Today's broadcast and print media will be awash with farewell tributes to Peter Jennings whose death last night stole from us one of the finest news anchors who ever read the news. No words from me can possibly add anything meaningful to what is being said. But as Jennings knew, and others in the business are keenly aware, "big stories" often overshadow others that may be more important but less glamorous. That may be the case for an important piece in yesterday's Washington Post.
John Burgess points to a feature describing how terrorists use the internet to internationalize their plans. Unlike the Taliban whose Luddite view of modern technology was nasty but less dangerous in its ignorance, UBL and his heirs are far more resourceful.
The movement has also innovated with great creativity to protect its most secret communications. Khalid Sheik Mohammed, a key planner of the Sept. 11 attacks later arrested in Pakistan, used what four researchers familiar with the technique called an electronic or virtual "dead drop" on the Web to avoid having his e-mails intercepted by eavesdroppers in the United States or allied governments. Mohammed or his operatives would open an account on a free, public e-mail service such as Hotmail, write a message in draft form, save it as a draft, then transmit the e-mail account name and password during chatter on a relatively secure message board, according to these researchers.
The intended recipient could then open the e-mail account and read the draft -- since no e-mail message was sent, there was a reduced risk of interception, the researchers said.
Matt Devost, president of the Terrorism Research Center, who has done research in the field for a decade, recalled that "silverbullet" was one of the passwords Mohammed reportedly used in this period. Sending fake streams of e-mail spam to disguise a single targeted message is another innovation used by jihadist communicators, specialists said.
Al Qaeda's success with such tactics has underscored the difficulty of gathering intelligence against the movement. Mohammed's e-mails, once discovered, "were the best actionable intelligence in the whole war" against bin Laden and his adherents, said Arquilla, the Naval Postgraduate School professor. But al Qaeda has been keenly aware of its electronic pursuers and has tried to do what it can to stay ahead -- mostly by using encryption.
The article is worth a read. (This may be a registration site to which I subscribed and forgot. It greets me with a friendly "Hello..." and my email tag.)