Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Suspected Steganography lead to raising the terror alert in 2003

Bogus analysis led to terror alert in Dec. 2003 - Lisa Myers & the NBC Investigative Unit -

WASHINGTON - Christmas 2003 became a season of terror after the federal
government raised the terror alert level from yellow to orange, grimly
citing credible intelligence of another assault on the United States.

"These credible sources," announced then-Secretary of Homeland Security
Tom Ridge, "suggest the possibility of attacks against the homeland
around the holiday season and beyond."

For weeks, America was on edge as security operations went into high
gear. Almost 30 international flights were canceled, inconveniencing
passengers flying Air France, British Air, Continental and Aero Mexico.

But senior U.S. officials now tell NBC News that the key piece of
information that triggered the holiday alert was a bizarre CIA analysis,
which turned out to be all wrong.

CIA analysts mistakenly thought they'd discovered a mother lode of
secret al-Qaida messages. They thought they had found secret messages on
Al-Jazeera, the Arabic-language television news channel, hidden in the
moving text at the bottom of the screen, known as the "crawl,"
where news headlines are summarized.

And the critics come out:

"I'm astonished," says author and intelligence expert Jim Bamford, "that
they would put so much credibility in such a weak source of

Bamford says the CIA shouldn't be criticized for considering the theory,
but that analysts should have weighed how implausible it was.

"What you have to do is judge the intelligence versus what your actions
are going to be. And this is the equivalent, basically, of looking at
tea leaves," Bamford says.

I find it very interesting that steganography was the cause for raising the alert level. The article says the messages were supposedly found "in the moving text" in the "crawl", which would seem to implicate Al-Jazeera in communicating secret messages from terrorits since they control the crawl and would presumably have authored the content. The only way they wouldn't be implicated would be if they were to have been scrolling direct quotes from terrorists.

But is the "intelligence" applied to the "steganographic data" (flight numbers, etc.) that was "found" simply masking the fact that the CIA is resorting to numerology? Mining arbitrary data for significance where there is none, ala The Bible Code? The reference to reading "tea leaves" above is apropos...

What I'm also curious about is who leaked the information about why we raised the terror alert level? You would think that would be a national security secret--even now. Makes both the CIA and the decision makers in Homeland security look like idiots to put this information out there.

"It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt"
--Mark Twain

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