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[] CBS 15.09.02: U.S. Tracking Phone Call Trail,

U.S. Tracking Phone Call Trail
September 15, 2002

Government agents have recently uncovered numerous calls from 
difficult-to-track prepaid cell phones, Internet-based phone service, 
prepaid phone cards and public pay phones in the United States to known al 
Qaeda locations overseas, federal officials said.

The calls are one piece of a growing body of evidence pointing to the 
presence of suspected members of terrorist sleeper cells operating on U.S. 
soil, and a growing sophistication on their part to keep their 
communications secret, the officials said.

The officials, who spoke only on condition of anonymity, said the effort to 
follow the phone call trail has involved numerous federal agencies and is 
the result of improved post-Sept. 11 coordination between the traditional 
law enforcement of the FBI and the intelligence gathering of the National 
Security Agency, America's premier overseas electronic intercept agency. 
"Things have really improved, and that gives us the ability to better track 
terrorists both in the United States and abroad, and prevent things before 
they happen," one senior law enforcement official told The Associated Press.

The officials said the process works like this: U.S. intelligence learns of 
a communication to known al Qaeda locations overseas and then alerts the 
FBI and other law enforcement agencies, who try to track down the source 
and origin of the U.S. callers.

Authorities said the calls point to the clear presence of one or more 
sleeper cells in the United States and attempts by al Qaeda sympathizers in 
America to make their calls difficult to trace, using tactics invented by 
U.S. criminals in the 1990s.

With Friday's arrest of five American men of Yemeni descent in a Buffalo, 
N.Y. suburb, Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson said that U.S. law 
enforcement "has identified, investigated and disrupted an al Qaeda trained 
terrorist cell on American soil."

In other recent steps to disrupt suspected domestic terrorist activities, 
the indictment of several men in Detroit cited the possible presence in the 
Midwest of a "combat squad" of terrorists. Also, the government in the past 
few weeks charged a man with trying to help al Qaeda set up a terrorist 
training camp in Oregon.

Investigators have found several instances in which suspected al Qaeda 
calls from the United States to overseas numbers were made on prepaid cell 
phones, prepaid telephone credit cards or public phone booths. One official 
said there also has been some instances of suspect calls made through 
Internet-based phone services.

"All this shows is that they are about as sophisticated as mafia guys from 
the 1990s," said Stewart Baker, a Washington lawyer who formerly served as 
the NSA's general counsel.

Baker said more significantly, the operation of al Qaeda on U.S. soil, 
including the Sept. 11 hijackers, suggests a change in terrorists' method 
of operation. Instead of entering the country just before they perpetrate 
attacks, they now stay on U.S. soil for months and even talk on U.S. 
communications system as they wait to carry out orders.

"It is clear that they feel comfortable operating here, and that is a new 
problem for us," Baker said, adding that the solution is to rapidly improve 
the domestic intelligence gathering capabilities of U.S. law enforcement.

"Now we have to begin looking very closely at people who haven't committed 
any crimes yet because of the concern that the first one they'll commit is 
going to be a doozy," he said.

The feared use of prepaid cell phones and cards by criminals and terrorists 
is not new. Attorney General John Ashcroft cited it as one reason why 
Congress needed to pass the Patriot Act and expand the FBI's surveillance 
powers so agents could track people who changed cell phones to elude FBI 

Osama bin Laden used prepaid minutes on a satellite phone in Afghanistan 
during the 1990s, thinking it would disguise his communications, according 
to past court testimony. Officials have said bin Laden stopped using the 
phone when it became known it was being monitored by U.S. intelligence.

Oklahoma City bombing convicts Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols used a 
prepaid telephone card to make calls from public pay phones and other 
places in the two years before that 1995 attack was carried out. The card 
was put in a fake name, Daryl Bridges.

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