Tuesday, October 9, 2007

SITE, Osama bin Laden, and Online Security:
What Part of "Secret" Doesn't Washington Understand?

On the morning of September 7, an Osama bin Laden video taken from Al Qaeda's online system by a private intelligence company was turned over to senior American officials. By that afternoon, the video was being broadcast on the news.

I like to be kept informed as much as anybody, but the company, SITE Intelligence Group, says that making the video public ruined years of work.

"'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." That's how the Washington Post put it.

"While attracting controversy over the secrecy of SITE's methodology?!"

Let's think about it:
  • A bunch of religious nuts have decided that they're supposed to kill Americans, wholesale.
  • Being smart fanatics, they do their planning and preparation in secret
  • Among other things, the fanatics set up a secure online communication system.
  • A private-sector investigation firm cracks into the system, making it possible to learn of the next attack.
And there's controversy over whether or not the firm should tell how it cracked into the terrorists' system??!!

As it is, thanks to some bozo or bozos on Capitol Hill, Al Qaeda now knows that its online security has been breached, and has probably plugged the hole by now.

I sometimes wonder if the people inside the Beltway really understand what's going on. Although it isn't as obvious as the Luftwaffe's regular bombing of London, back in WWII, the war on terror is very real.

Happily, attacks like 9/11 replays of 2002 and 2003 didn't happen. Not for lack of effort, though. People like Khalid Shaikh Mohammed haven't stopped trying to promote their brand of Islam, and I don't expect them to.

I'd feel safer if the people whose job it is to run this country acted as if they realized that we're all at risk.

This Osama bin Laden video isn't the first time that that classified information has been leaked in Washington. As the St. Petersburg Times put it, writing about the fuss over the leak of September 10, 2001, messages in Arabic, "Leaking is a Washington tradition, especially on Capitol Hill. By leaking information to a reporter, members of Congress can make a point without leaving their fingerprints."

Much as I admire and respect traditions, leaking classified information while there's a war on simply doesn't make sense. The British, for example, after they cracked the Enigma code, the British had the good sense to keep the fact secret.

I'm going to make a prediction, and I hope I'm wrong.

The presidential campaign will whip our elected officials into a frenzy next year.

At least one candidate is going to demonstrate his or her knowledge of world affairs and Washington by leaking - or openly discussing - information that would have best been left under wraps until after the war.

Related posts, on Individuals and the War on Terror.


Anonymous said...
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Brian H. Gill said...


Sorry, no spam.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Brian H. Gill said...

william and/or Alessandra,

Thank you for the kind words, but seriously: no spam.

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Note! Although I believe that these websites and blogs are useful resources for understanding the War on Terror, I do not necessarily agree with their opinions. 1 1 Given a recent misunderstanding of the phrase "useful resources," a clarification: I do not limit my reading to resources which support my views, or even to those which appear to be accurate. Reading opinions contrary to what I believed has been very useful at times: sometimes verifying my previous assumptions, sometimes encouraging me to change them.

Even resources which, in my opinion, are simply inaccurate are sometimes useful: these can give valuable insights into why some people or groups believe what they do.

In short, It is my opinion that some of the resources in this blogroll are neither accurate, nor unbiased. I do, however, believe that they are useful in understanding the War on Terror, the many versions of Islam, terrorism, and related topics.