Your Neighbor, the Terrorist

'Sleepers,' Fresh Targets, and the Taliban's Favorite Charities

Documents seized in Colorado reportedly revealed the group was doing surveillance on various targets including Colorado gas, electric, and hydroelectric projects, along with National Guard armories, police stations, communications control sites, and airports [see "The Next Attack? sidebar]. Fuqra attacks during the 1980s included assassinations and fire bombings across the U.S. Fuqra members in the U.S. have been linked to murder and fraud.

It goes without saying that numerous individuals associated with these groups look for spiritual guidance from Sheik Umar Abdel-Rahman, jailed for life for his role in the first World Trade Center bombing. The blind sheik has ties with Egypt's once large Islamic Group. It's best known for its efforts to kill Egyptian president Hosny Mubarak and successfully murdering tourists at Luxor. According to the State Department, IG has operations in Great Britain, but not the U.S. It has ties to Bin Laden as well.


Law enforcement thinks that many members of the September 11 hijack team were "sleepers"—operatives sent some years ago to blend into American society. Sleepers are a big problem and can only really be stopped by penetrating their command structure. British efforts to find sleepers among the IRA offer an example of just how difficult it can be to ferret out such individuals. Over the last 20 years, the IRA sent secret agents to live in England. On call, these individuals drove trucks full of explosives into the London financial district and set off other spectacu-lar attacks. Eventually, British intelligence managed to break into the IRA command structure, found the sleepers, and put an end to their operations. With their sleepers gone, the IRA had to assemble big bombs in territory they control near the Northern Ireland border with Ireland, and ship them to England for detonation.

The September 11 attacks on New York and Washington underlined just how weak our intelligence services are. Shortly after the attack, Le Monde reported a meeting between French and U.S. intelligence: "The first lapse has to do with the processing of intelligence items that come out of Europe. According to our information, French and American officials did in fact hold important meetings in Paris from the 5th to the 6th of September, that is, a few days prior to the attacks. Those sessions brought representatives of the American Special Services together with officers of the DST (Directorate of Territorial Security) and military personnel from the DGSE (General Overseas Security Administration).

"Their discussions turned to some of the serious threats made against American interests in Europe, specifically the one targeting the U.S. Embassy in Paris. During these talks, the DST directed the American visitors' attention to a Moroccan-born Frenchman who had been detained in the United States since August 17 and who was considered to be a key [high-level] Islamic fundamentalist. But the American delegation, preoccupied above all with questions of administrative procedure, paid no attention to this 'first alarm,' basically concluding that they were going to take no one's advice, and that an attack on American soil was inconceivable. It took September 11th for the FBI to show any real interest in this man, who we now know attended two aviation training schools, as did at least seven of the kamikaze terrorists."


Originally it was thought the terrorists had cleverly encoded their communiqués by hiding them within porn sites on the Web, but FBI assistant director Ron Dick, head of the U.S. National Infrastructure Protection Center, said they in fact had just used the open Internet where anyone could have read their messages—if they knew where to look. Some 35 to 40 open messages, sent from libraries or personal computers in Arabic and English, were sent within the U.S. and abroad.

Brian Gladman, former chief of electronic security at the British Ministry of Defense and for NATO, told The Guardian last week that the National Security Administration's problem is that the "the volume of communications is killing them. They just can't keep up. It's not about encryption."

And that's not the only trouble at the CIA. According to a new report by the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, "Written materials can sit for months, and sometimes years, before a linguist with proper security clearances and skills can begin a translation. Intelligence officers overseas often cannot contact and recruit key potential sources because they do not possess the requisite language skills."

The committee argues that the intelligence agencies must undertake drastic changes to remedy the mess and doubts that the Bush reviews of intelligence now under way will result in substantive changes.


Sidebar: "The Next Attack?"


Additional reporting: Ariston-Lizabeth Anderson, Sarah Park, Curtis Lang. Translation: Arlette Lurie.

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