Joby Warrick reports in the Washington Post:
A small private intelligence company that monitors Islamic terrorist groups obtained a new Osama bin Laden video ahead of its official release last month, and around 10 a.m. on Sept. 7, it notified the Bush administration of its secret acquisition. It gave two senior officials access on the condition that the officials not reveal they had it until the al-Qaeda release.
Within 20 minutes, a range of intelligence agencies had begun downloading it from the companyâ€™s Web site. By midafternoon that day, the video and a transcript of its audio track had been leaked from within the Bush administration to cable television news and broadcast worldwide.
The founder of the company, the SITE Intelligence Group, says this premature disclosure tipped al-Qaeda to a security breach and destroyed a years-long surveillance operation that the company has used to intercept and pass along secret messages, videos and advance warnings of suicide bombings from the terrorist groupâ€™s communications network.
â€œTechniques that took years to develop are now ineffective and worthless,â€ said Rita Katz, the firmâ€™s 44-year-old founder, who has garnered wide attention by publicizing statements and videos from extremist chat rooms and Web sites, while attracting controversy over the secrecy of SITEâ€™s methodology. Her firm provides intelligence about terrorist groups to a wide range of paying clients, including private firms and military and intelligence agencies from the United States and several other countries.
The release of the Osama tape turned out to be even less significant than first thought. At the time, the tape clearly intended to coordinate the launch of at least three terrorist attacks in the second week of September. The effort was timed to coincide with September 11th, the sixth anniversary of 9/11. The leaks put the tapes out days earlier, and in the meantime, Western agencies had already rolled up the cells planning the attacks.
The US government insists that the leak did no real damage to their intel capabilities. However, the two independent reports, especially Lake’s, demonstrates at least a temporary setback in acccessing AQ’s Internet activities. If the reports are true, then SITE and the intel agencies will have to rediscover AQ’s network of servers, figure out how to hack back into the networks, and re-establish the identities of those who run them. That could take a very long time, and in the interim, we could be missing some vital information.
… the disclosure from ABC and later other news organizations tipped off Qaeda’s internal security division that the organization’s Internet communications system, known among American intelligence analysts as Obelisk, was compromised. …
… One intelligence officer who requested anonymity said in an interview last week that the intelligence community watched in real time the shutdown of the Obelisk system. America’s Obelisk watchers even saw the order to shut down the system delivered from Qaeda’s internal security to a team of technical workers in Malaysia. That was the last internal message America’s intelligence community saw. “We saw the whole thing shut down because of this leak,” the official said. “We lost an important keyhole into the enemy.”
No one is saying who leaked the video. But according to Warrick of WaPo, SITE founder Katz had decided to offer an advance copy of the video to the White House, free of charge, so that the Bushies would be prepared for its release. Katz spoke first to White House counsel Fred Fielding. At about 10 a.m. on September 7, Katz sent an email to Fielding and to Michael Leiter of the National Counterterrorism Center. The email contained a link to the video on a private SITE web page as well as an English translation of the video.
Exactly what happened next is unclear. But within minutes of Katz’s e-mail to the White House, government-registered computers began downloading the video from SITE’s server, according to a log of file transfers. The records show dozens of downloads over the next three hours from computers with addresses registered to defense and intelligence agencies.
By midafternoon, several television news networks reported obtaining copies of the transcript. A copy posted around 3 p.m. on Fox News’s Web site referred to SITE and included page markers identical to those used by the group. “This confirms that the U.S. government was responsible for the leak of this document,” Katz wrote in an e-mail to Leiter at 5 p.m.
Of course, it goes without saying that the outlet that the Bush administration leaked the video to was Fox News, ensuring that the publicâ€™s first impression of the video would be presented by an outlet that would attempt to tie bin Laden to the Democrats (VIDEO).
You don’t have to be a fly on the Oval Office wall to know what happened. September 7 was the Friday before General Petraeus’s testimony to Congress, and conventional wisdom of the moment was that nothing Petraeus would say would change anyone’s minds about the surge, one way or another. Clearly, the White House needed a propaganda tool to amp up the fear factor. And lo, Katz dropped just the thing right in the Bushies’ laps.
Al Qaeda was the main theme for the White House just then. The September 8 radio address was all about al Qaeda. September 11 was, of course, our annual Let’s Be Afraid of al Qaeda Day. On September 13 the President gave one of his rare prime-time addresses to the nation about how we have to stay in Iraq to achieve victory over al Qaeda.
You might ask, what does it profit us to fight al Qaeda in Iraq if we’re going to trash our own intelligence about al Qaeda? Oh, my dears, we must see the big picture. The big picture is not that we support the war to defeat al Qaeda; rather, we use al Qaeda to support the war. Keep it straight.
Update: Will Bunch writes,
In this case, in particular, Bush was clearly eager to use the bin Laden video — just hours after it was leaked to the media — to make political points on the issue that dominated the news that week, the run-up to the report by General David Petraeus, and Bush’s campaign for a long-term troop presence in Iraq. Check out how quickly Bush “seized” on the leaked bin Laden video on Sept. 9 of this year, at the Asian ecomomic summit in Sydney, Australia (from Agence France Presse, via Nexis):
On his final day here, he seized on a new video from terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden, who called for escalating the insurgency in Iraq, to argue that if the Al-Qaeda chief thinks Iraq is important, so should the US public.
“I find it interesting that on the tape, Iraq was mentioned, which is a reminder that Iraq is a part of this war against extremists,” Bush said after the release of the video, bin Laden’s first in three years.
In the tape the Al-Qaeda chief marks six years since the September 11, 2001 terrorist strikes on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon with a pledge “to continue to escalate the killing and fighting against you” in Iraq.
This is so wrong on so many levels it’s hard to know where to begin. As has been well-documented over the last couple months, Bush has shamelessly tried to seed confusion over the role of a newer group called al-Qaeda in Iraq — with no direct link to bin Laden, which didn’t exist in 2003 and would not have if the U.S. hadn’t invaded the country — while downplaying the true nature of the Iraq insurgency, which is largely homegrown or supported by our supposed ally, Saudi Arabia.
That blatant misleading of the American public is bad enough, but now that we learn in trying to salvage his failed Iraq policy and score a few cheap political points, the Bush White House was willing to casually undermine a successful spying operation against the terrorists who really did attack American soil. Some called it betrayal, even treason, when Bush aides outed an covert CIA operative, Valerie Plame, but at first blush it looks like this shameful ploy was 10 times worse — putting many more American lives at risk than just one undercover agent.
As you’ve probably noticed, there’s been a lot of debate about the meaning of the word “betrayal” lately. Let’s be clear what this is. The leak of the bin Laden video wasn’t carelessness. It was a betrayal, a betrayal by the president of the United States and his aides of the worst kind — for politics’ sake.
Update 2: This partisan hack at Newsbusters blames ABC for alerting al Qaeda to the leak in their communications system. I swear, there are days I think you could clear out the Ripley’s Believe It Or Not Museum and re-populate it with the Right Blogosphere, and no one would know the difference.
There’s plenty of milk still left in the old al-Qaeda cow. She’s gonna keep puttin” out til January 2009
Right Swami, but it’s MAGICAL milk, mountain grown, the richest kind.
There is a common thread in the propaganda, so obvious, but so politically deadly to mention.
This also shows how the administration is willing to jeopardized our ability to spy “within the laws” just to scare every one half to death or if it serves their purpose in other ways such as outing Valerie Plame.
Terrorism is all about fear for political gain. The Bush Administration is all about fear for political gain. The Bush Administration and al-Qaeda are each others best recruiting tools. Why would either want to get rid of the other?
Of course Bush is going to value political propaganda over the ability to see what al-Qaeda is doing. He needs a healthy and growing al-Qaeda to justify his administration’s policies. SITE jeopardizes that, so leak the video and sever the link. An easy decision for the decider.
It’s getting so you, Maha, are the first site I go to every day. Really appreciate your work, and your fine writing. Molly would be proud of you. Thanks again, felicity
Comment 4, Dave, and maha,
The big picture is not that we support the war to defeat al Qaeda; rather, we use al Qaeda to support the war. Keep it straight.
I’ve always thought this was true, but I never thought I’d see proof like this. Not only are BushCo criminals, but they’re stupid criminals.
It’s a shame that SITE didn’t think to distribute tagged copies, with unique identifiers hidden inside, (the way movie studios sometimes do with advance tapes) so that it would be possible to tell where the leak came from. I guess they didn’t realize they were dealing with people who have no compunction about burning intelligence assets for political gain. (Perhaps they were too busy monitoring al Qaeda to pay attention during the Libby trial.)
The White House is already blaming “the intelligence community”.
It would be amusing if, after having them point fingers, it could be proven the copy FOX got came from Dana Perino’s office.
Oh, well. Yet again, “the American people are safer.”
I see where the Supreme Court tossed out Khaled el-Masri’s bid for justice. It’s really a shame that the CIA can kidnap and torture someone by mistake and hide accountability for their illegal acts behind a mask of state secrets..the message to the world is that justice in America is a hollow concept. It’s not what we say..it’s what we do that gives justice it’s value. No thanks to a Supreme Court that is just as debased as the Bush administration.
Don’t forget about Justice Clarence..He doesn’t want to know about torture and kidnapping, but is always eager to hear a pornography case so he can “review” the evidence in the privacy of his dimly lit chambers. Naughty, naughty, Clarence!
Wotta mystery! I guarantee you, at the end of the day, the deeper meaning of this nonsensical story is nasty infighting between and among SITE (Rita Katz), IntelCenter (Ben Venzke), and their contacts in the Bush administration. The tapes are bogus anyway.
I have a slightly different take.
The tape we supposedly intercepted seemed to be a fake, with the transcript having OBL talking like a left wing blogger. Agreed the timing was to smooth the way for the General on 9/11.
Since we created the tape, and did not intercept it, it’s release did not jeapordize any intelligence assets.
So why do they want us to think we are now in the dark with AQ due to the tape? Perhaps just to scare us. The lights are out, we are in the dark, be scared. The sheep cry, “Daddy I am scared, protect me”.
Wouldn’t we want to keep secret the fact that we are in the dark?
Isn’t that intelligence we would not want AQ to have? Especially when we have pretty much announced that Homeland Security is going to be busy next week with Operation Vigilant Shield. This government is very good about keeping secrets, lest we forget, and when they do leak by mistake, they are pretty good about muzzling the MSM.
A more sinister theory ties all of the following together.
Summer: Chertoffs gut. Reports that AQ rebuilding and stronger than ever. Possible dirty bomb plot on west coast speculation.
Fall. AQ tape. AQ said to be trying to get WMD. Military won’t go along with Iran attack due to they are overextended. Nukes transported by mistake across country. Operation Vigilant Shield scheduled for October 15-20 which practices among other things, WMD (nuclear device, or dirty bomb) being used against Portland, and imposition of martial law (it’s on Northcoms website), intelligence community now is in the dark against AQ, Iran said to still be pursuing nukes.
Coming Next? Chertoff’s gut gets proved right, the attack traced to Irans nuclear materials (given to AQ), martial law imposed (no more elections for awhile), we attack Iran, retaliation by Russia/China starts a World War, draft reinstated, oil at 200 USD per barrel, dollar collapse, global depression hits, constitutional covention discards the old constitution which is said to be inadequate to keep us safe in todays world with terrorists and nukes, leading to the one world government with a Declaration of Interdependence. The new constitutions first President is appointed until elections can be held after the war, his name also happens to be named George.
The hyperbole above is not meant to be a prediction. But you must understand, there are people in this country who would love to see the above scenario play out, and they may be the same dudes who were behind the anthrax attacks and are still loose.
What would they not do to avoid Bill Clinton from being able to spill his seed in the White House again.
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Hey Mike, you’re taking this too seriously. You’re right about Valerie Plame, but the Osama tapes have nothing to do with intelligence. They have to do with “perception-management.”
Hey Mike, you’re right about Valerie Plame, but the Osama tapes have nothing to do with intelligence. They have to do with “perception-management.”