Monday, August 09, 2004


Juan Cole links to a Neville Dean Scotsman article on the British terror arrests. The Bush administration's inadvertent outing of Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan is already proving to be a monumental setback in the war against Al Qaeda; as Cole explains,
The British MI5 was forced to have the London cell of 13 arrested immediately on Tuesday, fearing that they would flee now that they knew Khan had been arrested two weeks earlier. The British do not, however, appear to have finished gathering enough evidence to prosecute the 13 in the courts successfully.

It now turns out, according to Neville, that "Reports last week also claimed that five al Qaida militants were on the run in the UK after escaping capture in last Tuesday’s raids." If this is true, it is likely that the 5 went underground on hearing that Khan was in custody. That is, the loose lips of the Bush administration enabled them to flee arrest.

Of the 13 taken into custody on Aug. 3, two were released for lack of evidence and two others were "no longer being questioned on suspicion of terrorism offences.

Two of the men let go on Sunday are being charged or questioned with regard to irregularities in their identity papers or lapsed visas.

By Tuesday, British police must charge the remaining 9, release them, or ask the magistrate for yet more time for questioning. Terror suspects may be held in the UK for up to two weeks without being charged, in accordance with the Terrorism Act.

One of the 9, Abu Eisa al-Hindi, is a high al-Qaeda official also wanted by the US. Because Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan's identity was prematurely released, however, the British may not have enough evidence to extradite him.
Khan was still sending e-mails to his London contacts right up to the moment his cover was blown last Monday. A CNN report claimed that:
Then on Friday, after Khan's name was revealed, government sources told CNN that counterterrorism officials had seen a drop in intercepted communications among suspected terrorists.
Al Qaeda cells, you may recall, sharply curtailed their use of satellite and cell phones after Orrin Hatch revealed that we had been intercepting their communications.

Josh Marshall posted a transcript from Sunday's Wolf Blitzer show on CNN, in which Condi Rice deploys her mad CYA skillz:
RICE: Well, I don't know what might have been going on in Pakistan. I will say this, that we did not, of course, publicly disclose his name. One of them...

BLITZER: He was disclosed in Washington on background.

RICE: On background. And the problem is that when you're trying to strike a balance between giving enough information to the public so that they know that you're dealing with a specific, credible, different kind of threat than you've dealt with in the past, you're always weighing that against kind of operational considerations. We've tried to strike a balance. We think for the most part, we've struck a balance, but it's indeed a very difficult balance to strike.
Here Rice seems to be implying that things discussed 'on background' aren't for public release and thus that the White House did not in fact release his name.

But that's simply false. White House officials give 'backgrounders' all the time, Rice at least as often as others. The information discussed in those briefings is very much for public use. The restrictions are simply a matter of identifying who is talking.
(Thanks to Atrios, who wakes up early in the morning, for both items above.)

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