Unmasking of Qaeda Mole a U.S. Security Blunder


Richard Moore


 Unmasking of Qaeda Mole a U.S. Security Blunder-Experts
 By Peter Graff

 Saturday 07 August 2004

London - 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

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.

"Holy Grail" od Intelligence Security experts contacted by
Reuters said they were shocked by the revelations that the
source whose information led to the alert was identified
within days, and that U.S. officials had confirmed his name.

"The whole thing smacks of either incompetence or worse," said
Tim Ripley, a security expert who writes for Jane's Defense
publications. "You have to ask: what are they doing
compromising a deep mole within al Qaeda, when it's so
difficult to get these guys in there in the first place?

"It goes against all the rules of counter-espionage,
counter-terrorism, running agents and so forth. It's not
exactly cloak and dagger undercover work if it's on the front
pages every time there's a development, is it?"

A source such as Khan - cooperating with the authorities while
staying in active contact with trusting al Qaeda agents -
would be among the most prized assets imaginable, he said.

"Running agents within a terrorist organization is the Holy
Grail of intelligence agencies. And to have it blown is a
major setback which negates months and years of work, which
may be difficult to recover."

Rolf Tophoven, head of the Institute for Terrorism Research
and Security Policy in Essen, Germany, said allowing Khan's
name to become public was "very unclever."

"If it is correct, then I would say its another debacle of the
American intelligence community. Maybe other serious sources
could have been detected or guys could have been captured in
the future" if Khan's identity had been protected, he said.

Britain, which has dealt with Irish bombing campaigns for
decades, has a policy of announcing security alerts only under
narrow circumstances, when authorities have specific advice
they can give the public to take action that will make them

Unnecessary Alarm Home Secretary David Blunkett, responsible
for Britain's anti-terrorism policy, said in a statement on
Friday there was "a difference between alerting the public to
a specific threat and alarming people unnecessarily by passing
on information indiscriminately."

Kevin Rosser, security expert at the London-based consultancy
Control Risks Group, said an inherent risk in public alerts is
that secret sources will be compromised.

"When these public announcements are made they have to be
supported with some evidence, and in addition to creating
public anxiety and fatigue you can risk revealing sources and
methods of sensitive operations," he said.

In the case of last week's U.S. alerts, officials said they
had ordered tighter security on a number of financial sites in
New York, Washington and New Jersey because Khan possessed
reports showing al Qaeda agents had studied the buildings.

Although the casing reports were mostly several years old,
U.S. officials said they acted urgently because of separate
intelligence suggesting an increased likelihood of attacks in
the runup to the presidential election in November.

U.S. officials now say Hindi, one of the suspects arrested
after Khan's name was compromised, may have been the head of
the team that cased those buildings.

But the Pakistani disclosure that Khan was under cover
suggests that the cell had been infiltrated, and was under
surveillance at the time Washington ordered the orange alert.

The security experts said that under such circumstances it
would be extraordinary to issue a public warning, because of
the risk of tipping off the cell that it had been compromised.


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Richard Moore (rkm)
Wexford, Ireland
    "...the Patriot Act followed 9-11 as smoothly as the
      suspension of the Weimar constitution followed the
      Reichstag fire."  
      - Srdja Trifkovic

    There is not a problem with the system.
    The system is the problem.

    Faith in ourselves - not gods, ideologies, leaders, or programs.
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