Department of Lost Opportunities

It looks as if the Bush administration's outing of an intelligence source last year, during the week of the Democratic National Convention, may have undercut the British intelligence efforts aimed at preventing the recent London bombings.

ABC News reports that, a year ago, U.S. and British authorities learned of plans for a coordinated series of attacks on the London subway system (as well as on financial buildings in the U.S.); the plans were on the laptop computer of al Qaeda operative Naeem Noor Khan. The British, ABC News continues, responded by arresting a bunch of young men of Pakistani descent in Luton linked to al Qaeda. The story, though, turns out to be a little more complicated. DHS used the laptop information to justify a heightened terrorism alert, publicizing it at a press conference. Those actions seem to have led directly to the public disclosure of Khan's name — though it's not clear whether the name was leaked by U.S. officials, or by Pakistani officials responding to questioning by reporters following up press conference leads. This was a problem because Khan had continued, after his arrest, to communicate with Al Qaeda contacts, allowing Pakistani authorities to monitor the communications; once the fact of his arrest became known, those contacts scattered. British authorities had to scramble to make arrests; according to Juan Cole and others, the leak caused the British to have to move hastily against the Al Qaeda cell Khan had been in contact with. Five members got away entirely; others couldn't be charged. The British were furious at all of the information becoming available on this side of the Atlantic; Chuck Schumer was quoted by CNN at the time as explaining that Home Secretary Blunkett “expressed displeasure in fairly severe terms that Khan's name was released, because they were trying to track down other contacts of his.”

So when the British attempted to move against the Luton cell last year, who weren't they able to arrest, thanks to the Administration's at best incompetent and “seriously unclever,” at worst crass and politically motivated August 2004 actions?

Links courtesy of AMERICAblog

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