Thursday, December 22, 2005

WaPo: Bush's bin Laden-Satphone tale a tall one

In defending his use of secret, warrantless wiretaps this week, Bush highlighted a Washington Times article from 1998 that told of Osama bin Laden using a Sattelite phone. He said the publication of that articled compromised "sources and methods" and bin Laden stopped using the phone after the disclosure.

Today, the Washington Post calls bullshit on that.

The day before the Washington Times article was published -- and the day of the attacks -- CNN producer Peter Bergen appeared on the network to talk about an interview he had with bin Laden in 1997.

"He communicates by satellite phone, even though Afghanistan in some levels is back in the Middle Ages and a country that barely functions," Bergen said.

Bergen noted that as early as 1997, bin Laden's men were very concerned about electronic surveillance. "They scanned us electronically," he said, because they were worried that anyone meeting with bin Laden "might have some tracking device from some intelligence agency." In 1996, the Chechen insurgent leader Dzhokhar Dudayev was killed by a Russian missile that locked in to his satellite phone signal.

That same day, CBS reported that bin Laden used a satellite phone to give a television interview. USA Today ran a profile of bin Laden on the same day as the Washington Times's article, quoting a former U.S. official about his "fondness for his cell phone."

Even better, the Post goes on to talk to some of the (apparently clueless) actors who have been pushing the notion that the article somehow destroyed an ongoing intelligence operation. And this passage is simply frightening.

Officials could not explain yesterday why they focused on the Washington Times story when other news organizations at the same time reported on the satellite phone -- and that the information was not particularly newsworthy.

"You got me," said Benjamin, who was director for counterterrorism on the National Security Council staff at the time. "That was the understanding in the White House and the intelligence community. The story ran and the lights went out."

You really have to wonder about the so-called "intelligence community" if they can't even be bothered to do a simple Lexis-Nexis check.

Permalink posted by Jonathan : 8:08 AM

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