Thanks to the US government’s leaking of the latest Osama bin Laden message, online intelligence gathering appears to have been compromised:
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.
Will Bunch suggests that the leak might have been intentional, and points to the political mileage the Bush administration got out of it:
In this case, in particular, Bush was clearly eager to use the bin Laden video — just hours after it was leaked to the media — to make political points on the issue that dominated the news that week, the run-up to the report by General David Petraeus, and Bush’s campaign for a long-term troop presence in Iraq. Check out how quickly Bush “seized” on the leaked bin Laden video on Sept. 9 of this year, at the Asian ecomomic summit in Sydney, Australia (from Agence France Presse, via Nexis):
On his final day here, he seized on a new video from terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden, who called for escalating the insurgency in Iraq, to argue that if the Al-Qaeda chief thinks Iraq is important, so should the US public.
“I find it interesting that on the tape, Iraq was mentioned, which is a reminder that Iraq is a part of this war against extremists,” Bush said after the release of the video, bin Laden’s first in three years.
In the tape the Al-Qaeda chief marks six years since the September 11, 2001 terrorist strikes on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon with a pledge “to continue to escalate the killing and fighting against you” in Iraq.
It’s a sign of the times that this type of hypothesis – that the White House leaked sensitive intelligence and compromised future efforts to gather intelligence about al Qaeda to generate support for their Iraq policies – appears perfectly plausible.