Years of painstaking work by SITE to break into and monitor Al Qaeda’s online servers, flushed in an instant by some moron who wanted to impress his media contacts with how in-the-loop he was.
A small private intelligence company that monitors Islamic terrorist groups obtained a new Osama bin Laden video ahead of its official release last month, and around 10 a.m. on Sept. 7, it notified the Bush administration of its secret acquisition. It gave two senior officials access on the condition that the officials not reveal they had it until the al-Qaeda release.
Within 20 minutes, a range of intelligence agencies had begun downloading it from the company’s Web site. By midafternoon that day, the video and a transcript of its audio track had been leaked from within the Bush administration to cable television news and broadcast worldwide…
[P]rivately, some intelligence officials called the incident regrettable, and one official said SITE had been “tremendously helpful” in ferreting out al-Qaeda secrets over time.
Fun bonus fact: SITE director Rita Katz claims White House counsel Fred Fielding told her that SITE had the video before the White House did, which is either nonsense they drummed up after the fact to lull Al Qaeda into thinking the feds are less hip to their game than a small, privately run intel organization or terrifying proof that the feds are, in fact, less hip to their game than a small, privately run intel organization.
The New York Sun picks up where WaPo leaves off:
[T]he 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.
One intelligence officer who requested anonymity said in an interview last week that the intelligence community watched in real time the shutdown of the Obelisk system…
The founder of a Web site known as clandestineradio.com, Nick Grace, tracked the shutdown of Qaeda’s Obelisk system in real time. “It was both unprecedented and chilling from the perspective of a Web techie. The discipline and coordination to take the entire system down involving multiple Web servers, hundreds of user names and passwords, is an astounding feat, especially that it was done within minutes,” Mr. Grace said yesterday.
Exit question: What’s more frightening, the mind-boggling idiocy of whoever leaked the tape to the media, the possibility that people like SITE and Laura Mansfield might be further ahead of the terror curve than the feds, or the thought of Al Qaeda super-hackers baffling western techies with their Internet fu?
Update: A man who would know says the tape was circulating before SITE shared it with federal officials on September 7 and notes that ABC’s transcript is dated September 6. Which means either ABC has itself a dynamite intel-gathering operation or someone in the federal bureaucracy had the tape even before SITE did and shared it with ABC first. Which in turn means the White House surely had it also, contrary to what Fielding allegedly told Katz.
Update: Reassurance from the Blotter, which was one of the leak outlets here:
“The sources, methods and techniques utilized by IntelCenter to collect terrorist video material remain intact,” said Ben Venzke, the CEO of IntelCenter, a private contractor providing counterterrorism support work to the intelligence community…
Like Katz, Laura Mansfield, a pseudonym she uses for security reasons, also monitors extreme Islamist forums and Internet traffic looking for propaganda videos that are often released by al Qaeda’s media wing, As Sahab and others. Mansfield says that despite the recent video leak, she still has access to the material.
“It’s a cat-and-mouse game,” said Mansfield. “They know we’re watching them so they move around. I’m reprogramming my search tools at least once a week.”