I looked around for this but was really surprised it hasn't been brought up yet.
Apparently ABC or Fox or one of the media outlets leaked comments in their website about an unreleased Bin Laden video. The video was circulating secret terrorist websites (some of them hacked servers and systems that required authentication to enter). The leaked was picked up by our enemies and all the sites were shutdown and destroyed damaging our ability to spy on them. This is one of the stories I found on the subject.www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/10/08/AR2007100801817.html?hpid=topnews
Leak Severed a Link to Al-Qaeda's Secrets
Firm Says Administration's Handling of Video Ruined Its Spying Efforts
By Joby Warrick
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 9, 2007; Page A01
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.
"Techniques that took years to develop are now ineffective and worthless," said Rita Katz, the firm's 44-year-old founder, who has garnered wide attention by publicizing statements and videos from extremist chat rooms and Web sites, while attracting controversy over the secrecy of SITE's methodology. Her firm provides intelligence about terrorist groups to a wide range of paying clients, including private firms and military and intelligence agencies from the United States and several other countries.
The precise source of the leak remains unknown. Government officials declined to be interviewed about the circumstances on the record, but they did not challenge Katz's version of events. They also said the incident had no effect on U.S. intelligence-gathering efforts and did not diminish the government's ability to anticipate attacks.
While acknowledging that SITE had achieved success, the officials said U.S. agencies have their own sophisticated means of watching al-Qaeda on the Web. "We have individuals in the right places dealing with all these issues, across all 16 intelligence agencies," said Ross Feinstein, spokesman for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
But privately, some intelligence officials called the incident regrettable, and one official said SITE had been "tremendously helpful" in ferreting out al-Qaeda secrets over time.
The al-Qaeda video aired on Sept. 7 attracted international attention as the first new video message from the group's leader in three years. In it, a dark-bearded bin Laden urges Americans to convert to Islam and predicts failure for the Bush administration in Iraq and Afghanistan. The video was aired on hundreds of Western news Web sites nearly a full day before its release by a distribution company linked to al-Qaeda.
Computer logs and records reviewed by The Washington Post support SITE's claim that it snatched the video from al-Qaeda days beforehand. Katz requested that the precise date and details of the acquisition not be made public, saying such disclosures could reveal sensitive details about the company's methods.
SITE -- an acronym for the Search for International Terrorist Entities -- was established in 2002 with the stated goal of tracking and exposing terrorist groups, according to the company's Web site. Katz, an Iraqi-born Israeli citizen whose father was executed by Saddam Hussein in the 1960s, has made the investigation of terrorist groups a passionate quest.
"We were able to establish sources that provided us with unique and important information into al-Qaeda's hidden world," Katz said. Her company's income is drawn from subscriber fees and contracts.
Katz 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.
Administration and intelligence officials would not comment on whether they had obtained the video separately. Katz said Fielding and Bagnal made it clear to her that the White House did not possess a copy at the time she offered hers.
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.
A small number of private intelligence companies compete with SITE in scouring terrorists' networks for information and messages, and some have questioned the company's motives and methods, including the claim that its access to al-Qaeda's network was unique. One competitor, Ben Venzke, founder of IntelCenter, said he questions SITE's decision -- as described by Katz -- to offer the video to White House policymakers rather than quietly share it with intelligence analysts.
"It is not just about getting the video first," Venzke said. "It is about having the proper methods and procedures in place to make sure that the appropriate intelligence gets to where it needs to go in the intelligence community and elsewhere in order to support ongoing counterterrorism operations."
|Qaeda Goes Dark After a U.S. Slip Enemy Vanishes From Its Web Sites|
By ELI LAKE Staff Reporter of the Sun October 9, 2007
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
WASHINGTON — Al Qaeda's Internet communications system has suddenly gone dark to American intelligence after the leak of Osama bin Laden's September 11 speech inadvertently disclosed the fact that we had penetrated the enemy's system.
The intelligence blunder started with what appeared at the time as an American intelligence victory, namely that the federal government had intercepted, a full four days before it was to be aired, a video of Osama bin Laden's first appearance in three years in a video address marking the sixth anniversary of the attacks of September 11, 2001. On the morning of September 7, the Web site of ABC News posted excerpts from the speech.
But the disclosure from ABC and later other news organizations tipped off Qaeda's internal security division that the organization's Internet communications system, known among American intelligence analysts as Obelisk, was compromised. This network of Web sites serves not only as the distribution system for the videos produced by Al Qaeda's production company, As-Sahab, but also as the equivalent of a corporate intranet, dealing with such mundane matters as expense reporting and clerical memos to mid- and lower-level Qaeda operatives throughout the world.
While intranets are usually based on servers in a discrete physical location, Obelisk is a series of sites all over the Web, often with fake names, in some cases sites that are not even known by their proprietors to have been hacked by Al Qaeda.
One intelligence officer who requested anonymity said in an interview last week that the intelligence community watched in real time the shutdown of the Obelisk system. America's Obelisk watchers even saw the order to shut down the system delivered from Qaeda's internal security to a team of technical workers in Malaysia. That was the last internal message America's intelligence community saw. "We saw the whole thing shut down because of this leak," the official said. "We lost an important keyhole into the enemy."
By Friday evening, one of the key sets of sites in the Obelisk network, the Ekhlaas forum, was back on line. The Ekhlaas forum is a password-protected message board used by Qaeda for recruitment, propaganda dissemination, and as one of the entrance ways into Obelisk for those operatives whose user names are granted permission. Many of the other Obelisk sites are now offline and presumably moved to new secret locations on the World Wide Web.
The founder of a Web site known as clandestineradio.com, Nick Grace, tracked the shutdown of Qaeda's Obelisk system in real time. "It was both unprecedented and chilling from the perspective of a Web techie. The discipline and coordination to take the entire system down involving multiple Web servers, hundreds of user names and passwords, is an astounding feat, especially that it was done within minutes," Mr. Grace said yesterday.
The head of the SITE Intelligence Group, an organization that monitors Jihadi Web sites and provides information to subscribers, Rita Katz, said she personally provided the video on September 7 to the deputy director of the National Counterterrorism Center, Michael Leiter.
Ms. Katz yesterday said, "We shared a copy of the transcript and the video with the U.S. government, to Michael Leiter, with the request specifically that it was important to keep the subject secret. Then the video was leaked out. An investigation into who downloaded the video from our server indicated that several computers with IP addresses were registered to government agencies."
Yesterday a spokesman for the National Counterterrorism Center, Carl Kropf, denied the accusation that it was responsible for the leak. "That's just absolutely wrong. The allegation and the accusation that we did that is unfounded," he said. The spokesman for the director of national intelligence, Ross Feinstein, yesterday also denied the leak allegation. "The intelligence community and the ODNI senior leadership did not leak this video to the media," he said.
Ms. Katz said, "The government leak damaged our investigation into Al Qaeda's network. Techniques and sources that took years to develop became ineffective. As a result of the leak Al Qaeda changed their methods." Ms. Katz said she also lost potential revenue.
A former counterterrorism official, Roger Cressey, said, "If any of this was leaked for any reasons, especially political, that is just unconscionable." Mr. Cressey added that the work that was lost by burrowing into Qaeda's Internet system was far more valuable than any benefit that was gained by short-circuiting Osama bin Laden's video to the public.
While Al Qaeda still uses human couriers to move its most important messages between senior leaders and what is known as a Hawala network of lenders throughout the world to move interest-free money, more and more of the organization's communication happens in cyber space.
"While the traditional courier based networks can offer security and anonymity, the same can be had on the Internet. It is clear in recent years if you look at their information operations and explosion of Al Qaeda related Web sites and Web activities, the Internet has taken a primary role in their communications both externally and internally," Mr. Grace said.