Report: Digital file of Al Qaeda “conference call” that triggered terror alert was seized from jihadi courier

posted at 4:01 pm on August 20, 2013 by Allahpundit

Remember when the AP reported that the NSA was not responsible for flushing out the initial tip about the big Yemen terror plot? Per Eli Lake and Josh Rogin, they were right. The NSA didn’t tap into the online “conference call.” Al Qaeda itself recorded the session, presumably with an eye to wider distribution within the network, and U.S. intel sniffed out a courier who had the file.

Two obvious questions. One: Does this mean the initial leak about the “conference call” was less damaging than thought? The fear at the time was that U.S. intel, by babbling to reporters about what happened, had tipped Al Qaeda off to the fact that we’re tapping their virtual phones and listening in real time. Apparently we’re not doing that. If AQ hadn’t saved the file, it seems we’d never have known. Two: What kind of signal-to-noise ratio are we looking at here if the NSA’s capable of hoovering up billions of innocent American digital communications but not capable of sniffing out a giant terrorist powwow from the group responsible for 9/11 while it’s happening live on the Web?

Earlier this summer, the al Qaeda courier began uploading messages to a series of encrypted accounts containing minutes of what appeared to be have been an important meeting. A U.S. intelligence agency was able to exploit a flaw in the courier’s operational security, intercepting the digital packets and locating the courier, according to two U.S. intelligence officials and one U.S. official who reviewed the intelligence. All three officials spoke on condition of anonymity.

The courier remains in Yemeni custody. According to the three U.S. officials, Yemeni intelligence discovered a treasure trove of information in the courier’s possession, including not only meeting minutes but an actual web recording of the seven-hour, Internet-based al Qaeda conference between the organization’s top leaders and representatives of its many affiliates and aspiring affiliates…

Since the September 11 attacks, U.S. intelligence agencies have monitored a series of password-protected websites, Internet forums and other kinds of communications. But al Qaeda has developed advanced encryption methods and a proprietary technology allowing the group to conduct remote meetings, including video, voice, and chat capabilities.

“The technology is there for al Qaeda to have an encrypted cyber web conference that exists over instant message software with each other in a one time only chat room that disappears as soon as the conference is over,” said Laith al-Khouri, a senior consultant at Flashpoint Global Partners, an intelligence-consulting group. “This can also carry video from the participants if they are using instant messaging software that has the functionality of a video teleconference. I believe al Qaeda has that capability.”

Al Qaeda’s developed its own software for encrypted communications that the NSA evidently can’t penetrate? What? But wait — if the courier had a copy of the web recording, that must mean he knows how to decrypt it. And if he knows, Yemeni intel — and U.S. intel — probably know now too. In which case, why are they publicizing the means by which they got a copy of the recording? This might not be *as* damaging as the earlier leak, but it’s still a tip-off.

Here’s a theory (which may be wishcasting on my part): Maybe this is all a subterfuge. Assume that U.S. intel, be it the NSA or someone else, did tap AQ’s phones and listen to the big conference call while it happened, and now they’re panicked that the initial leak will scare Al Qaeda away from using that technology anymore. The story about the courier would rebuild jihadi confidence that the technology hasn’t been compromised. We couldn’t break their code, we just happened to stumble onto the courier who had a copy of the recording. It’s still safe to use QaedaChat! Marc Ambinder speculated after the initial leak that maybe the feds had leaked their knowledge of the “conference call” deliberately, to spook AQ into using a different technology that could be more easily penetrated. This new leak undermines that, though. Having supposedly deliberately created the impression that we’ve infiltrated Al Qaeda’s web chats, there’d be no reason to turn around now and suggest that we didn’t. That sort of backtracking makes it sound like the initial leak had more truth in it than U.S. intel felt should have been revealed and now they’re trying to put the genie back in the bottle. But as I say, maybe this is wishcasting.

Exit question: Did the metadata in the web recording provide any clues as to where these guys are hiding out? There must have been quite a scramble after the initial leak.

Update: What was I just saying about location?

A major Al Qaeda technical hub used to distribute video and communications from the terror group’s leadership was raided by Pakistani law enforcement on Tuesday, leading to the arrest of four women and two men, according to unconfirmed Pakistani media reports.

The hub, located in Lahore, Pakistan, is believed to have been used by the same group connected to the threats against U.S. diplomats. Lahore is the same city where the U.S. consulate was shut down several weeks ago after “specific threats” were intercepted by U.S. intelligence agencies…

“The content of what was found in the computers could be significant and valuable to our intelligence agencies,” Stalinsky told TheBlaze. “It will be interesting to see if they share that with the U.S. Although, I believe it’s highly unlikely.”


Related Posts:

Breaking on Hot Air

Blowback

Note from Hot Air management: This section is for comments from Hot Air's community of registered readers. Please don't assume that Hot Air management agrees with or otherwise endorses any particular comment just because we let it stand. A reminder: Anyone who fails to comply with our terms of use may lose their posting privilege.

Trackbacks/Pings

Trackback URL

Comments

Yeah, but if it stops terrorism they can spy on me anyway.

USA!
USA!
USA!

Dr. ZhivBlago on August 20, 2013 at 4:03 PM

Two: What kind of signal-to-noise ratio are we looking at here if the NSA’s capable of hoovering up billions of innocent American digital communications but not capable of sniffing out a giant terrorist powwow from the group responsible for 9/11 while it’s happening live on the Web?

American communications= signal

Terrorist plots= noise

Only American communications result in loss of Democratic power. Successful terrorist plots increase Democratic power, particularly when they are holding it right now.

Lotsa signal/little noise

Ambassador Stevens agrees.

ted c on August 20, 2013 at 4:08 PM

3. It was a bold faced lie to make the NSA look good in light of their snooping allegations.

RickB on August 20, 2013 at 4:09 PM

I find it very difficult to believe that Al Qaeda leaders would have planned an attack on an internet conference call… They know very well that we are tracking every move and communication they do physically or electronically… They know that there is no real safe communication encrypted software that they can use… What ever we captured from this courier may have been intended by Al Qaeda…

mnjg on August 20, 2013 at 4:10 PM

And while the NSA spies on Americans, Al Jazzera gets into 48 million homes. World isn’t just upside-down, it’s an inverted sphere.

nobar on August 20, 2013 at 4:13 PM

Al Jazzera gets into 48 million homes. World isn’t just upside-down, it’s an inverted sphere.

nobar on August 20, 2013 at 4:13 PM

And who is going to listen to Al Jazeera except the f***ing liberals?

mnjg on August 20, 2013 at 4:15 PM

Yawn.

Just another LIE to cover a LIE to distract from a LIE to prop-up a LIE to cover a LIE to distract from a LIE to prop-up a LIE to cover a LIE to distract from a LIE to prop-up a LIE to cover a LIE to distract from a LIE to prop-up a LIE to cover a LIE to distract from a LIE to prop-up a LIE to cover a LIE to distract from a LIE to prop-up a LIE to cover a LIE to distract from a LIE to prop-up a LIE to cover a LIE to distract from a LIE to prop-up a LIE to cover a LIE to distract from a LIE to prop-up a LIE to cover a LIE to distract from a LIE to prop-up a LIE to cover a LIE to distract from a LIE to prop-up a LIE to cover a LIE to distract from a LIE to prop-up a LIE …

Pork-Chop on August 20, 2013 at 4:16 PM

Al Jazzera gets into 48 million homes. World isn’t just upside-down, it’s an inverted sphere.

nobar on August 20, 2013 at 4:13 PM

And who is going to listen to Al Jazeera except the f***ing liberals?

mnjg on August 20, 2013 at 4:15 PM

On the other hand the proggies will ‘do whatever it takes’ to keep Beck and the other new conservative news network off the cable systems.

slickwillie2001 on August 20, 2013 at 4:20 PM

Time to apply Sturgeon’s Law: 90% of everything is cr@p. Including this news. And the news that led to this news.

ZenDraken on August 20, 2013 at 4:21 PM

In order for AP’s theory to be correct, Al Qaeda would have had to make a copy of the web conference and sent it somewhere via courier. You can’t claim to have intercepted something like that as a cover for having infiltrated them in real time unless they really did make a copy and give it to a courier – otherwise they would know the story is BS. Seems pretty unlikely to me.

Long Legged MacDaddy on August 20, 2013 at 4:24 PM

Al Jazzera gets into 48 million homes. World isn’t just upside-down, it’s an inverted sphere.

nobar on August 20, 2013 at 4:13 PM

Well just yesterday I informed COX cable that if they every carry Al Jazeera I will immediately drop my service with them. Everyone should make the effort to hold their cable provider’s feet to the fire on this one. The market needs to SPEAK UP.

Harbingeing on August 20, 2013 at 4:24 PM

LOL, local talk guy was going on last night about people whining about the NSA and saying “if they weren’t listening, they wouldn’t have gotten this latest intel.”

Yeah, well guess what, champ… can’t wait to hear him choking on crow tonight.

Midas on August 20, 2013 at 4:26 PM

it’s an inverted sphere.

nobar on August 20, 2013 at 4:13 PM

Is that like a black hole?

John the Libertarian on August 20, 2013 at 4:38 PM

Is that like a black hole?

John the Libertarian on August 20, 2013 at 4:38 PM

Or any form of implosion.

nobar on August 20, 2013 at 4:40 PM

Wouldn’t we all be safer if the U.S. clandestine agencies were…um….able to keep a secret?

wren on August 20, 2013 at 4:42 PM

AQ should release a commercial version of their alChat program. I think there would really be a legitimate market for software that the NSA can’t spy on.

Armin Tamzarian on August 20, 2013 at 4:43 PM

Yeah, but….

d1carter on August 20, 2013 at 4:43 PM

Stalinsky told TheBlaze.

Stalinsky? Is that Obama’s SS code name?

faraway on August 20, 2013 at 4:46 PM

Dude in the pic looks a bit peeved

DarkCurrent on August 20, 2013 at 4:46 PM

Yeah, but if it stops terrorism they can spy on me anyway.

USA!
USA!
USA!

Dr. ZhivBlago on August 20, 2013 at 4:03 PM

Cause we’re all potential terrorists, doncha know. Especially those of us who regularly post in discussion threads on conservative blogs.

Wouldn’t we all be safer if the U.S. clandestine agencies were…um….able to keep a secret?

Well, that’s true, but the bar for keeping secrets has been lowered to a level previously unimaginable. Especially conerning blown secrets that can aid BFFs and the agenda of this WH.

hawkeye54 on August 20, 2013 at 4:47 PM

Is that like a black hole?

John the Libertarian on August 20, 2013 at 4:38 PM

You’re a racist.


Texas County Official Sees Race in Term ‘Black Hole’

Dr. ZhivBlago on August 20, 2013 at 4:47 PM

Cause we’re all potential terrorists, doncha know. Especially those of us who regularly post in discussion threads on conservative blogs.

hawkeye54 on August 20, 2013 at 4:47 PM

and you’re a thought criminal.

Dr. ZhivBlago on August 20, 2013 at 4:48 PM

The entire conversation is crap. If we fought the “War on Terror” with 1/5 of the energy and determination with which we fought every war pre-”Korean War” which as we know wasn’t a war but rather a really nasty and expensive police action, this crap would have been over 4, 5, 6 years ago, maybe more. The ONLY reason any of this is still possible is the political correctness of the War on Terror. Otherwise, all these top guys talking about this stuff would be long dead and mouldering in their graves.

So, because we screwed around “nation building” (how’s that working out as the nations keep weeble-wobbling on the brink of collapse) instead of first identifying, then verbalizing and then killing our enemies, twelve years later we have destroyed the treasury and sacrificed numerous of our most sacred freedoms for NOTHING! And now we are going to sit here and split hairs over the effectiveness of this or that intelligence gathering? It doesn’t matter. The top 10 guys in Al Queda could stand up, scream and wave their arms at the CIA and as long as they are standing within 20 yards of a mosque, school (even if it is empty), muslim holy site we will just sit there with our thumbs up our backsides and wink back at them.

So, I guess what I am saying is, what does it matter now any way how we knew what about what that led to Obama ordering America to cower and run away.

deepdiver on August 20, 2013 at 4:48 PM

and you’re a thought criminal.

Dr. ZhivBlago on August 20, 2013 at 4:48 PM

Yes I am. I worked hard for that title.

hawkeye54 on August 20, 2013 at 4:54 PM

U.S. intel sniffed out a courier who had the file.

Well, how did they do that?

Earlier this summer, the al Qaeda courier began uploading messages to a series of encrypted accounts containing minutes of what appeared to be have been an important meeting. A U.S. intelligence agency was able to exploit a flaw in the courier’s operational security, intercepting the digital packets…

So, a US intelligence agency intercepted “the digital packets”.

I guess that explains that.

farsighted on August 20, 2013 at 5:03 PM

Oh great, another pic of the guy with a Bullet Hole
in his forehead. Too bad it didn’t take…

ToddPA on August 20, 2013 at 5:09 PM

But al Qaeda has developed advanced encryption methods and a proprietary technology allowing the group to conduct remote meetings, including video, voice, and chat capabilities.

PROPRIETARY?!?!?!?!

Al Qaeda has a patents pending now???

Who writes this drivel!! The have secret codes and secret modes of delivery which may amount to shoving a thumb drive up some bozo’s bottom for distribution.

Bubba Redneck on August 20, 2013 at 5:39 PM

Earlier this summer, the al Qaeda courier began uploading messages to a series of encrypted accounts containing minutes of what appeared to be have been an important meeting. A U.S. intelligence agency was able to exploit a flaw in the courier’s operational security, intercepting the digital packets…

So, a US intelligence agency intercepted “the digital packets”.

So they found the courier and sent him to sleep with the fishes after they retrieved the thumb drive up his bottom. Hopefully they found out where he was going before nabbing him.

Bubba Redneck on August 20, 2013 at 5:41 PM

Dude in the pic looks a bit peeved

DarkCurrent on August 20, 2013 at 4:46 PM

You’d be too if your turban was wound up as tight as his is and you lent your favorite goat to Bin Laden.

Bubba Redneck on August 20, 2013 at 5:47 PM

Never trust a moslem with “rug burn” on his forehead. Heck, for that matter, never trust a . . . . .

SpiderMike on August 20, 2013 at 5:51 PM

hawkeye54 on August 20, 2013 at 4:54 PM

-LOL

PROPRIETARY?!?!?!?!

Al Qaeda has a patents pending now???

Bubba Redneck on August 20, 2013 at 5:39 PM

Sure. Islam has been the driving force behind modern technology. What, you think these guys just sit around raking in the bucks from the oil they happen to be sitting on and buy western technology when they need it?

Dr. ZhivBlago on August 20, 2013 at 6:38 PM

The story about the courier would rebuild jihadi confidence that the technology hasn’t been compromised. We couldn’t break their code, we just happened to stumble onto the courier who had a copy of the recording.

That’s what I would do. But surely, the jihadis would know that they weren’t recording their own meetings, right?

JackOfClubs on August 20, 2013 at 7:12 PM

The problem NSA and any large data collection holder has is not so much signal to noise ratio as figuring out useful questions to ask of the data sets. It’s hard to ask the data set, “Who is going to blow up something in the next month. exactly when will this take place, and where will it take place?” There is a better chance asking, “Does it look like there is enhanced interest in placing a bomb in a school in the USA?” Even better is pin pointing the specific school. And even that won’t help much.

The specific data set that started the whole NSA issue with those it is supposed to be protecting is better structured to find associates for people identified by other means as high potential problem sources. Asking this of the right sets of people can lead to networks of “friends” exposing others.

The specific example identified most of the founders of the US from documented ties with other people. It also pinpointed Paul Revere as one of the, if not the, key figures. But that was after it was asked the correct questions.

Unfortunately the expertise needed to provide the tools and the data set are very different from the expertise needed to formulate useful questions based on other extant sets of data that are already refined to useful levels. Without the ability to ask the correct questions the huge NSA databases are useless. It is this feature that gives the noise. It’s not a signal to noise problem measurement problem. The problem is knowing what to measure, what question to ask.

{^_^}

herself on August 21, 2013 at 5:45 AM

Earlier this summer, the al Qaeda courier began uploading messages to a series of encrypted accounts containing minutes of what appeared to be have been an important meeting. A U.S. intelligence agency was able to exploit a flaw in the courier’s operational security, intercepting the digital packets and locating the courier, according to two U.S. intelligence officials and one U.S. official who reviewed the intelligence.

This wasn’t a physical interception that lead to a digital trove.

This was some “U.S. intelligence agency” intercepting the “digital packets” of information that the al Qaeda courier was uploading to encrypted accounts. They were then able to locate where the courier was doing he uploading from, and intercept him physically.

They (U.S. Intel Agency) intercepted transmissions somewhere in the stream of digital information that is out there. Wireless, satellite, or wired, they got it.

Keith_Indy on August 21, 2013 at 9:00 AM