Al-Qaida Done In by Communications

Tuesday, 17 May 2011 11:21 AM

By Ronald Kessler

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Al-Qaida’s Achilles’ heel has turned out to be its need to communicate, intelligence officials tell Newsmax.

Analysts poring over the cache of material seized from Osama bin Laden’s compound are finding that to avoid detection, bin Laden would download his instructions to al-Qaida operatives to tiny flash memory computer drives. Couriers delivered the electronic material to others who would then transmit the messages by email or by other electronic means to the intended recipients.

“As effective as it was to bar any electronic communications from his compound, it still proved to be their vulnerability,” an intelligence official says. “If you want to be an organized group, you have to communicate. Bin Laden would draft an instruction in his compound, and couriers took it out on electronic media and then transmitted it in the form of an email or some other communication.”

While some recipients would question whether they had received a legitimate message from their leader, “They had no choice but to act on it,” an official says. “It ended up being their Achilles' heel.”

Now with the seized material, analysts from a range of intelligence agencies under the aegis of the CIA are able to trace messages back to specific individuals who will be placed under surveillance. “We have real leads, telephone numbers, and digital data that we can link up now to where we had some small piece of information from an intercept or human intelligence,” a counterterrorism official says. “Now we can link it back to bin Laden, and we are seeing the connections come together. We did not appreciate how effective the couriers were. They took out the information electronically and then put it online.”

As outlined in my story "Intelligence Officials: More Warnings of al-Qaida Terror Plots Coming," the FBI Laboratory has custody of the more than 100 items seized in the raid of bin Laden’s compound, and clues from this material will likely lead to warnings of more al-Qaida plots. Under the direction of the CIA, the FBI Laboratory provided copies to the CIA, National Security Agency, and other members of the intelligence community.

In the meantime, members of the intelligence community are breathing a collective sigh of relief on the news that President Obama has asked Robert S. Mueller III to stay on as FBI director for another two years, subject to congressional approval.

Specifically naming him, the Justice Department is drafting legislation to be introduced in Congress to extend his term for two years after his scheduled departure on Sept. 4.

Because of abuses by former FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, Congress in 1968 enacted a law requiring that future FBI directors be nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate. Their terms were limited to 10 years. Mueller is the first director to serve all 10 years of his term. He has served longer than any other FBI director except Hoover.

Mueller was said to be shocked that he had been asked to stay beyond the 10-year term. After considering it for several days, he agreed to continue. He has made it clear that if Congress chooses not to approve his extension, it will be fine with him. However, Mueller enjoys good relations with members of Congress, and approval of the extension is a foregone conclusion.

Within the FBI, some agents are unhappy because they had hoped that a new director would rescind Mueller’s policy of requiring supervisors in the field to transfer to headquarters after seven years or give up their supervisory status. As in any organization, some agents think first of their own well-being and second about the organization as a whole. But most agents look at the bigger picture and credit Mueller with the FBI’s success at rolling up plots and keeping the country safe since 9/11.

Every few months, the FBI announces new arrests of terrorists. In many cases, instead of waiting years to nail them with terrorism-related charges, the FBI will charge terrorists with lesser crimes that put them away for years or result in deportations.

Within the intelligence community, Mueller is credited with turning the FBI into a national security agency that combines the best features of an intelligence agency and a law enforcement agency. Given the need to analyze data from the bin Laden raid and to avoid an attack on the 10th anniversary of 9/11, those in the intelligence community and FBI agents in general see the extension of Mueller’s term as important to the country’s security.

Editor's Note: Get Ronald Kessler's new book, “The Secrets of the FBI,” to be published Aug. 2 . Click Here Now.

Ronald Kessler is chief Washington correspondent of Newsmax.com. View his previous reports and get his dispatches sent to you free via e-mail. Go here now. 

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