Run and Gun
Al Qaeda arrests and intelligence hauls bring new energy to the war on terrorism
Another windfall has come from the 600 prisoners captured in Afghanistan and now held by the U.S. military in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. More and more of them are "flipping," says a top law enforcement official, who credits their cooperation to "really aggressive interrogations" and a dawning realization among many of their dismal fate. One secret to the success: Some interrogations are being done by intelligence agents from the prisoners' home countries, who bring an intimate knowledge of the inmates' language, associates, and families. Moroccan agents questioning one prisoner, for example, led to the June arrest of three al Qaeda operatives plotting to attack NATO ships in the Strait of Gibraltar.
At the same time, U.S. analysts have built up an impressive data bank drawn from captured computer drives, photographs, videotapes, and more. The result has been a quantum leap in understanding of al Qaeda's structure and personnel. "Now when you go to interrogate people, you know when they're lying," says an intelligence official. "You can play poker with these guys."
Intelligence haul. Despite the success, U.S. officials remain on high alert. Only a third of al Qaeda's top leadership is confirmed dead or captured, and dozens of threats still pour into the CIA and the FBI each day. Last week's raids in Pakistan, for example, yielded a trove of intelligence that included "alarming" information on a plot within the United States, sources say. Military officials are taking seriously a new warning that al Qaeda has targeted U.S. Special Forces here at home. In August alone, officials logged more than 80 "suspicious activity reports" around U.S.-based military installations. A federal law enforcement report obtained by U.S. News reveals a number of odd incidents. Among them: a person photographing radars and flight paths at Colorado's Buckley Air Force Base and an SUV that ran the main gate of Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada at high speed and escaped into the desert. Nuclear power plants, the report says, continue to attract suspicious characters. Near a plant in Putnam County, Ga., for instance, a man of apparent Middle Eastern descent inquired of locals, "Is that the headquarters or the mother ship of Georgia Power?" and then drove away.
But buoyed by successful cases, help from friends abroad, and the intelligence windfall, America's front-line warriors have reason for optimism. Key to the effort, they say, have been our allies overseas, particularly in the Muslim world. "International liaison is probably the single biggest factor in our success," says Bob Blitzer, a former top FBI counterterrorism agent. "You have to lean on our friends overseas. They know the turf, they know the people." The Egyptians and the Pakistanis earn particularly high praise from Washington. So intense is Pakistan's crackdown that its cities have become too hot for al Qaeda, officials say, with one notable exception: the sprawling port city of Karachi, where police fought a pitched gun and grenade battle before arresting suspects this September 11.
The intelligence windfall is helping the government create what critics say should have been built a decade ago: a database of the estimated 10,000 to 15,000 jihadists who passed through bin Laden's training camps during the 1990s. FBI investigators believe that hundreds of Americans have trained in the camps, but until 9/11 agents tracked only a handful of them. Now, investigators are systematically building up computerized files on thousands of the jihadists.