Saturday, August 07, 2004

Bush Blows Cover of Double Agent

The Bush administration has blown the cover of one of the most important assets inside al-Qaeda that the US has ever had. It was bad enough when they blew the cover of Joe Wilson's wife, an undercover CIA agent who had worked on stopping the spread of weapons of mass destruction. This, which also appears to be a violation of Section 421 of the US Code, is infintely more craven and damaging to US security.

Reuters reports:


U.S. officials providing justification for anti-terrorism alerts revealed details about a Pakistani secret agent, and confirmed his name while he was working under cover in a sting operation, Pakistani sources said on Friday.

A Pakistani intelligence source told Reuters Mohammad Naeem Noor Khan, who was arrested in Lahore secretly last month, had been actively cooperating with intelligence agents to help catch al Qaeda operatives when his name appeared in U.S. newspapers.

After his capture he admitted being an al Qaeda member and agreed to send e-mails to his contacts," a Pakistani intelligence source told Reuters. "He sent encoded e-mails and received encoded replies. He's a great hacker and even the U.S. agents said he was a computer whiz."

Juan Cole asks

Why in the world would Bush administration officials out a double agent working for Pakistan and the US against al-Qaeda? In a way, the motivation does not matter. If the Reuters story is true, this 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.

One possible answer was provided by two little noticed reports in SALON which seem to indicate the Bush administration has been more interested in doling out patronage slots to its political allies than in expertise and competence in the Department of Homeland Security.

How Secure in the Department of Homeland Security? (June 22)

The policy director for the Department of Homeland Security's intelligence division was briefly removed from his job in March when the Federal Bureau of Investigation discovered he had failed to disclose his association with Abdurahman Alamoudi, a jailed American Muslim leader. Alamoudi was indicted last year on terrorism-related money-laundering charges and now claims to have been part of a plot to assassinate Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Abdullah. [Alamoudi has since pled guilty.]

After a flurry of interagency meetings, however, Homeland Security decided to leave the policy director, Faisal Gill, in place, according to two government officials with knowledge of the Alamoudi investigation. A White House political appointee with close ties to Republican power broker Grover Norquist and no apparent background in intelligence, Gill has access to top-secret information on the vulnerability of America's seaports, aviation facilities and nuclear power plants to terrorist attacks.

The FBI raised concerns with Homeland Security officials in March after discovering that Gill had failed to list on security clearance documents his work in 2001 with the American Muslim Council, the officials said. The advocacy group, which was controlled by Alamoudi, has been under scrutiny in an investigation of terrorism financing. The lead agent in that investigation works for an arm of Homeland Security. Gill's omission of the information on his "Standard Form 86" national security questionnaire is a potential felony violation. There is no evidence, however, that Gill has taken any action to compromise national security.
There is also this follow-up article (Homeland Security inspector general launches Faisal Gill inquiry).

Now I doubt that Gill had anything to with this leak. It is more likely to have been made by higher-ups or people more in the loop.

Back to Cole's analysis:

So one scenario goes like this. Bush gets the reports that Eisa al-Hindi had been casing the financial institutions, and there was an update as recently as January 2004 in the al-Qaeda file. So this could be a live operation. If Bush doesn't announce it, and al-Qaeda did strike the institutions, then the fact that he knew of the plot beforehand would sink him if it came out (and it would) before the election. So he has to announce the plot. But if he announces it, people are going to suspect that he is wagging the dog and trying to shore up his popularity by playing the terrorism card. So he has to be able to give a credible account of how he got the information. So when the press is skeptical and critical, he decides to give up Khan so as to strengthen his case. In this scenario, he or someone in his immediate circle decides that a mere double agent inside al-Qaeda can be sacrificed if it helps Bush get reelected in the short term.

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