Al-Qaeda computer geek nearly overthrew US

A close shave, the Bushies claim


Update A White House with a clear determination to draw paranoid conclusions from ambiguous data has finally gone over the top. It has now implied that the al-Qaeda computer geek arrested last month in Pakistan was involved in a plot to destabilize the USA around election time.

Two and two is five

As we reported here and here, so-called al-Qaeda "computer expert" Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan, a Pakistani, was arrested on 13 July in possession of detailed but rather old surveillance documents related to major financial institutions in New York, Newark, and Washington.

Since that time, other intelligence has led the US security apparatus to imagine that a plot to attack the USA might be in the works. (No doubt there are scores of plots in the works, but we digress.) Therefore, last week, the ever-paranoid Bush Administration decided that Khan's building surveillance documents, and the hints of imminent danger, had to be connected. Indeed, if al Qaeda is to strike at all, it is most likely to strike the targets mentioned in Khan's documents, as opposed to thousands of others, the Bushies reasoned.

New York, Newark and Washington were immediately put on high alert, at great expense, and to the inconvenience of millions of residents. The sites mentioned in the Khan documents have received extraordinary attention, while thousands of other potential targets remain exposed to easy attack. (Anyone doubting this should look at the photos of unguarded access and control points to a Manhattan gas pipeline over forty inches in diameter, photographed without difficulty by Cryptome's John Young.)

But government panic over dubious intelligence was not enough. Another Bush Administration hobby horse is a notion that foreign evildoers intend to disrupt the November elections. We've been hearing about this ever since it was assumed that a terrorist attack determined the Spanish elections back in March.

So it did not take long for Bush security apparatchiks to begin leaking to the press strong hints that this is precisely what's behind the Administration's current terrorist hysteria.

According to an article in the New York Times, Khan the cyberterrorist "was also communicating with al Qaeda operatives who the authorities say are plotting to carry out an attack intended to disrupt the fall elections, a senior intelligence official said Saturday."

Given the amount of skepticism the Administration has had to confront over its most recent Chicken Little act, and its hammerheaded aversion to acknowledging even the tiniest of mistakes, perhaps it was inevitable that the terror hype of last week could only be hyped further. It was impossible to retreat.

It has now got every citizen and law enforcement officer obsessing on a handful of targets that, thanks to the news cycle, al Qaeda knows not to mess with.

Missed opportunities

Meanwhile, back in Britain, UK Home Secretary David Blunkett - in a rare moment of common sense, if not lucidity - upbraided the Bush Administration for "feed[ing] the news frenzy."

The information on which the Bushies decided to raise the terror alert level is "of dubious worth," Blunkett said, adding that such information should be published "only if it would prove useful in preventing injury and loss of life," which he obviously believes the Bush hysteria would not do.

"There has been column inch after column inch devoted to the fact that in the United States there is often high-profile commentary, followed - as in the most current case - by detailed scrutiny with the potential risk of inviting ridicule," Blunkett said, inelegantly but rightly.

Blunkett is spot on in that critique, and still it gets worse. According to wire reports, Kahn the geek had been cooperating with Pakistani security forces, until the Bush Administration's insistence that he be arrested immediately, and their leaking of his name, ended his cooperation, and stuffed up several terror investigations in various countries, the UK included.

Pakistani intelligence forces have complained that several high-profile al Qaeda suspects they'd been keeping an eye on have gone to earth and now can't be found, merely because Khan was named. The twelve suspects suddenly rounded up in Britain last week were almost certainly nabbed in haste for the same reason.

But Khan is clearly a small-fry player, one whose continuing cooperation would have yielded more fruit than his arrest. Indeed, his arrest has signaled to scores of other al-Qaeda players that they should shift their plans. ®

Thomas C Greene is the author of Computer Security for the Home and Small Office, a comprehensive guide to system hardening, malware protection, online anonymity, encryption, and data hygiene for Windows and Linux.

Related stories US terror alert becomes political football Al-Qaeda cyber terrorist panics US


Other stories you might like

  • North Korea pulled in $400m in cryptocurrency heists last year – report

    Plus: FIFA 22 players lose their identity and Texas gets phony QR codes

    In brief Thieves operating for the North Korean government made off with almost $400m in digicash last year in a concerted attack to steal and launder as much currency as they could.

    A report from blockchain biz Chainalysis found that attackers were going after investment houses and currency exchanges in a bid to purloin funds and send them back to the Glorious Leader's coffers. They then use mixing software to make masses of micropayments to new wallets, before consolidating them all again into a new account and moving the funds.

    Bitcoin used to be a top target but Ether is now the most stolen currency, say the researchers, accounting for 58 per cent of the funds filched. Bitcoin accounted for just 20 per cent, a fall of more than 50 per cent since 2019 - although part of the reason might be that they are now so valuable people are taking more care with them.

    Continue reading
  • Tesla Full Self-Driving videos prompt California's DMV to rethink policy on accidents

    Plus: AI systems can identify different chess players by their moves and more

    In brief California’s Department of Motor Vehicles said it’s “revisiting” its opinion of whether Tesla’s so-called Full Self-Driving feature needs more oversight after a series of videos demonstrate how the technology can be dangerous.

    “Recent software updates, videos showing dangerous use of that technology, open investigations by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and the opinions of other experts in this space,” have made the DMV think twice about Tesla, according to a letter sent to California’s Senator Lena Gonzalez (D-Long Beach), chair of the Senate’s transportation committee, and first reported by the LA Times.

    Tesla isn’t required to report the number of crashes to California’s DMV unlike other self-driving car companies like Waymo or Cruise because it operates at lower levels of autonomy and requires human supervision. But that may change after videos like drivers having to take over to avoid accidentally swerving into pedestrians crossing the road or failing to detect a truck in the middle of the road continue circulating.

    Continue reading
  • Alien life on Super-Earth can survive longer than us due to long-lasting protection from cosmic rays

    Laser experiments show their magnetic fields shielding their surfaces from radiation last longer

    Life on Super-Earths may have more time to develop and evolve, thanks to their long-lasting magnetic fields protecting them against harmful cosmic rays, according to new research published in Science.

    Space is a hazardous environment. Streams of charged particles traveling at very close to the speed of light, ejected from stars and distant galaxies, bombard planets. The intense radiation can strip atmospheres and cause oceans on planetary surfaces to dry up over time, leaving them arid and incapable of supporting habitable life. Cosmic rays, however, are deflected away from Earth, however, since it’s shielded by its magnetic field.

    Now, a team of researchers led by the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) believe that Super-Earths - planets that are more massive than Earth but less than Neptune - may have magnetic fields too. Their defensive bubbles, in fact, are estimated to stay intact for longer than the one around Earth, meaning life on their surfaces will have more time to develop and survive.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022