"Air Force One is next," read the message received
by the U.S. Secret Service at 9 a.m. Sept. 11, after two hijacked planes
struck the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York.
Three minutes later, Secret Service agents grabbed Vice President Dick
Cheney from his seat opposite a television set in the White House and hustled
him down to the president's emergency operations center, a bunker built
to withstand a nuclear blast.
The terrorists' message threatening Air Force One was transmitted in that
day's top-secret White House code words. As the clock ticked away, the
Secret Service reached a frightening conclusion: The terrorists had obtained
the White House code and a whole set of top-secret signals.
This made it possible for a hostile force to pinpoint the exact position
of Air Force One, its destination and its classified procedures. In fact,
the hijackers were picking up and deciphering the presidential plane's
incoming and outgoing transmissions.
The discovery shocked everyone in the president's emergency operations
center ? Cheney, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and Transportation
Secretary Norman Mineta. Their first question was: How did the terrorists
access top-secret White House codes and procedures? Is there a mole, or
more than one enemy spy in the White House, the Secret Service, the FBI,
the CIA or the Federal Aviation Administration?
In the week after the attacks in New York and Washington, more hair-raising
facts emerged. The terrorists had also obtained the code groups of the
National Security Agency and were able to penetrate the NSA's state-of-the-art
electronic surveillance systems. Indeed, they seemed to have at their disposal
an electronic capability that was more sophisticated than that of the NSA.
This startling observation came as no surprise to those tracking the globe-spanning
investments of Saudi Arabia's bin Laden family and those of its exiled
son, Osama, in some of the world's biggest and most advanced satellite
and telecommunications companies. World Space Communication is one of the
known bin Laden assets. U.S. counter-terrorism agencies, including the
NSA, have been tracking World Space Communication's activities for the
past five years. Some of the company's satellites are far more advanced
than the NSA's own eyes in the sky.
Bin Laden also has the NSA beat on the employment front, hiring the best
computer experts on the market . One such is Nabil Khan Kani, a Syrian
who lived in Barcelona with his Spanish wife, Jenna Florine, in the late
1980s and early 1990s.
No one ever suspected what the amiable Syrian was really up to until January
2000, when FBI agents found two apartments he used thousands of miles from
Barcelona, in the Bab el-Shabaa district of Saana, Yemen. The apartments
served as transit points for Egyptians suspected of operational links with
the Egyptian Islamic Jihad and Algerians connected with the Armed Islamic
Group, or GIA. There, investigators turned up nine fake identity cards
in different names, all with Kani's photo, Spanish, Italian, French and
Sudanese passports, likewise with the same photo but in different names,
and two pistols fitted with silencers.
Kani must have used yet another alias for his getaway . His whereabouts
are unknown to this day. Computer and terrorism experts suggest that the
missing Syrian computer whiz was the author of the technology known as
steganography, as first described in the Washington Post yesterday. This
technology enables users to bypass electronic monitoring by hiding messages
randomly in seemingly innocent digital files, such as music files, those
of the popular online marketplace eBay, pornographic files or even e-mail
headers. Scrambled with the help of basic encryption tools, they can only
be read by those with a "key." These messages leave no trace
of their presence.
U.S. intelligence has been unable to trace their authors and recipients
in the three years since first detecting evidence of their existence in
the files of the bin Laden organization. U.S. agencies now believe that
the attacks in New York and Washington were coordinated through those encrypted
electronic messages, which were opened by "key" holders.
They also believe that terrorists are in possession of all or part of the
codes used by the Drug Enforcement Administration, the National Reconnaissance
Office, Air Force Intelligence, Army Intelligence, Naval Intelligence,
Marine Corps Intelligence and the intelligence offices of the State Department
and Department of Energy.
Intelligence and counter-terror sources report that, while rescuers in
New York and Washington were sifting through rubble inch by inch, US government
experts were changing codes one-by-one ? and even more difficult, replacing
procedures and methods of encryption. The nagging question of a mole in
the highest reaches of the U.S. government and intelligence community ?
with direct or indirect links with bin Laden ? remains. Since no single
individual has access to every top-level code at any given time ? a single
mole would not answer the case; it would have to be a large, widely spread
number. U.S. experts do not believe bin Laden was capable of infiltrating
double agents into the heart of the U.S. administration on a large scale.
They are looking elsewhere, instead, at a country with a very well-oiled
intelligence apparatus ? Iraq.
This theory was argued by an authoritative voice, former CIA Director James
Woolsey, in a New Republic article reprinted by London's Daily Telegraph
on Sept. 17. He refers to a book called "Study of Revenge: Saddam
Hussein's Unfinished War Against America," by Laurie Mylroie, which
quotes a senior FBI investigator on the problematical identity of Ramzi
Yousef, perpetrator of the first attempt to blow up the World Trade Center
For that deed, a U.S. federal court in New York sentenced Yousef Jan. 8,
1998, to 240 years in solitary confinement. He was also indicted for conspiring
to hijack 12 U.S. and Asian commercial aircraft on their way to the United
States and blow them up over New York. It was claimed that the name Ramzi
Yousef was an alias for his real identity, which was a Pakistani called
Abdul Basit Karim.
However, the FBI investigator cited in the book said that Basit was not
his real identity either; Yousef was actually an Iraqi army agent who stole
Basit's identity. Basit and family were resident in Kuwait when Iraq overran
the oil emirate in 1990. The Iraqis moved the family to Baghdad with other
hostages. Some returned home, but the Basits were never heard of again,
probably murdered for the sake of disguising Ramzi Yousef.
The former CIA director's advice is this: Iraq was involved in the first
attack on the World Trade Center. Baghdad is therefore the place to look
for the conspirators behind the second.
Intelligence sources can disclose that Woolsey's conclusion does not rest
exclusively on the Mylroie book. While pointing the finger at Iraqi intelligence,
he assigns Baghdad with no more than a partial role both in the1993 World
Trade Center bombing and also in last week's suicide attack on its twin
towers. His conclusions are based on a CIA investigation opened during
his tenure as CIA director from 1993-1995.
Evidence kept in a personal dossier codenamed KG-84-HJ established Iraqi
complicity in the 1993 attack. It also contains the first serious evaluations
and theories regarding the identity of the high-placed penetration agents
in the White House and at the heart of U.S. intelligence.
They appear to be the very moles who made those vital coded signals available
to the kamikaze terrorists on 911. ___
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