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[] Bin-Laden: High-Tech oder Low-Tech (Duncan Campbell),

 How the terror trail went unseen
 Duncan Campbell   08.10.2001 
  Scientists and politicians row over whether it was planned using 
hi-tech or lo-tech 
  Investigations into how the terror attackers managed to evade 
detection are producing the unusual situation that statements from the 
FBI have become more trustworthy than those in the press. 
 In two successive briefings, senior FBI officials have stated that the 
agency has as yet found no evidence that the hijackers who attacked 
America used electronic encryption methods to communicate on the 
internet. But this has not prevented politicians and journalists 
repeating lurid rumours that the coded orders for the attack were 
secretly hidden inside pornographic web images, or from making claiming 
that the hijacks could have been prevented if only western governments 
had been given the power to prevent internet users from using secret 
 The latest evidence from the FBI suggests that the hijackers easily 
hid under the noses of the American government, not by using advanced 
technology but by being as American as apple pie.  
 Although many e-mail messages sent to and from key members of the 
hijack team have been found and are being studied, none of them, 
according to the FBI, used encryption. Nor did they use steganography, 
a technique which allows an encrypted file to be hidden inside a larger 
file, such as a .jpeg or .gif image, or an .mp3 music file. 
 Steganography, hides a coded message inside picture or music files by 
making numerous small changes to data. The changes are invisible to 
ordinary viewers or listeners, but can be read by special software. 
 Allegations that Osama bin Laden's terror group was using 
steganography resurfaced at the end last week, after a French 
investigator claimed that arrested terrorist suspect Kamel Daoudi had 
been found in possession of a so-called "codebook", written in Arabic. 
 Former French Defence Ministry official Alexis Debat told US 
television last Thursday that the book was "a major breakthrough in the 
investigation". Although French and American experts have claimed that 
the discovery of the "codebook" could be as important as the breaking 
of codes in the second world war, no details of its contents have been 
published. Oddly, the discovery of the codebook was never mentioned the 
previous week, when British police arrested Daoudi in Leicester, 
England, and searched his premises. He was then deported to France. 
 The first claim that bin Laden's followers were operating a 
communications network based on encrypted messages concealed inside 
pornographic pictures was made by the newspaper USA Today. Their 6 
February 2001 report luridly alleged that his group had relayed the 
"encrypted blueprints of the next terrorist attack against the United 
States", including maps of targets, inside "X-rated pictures on several 
pornographic web sites" (see  USA Today [0]). 
 Last month's attacks have provided the first, tragic, test of who was 
right about the net, encryption and terrorism. The answers, so far as 
they are known, were given late in September by the FBI at a Washington 
briefing. FBI assistant director Ron Dick, head of the US National 
Infrastructure Protection Centre, told reporters that the hijackers had 
used the net, and "used it well". 
 FBI investigators had been able to locate hundreds of email 
communications, sent 30 to 45 days before the attack. Records had been 
obtained from internet service providers and from public libraries. The 
messages, in both English and Arabic, were sent within the US and 
internationally. They had been sent from personal computers or from 
public sites such as libraries. They used a variety of ISPs, including 
accounts on Hotmail. 
 According to the FBI, the conspirators had not used encryption or 
concealment methods. Once found, the emails could be openly read. None 
of them contained plans for the New York attack hidden inside porn 
 The allegation that any terrorist communications were hidden inside 
internet porn has, so far, proven unsupported. A few days before the 
attack, a team from the University of Michigan reported they had 
searched for images that might contain such messages, using a network 
of computers to look for the "signature" of steganography. According to 
researchers at the  Centre for Information Technology Integration [1], 
they "analysed two million images but have not been able to find a 
single hidden message". 
 Despite the forthright position taken by the FBI, some US newspapers 
have continued to report technological myths in circulation before the 
attack. Two weeks ago, the Washington Post  claimed [2] that the 
inventor of the widely used PGP (Pretty Good Privacy) encryption 
system, Phil Zimmermann, had been "crying every day... overwhelmed with 
feelings of guilt". Although the FBI had already said they had found no 
evidence of these terrorists using encryption, Post readers were told 
that Zimmermann "has trouble dealing with the reality that his software 
was likely used for evil". 
 In a public statement in response, Zimmermann accused the Post of 
serious misrepresentation in publishing things he never said. "Read my 
lips," he said, "I have no regrets about developing PGP." His grief had 
been for the victims, not for culpability about his invention. 
 Other US newspapers have also reported that bin Laden has access to 
satellites more powerful than the NSA's, and uses a communications 
company controlled by a relative to overcome US monitoring. Neither the 
satellites nor the company exist. 
 In Britain, Foreign secretary Jack Straw provoked a storm of protest 
from scientists and computer security specialists by claiming on the 
BBC that the media and civil liberties campaigners had paved the way 
for the terror attacks on America. 
 Mr Straw had told the BBC's Today programme that the BBC had been a 
"mouthpiece piece for .... non-governmental organisations" who he 
claimed had forced him and the government to back down on plans to 
prohibit internet users from using secret codes, known as cryptography. 
The interviewer rejected the charge. 
 "We knew that terrorists were going to use this", Mr Straw claimed. 
The people who had opposed his 1998 plan to provide automatic 
government access to all private internet communications would now be 
regretting their "two dimensional view", he prophesied. 
 But scientists who have promoted the use of secret codes on the net to 
protect privacy and make business safe say that Straw is completely 
wrong. It's an "effort to divert attention from what will increasingly 
be seen as a massive failure ... of the intelligence services", said 
former British Ministry of Defence electronic security chief Dr Brian 
Gladman. "The terrorist use of encrypted internet communications was 
not a significant factor." 
 In a press briefing at FBI headquarters in Washington two weeks ago, 
bureau assistant director Ron Dick told reporters that hundred of 
e-mails from the hijackers had been found and were being examined. But 
the conspirators had not used encryption or concealment methods. The 
FBI said that their e-mails could be openly read. 
 Evidence from questioning terrorists and monitoring their messages 
reveal that they did use word to make their discussions sound inocuous 
to eavesdroppers. Osama bin Laden was referred to as the director". An 
Arabic word for babyfood meant "bomb". The recently publicised 
"codebook" probably contained no more than a list of clandestine 
phrases to use when sending messages. 
 The real clue as to how the terrorists escaped detection by the 
world's mightiest electronic surveillance system emerged last year in 
Manchester, when a house suspected of being used by bin Laden 
sympathisers was searched. The police and the FBI found a manual in 
Arabic, entitled "Military Studies in the Jihad Against the Tyrants". 
 It was a how-to-do-it guide to murder and mayhem. It told bin Laden's 
suicide squads how to "act, pretend and mask" themselves while 
operating inside enemy territory in Europe and the United States. 
 The hijackers, many of whom lived in the United States for years, 
obeyed. They shaved their beards and wore western clothes. They hid 
their Korans. Some joined gyms and chatted about sports to neighbours. 
They took flying lessons and even military courses at US academies. 
Some brought their families to stay, warning them to flee at the last 
possible moment before the carnage began. 
 They ate western food, and some even drank. No doubt they shopped at 
Walmart, and watched the Simpsons on TV. The Manchester terror manual 
even warned them "don't break parking regulations". 
 The same FBI investigation, aimed at finding who bombed America's 
embassy in Kenya in 1998, also brought to light major evidence of a 
terrorist communications network operating through Britain and Germany. 
 Between 1996 and 1998, when the embassy was bombed, the FBI found that 
Osama bin Laden and his staff had spent nearly 40 hours making 
satellite phone calls from the mountains of Afghanistan. The calls, 
which can be sent and received from a special phone the size of a 
laptop computer, were relayed via a commercial satellite to 
sympathisers in the west. 
 Even now, as US forces move in for the kill, bin Laden's satellite 
phone has not been cut off. But calls to the terrorist leader are going 
unanswered. His international phone number - 00873 682505331 - was 
disclosed during a trial, held in New York earlier this year. Caller to 
his once-active satellite link now hear only a recorded messages saying 
he is "not logged on". 
 According to US prosecutors, the phone most frequently called by 
satellite was a mobile phone located in London. This single phone was 
used by " bin Laden and the other co-conspirators to carry out their 
conspiracy to murder U.S. nationals", US Attorney Kenneth Karas told 
the jury. 
 "[It] gives you a window into how it is that Al Qaeda [the name of bin 
Laden's international network] operates," he added. Calls were so 
frequent were so frequent that the phone, rented from 1-2-1, was dubbed 
the "Jihad phone". 
 But, like all the other European phones and lines mentioned in the New 
York trial, the "Jihad phone" didn't use encryption to prevent the 
communications from being intercepted by the police or security 
agencies. It couldn't. Yet investigators and surveillance centres 
apparently knew nothing of what was going on at the time, and were 
unable to piece together the links being run by the terror group. 
 Throughout the period, US intelligence did track bin Laden's satphone. 
They heard him talking to the Taliban about heroin exports, and even 
monitored him chatting to his mother. Tracking data based on the 
position of his phone was used in 1998, when President Clinton 
authorised the launch of cruise missiles intended to kill him. But he 
wasn't logged on, and survived. And he never logged on again. 
 Although politicians have rushed to blame new technology, intelligence 
experts say that the real problem has been getting agents inside the 
terror groups. They say that the CIA has been inexcusably lazy by 
failing to recruit and run agents who were willing to risk dirt, 
disease and death by joining the terror teams at their training camps. 
But without the information from such sources on who and what to look 
for, America's vast global arsenal of satellites and listening centres, 
like the giant satellite spy base at Menwith Hill near Harrogate, 
England, and Bad Aibling, Bavaria, were blind and deaf. 
 British foreign secretary Jack Straw's suggestion that the inventors 
and promoters of computer security now regret what they have done also 
appears misleading. One of the most famous of these experts is Dr 
Whitfield Diffie from California, who jointly helped invent the system 
now used as the foundation of internet business. Speaking at a security 
conference in Ireland last week, he said "the internet is so valuable 
as a communication mechanism that people and corporations cannot afford 
not to use it ... it's only cryptography [secret codes] that makes it 
 The evidence so far is that, when communicating, the terrorists used 
simple open codes to conceal who and what they were talking about. This 
low-tech method works. Unless given leads about who to watch, even the 
vast "Echelon" network run by NSA and GCHQ cannot separate such 
messages from innocuous traffic. The problem, says Dr Gladman, is that 
"the volume of communications is killing them [the spy agencies]. They 
just can't keep up. It's not about encryption." 
 "Events have vindicated our position", adds Ian Miller, a computer 
security specialist and one of the experts whom Mr Straw has accused of 
being "naïve". The attacks, he said, worked because they had "none of 
the hallmarks of clandestine activity the intelligence agencies 
normally look for. They did nothing suspicious - until they did 
something abominable". 

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