Rueters has the story.

LONDON (Reuters) - The revelation that a mole within al Qaeda was exposed after Washington launched its "orange alert" this month has shocked security experts, who say the outing of the source may have set back the war on terror.

Reuters learned from Pakistani intelligence sources on Friday that computer expert Mohammad Naeem Noor Khan, arrested secretly in July, was working under cover to help the authorities track down al Qaeda militants in Britain and the United States when his name appeared in U.S. newspapers.

"After his capture he admitted being an al Qaeda member and agreed to send e-mails to his contacts," a Pakistani intelligence source 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."

Last Sunday, U.S. officials told reporters that someone held secretly by Pakistan was the source of the bulk of the information justifying the alert. The New York Times obtained Khan's name independently, and U.S. officials confirmed it when it appeared in the paper the next morning.

None of those reports mentioned at the time that Khan had been under cover helping the authorities catch al Qaeda suspects, and that his value in that regard was destroyed by making his name public.

A day later, Britain hastily rounded up terrorism suspects, some of whom are believed to have been in contact with Khan while he was under cover. Washington has portrayed those arrests as a major success, saying one of the suspects, named Abu Musa al-Hindi or Abu Eissa al-Hindi, was a senior al Qaeda figure.

But British police have acknowledged the raids were carried out in a rush. Suspects were dragged out of shops in daylight and caught in a high speed car chase, instead of the usual procedure of catching them at home in the early morning while they can offer less resistance.

And it all started with the suspicion the that terror alert was politically motivated.

Reuters quotes a bunch of security experts as to how this is a serious blow to intelligence gathering, and it sure does look like a serious error. What remains to be seen is whether Kahn's shelf life had already run out prior to his outing. I suspect that is actually the case...

Update: Howard Dean (and by extension John Kerry) owe you an apology for questioning the timing of the original alert. The Bush administration owes you an explanation of why this isn't a botched operation - despite the successes. Newsweek reports on the pre-election terror plots.


Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Intelligence Fiasco:

» InTheBullpen.com linked with Outing of Kahn

» The Galvin Opinion linked with NO THANKS TO HOWARD DEAN & KEVIN DRUM

Comments (7)

My BS detector is twitchy..... (Below threshold)

My BS detector is twitchy... There is something wrong with that reuters story. If I'm right, you heard it here first.

Kevin, I hope you're not ho... (Below threshold)

Kevin, I hope you're not holding your breath for that apology? Are you? Are you? Kevin - are you ok over there??

There's a lot that's strang... (Below threshold)

There's a lot that's strange about this whole story. My BS meter is twitching too. I can't quite put my finger on what feels wrong... not just with the Reuter's story.

I had thought that this lea... (Below threshold)

I had thought that this leak originated in Pakistan, and posted accordingly. Unfortunately, the evidence is mounting that somebody in the Bush Administration was the original source for the leak of Khan's name. This does not excuse the New York Times, but the Times' culpability does not excuse the Bush Administration. The only circumstances under which the Bush White House might be excused is if the Times reporters burned their source by publishing the name notwithstanding the ground rules of their interview. Even so, what the hell are they doing giving a name to a reporter? Just say that you have a guy on the inside, and leave it at that. Sure, there's a lot of political pressure coming from the press and the left, but if you want to play hardball you had to know when to keep your mouth shut even if you want to talk.

Having spent 20 years in th... (Below threshold)

Having spent 20 years in the cryptology wing of the intelligence community, I'm very uncomfortable with how much is being revealed about intelligence sources and methods. It's bad enough when the source is technical (signals intelligence, satellites, etc.). When the source is a person, it's hard enough to justify taking overt action in response to the information, much less talk about how (and certainly who!) the intelligence was obtained.

The Bush administration needs to get back to doing the right thing, and not trying to find the best way to do things in a political light. If you lose an election because you did your job right — well, there are worse things that could happen.

First of all, the journalis... (Below threshold)

First of all, the journalist had to have gotten the name from somewhere; so whoever gave the name should be the focus of this story. If the journalists were told not to report the name (but why woud you give it if it was so important?), then you would have a story. But here you are blaming the journalists for doing their job.

But anything to distract from Bush's failures.

I agree it is important to ... (Below threshold)

I agree it is important to know who gave the name. But we also should know what circumstances that name was given. Journalists receive plenty of privileged information and publish only part of it. We don't know what the conversation was between the source and the journalist.

And I cannot believe that the journalist & his editors failed to understand the important of secrecy in this case. Like it or not, the media is part of this story now.






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