Tags: Al-Qaeda | 'Chatter' | Hits | All-Time | High

Al-Qaeda 'Chatter' Hits an All-Time High

Thursday, 14 November 2002 12:00 AM

"We have never seen this high level of the so-called 'chatter' by al-Qaeda guys," said one senior law enforcement source. "There's more of this stuff than we've ever seen before."

The confirmation of an increase in suspected al-Qaeda communications came just after U.S. intelligence officials said that a

Bin Laden was last heard from on radio intercepts in December 2001, as the U.S. military and its Afghan allies attacked the al-Qaeda stronghold at Tora Bora in Afghanistan.

Since that time several bin Laden messages have been released, but none seemed timely enough to prove that he lived through the assault, which included widespread bombings of caves he was suspected of hiding inside. But Tuesday's messages included references to recent terror attacks in Bali, Moscow and Jordan, convincing many that it was recorded in the past two weeks.

While officials say the more communications are being intercepted than ever before, it remains unclear whether such information is an accurate harbinger of future terrorist acts. And observers said that the U.S. intelligence community has yet to reform its collection and analysis techniques to adequately interpret such data.

This chatter is generally considered to be intercepts by the National Security Agency of telephones, wireless communications and e-mail by suspected al-Qaeda operatives or sympathizers. The NSA uses a variety of techniques to collect this information, including satellite intercepts and ground-based listening posts, according to experts.

"When they talk about chatter, they're talking about the volume of communications from suspected al-Qaeda sources, not the content," said James Bamford, an author who has extensively written about the NSA.

"Let's say the NSA is focusing on 150 known members of al-Qaeda and these guys on a Thursday have 45 to 50 communications between them. The suddenly on Friday they hear 150 to 200 messages. That's what happened right before Sept. 11 and before the anniversary."

"These guys talk in word code, or let's say they're talking in Arabic. They might have an Arabic linguist listening and suddenly the guys switch to Urdu or Pashto or Dari. Then we might have no idea what they're talking about until it can be translated."

Another expert with a background in intelligence issues said that in his view the U.S. intelligence community still has not adapted to the methods used by al-Qaeda and continue to use the tactics that failed to detect previous attacks.

"I haven't been impressed with the reforms," the source said. "From what my [former colleagues] tell me the effort has been disappointing. The reaction [to Sept. 11] has been 'Let's spend more money to do the same things we were doing before.' There has been no obvious change in the way they are organized or the way they do business."

The source also said that disinformation continues to be part of the al-Qaeda arsenal.

"They appear to be a reasonably sophisticated organization when it comes to such things," he said. "They clearly pay attention to the media. [During the Cold War] we were lucky that the Russians assumed that our media was as controlled as theirs was, so they assumed everything that was printed was disinformation. [Al-Qaeda] knows that isn't true, and they use the media to their advantage."

Bamford agrees that the interception of such communications have not always been a decent predictor of future action by the terrorist organization.

"It hasn't been very good," he said. "We didn't get such chatter warnings before the Bali bombing, the attack on the French tanker [off the coats of Yemen] or the killing of the American diplomat in Jordan. "They could be planning various operations that happen, or even ones that don't go through," he added.

"This could also just be a big spike of intelligence that among supporters at the news that [bin Laden] is still alive. This is a big deal to these guys as it's very embarrassing for U.S. intelligence that he's alive. He was the number one target in the world, right until they couldn't find him."

Copyright 2002 by United Press International.

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"We have never seen this high level of the so-called 'chatter' by al-Qaeda guys," said one senior law enforcement source. "There's more of this stuff than we've ever seen before." The confirmation of an increase in suspected al-Qaeda communications came just after U.S....
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Thursday, 14 November 2002 12:00 AM
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