Did American actions help Al Qaeda strike in London?
From Pakistan's Daily Times (via DailyKos):
"On 2 August, the Bush administration blew the cover of double agent Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan. A day earlier, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge had announced a new alert against an Al Qaeda plan to attack financial institutions in New York and Washington. When the New York Times pressed certain administration officials for more information, they disclosed to the newspaper that the information regarding the Al Qaeda plot had come from a recently arrested man in Pakistan named "Khan." The New York Times published his name on Monday. The later editions spelt out the full name.
Prof. Juan Cole of the University of Michigan's analysis is more daring, "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 12 has already had to be released for lack of evidence, a further fallout of the Bush SNAFU (situation normal all fouled up). 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?"
US Senator Charles E. Schumer asks:
"Last Sunday, one or more senior American officials leaked details of the capture of Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan, the 25-year-old Al Qaeda computer engineer, to the news media. Mr. Khan had been providing invaluable information to our allies, because he continued to maintain contact with Al Qaeda operatives even after his capture by our allies.
According to several media reports, British and Pakistani intelligence officials are furious that the Administration unmasked Mr. Khan and named other captured terrorist suspects. Yesterday’s editions of the Daily News in New York reported Pakistani Interior Minister Faisal Saleh Hayyat is dismayed that the trap they 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. The Daily News also quoted a British security source saying this development "makes our job harder," and Reuters quoted British Home Secretary David Blunkett saying that there is ''a difference between alerting the public to a specific threat and alarming people unnecessarily by passing on information indiscriminately.''
and Professor Juan Cole finishes up:
"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. They don't deserve to be in power either way.
Reuters quotes British security expert Kevin Rosser speculating what might have been the political calculation if that was the motivation. He
' said such a disclosure was a risk that came with staging public alerts, but that authorities were meant to take special care not to ruin ongoing operations. "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. '
So one scenario goes like this. Bush gets the reports that Eisa al-Hindi had been casing the financial institutions, and there was an update as recently as January 2004 in the al-Qaeda file. So this could be a live operation. If Bush doesn't announce it, and al-Qaeda did strike the institutions, then the fact that he knew of the plot beforehand would sink him if it came out (and it would) before the election. So he has to announce the plot. But if he announces it, people are going to suspect that he is wagging the dog and trying to shore up his popularity by playing the terrorism card. So he has to be able to give a credible account of how he got the information. So when the press is skeptical and critical, he decides to give up Khan so as to strengthen his case. In this scenario, he or someone in his immediate circle decides that a mere double agent inside al-Qaeda can be sacrificed if it helps Bush get reelected in the short term.
On the other hand, sheer stupidity cannot be underestimated as an explanatory device in Washington politics."