Tuesday, October 09, 2007

ABC Leak Costs Us Valuable Intelligence Asset 
This hurts.

UPDATE: But read this from My Pet Jawa

Al Qaeda's Internet communications system has suddenly gone dark to American intelligence after the leak of Osama bin Laden's September 11 speech inadvertently disclosed the fact that we had penetrated the enemy's system.

The intelligence blunder started with what appeared at the time as an American intelligence victory, namely that the federal government had intercepted, a full four days before it was to be aired, a video of Osama bin Laden's first appearance in three years in a video address marking the sixth anniversary of the attacks of September 11, 2001. On the morning of September 7, the Web site of ABC News posted excerpts from the speech.

But 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. This network of Web sites serves not only as the distribution system for the videos produced by Al Qaeda's production company, As-Sahab, but also as the equivalent of a corporate intranet, dealing with such mundane matters as expense reporting and clerical memos to mid- and lower-level Qaeda operatives throughout the world.

The article implies that the leak came from within the government, but I don't think that's neccessarily the case. ABC could have obtained the video on their own.

Information that seems mundane to an ill-informed journalist is frequently invaluable to the intelligence analyst. Expense reports are huge. You can combine knowledge of bank transfers of amount X in such a country on such a date with data mining transfer records to produce a list of suspects. Cross reference that with other data, such as arrest records, passport records, etc., and phone records and you can begin to build a picture.

We may have lost a big chunk of that.

We also lost a big chunk of the "chatter" that we've used to uncover seventeen of the last five Al Qaeda attacks.

Federal Law makes it a crime to possess or publish classified signal information. I'm not holding my breath for a prosecution. Families of future victims of terror could go after ABC for contributory negligence, though, using the fact that ABC seems to have violated the law to bolster their case.

Thank God ABC wasn't hanging around the Pacific Fleet right before the Battle of Midway.

Actually, I remember reading that one of the Chicago papers did report after the battle that the US had achieved the victory through information gained by "code breaking". I remember reading some discussion of the fact that the FDR administration decided not to prosecute the paper in order to avoid confirming the story.
We may have lost a big chunk of that.


But then again, al Queda has temporarily lost their internet network. And they're probably going to be conducting a mole hunt, to find out who let us into their system in first place. And in trying to re-establish that network, we may find another way in while they're futzing around.

At least I hope our cyber guys are trying to squeeze some blood from this particular turnip. Otherwise, yeah, this pretty much sucks.

And at least our enemies aren't smart enough to use a disinformation pipe when they have one handed to them. They could have left Obelisk in place, and fed us any line of bullcrap they wanted. Eventually, we would have figured it out, but they had a window of opportunity.
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