Bush admin may be responsible for botching effort to thwart London bombing

BUMP: Forgive me bumping this story that I posted last night. I feel it’s that important, and we’ve been posting so much because of the Rove story, I don’t want it to get lost. Thanks, JOHN
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ABC News just reported that the British authorities say they have evidence that the London attacks last week were an operation planned by Al Qaeda for the last two years. This was an operation the Brits thought they caught and stopped in time, but they were wrong. The piece of the puzzle ABC missed is that this is an operation the Bush administration helped botch last year.

I.e., last year Bush botched the effort to thwart the London subway attacks.

1. The London bombers, per ABC, are connected to an Al Qaeda plot planned two years ago in Lahore, Pakistan.

2. Pakistani authorities recovered the laptop of a captured Al Qaeda leader, Mohammed Naeem Noor Khan, on July 13, 2004. On that laptop, they found plans for a coordinated series of attacks on the London subway. According to an expert interviewed by ABC, “there is absolutely no doubt that Khan was part of a worldwide Al Qaeda operation, not just in the United States but also in Great Britain and throughout the west.”

Also important, but not reported by ABC this evening, after his arrest Khan started working for our side – sending emails to his other Al Qaeda buddies, working as our mole.

3. ABC reports that names in Khan’s computer matched a suspected cell of British citizens of Pakistani decent, many of who lived near the town of Luton, England – Luton is the same town where, not coincidentally, last week’s London bombing terrorists began their day. According to ABC, authorities thought they had stopped the subway plot with the arrest of more than a dozen people last year associated with Khan. Obviously, they hadn’t.

4. Those arrests were the arrests that the Bush administration botched by announcing a heightened security alert the week of the Democratic Convention. The alert was raised because of information found on Khan’s computer (this is in the public record already, see below). In its effort to either prove that the alert was serious, or to try and scare people during the Dem Convention, the administration gave the press too much information about WHY they raised the alert. This put the media on the trail of Khan – they found him, and they published his name.

Because the US let the cat out of the bag, the media got a hold of Khan’s name and published the fact that he had been captured – his Al Qaeda contacts thus found out their “buddy” was actually a mole, and they fled. Our sole source inside Al Qaeda was destroyed. As a result, the Brits had to have a high speed chase to catch some of Khan’s Al Qaeda associates as they fled, and, according to press reports, the Brits and Pakistanis both fear that some slipped away.

Again, these were guys connected to the plot to blow up the London subway last week. Some may have escaped because of Bush administration negligence involving a leak. And in fact, ABC News’ terrorism consultant says the group that bombed London was likely activated just after the arrests:

“It is very likely this group was activated last year after the other group was arrested,” Debat said.

MORE DETAIL

The NYT reported on August 17, 2004 that Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge announced on August 1, 2004 that we had information about an “unusually specific” threat against “the New York Stock Exchange and Citigroup in Manhattan, Prudential’s headquarters in Newark and the headquarters buildings of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank in Washington.”

We now know that this threat info came from Mr. Khan’s computer that we got our hands on only weeks before. As a result of the heightened security alert, the media dug into the story to find out what the heightened alert was based on, and they got a hold of Mr. Khan’s name and made it public.

The Americans say it was Pakistani officials who leaked Khan’s name. Pakistan says it was the Americans. But as Juan Cole notes:

had Ridge not made his announcement, the press would have had no occasion to go searching for the source of his information. The Bush administration decision to go public put a powerful spotlight on the Pakistani arrests of June and July…. The Bush administration at the very least bears indirect responsibility for the outing of Khan. Without the Ridge announcement, reporters would have had no incentive to seek out the name of the source of the information.

Now, why did it matter if Khan’s name went public?

That was important because Khan was remaining in touch with his Al Qaeda contacts AFTER his arrest – he was our mole – and the authorities were thus tracking INSIDE Al Qaeda. Once the American official made the info about Khan’s arrest public, our mole inside the cell was blown, and the British police, caught off guard, had to make a high speed chase, literally, to catch Khan’s contacts before they fled. THAT’S the raid that ABC is talking about. And it’s that raid that – guess what? – didn’t catch everybody who was plotting to blow up London last week. That’s the raid that got botched.

And I quote from the Associated Press, August 10, 2004:

The disclosure to reporters of the arrest of an al-Qaida computer expert jeopardized Pakistani efforts to capture more members of Osama bin Laden’s terrorist network, government and security officials said Tuesday.

Two senior Pakistani officials said initial reports in “Western media” last week of the capture of Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan had enabled other al-Qaida suspects to get away, but declined to say whether U.S. officials were to blame for the leak.

“Let me say that this intelligence leak jeopardized our plan and some al-Qaida suspects ran away,” one of the officials said on condition of anonymity….

But the Pakistani officials said that after Khan’s arrest, other al-Qaida suspects had abruptly changed their hide-outs and moved to unknown places.

The first official described the initial publication of the news of Khan’s arrest as “very disturbing.”

“We have checked. No Pakistani official made this intelligence leak,” he said.

Without naming any country, he said it was the responsibility of “coalition partners” to examine how a foreign journalist was able to have an access to the “classified information” about Khan’s arrest. (NOTE: In this story, it quotes Condi Rice saying the Americans leaked the name – she later retracted that assertion.)

And this from CNN.com, August 9, 2004:

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.

In background briefings with journalists last week, unnamed U.S. government officials said it was the capture of Khan that provided the information that led Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge to announce a higher terror alert level….

Law enforcement sources said some of the intelligence gleaned from the arrests of Khan and others gave phone number
s and e-mail addresses that the FBI and other agencies were using to try to track down any al Qaeda operatives in the United States.

Then on Friday, after Khan’s name was revealed, government sources told CNN that counterterrorism officials had seen a drop in intercepted communications among suspected terrorists….

One senator told CNN that U.S. officials should have kept Khan’s role quiet.

“You always want to know the evidence,” said Sen. George Allen.

“In this situation, in my view, they should have kept their mouth shut and just said, ‘We have information, trust us.’ “….

“The Pakistani interior minister, Faisal Hayat, as well as the British home secretary, David Blunkett, have expressed displeasure in fairly severe terms that Khan’s name was released, because they were trying to track down other contacts of his,” Schumer told CNN.

And this from the NY Daily News, August 7, 2004:

A captured Al Qaeda computer whiz was E-mailing his comrades as part of a sting operation to nab other top terrorists when U.S. officials blew his cover, sources said yesterday.

Within hours of Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan’s name being publicized Monday, British police launched lightning raids that netted a dozen suspected Al Qaeda terrorists, including one who was nabbed after a high-speed car chase….

Now British and Pakistani intelligence officials are furious with the Americans for unmasking their super spy – apparently to justify the orange alert – and for naming the other captured terrorist suspects.

Pakistani Interior Minister Faisal Saleh Hayyat expressed dismay the trap they had hoped would lead to the capture of other top Al Qaeda leaders, possibly even Osama Bin Laden, was sprung too soon.

“The network is still not finished,” Hayyat said. It “remains a potent threat to Pakistan, and to civilized humanity.”

“It makes our job harder,” a British security source said. British officials denied press reports yesterday that several suspects were able to escape the net….

“His arrest was kept secret and he was made to remain in touch with his contacts,” a Pakistani government official told The Times of London. “During his detention, he regularly communicated through E-mail with the Al Qaeda operatives in Britain and other countries. That helped us to identify them.”

And this from the Washington Times:

The Times quoted one unidentified “senior (police) commander” as saying Scotland Yard and MI5 had not expected the American announcements and had to move up the arrests, which were “part of a pre-planned, ongoing intelligence-led operation.”

And this from Juan Cole, who tracked this story last year:

…had Ridge not made his announcement, the press would have had no occasion to go searching for the source of his information. The Bush administration decision to go public put a powerful spotlight on the Pakistani arrests of June and July…. The Bush administration at the very least bears indirect responsibility for the outing of Khan. Without the Ridge announcement, reporters would have had no incentive to seek out the name of the source of the information…. The appearance of Khan’s name in the New York Times on August 2 caused the British to have to swoop down on the London al-Qaeda cell to which he was speaking. As it was, 5 of them heard about Khan’s arrest and immediately fled. The British got 13, but it was early in their investigation and they had to let 5 go or charge them with minor offences

And this from IPS-Inter Press Service, August 9, 2004:

“By exposing the only deep mole we’ve ever had within al-Qaeda, it ruined the chance to capture dozens if not hundreds more,” a former Justice Department prosecutor, John Loftus, told Fox News on Saturday.


Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Instagram | Google+ | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. .

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