...Al Qaida was/is reportedly planning a Mumbai-style attack against cities in Western Europe. ...
...The Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, is refusing comment. That’s often a sign that the information is credible, and the spy masters are upset that someone blabbed before all the suspects could be rounded up, or the plot was completely foiled.
...Meanwhile, The Wall Street Journal says a recent surge in U.S. drone attacks in Pakistan is part of an effort to disrupt possible attacks in Europe.
...And the U.S. is also a potential target, according to ABC News and Britain Sky News.
But before you say this is nothing out of the ordinary, consider this unusual twist that might related. On Tuesday, federal, state and local law enforcement agents were stopping—and inspecting—all west-bound tractor-trailers traveling on I-20 out of Atlanta. At the height of the evening rush hour, no less.
A spokesman for the TSA told WSB-TV that the search was part of a “training exercise.” But the station’s investigative reporter, Mark Winne, learned from other sources that the inspections are part of a counter-terrorism operation.
Obviously, there’s a big difference between an “operation” and an “exercise.” Additionally, we’ve never heard of this type of drill being conducted on a major interstate highway, during rush hour, with participation by all levels of law enforcement. So, it sounds like something beyond training prompted that traffic jam on I-20 Tuesday afternoon.
But, before we connect that final dot, it is worth noting that the European plot apparently didn’t involve large trucks or radioactive devices. The trucks being searched on I-20 west of Atlanta were screened with a radiation detector (and other devices), according to WSB.
For the second time in three days, federal, state and local law enforcement agencies have conducted a major counter-terrorism operation along I-20 in Atlanta. For several hours, beginning this morning and continuing into the afternoon, officials searched scores of tractor-trailer rigs traveling along the highway.
A spokesman for the Transportation Security Administration, Jon Allen, told WSB-TV that the operation was aimed at prevent any type of activity that anybody may have to disrupt transportation systems.”
Mr. Allen described the search effort as a form of “highway homeland security.” But at that point, his comments took a turn for the odd. Interviewed by WSB’s Mark Winne—one of the first journalists to learn that Tuesday’s search was an operation and not an exercise—Mr. Allen said the federal air marshal service was the lead agency for the roadway inspections in Atlanta. ...
Admittedly, this has not been a very good week for TSA’s regional public affairs department. As Tuesday’s search got underway west of Atlanta (and traffic slowed to a crawl on I-20), a TSA spokesman insisted the activity was a training exercise. That explanation lasted until Mr. Winne contacted other law enforcement officials, who revealed it was a counter-terrorism operation.
——————————— Dave Lindorff, at leftist CounterPunch, Weekend October 1-3 edition:
Now the Government is X-Raying You While You Drive
Americans in Atlanta got a taste of this latest government intrusion into their lives when Homeland Security last Tuesday ran what it called a “counterterrorism operation” not prompted by any specific threat. They set up one of their ZBV vans on I-20 and snarled traffic for hours while all trailer trucks stopped and scanned by Homeland Security personnel.
Drivers should expect delays on I-20 eastbound around Six Flags this weekend as an emergency project continues to replace failing bridge joints. ...
Tuesday morning traffic was backed-up for miles on the eastbound side. Failing joints created a hole in the bridge over Six Flags Parkway. The debris lead to a four-car accident.
The hole was temporarily patched, the but the problem was not solved.
This weekend an emergency project will continue to replace those bad bridge joints. The $5.1 million project will close two right lanes on the eastbound side at Six Flags. No major delays are expected, although drivers should give themselves a few extra minutes. ...
The lane closures are scheduled to last from 9 p.m. Friday until 5 a.m. Monday.
The Telegraph reports that a Canadian study produced by researchers asked to investigate cyberattacks on the office of the Dalai Lama reveals large-scale world-wide cyberattacks, all originating from China.
A vast Chinese cyber-espionage network, codenamed GhostNet, has penetrated sensitive ministries and embassies across 103 countries and infects at least a dozen new computers every week. ...
The discovery of GhostNet is the latest sign of China’s determination to win a future “information war”. A ten-month investigation by the Munk Centre for International Studies in Toronto has revealed that GhostNet not only searches computers for information and taps their emails, but also turns them into giant listening devices.
Once a computer has been infected, hackers can turn on its web camera and microphones and record any conversations within range.
The study revealed that almost a third of the targets infected by GhostNet are “considered high-value and include computers located at ministries of foreign affairs, embassies, international organisations, news media and NGOs”. This global web of espionage has been constructed in the last two years.
Another report from Cambridge University said the sophisticated computer attacks had been “devastatingly effective” and that “few organisations, outside the defence and intelligence sector, could withstand such an attack”.
The report stopped short of accusing the Beijing government of responsibility for the network, but said the vast majority of cyber attacks originated from inside China.
———————————————————— The New York Times also headlined the report in its Technology section.
The researchers, who are based at the Munk Center for International Studies at the University of Toronto, had been asked by the office of the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan leader whom China regularly denounces, to examine its computers for signs of malicious software, or malware.
Their sleuthing opened a window into a broader operation that, in less than two years, has infiltrated at least 1,295 computers in 103 countries, including many belonging to embassies, foreign ministries and other government offices, as well as the Dalai Lama’s Tibetan exile centers in India, Brussels, London and New York.
The researchers, who have a record of detecting computer espionage, said they believed that in addition to the spying on the Dalai Lama, the system, which they called GhostNet, was focused on the governments of South Asian and Southeast Asian countries.
Intelligence analysts say many governments, including those of China, Russia and the United States, and other parties use sophisticated computer programs to covertly gather information.
The newly reported spying operation is by far the largest to come to light in terms of countries affected.
This is also believed to be the first time researchers have been able to expose the workings of a computer system used in an intrusion of this magnitude.
Still going strong, the operation continues to invade and monitor more than a dozen new computers a week, the researchers said in their report, “Tracking ‘GhostNet’: Investigating a Cyber Espionage Network.” They said they had found no evidence that United States government offices had been infiltrated, although a NATO computer was monitored by the spies for half a day and computers of the Indian Embassy in Washington were infiltrated.
The malware is remarkable both for its sweep — in computer jargon, it has not been merely “phishing” for random consumers’ information, but “whaling” for particular important targets — and for its Big Brother-style capacities. It can, for example, turn on the camera and audio-recording functions of an infected computer, enabling monitors to see and hear what goes on in a room. The investigators say they do not know if this facet has been employed.
The researchers were able to monitor the commands given to infected computers and to see the names of documents retrieved by the spies, but in most cases the contents of the stolen files have not been determined. Working with the Tibetans, however, the researchers found that specific correspondence had been stolen and that the intruders had gained control of the electronic mail server computers of the Dalai Lama’s organization.
The electronic spy game has had at least some real-world impact, they said. For example, they said, after an e-mail invitation was sent by the Dalai Lama’s office to a foreign diplomat, the Chinese government made a call to the diplomat discouraging a visit. And a woman working for a group making Internet contacts between Tibetan exiles and Chinese citizens was stopped by Chinese intelligence officers on her way back to Tibet, shown transcripts of her online conversations and warned to stop her political activities.
The Toronto researchers said they had notified international law enforcement agencies of the spying operation, which in their view exposed basic shortcomings in the legal structure of cyberspace.
By some curious coincidence, the web-site offering the actual report as inaccessible today.
There was obviously more going on behind the scenes that the powers that be are telling us. But whatever specific incident or event provoked the resignation, Alcee Hastings’ removal from a House role featuring this kind of responsibility is a very positive development.
Democrat Alcee L. Hastings of Florida abruptly resigned from the House Intelligence Committee Tuesday, citing increased activities as chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission and his work on the Rules Committee.
“Now, I will devote even more time to my continued work for the people of my congressional district by ratcheting up my work as chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, as a senior member of the House Rules Committee, and as co-chairman of Florida’s congressional delegation,” Hastings said in a statement released by his office. ...
Hastings denied that his decision was related to being passed over for the chairmanship of the full Intelligence Committee in favor of Silvestre Reyes of Texas. Reyes was hand-picked to lead the panel by Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California in January.
“He’s chosen to put a greater emphasis on other parts of his legislative portfolio,” spokesman David Goldenberg said.
It’s no secret, though, that Hastings has been brooding for some time over the move. In an interview with Congressional Quarterly in April, Hastings expressed some anger at “Democrats in high places” who made an issue — during his bid for the chairmanship — of the fact that he was impeached and removed from office as a federal judge in 1989 on corruption and perjury charges.
The Washington Post has a new club to beat the Bush Administration. with today.
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.
The founder of the company, the SITE Intelligence Group, says this premature disclosure tipped al-Qaeda to a security breach and destroyed a years-long surveillance operation that the company has used to intercept and pass along secret messages, videos and advance warnings of suicide bombings from the terrorist group’s communications network. ...
(Rita) Katz (the firm’s founder) said she decided to offer an advance copy of the bin Laden video to the White House without charge so officials there could prepare for its eventual release.
She spoke first with White House counsel Fred F. Fielding, whom she had previously met, and then with Joel Bagnal, deputy assistant to the president for homeland security. Both expressed interest in obtaining a copy, and Bagnal suggested that she send a copy to Michael Leiter, who holds the No. 2 job at the National Counterterrorism Center.
Around 10 a.m. on Sept. 7, Katz sent both Leiter and Fielding an e-mail with a link to a private SITE Web page containing the video and an English transcript. “Please understand the necessity for secrecy,” Katz wrote in her e-mail. “We ask you not to distribute . . . [as] it could harm our investigations.”
Fielding replied with an e-mail expressing gratitude to Katz. “It is you who deserves the thanks,” he wrote, according to a copy of the message. There was no record of a response from Leiter or the national intelligence director’s office.
Exactly what happened next is unclear. But within minutes of Katz’s e-mail to the White House, government-registered computers began downloading the video from SITE’s server, according to a log of file transfers. The records show dozens of downloads over the next three hours from computers with addresses registered to defense and intelligence agencies.
By midafternoon, several television news networks reported obtaining copies of the transcript. A copy posted around 3 p.m. on Fox News’s Web site referred to SITE and included page markers identical to those used by the group. “This confirms that the U.S. government was responsible for the leak of this document,” Katz wrote in an e-mail to Leiter at 5 p.m.
Al-Qaeda supporters, now alerted to the intrusion into their secret network, put up new obstacles that prevented SITE from gaining the kind of access it had obtained in the past, according to Katz.
So Ms. Katz called up the White House, and passed along to three officials, two of whom she’d never even met, a web-link to the video in question. Having thus shared a piece of information obviously picked up via the Internet to strangers, Mirabile dictu! one or another of those strangers shared it some more.
How difficult it is for anyone possessing the appropriate linguistic skills to penetrate Islamic extremist sites seems uncertain. Obviously those sites exist with the intention of reaching audiences of persons not intimately connected in a single terrorist cell. Their proprietors are likely also to feel that the language barrier alone is adequate to provide protection against ordinary outsider readers. At most, one would expect some very modest sort of password protection, probably using a trivial and obvious Islamist expression like Allah Akhbar.
Access via that kind of password to some semi-public web-site is not exactly the same thing as possession of atomic secrets.
Someone like Ms. Katz, working in the Intelligence business, ought to be familiar with the old maxim: “A secret that is known by three full soon will not a secret be.”