Two Men Held in Pakistan Are Back Numbers

debkafile‘s counter-terror experts are skeptical about the sourcing of the intelligence which prompted the terror alert – declared Sunday at five financial bastions in New York, Washington and New Jersey – to Pakistan’s two newest al Qaeda captives, the Tanzanian Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, caught on July 25, and the Pakistani Muhammed Naeem Noor Khan, apprehended on July 13.
US Homeland Secretary Tom Ridge made a point of thanking Pakistan for its intelligence assistance in forewarning against terror attacks, naming the IMS and World Bank in Washington DC, the New York Stock Exchange and Citicorp and Prudential in New Jersey at targets. But ascribing the “unusually specific information” to these two detainees in Pakistani custody poses questions.
Ghailani fled to Afghanistan after the 1998 twin US embassy bombings in East Africa and reached Pakistan after US troops invaded Afghanistan in 2001. He remained in hiding among low-ranking al Qaeda adherents from then on without holding any important jobs in the organization.
Khan is equally improbable as al Qaeda’s present communications manager. According to debkafile‘s terror experts, the use of coded Internet and e-mail messaging for transmitting signals and orders was more or less abandoned from mid-2001, months before the 9/11 attacks. Since then, messengers and personal couriers have carried most of al Qaeda’s coded messages, usually without knowing what was in them or even the identities of the recipients.
The two men are not of the usual a Qaeda caliber for preparing a complex, spectacular attack in the United States – or even acting as the top level’s repositories for the necessary foreknowledge. Only very limited information must therefore have been elicited from the two men detained in Pakistan and their computers:
1. They may have known that Al Qaeda started surveillance operations against key US financial centers as far back as to 1999-2000, straight after the embassy attacks in Kenya and Tanzania. The surveillance was integral to the organization’s preparations for the September 11 attacks in New York and Washington. The financial centers may have been intended as additional targets or alternatives if the World Trade Center and Washington strikes failed.
2. Khan, though a youthful 25, does not belong to al Qaeda’s new breed. He was on the information hub staff 1998 or 1999 until the present. This means he was working with the pre-Afghan War commanders and may not have known that contemporary missions had already passed into the hands of new recruits who joined up in early 2003 when al Qaeda regrouped in Saudi Arabia and Iran after the Afghan debacle. Khan would have been allowed to carry on until the present without being informed of the new men driving al Qaeda’s current operations. The organization is so compartmented that they would not have realized they were superceded. For the same reason, no single operative could conceivably be in control of updated intelligence on terrorist plots in the United State as well as Britain, as Khan is claimed to be.
3. The Al Qaeda computers fallen into US intelligence hands until now have thrown out an abundance of data on terror plots and networks, most of which proved false or planted to mislead. The most striking instance occurred in September 1998, when FBI agents reached the hurriedly-vacated home of al Qaeda’s East African agent Muhammed Fazul on the Indian Ocean Comoro Islands. Fazul orchestrated the US embassy attacks in East Africa and was Ghailani’s direct commander. The computer he discarded on the Indian Ocean Island was packed with data on terrorist targets and al Qaeda cells in the Horn of Africa and the southern extremity of the Arabian Peninsula. Years of strenuous following up this information ended up yielding nothing.
4. Even if some of the information obtained from the two detainees holds up, an operation on the colossal scale of 9/11 was not contemplated, only strikes using local teams. Al Qaeda would not activate its entire network for suicide truck bomb attacks on buildings. Neither are its leaders inclined to copy their Iraq modus operandi in the United States. Counting possible sleepers, the fundamentalist organization does not maintain in North America even one tenth of its present strength in Iraq – around 1,500 today down from 4,500 in the first half of 2004.

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