Mid-East Realitieswww.middleeast.org

If you don't get MER, you just don't get it!
(202) 362-5266 - 3 August 2004 - MER@MiddleEast.Org
News, Views, & Analysis Governments, Lobbies, & the
Corporate Media Don't Want You To Know
The most honest, most comprehensive, and most mobilizing news and analysis
on the Middle East always comes from MER. It is indispensable!"
Robert Silverman - Salamanca, Spain
MER is Free
Washington Scene:

BUSH DESPERATION
'SECURITY' PROPS IN THE ELECTION WAR
TAKE TO THE STREETS


"Intelligence officials said...they had not yet found concrete
evidence that a terrorist plot
or preparatory surveillance
operations were still under way." - NYT

"Most, if not all, of the information about the buildings seized
by authorities in a raid in Pakistan last week was about three
years old, and possibly older." - WP

"There is nothing right now that we're hearing that is new...
Why did we go to this level? . . . I still don't know that." - WP


Mid-East Realities - MER - www.MiddleEast.Org - 3 August 2004:

There is a desperation in the quarters of the neocons and in the circles of President Bush and Vice-President Cheney. Staying in power is not just a mantra for them, it is an ideology, a crusade. American politics is now a blood sport, all consuming in its ferocity even as the climax of this decisive political year lies still months ahead.

Homeland Security Chief Tom Ridge rushed to the TV screens at 2pm Sunday as if he has just found out something and time was of the essence. It now appears this was done so that President Bush could follow on Monday in the White House Rose Garden with all hsi top macho-men big-players flanking him on both sides.

As a result, large numbers of 'security forces' dressed to kill in paramilitary uniforms with big guns took to the streets in New York and Washington and are there to stay, say those in charge, 'as long as it takes'. Bush and his are in fact using all this fear, and all these images, as props in their own campaign to retain power. And no doubt much more is to come including a possible last-ditch assault on Osama Bin Laden in his likely Pakistani 'frontier-territories' hiding places before the ballots are cast on 2 November.

Both the New York Times and the Washington Post have lead stories on page 1 today strongly suggesting the political motives and timing behind what is happening, but not quite saying so. Instead the stories focus on the fact that most of the information claimed to be so new and desperate is actually years old and that there is no evidence at all -- repeat, no evidence at all -- or any current ongoing plot or plan of any kind. That doesn't of course mean there is none, but what it does strongly suggest is that all the highly public TV appearances and para-military displays on the streets have timing and motives far more in politics than in real 'security'.


Pre-9/11 Acts Led To Alerts
By Dan Eggen and Dana Priest

Washington Post, 3 August, Page 1: Most of the al Qaeda surveillance of five financial institutions that led to a new terrorism alert Sunday was conducted before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and authorities are not sure whether the casing of the buildings has continued, numerous intelligence and law enforcement officials said yesterday.

More than half a dozen government officials interviewed yesterday, who declined to be identified because classified information is involved, said that most, if not all, of the information about the buildings seized by authorities in a raid in Pakistan last week was about three years old, and possibly older.

"There is nothing right now that we're hearing that is new," said one senior law enforcement official who was briefed on the alert. "Why did we go to this level? . . . I still don't know that."

One piece of information on one building, which intelligence officials would not name, appears to have been updated in a computer file as late as January 2004, according to a senior intelligence official. But officials could not say yesterday whether that piece of data was the result of active surveillance by al Qaeda or came instead from information about the buildings that is publicly available.

Many administration officials stressed yesterday that even three-year-old intelligence, when coupled with other information about al Qaeda's plans to attack the United States, justified the massive security response in the three cities. Police and other security teams have been assigned to provide extra protection for the surveilled buildings, identified as the International Monetary Fund and World Bank headquarters in Washington; the New York Stock Exchange and Citigroup Center in New York; and the Prudential Financial building in Newark.

Intelligence officials said that the remarkably detailed information about the surveillance -- which included logs of pedestrian traffic and notes on the types of explosives that might work best against each target -- was evaluated in light of general intelligence reports received this summer indicating that al Qaeda hopes to strike a U.S. target before the November presidential elections.

Several officials also said that much of the information compiled by terrorist operatives about the buildings in Washington, New York and Newark was obtained through the Internet or other "open sources" available to the general public, including some floor plans.

The characterization of the age of the intelligence yesterday cast a new light on Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge's announcement Sunday that the terrorism threat alert for the financial services sectors in the three cities had been raised. Ridge and other officials stressed Sunday the urgency of acting on the newly obtained information, but yesterday a range of officials made clear how dated much of the intelligence was.

One senior intelligence official said the information is still being evaluated.

A number of other buildings were mentioned in the seized computer files, but only in vague references, so officials decided not to issue alerts about them, an intelligence official said. They included the Bank of America building in San Francisco; the Nasdaq and American Stock Exchange buildings in New York, as well as two other sites in that city; and an undisclosed building in Washington and another in New Jersey.

"We chose not to release it because we decided they weren't anywhere near the same level of danger as the others," the official said.

President Bush and Vice President Cheney said in separate appearances yesterday that the new alert underscores the continuing threat posed by al Qaeda. At a news conference announcing his proposed intelligence reforms, Bush said the alert shows "there's an enemy which hates what we stand for."

"It's serious business," Bush said. "I mean, we wouldn't be, you know, contacting authorities at the local level unless something was real."

Employees at announced targets in New York and New Jersey arrived at work yesterday with a mix of defiance and jitters. Some said they wanted to send a message that terrorists could not deter them from living their lives as usual. Others were visibly shaken by the presence of heavily armed police officers and new barricades.

At the New York Stock Exchange, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg rang the opening bell. Exchange chief executive John A. Thain and Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) greeted arriving workers. "I wouldn't be surprised if attendance weren't higher today," Schumer said. "We are winning the war of nerves."

Much of the information about the targeted buildings is contained on a laptop computer and computer disks recovered during recent raids in Pakistan. A senior intelligence official said the cache also includes about 500 photographs, diagrams and drawings, some of them digital.

Two senior intelligence officials who briefed reporters on Sunday said the material showed al Qaeda operatives had cased the buildings both before and after the Sept. 11 attacks.

"I think the indications are that this has been a very longstanding effort on the part of al Qaeda," one official said Sunday, "that it dates from before 9/11, it continued after 9/11 and based on what it is that we are concerned about, we know about in terms of al Qaeda's plans and intentions that it probably continues even today."

Speaking about the five buildings, one official said, "I believe that since 9/11 they have been able to acquire additional information on these targets here in the United States, yes, I do."

Numerous officials said yesterday, however, that most of the information was compiled prior to the Sept. 11 attacks and that there are serious doubts about the age of other, undated files. One senior counterterrorism official said many of the documents include dates prior to Sept. 11, 2001, but there are no dates after that.

"Most of the information is very dated but you clearly have targets with enough specificity, and that pushed it over the edge," the counterterrorism official said. "You've got the Republican convention coming up, the Olympics, the elections. . . . I think there was a feeling that we should err on the side of caution even if it's not clear that anything is new."

One federal law enforcement source said his understanding from reviewing the reports was that the material predated Sept. 11 and included photos that can be obtained from brochures and some actual snapshots. There also were some interior diagrams that appear to be publicly available.

Other officials also stressed that, however long ago al Qaeda operatives compiled the surveillance details, the information was new to U.S. intelligence agencies and was almost unprecedented in the depth of its details. "All this stuff was fresh to us," one official said.

At the CIA's daily 5 p.m. counterterrorism meeting Thursday, the first information about the detailed al Qaeda surveillance of the five financial buildings was discussed among senior CIA, FBI and military officials. They decided to launch a number of worldwide operations, including the deployment of increased law enforcement around the five buildings.

A senior intelligence official said translations of the computer documents and other intelligence started arriving on Friday. "We worked on it late, and through that night," he said. "We had very specific, credible information, and when we laid it in on the threat environment we're in," officials decided they had to announce it.

"It's not known whether the plot was active and ongoing," the official added. "It could have been planned for tomorrow, or it could have been scrapped. Maybe there were other iterations of it. In this environment, this was seen as pertinent information to get out to the public. There was discussion over the weekend, should we wait until Monday?"

Initially, top administration officials had decided to wait until yesterday to announce the alert, but more intelligence information was coming in -- both new translations of the documents, and analysis of other sources' statements -- that deepened their concern about the information, and persuaded them to move ahead swiftly. "There was a serious sense of urgency to get it out," the senior intelligence official said.

On Saturday, officials from the CIA, the FBI, the Homeland Security and Justice departments, the White House, and other agencies agreed with Ridge to recommend that the financial sectors in New York, Washington and North Jersey be placed on orange, or "high," alert. Ridge made the recommendation to Bush on Sunday morning, and Bush signed off on it at 10 a.m.

In a signal of how seriously the administration took the information, officials briefed senior media executives, including network anchors, before a Sunday news conference and briefing for reporters.

In New York yesterday, traffic backed up at tunnels and bridges into the city, Hercules and Atlas police teams toting rifles and machine guns checked vehicles, police helicopters crisscrossed the skies, and employees throughout the financial district stood in long security queues, showing their corporate identifications and bags to guards.

Around the NYSE in Lower Manhattan, rows of concrete and metal barricades were in place and side streets were blocked off.

In Newark, officials set up concrete barriers and police teams around the 24-story Prudential building, where about 1,000 employees work. "I'm a little nervous," analyst Tracy Swistak, 27, told the Associated Press. "But I'm confident Prudential's doing everything they can to ensure our safety."


Reports That Led to Terror Alert Were Years Old, Officials Say

By DOUGLAS JEHL and DAVID JOHNSTON

THE OVERVIEW - New York Times, 3 August, Page 1: WASHINGTON, Aug. 2 - Much of the information that led the authorities to raise the terror alert at several large financial institutions in the New York City and Washington areas was three or four years old, intelligence and law enforcement officials said on Monday. They reported that they had not yet found concrete evidence that a terrorist plot or preparatory surveillance operations were still under way.

But the officials continued to regard the information as significant and troubling because the reconnaissance already conducted has provided Al Qaeda with the knowledge necessary to carry out attacks against the sites in Manhattan, Washington and Newark. They said Al Qaeda had often struck years after its operatives began surveillance of an intended target.

Taken together with a separate, more general stream of intelligence, which indicates that Al Qaeda intends to strike in the United States this year, possibly in New York or Washington, the officials said even the dated but highly detailed evidence of surveillance was sufficient to prompt the authorities to undertake a global effort to track down the unidentified suspects involved in the surveillance operations.

"You could say that the bulk of this information is old, but we know that Al Qaeda collects, collects, collects until they're comfortable,'' said one senior government official. "Only then do they carry out an operation. And there are signs that some of this may have been updated or may be more recent.''

Frances Fragos Townsend, the White House homeland security adviser, said on Monday in an interview on PBS that surveillance reports, apparently collected by Qaeda operatives had been "gathered in 2000 and 2001.'' But she added that information may have been updated as recently as January.

The comments of government officials on Monday seemed softer in tone than the warning issued the day before. On Sunday, officials were circumspect in discussing when the surveillance of the financial institutions had occurred, and Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge cited the quantity of intelligence from "multiple reporting streams'' that he said was "alarming in both the amount and specificity of the information.''

The officials said on Monday that they were still analyzing computer records, photos, drawings and other documents, seized last month in Pakistan, which showed that Qaeda operatives had conducted extensive reconnaissance.

"What we've uncovered is a collection operation as opposed to the launching of an attack," a senior American official said.

Still, the official said the new trove of material, which was being sifted for fresh clues, combined with more recent flows of intelligence, had demonstrated that Al Qaeda remains active and intent on attacking the United States.

The concern about the possibility of an attack was apparent on Monday. Armed guards were positioned at the five targets listed by Mr. Ridge: the New York Stock Exchange and the Citigroup buildings in Manhattan, the headquarters of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund in Washington and Prudential Financial in Newark. The buildings were subjected to their highest level of security since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, with barricades, rapid-response teams and bomb-sniffing dogs providing rings of protection.

With intelligence reports specifying a possible truck bombing, police stopped and searched vehicles in the Wall Street area, while vans and trucks were banned from bridges and tunnels entering lower Manhattan.

In Washington, President Bush said the alert issued on Sunday reflected "a serious business.'' He said at a White House news conference, "We wouldn't be contacting authorities at the local level unless something was real.''

Despite the new terror warnings, the stock market gained ground, denting expectations that it would drop with the heightened security alert. The Dow Jones industrial average was up 39 points.

A sizable part of the information seized in Pakistan described reconnaissance carried out before the Sept. 11 attacks, officials said. The documents do not indicate who wrote the detailed descriptions of security arrangements at the financial buildings or whether the surveillance was conducted for a current operation or was part of preparations for a plan that was later set aside.

In a briefing on Sunday, a senior intelligence official said that the threat to the financial institutions "probably continues even today."

Federal authorities said on Monday that they had uncovered no evidence that any of the surveillance activities described in the documents was currently under way. They said officials in New Jersey had been mistaken in saying on Sunday that some suspects had been found with blueprints and may have recently practiced "test runs'' aimed at the Prudential building in Newark.

Joseph Billy Jr., the special agent in charge of the F.B.I.'s Newark office, said a diagram of the Prudential building had been found in Pakistan. "It appears to be from the period around 9/11,'' Mr. Billy said. "Now we're trying to see whether it goes forward from there.''

Another counterterrorism official in Washington said that it was not yet clear whether the information pointed to a current plot. "We know that Al Qaeda routinely cases targets and then puts the plans on a shelf without doing anything,'' the official said.

The documents were found after Pakistani authorities acting on information supplied by the Central Intelligence Agency arrested Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan, an engineer who was found to have served as a middleman in facilitating Qaeda communications. His capture led the C.I.A. to laptop computers, CD-ROM's, and other storage devices that contained copies of communications describing the extensive surveillance.

Mr. Khan had been essentially unknown to the United States as recently as May, according to information provided by a Pakistani intelligence official, who said the C.I.A. had described him to Pakistani authorities that month only as a shadowy figure identified by his alias, Abu Talha.

The lack of knowledge about Mr. Khan reflected how hard it has been for American authorities to penetrate Al Qaeda. He operated successfully without the government learning of his existence even after three years of an intensive intelligence war against Qaeda that has emphasized efforts to intercept the terror network's communications traffic.

In pursuing the new leads, intelligence and law enforcement authorities were working at several different levels, American officials said, in trying to make sense of what some described as a "jigsaw puzzle" that included first names, aliases, and temporary email addresses but little hard identifying material that could lead to suspects in the United States or overseas.

The scope of the inquiry ranged from "individuals who were orchestrating it from far-off lands to individuals who were in charge of different cells, to the actual operating of cells," a senior intelligence official said. The priority effort to identify people connected to the surveillance of the financial institutions has been under way since counterterrorism officials received the new information from Pakistan beginning Thursday evening, counterterrorism officials said on Monday.

The information, which officials said was indicative of preparations for a possible truck- or car-bomb attack, left significant gaps. It did not clearly describe the suspected plot, indicate when an attack was to take place nor did it describe the identities of people involved.

As a result, federal and local authorities began an effort to locate possible suspects who might have carried out the surveillance. Intelligence officers began interviewing Qaeda detainees asking whether they knew Mr. Khan or anyone who might have been involved in monitoring the targeted buildings and allied foreign intelligence services were asked if they had any information about the suspected plot.

At the same time, federal agents and local police began canvassing the buildings regarded as likely targets seeking to determine whether anyone recalled seeing people who appeared to be conducting surveillance. They sought lists of employees to determine whether anyone suspicious might have worked at any of the buildings and names of vendors, searching for anyone who might have visited the buildings to study security arrangements.

Senior counterterrorism and intelligence officials based in Europe said the information targeting the five buildings was developed by Qaeda operatives before Sept. 11, 2001. But a senior European counterterrorism official cautioned that "some recent information'' indicated that the buildings might remain on a list of Qaeda targets.

"Al Qaeda routinely comes up with ways to hit targets for years at a time, so it may not mean much that these buildings were first targeted more than three years ago,'' the official said.





Please forward MER articles to others in their entirety with proper attribution.
We welcome your comments and information in the new MER FORUM.

MID-EAST REALITIES
www.MiddleEast.Org
Phone: (202) 362-5266
Fax: (815) 366-0800
Copyright 2004 Mid-East Realities, All rights reserved


If you don't get MER,
you just don't get it!

MER is free
Click here to subscribe by email


Mid-East Realitieswww.middleeast.org

Source: http://www.middleeast.org/articles/2004/8/1040.htm