An American company dedicated to monitoring al-Qaeda internet activities says that leaks from the US government have destroyed web-snooping capabilities painstakingly built up over years.
SITE, the "Search for International Terrorist Entities", is a small Washington-based outfit which trawls the web for jihadist messages and propaganda. The firm's analysts listen to the much-pontificated-upon net "chatter", often held by media spookery pundits to foretell important terrorist events or trends. SITE operators also penetrate password-protected websites, and generally sniff about in places they aren't welcome.
Last month, according to SITE founder Rita Katz, her people managed to get hold of the latest Osama bin Laden vid prior to its public release. Thinking to give the White House a chance to prep its response ahead of time, she gave Bush administration staffers a link to a private SITE webpage so that they could download copies of Osama's latest thoughts.
When emailing the link to White House counsel Fred Fielding and Michael Leiter of the National Counterterrorism Centre, Katz wrote:
"Please understand the necessity for secrecy. We ask you not to distribute... it could harm our investigations."
Within 20 minutes, according to SITE's computer records - which have been reviewed and verified by the Washington Post - intelligence and security agencies all across the US government had begun to download the video from the SITE site. These organisations included the CIA, the Pentagon and the Department of Homeland Security. Within five hours, the video and accompanying English transcript was on Fox News and other Western media outlets, well in advance of the al-Qaeda release.
Katz says the Fox material definitely originated with SITE, as the transcript page markers on the Fox website were identical to her people's. She says that the premature leak was disastrous. Al-Qaeda supporters, realising that access had been gained to network locations which they had considered secure, immediately changed their security procedures.
"Techniques that took years to develop are now ineffective and worthless," says Katz.