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Context of 'Mid-July 2007: Al-Qaeda Computer Expert Released in Pakistan'

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Al-Qaeda operative Musaad Aruchi is arrested in Karachi, Pakistan, by Pakistani paramilitary forces and the CIA. Aruchi is said to be a nephew of 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and a cousin of 1993 WTC bomber Ramzi Yousef. (Another of his nephews, Ali Abdul Aziz Ali, was captured in Karachi the year before (see April 29, 2003). CIA telephone and Internet intercepts led investigators to the apartment building where Aruchi lived. Aruchi is in frequent contact with Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan, who is in touch with al-Qaeda operatives all over the world. Aruchi is flown out of the country in an unmarked CIA plane; there have been no reports on his whereabouts since and he will not be transferred to Guantanamo Bay with other high-ranking prisoners in 2006. Noor Khan is followed and then arrested a month later (see July 13, 2004). [Washington Post, 8/3/2004; Guardian, 8/8/2004]

Entity Tags: Musaad Aruchi, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan interrogated.Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan interrogated. [Source: BBC's "The New Al-Qaeda."]Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan, a young Pakistani, is arrested in Lahore after six weeks of surveillance by Pakistani authorities in conjunction with US intelligence agencies. The US and Pakistanis learned of Noor Khan after arresting another al-Qaeda suspect, Musaad Aruchi, a month before (see June 12, 2004), and they had been tracking him since then. Noor Khan is taken to a high-security prison by Pakistani authorities, who resisted pressure from the CIA to let them completely handle the operation. [Guardian, 8/8/2004] American intelligence agents find what they later call a “treasure trove” of information in Noor Khan’s computers and documents. [CNN, 8/2/2004] Khan is a communications hub of sorts for al-Qaeda. He is in frequent contact with dozens of other al-Qaeda terrorists around the world and passing messages back and forth from more senior al-Qaeda operatives. Former National Security Council official Gideon Rose will later say, “It is obviously a very serious victory. It is obvious that there is a real find here.” [Guardian, 8/8/2004] Khan, who speaks fluent English, is not just a center for expediting clandestine communications between al-Qaeda leaders and their underlings, but also handles and collates documents, reports, maps, and other information, and sometimes performs his own intelligence-gathering, usually on trips to Britain. [MSNBC, 8/8/2004] Khan’s computer contains detailed surveillance information about five US buildings—the Stock Exchange and Citigroup’s headquarters in New York City, the Prudential building in Newark, and the International Monetary Fund and World Bank headquarters in Washington—all possible targets for future al-Qaeda attacks, though the information is all from 2000 and 2001. Other sites in New York City and San Francisco are mentioned, and meticulous information about London’s Heathrow Airport is also found. Pakistani intelligence officials believe that the information indicates a “present” threat, and so inform their US counterparts. Later in the month, the Pakistanis convince Khan to “turn,” or become a double agent. Khan will subsequently send e-mails to dozens of operatives all requesting that they contact him immediately (see July 24-25, 2004). [Guardian, 8/8/2004]

Entity Tags: World Bank, Prudential, New York Stock Exchange, Pakistan Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, International Monetary Fund, Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan, Central Intelligence Agency, Citigroup, Gideon Rose, Heathrow Airport, Al-Qaeda, Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

On July 13, 2004, a young Pakistani al-Qaeda operative named Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan was arrested in Pakistan (see July 13, 2004). US intelligence agents find what they later call a “treasure trove” of information in Noor Khan’s computers and documents. [CNN, 8/2/2004] They realize that Khan has served as a communications hub of sorts for al-Qaeda. He is in frequent contact with dozens of other al-Qaeda terrorists around the world and passing messages back and forth from more senior al-Qaeda operatives. Intelligence agents quickly realize that, through Khan, they can penetrate deep into the core of al-Qaeda’s current operations. Around the weekend of July 24-25, the Pakistanis convince Khan to “turn,” or become a double agent. Khan sends e-mails to dozens of activists in Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, and other countries. He requests that they contact him immediately and reveal where they are. As the emails come back, intelligence agents all over the world go into action to monitor those who have replied to Khan. [Guardian, 8/8/2004] Newsweek later reports that he sends e-mails to at least six contacts in the US, but the results of this are unknown. A senior US intelligence official confirms that Khan contacted people in the US, but believes number is less than six. [MSNBC, 8/8/2004] Some of Khan’s contacts are quickly arrested, including Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, a Tanzanian wanted since 1998 for his role in the bombing of the US embassy in his home country (see July 25-29, 2004). [Suskind, 2006] Some communications take time to reach him. He is sometimes sent handwritten notes or computer discs from the mountains where bin Laden and other top leaders are hiding out. These are delivered by secretive relays of couriers who never see each other, using dead drops to avoid being traced. Other messages come from far-flung intermediaries who forward e-mail without knowing what it means, where it is going, or who is sending it. [MSNBC, 8/8/2004] However, on August 1, Bush administration officials leak Noor Khan’s name to the press and the New York Times prints his name one day later. This only gives one week for the sting operation to work. Intelligence officials are crushed the operation has to end before it could expose many more al-Qaeda operatives (see August 2, 2004).

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan, Al-Qaeda

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani.Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani. [Source: FBI]Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, a high-level al-Qaeda operative from Tanzania suspected of participating in the 1998 bombings of US embassies in East Africa, is captured in Gujrat, Pakistan, after a violent standoff with Pakistani police. [CNN, 8/3/2004] Ghailani’s arrest is publicly announced on July 29, four days later. The announcement by Pakistan’s Interior Minister Faisal Hayat is made in an unusual late-night press conference that takes place just hours before John Kerry accepts the Democratic nomination for president. [Salon, 8/17/2004] Pakistani authorities say the announcement of Ghailani’s arrest was delayed four days because of the need to confirm his identity before making the proclamation. [BBC, 7/30/2004] But former Pakistani official Husain Haqqani later claims the announcement was timed to upstage the Kerry speech. [Salon, 8/17/2004; United States Conference on International Religious Freedom, 6/30/2005] An article in the New Republic published earlier in the month reported that the Bush administration was asking Pakistan to make high-profile arrests of al-Qaeda suspects during the Democratic National Convention in order to redirect US media attention from the nomination of John Kerry (see July 8, 2004). [New Republic, 7/29/2004] John Judis, who co-wrote the article predicting such an arrest, says the day after the arrest is announced, “Well, the latest development pretty much confirms what we wrote in the article, which is that there was pressure for Pakistan to produce a high-value target during the last 10 days of July and to announce that arrest.” He also asks why is it “they announced [the arrest] at all? Because when you have somebody who’s been in hiding since 1998, they have an enormous amount of information and contacts. By announcing this guy’s arrest, what you do is you warn off everybody who’s been associated with him from the last five or six years. You tell them that they better get their act together or they are going to be found. So, there’s some, really a lot of questions of why they announced this thing when they did.… It may be in this case that we—that we, and the Pakistanis got somebody and prematurely announced this person’s arrest in order to have an electoral impact.” [Democracy Now!, 7/30/2004]

Entity Tags: John Judis, Faisal Hayat, John Ashcroft, John Kerry, Husein Haqqani, George W. Bush, Al-Qaeda, Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline, 2004 Elections

The Bush administration issues a terror alert in the wake of the Democratic presidential convention, which ended on July 29, 2004. New Code Orange alerts are put into effect for New York City, Newark, and Washington, DC. Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge says, “Now this afternoon, we do have new and unusually specific information about where al-Qaeda would like to attack.… Compared to previous threat reporting, these intelligence reports have provided a level of detail that is very specific. The quality of this intelligence, based on multiple reporting streams in multiple locations, is rarely seen and it is alarming in both the amount and specificity of the information.… As of now, this is what we know: reports indicate that al-Qaeda is targeting several specific buildings, including the International Monetary Fund and World Bank in the District of Columbia; Prudential Financial in Northern New Jersey; and Citigroup buildings and the New York Stock Exchange in New York.” [Department of Homeland Security, 8/1/2004; Washington Post, 8/3/2004] But Ridge fails to mention that the so-called “casing disks” are from 2000 and 2001, nor does he discuss the fact that the decision on whether to issue the alerts had been hotly debated by officials over the weekend. Within 24 hours, the age of the intelligence is leaked, causing a controversy about the merit and urgency of the orange alert. [Suskind, 2006, pp. 325-326] The next day it will be revealed that the warning was based on information from the computer of recently captured al-Qaeda operative Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan (see August 2, 2004). President Bush and his top advisors learned of the arrest and subsequent “turning” of Noor Khan just the day before. They decide to publicize an alert based on data captured with Noor Khan, even though doing so could jeopardize a sting operation launched just days earlier in which Noor Khan is contacting dozens of al-Qaeda operatives around the world (see July 24-25, 2004). [Guardian, 8/8/2004] But even though Khan was arrested just weeks before, one senior law enforcement official who was briefed on the alert says, “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.” Homeland Security officials admit that that there is no indication that any terrorist action was imminent. “What we’ve uncovered is a collection operation as opposed to the launching of an attack,” says one. However, administration officials insist that even three-year-old intelligence, when coupled with other information about al-Qaeda’s plans to attack the US, justifies the security response in the three cities. President Bush says of the alerts, “It’s serious business. I mean, we wouldn’t be, you know, contacting authorities at the local level unless something was real.” A senior counterterrorism official says, “Most of the information is very dated but you clearly have targets with enough specificity, and that pushed it over the edge. 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.” [Washington Post, 8/3/2004] Former Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean says he worries “every time something happens that’s not good for President Bush, he plays this trump card, which is terrorism. It’s just impossible to know how much of this is real and how much of this is politics, and I suspect there’s some of both.” But conservatives defend the alert and Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry swiftly moves to disassociate his campaign from Dean’s remarks. [New York Observer, 8/4/2007] Author William Rivers Pitt points out that Laura Bush and daughters Barbara and Jenna make high-profile visits to the Citigroup Center in New York City on the first day of Ridge’s new orange alert. Noting this was one of the target buildings, Pitt asks, “George W. Bush sent his entire family to the very place that was supposedly about to be blown to smithereens?” Pitt concludes, “Bush and his administration officials are using terrorism—the fear of it, the fight against it—to manipulate domestic American politics. They are, as they have every day for almost three years now, using September 11 against their own people.” [Truthout (.org), 8/4/2004]

Entity Tags: Tom Ridge, Taliban, William Rivers Pitt, George W. Bush, John Kerry, Joseph Lieberman, Al-Qaeda, Howard Dean, Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 2004 Elections

Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan.Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan. [Source: BBC]The New York Times reveals the identity of al-Qaeda operative Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan. Bush administration officials allegedly revealed his name to the Times in an attempt to defend a controversial US terror alert issued the day before (see August 1, 2004). [Associated Press, 8/10/2004; Suskind, 2006, pp. 325-326] Officials from the Department of Homeland Security apparently gave out the name without revealing that Khan had already been turned and was helping to catch other al-Qaeda operatives. [Daily Times (Lahore), 8/8/2004] A few days later, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice confirms that US officials named Khan to the reporters “on background.” [Boston Globe, 8/10/2004] But some days after that, anonymous Pakistani government sources will claim that Khan’s name was initially leaked by Pakistani officials. [Salon, 8/17/2004] Middle East expert Juan Cole suggests both accounts have merit. In the hours after the August 1 terror alert that was based on information secured from Khan’s computer, reporters scramble to determine the source of the alert. One reporter learns of the Khan arrest from a CIA analyst, though the analyst refuses to give out any names. Cole believes that New York Times reporter David Rohde then acquires Khan’s name from his Pakistani sources and confirms it through US sources at the Department of Homeland Security. [Antiwar.com, 8/19/2004] Khan, an al-Qaeda computer expert, was arrested in Pakistan on July 13 and quickly began cooperating with investigators. He started sending e-mails to other operatives around the world and asked them to report back in. As they replied, investigators began tracing their locations. But Khan’s name is revealed before his computer contacts could be fully exploited. Many al-Qaeda members, including some suspected plotters planning strikes on US targets, escape arrest because of the outing. One Pakistani official says, “Let me say that this intelligence leak jeopardized our plan and some al-Qaeda suspects ran away.” [Associated Press, 8/10/2004; Suskind, 2006, pp. 325-326] Intelligence reports also indicate that the exposure of Khan makes al-Qaeda members more cautious in their electronic communications. Many cells abruptly move their hideouts, causing the US losing track of them. [Salon, 8/9/2004; Village Voice, 8/2/2005] Some are critical about the leak of Khan’s name:
bullet Tim Ripley, a security expert who writes for Jane’s Defense publications, says, “The whole thing smacks of either incompetence or worse. You have to ask: what are they doing compromising a deep mole within al-Qaeda, when it’s so difficult to get these guys in there in the first place? It goes against all the rules of counterespionage, counterterrorism, running agents, and so forth. It’s not exactly cloak and dagger undercover work if it’s on the front pages every time there’s a development, is it?”
bullet British Home Secretary David Blunkett is openly contemptuous of the White House’s management of the information. “In the United States there is often high-profile commentary followed, as in the current case, by detailed scrutiny, with the potential risk of ridicule. Is it really the job of a senior cabinet minister in charge of counter-terrorism to feed the media? To increase concern? Of course not. This is arrant nonsense.” [Salon, 8/9/2004]
bullet Other high-level British officials are “dismayed by the nakedly political use made of recent intelligence breakthroughs both in the US and in Pakistan.” They complain that they had to act precipitously in arresting low-level al-Qaeda figures connected to Khan instead of using those suspects to ferret out more senior al-Qaeda figures. These officials are “dismayed by the nakedly political use made of recent intelligence breakthroughs both in the US and in Pakistan.” [New York Observer, 8/11/2004]
bullet Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) writes in a letter to Bush officials, “I respectfully request an explanation [about] who leaked this Mr. Khan’s name, for what reason it was leaked, and whether the British and Pakistani reports that this leak compromised future intelligence activity are accurate.” [Boston Globe, 8/10/2004]
bullet Senator George Allen (R-VA) says, “In this situation, in my view, they should have kept their mouth shut and just said, ‘We have information, trust us’.”
bullet [Inter Press Service, 8/10/2004]
bullet Middle East expert Juan Cole notes that the leak of Khan’s name forced the British to arrest 12 members of an al-Qaeda cell prematurely, allowing others to escape. “[T]his slip is a major screw-up that casts the gravest doubts on the competency of the administration to fight a war on terror. Either the motive was political calculation, or it was sheer stupidity. They don’t deserve to be in power either way.” [Daily Times (Lahore), 8/8/2004]
bullet Salon’s Dale Davis says, “[S]adly, the damage [the Bush administration’s] machinations have caused to the goal of defeating al-Qaeda will be measured in the loss of the young American servicemen and women who carry the burden of their failed policies.” [Salon, 8/13/2004]

Entity Tags: John Loftus, Juan Cole, New York Times, James Ridgeway, Pakistan Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, George W. Bush, Dale Davis, Douglas Jehl, George F. Allen, Tim Ripley, Al-Qaeda, David Rohde, David Blunkett, Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Mohammad Sidique Khan.Mohammad Sidique Khan. [Source: London Times]British agents are forced to arrest about a dozen low-level suspected al-Qaeda operatives as a result of the August 1, 2004, outing of Muhammed Naeem Noor Khan by the US (see August 2, 2004). One important figure, Dhiren Barot, is among the arrested (see August 3, 2004). But the British are forced to move before they are ready, and many higher-level al-Qaeda operatives in Britain, including three of the alleged 2005 London bombers (see July 7, 2005)—Mohammed Sidique Khan, Hasib Mir Hussain, and Magdy El Nashar—escape the hastily formed dragnet (see August 3, 2004). [ABC News, 7/14/2005] Sidique Khan will be able to later complete the planning and execution of the July 7, 2005, London bombings (see July 7, 2005). Sidique Khan is connected to at least one of the suspects arrested by British authorities, but because of the unexpected outing of Noor Khan, he and other al-Qaeda bombers slip through the British nets. [ABC News, 7/14/2005; Israel National News (Arutz Shiva), 7/19/2005] Sidique Khan and other London bombing suspects had started working on a London bomb plot in 2003. Noor Khan’s computer shows that there were plans for a coordinated series of attacks on the London subway system, as well as on financial buildings in both New York and Washington. Alexis Debat, a former official in the French Defense Ministry, will later say, “There’s absolutely no doubt [Sidique Khan] was part of an al-Qaeda operation aimed at not only the United States but [Britain].… It is very likely this group was activated… after the other group was arrested.” [ABC News, 7/14/2005]

Entity Tags: Magdy El Nashar, Al-Qaeda, Alexis Debat, Hasib Mir Hussain, Mohammad Sidique Khan, Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Former president Bill Clinton questions the priorities of the Bush administration’s “war on terror,” asking why the administration is issuing groundless terror alerts “[b]ased on four-year-old information” (see August 1, 2004). He asks rhetorically, “Now, who is the threat from? Iraq? Saddam Hussein? No. From bin Laden. And al-Qaeda. How do we know about the threat? Because the Pakistanis found this computer whiz [Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan and got his computer and gave it to us so it could be analyzed (see August 2, 2004). … [W]e basically are dependent on [Pakistan] to find bin Laden…to break in and find the computer people and give it to us because we got all our resources somewhere else in Iraq.” He continues to ask why Bush isn’t focusing on bin Laden: “Why did we put our number one security threat in the hands of the Pakistanis with us playing a supporting role and put all of our military resources into Iraq, which was, I think, at best, our number five security threat[?] After the absence of a peace process in the Middle East, after the conflict between India and Pakistan and all the ties they had to Taliban, after North Korea and their nuclear program. In other words, how did we get to the point where we got 130,000 troops in Iraq and 15,000 in Afghanistan? It’s like saying… Okay, our big problem is bin Laden and al-Qaeda. We now know from the 9/11 Commission, again, that Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with it. Right? We now know that al-Qaeda is an ongoing continuing threat, even though when I was president we took down over 20 of their cells, they still had enough left to do 9/11, and since then, in the Bush years, they’ve taken down over 20 of their cells. But they’re operating with impunity in that mountainous region going back and forth between Pakistan and Afghanistan and we have only 15,000 troops in that country.…[W]e would have a better chance of catching them if we had 150,000 troops there rather than 15,000.” Asked if the US could have captured bin Laden in the days and months after 9/11, he replies, “[W]e will never know if we could have gotten him because we didn’t make it a priority….” [Canadian Broadcast Corporation, 8/6/2004]

Entity Tags: William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, 9/11 Commission, Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan, Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, 2004 Elections

Former Pakistani government official Husain Haqqani says that Pakistan, not the US government, may have originally leaked the news to the international press that Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan, an al-Qaeda operative turned informant for the US and Pakistan, was a double agent (see August 2, 2004). The leak of Khan’s identity ruins his capability to provide information about al-Qaeda and allows senior al-Qaeda operatives to escape arrest. Haqqani writes that there are two possible reasons for Pakistan’s decision to leak such damaging information: either Pakistani officials were eager to demonstrate their success in penetrating al-Qaeda, or, more likely, that Pakistan wanted to curb the inroads being made into al-Qaeda in order to keep the terrorist group safe and functional. A second leak, from Pakistani intelligence officials like the first, fingered US officials for the leak. The US government accepted the responsibility for outing Khan because, Haqqani writes, administration officials were complicit in the leak, and because the Bush administration is involved in a twisted, mutually duplicitous relationship with the Musharraf regime of Pakistan: “ostensibly driven by the mutual desire for security, there is clearly a political element to the relationship related to the survival of both the Bush and the Musharraf governments.” [Salon, 8/17/2004] On August 6, 2004, former President Bill Clinton accused the Bush administration of essentially contracting out US security and the hunt for Osama bin Laden to Pakistan in its zeal to wage war in Iraq (see August 6, 2004). One consequence of the decision to subcontract the hunt for members of al-Qaeda to Pakistan is that the terrorists appear to be regrouping and regaining in strength. [Washington Post, 8/14/2004] Haqqani believes that the two have mutual political concerns: while Pakistan cooperates, to a point, in hunting down al-Qaeda members, the government of Pervez Musharraf is more secure. In return, Pakistani officials, known for their reticence, have lately been unusually forthcoming in issuing well-timed reports designed to help Bush’s re-election efforts. For instance, on July 29, just hours before John Kerry’s speech accepting the Democratic nomination for president, Pakistan’s interior minister, Faisal Hayat, held an unusual late-night press conference announcing the arrest of Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, the man wanted for the 1998 terrorist bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania (see July 25-29, 2004). [Salon, 8/17/2004]

Entity Tags: William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, George W. Bush, Faisal Hayat, Pervez Musharraf, Husein Haqqani, John Kerry, Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan, Al-Qaeda, Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan.Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan. [Source: Agence France-Presse / Getty Images]Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan, an al-Qaeda computer expert, is released in Pakistan. He had been arrested in July 2004 (see July 13, 2004) and was quickly turned, sending out e-mails to help out dozens of al-Qaeda operatives around the world before his name was leaked to the press (see July 24-25, 2004 and August 2, 2004). He was held for three years by Pakistan’s intelligence agencies. He was never charged with any crime and apparently there are no plans to charge him in the future. He is said to be living with his parents in Karachi, Pakistan. He is being closely monitored and the media is not allowed to speak with him. US and British officials and analysts express dismay at Noor Khan’s quick release. Seth Jones of the Rand Corporation says, “I find it strange and baffling.… He presents a major threat to the West.” [Guardian, 8/23/2007] Former counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke says, “Khan may have bargained for an early release because he cooperated.” [ABC News, 8/21/2007] But his release also comes at a time when Pakistan’s judiciary is releasing dozens of suspected Islamic militants and government critics who have been held without trial. This is seen as a sign of President Pervez Musharraf’s eroding influence after public protests forced him to reinstate Pakistan’s chief justice. [London Times, 8/23/2007] One former intelligence official says that Khan’s case is a “murky tale” in which there are “no clear answers.” [Guardian, 8/23/2007]

Entity Tags: Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan, Seth Jones, Richard A. Clarke

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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