TICK, TICK, BOOM

In the wake of 7/7 the Brits are livid over their government’s intelligence failures. Just wait until they hear about ours.

Three new studies by the Saudi government and think tanks in Israel and Britain conclude what everyone already knows: The war in Iraq has incited more, not less, terrorism. The British study (PDF), funded by the government, found that “the situation over Iraq gave a boost to the Al-Qaeda network’s propaganda, recruitment and fundraising, caused a major split in the coalition, provided an ideal targeting and training area for Al-Qaeda-linked terrorists, and deflected resources and assistance that could have been deployed to assist the Karzai government and to bring bin Laden to justice.”

Other than that Mrs. Lincoln, how’d you like the war?

While the American public is paying the bad news the usual inattention it gives any scandal not involving a missing blonde chick, the Brits have gotten the message and they’re not happy. A recent Guardian/ICM poll shows that two-thirds of Britons see a link between the recent London bombings and Britain’s decision to join the war in Iraq. My conversations with locals on a recent visit to London, hours after the July 7 bombings, confirmed as much. In addition to the surprising number of people I spoke to who blamed the attacks on Britain’s involvement in Iraq, the sole cop standing guard in front of Buckingham Palace that evening, when asked why the attacks happened, told me that it was “because some people want to be free.” Imagine a Secret Service agent saying that in front of the White House on 9/11.

The British public’s ire over the bombings only increased after it was discovered that police had one of the suspects in custody months ago, but released him after determining he posed no threat. No doubt the Brits will be even more pissed once they realize the Bush administration twice botched efforts that could have helped prevent the attack.

The first screw up was back in 2002. According to the Seattle Times, the US had in its custody at that time Haroon Aswat, a man federal prosecutors believe helped set up a terrorist training camp in Bly, Oregon in late 1999. For reasons no one can quite figure out, John Ashcroft’s Justice Department blocked efforts by its own Seattle-based prosecutors to seek a grand-jury indictment of Aswat. Why is that relevant? Aswat has now been tied to the London bombings (the Brits think he was in cell phone contact with at least two of the bombers in the days preceding the attack).

The second screw up is even more astounding.

Last summer, just after the Democratic convention, then-Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge issued another of his many Code Orange terror alerts. The secretary-who-cried-terrorist was facing increasing criticism for politicizing the terror warnings in the months before the presidential election, so this time he did something different. Secretary Ridge gave the public details, and lots of ‘em.

“Reports indicate that Al Qaeda is targeting several specific buildings,” Ridge said at an August 1, 2004 press conference, “including the International Monetary Fund and World Bank in the District of Columbia; Prudential Financial in Northern New Jersey; and Citigroup buildings and the New York Stock Exchange in New York.”

Those details were enough for the New York Times, in less than twenty-four hours, to uncover and break the rest of the story. The Times reported on August 2 that US officials had announced the terror alert after receiving hard evidence that Al Qaeda was targeting New York and DC financial centers. The evidence came from the laptop computer of Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan, the Times said, an Al Qaeda operative arrested in Pakistan several weeks prior who was now working as a US mole inside Al Qaeda. That’s when all hell broke loose.

While it remains unclear who spilled Khan’s name—the Americans blame the Pakistanis, and vice versa—the Times story created a panic in English and Pakistani law enforcement circles. Khan’s Al Qaeda buddies in both countries, upon learning that their friend was a double agent, quickly went into hiding. Both British and Pakistani officials were “furious” with the Americans for helping to unmask their spy, according to the New York Daily News, and the Brits had to launch a series of high-speed chases to catch Khan’s fleeing cabal. A senior Pakistani official told the Associated Press “this intelligence leak jeopardized our plan and some Al Qaeda suspects ran away.”

 

There was an important piece of information not revealed last August by either Tom Ridge or the Times. As ABC News reported after the London bombing, Khan’s laptop not only contained information about US financial centers, but also evidence that Al Qaeda was planning to target the London Tube. ABC, of course, forgot the clincher: How Bush’s leaky goon squad sabotaged a multinational operation to thwart what would ultimately become the successful London bombings of July 7, 2005.