Tech in War on Terror

One of the top stories yesterday was the Pakistani capture of Al-Qaeda’s operations man, Abu Faraj Farj al-Libbi, the successor to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who had himself been captured in Pakistan in March 2003. This morning, however, this key advance in the fight against the terrorists is nowhere to be found on CNN’s home page or the Drudge Report.

Al-Libbi’s capture did bring to mind this post dealing with the inadvertent release of classified US Army checkpoint procedures in Iraq.

Then I found this Forbes article, entited “From the Laptops of Terrorists”. Key points:

If you can’t catch terrorists, then the next best thing seems to be snatching their laptop computers. And as luck would have it, they’re just as sloppy about protecting their sensitive personal information as the rest of us.

At least that appears to have been the case when U.S. military forces came surprisingly close to catching the terrorist mastermind of al Qaeda in Iraq, the Jordanian-born Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

On Feb. 20, the Pentagon says al-Zarqawi was in a truck heading from Fallujah to a meeting in Ramadi when U.S. forces pulled over one of the vehicles in his convoy. Another truck in the group turned around and sped away. When they finally caught up to that truck, Al-Zarqawi was gone, but he had left his laptop in the car. And what they found on it says some hopeful things about our chances of ultimately rooting out and capturing the bad guys.

It turns out that terrorists are just as lazy about protecting their data as your average PC owner. There were, according to news reports, recent digital pictures, apparently of al-Zarqawi, tucked away in the “My Pictures” folder common to PCs running Microsoft’s Windows.

Reports have varied about the information found on the computer. Reportedly, among the nuggets are names and addresses of friendly contacts, information about al-Zarqawi’s medical condition and, possibly, financial information. All of this is valuable, and reduces the number of rocks under which the lowlife can safely hide.

Al-Libbi was captured within 24 hours of this report’s publication- was it related to Al-Zarqawi’s laptop? Similar captures of Mohammed, Ramzi Binalshibh, and Abu Zubaydah were technologically inspired.

If Al-Libbi was the other shoe to drop from Al-Zarqawi’s close shave in February, what will be the fallout of the Sgrena .pdf debacle?


Capture seen as path to Bin Laden from the Washington Times has more information:

Based on a tip from locals that foreigners were in the area, Pakistan nabbed the Libyan-born al-Libbi in a home near Mardan in northwestern Pakistan on Monday. The arrest was leaked to the press in Pakistan prematurely, local officials told Reuters news service.

Monday’s capture was part of a broader crackdown begun by Pakistan in July after an al Qaeda computer specialist, Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan, was arrested and his coded communications seized. Information on his computer led to the arrests of Islamic militants in London.

Muhammad Khan’s arrest is the gift that keeps on giving- nearly a year later. One can only hope al-Zarqawi’s laptop will provide such lasting dividends.

Possibly Related
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  • Fixing the Bush Presidency
  • Filed in: Technology, War on Terror at 7:09 am on Thursday, May 5, 2005 TrackBack

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