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Is there an innocent explanation for apparent 60 Minutes lie?

By Jeremy Reynalds
web posted May 12, 2003

Browsing a store recently in Minneapolis Airport on the last leg of a grueling 30-hour journey home to Albuquerque, NM after a whirlwind trip to Amman, Jordan the book immediately caught my attention. Titled Terrorist Hunter, by an anonymous author it claims to be "The extraordinary story of a woman who went undercover to infiltrate the radical Islamic groups operating undercover in America."

Having spent many hours over the last year investigating a number of Islamic terrorist sites, I was instantly hooked. The book is the well-written, riveting story of a young Iraqi Jew who enjoyed a good life with her parents until Saddam Hussein ascended to power in Iraq. Suddenly the author's father was accused of spying for the Israeli government, ripped from his family and brutally executed.

She told 60 Minutes, "I started researching the conditions, the history, what really happened at that time in Iraq. Till the day when I found that picture ... The picture of him being hanged in Baghdad Central Square. Half a million Iraqis celebrating ... And I realized that that was the end of my dreams. My father will never come back. I know that what happened to me in Iraq probably changed me, made me into the person I am today."

Through a circuitous route, this young lady became a terrorist hunter who has allegedly become involved in intelligence gathering for the United States government while working for an anti terrorism organization. Publicity for the book reads in part, "‘Terrorist Hunter' provides fascinating and shocking information on how federal agencies, chiefly the FBI and the State Department, repeatedly ignored or mishandled important information she provided ... (She is) America's leading undercover counter-terrorist expert."

So far so good. The author's experience with the FBI paralleled my own and those of colleagues: a lot of bungling and incompetence. (I did wonder, though, about a claim on the inside cover of the book that the author's activities have helped play a part in deporting terrorists and their activities. There has been a curious lack of publicity if that is the case).

However, then I read an online transcript of the anonymous author's interview with 60 Minutes reporter Bob Simon. Here is a portion of the interview.

"One of her areas of expertise is just finding the al Qaeda web sites, which change their Internet addresses everyday. ‘So within minutes after they upload the site, we track them down and we give the address to the government' ... Then the U.S. government shuts down the site. It's a game of cat and mouse. She can't tell us how to play it for reasons of national security."

The claim of the U.S. government shutting down sites just isn't true. Take the Arabic web site formerly known as alneda.com. This was the site originally believed by U.S. officials to have been used by al-Qaeda to deliver messages possibly connected with further attacks on America.

After a number of American internet service providers apparently refused to carry the site formerly known as ‘alneda.com' site (and its subsequent name changes), its operatives resorted to different tactics. They looked for small sites that were infrequently used and hacked into obscure sub-directories. Their most recent hacking, which I am still investigating, is into the small web site of a custom design remodeling firm.

However, rather than the government closing these sites down, as the author apparently claimed to Simon, the opposite is true. In practically every case when I have spoken to the internet service providers for the hacked sites, the message has been the same. Officials for the companies tell me that the government has asked them to leave the site in place. This is presumably so law enforcement agencies can track the originating e-mail addresses of people who choose to use the sites.

However, one wonders about the wisdom of this approach with sites like the one formerly known as alneda.com. That site and presumably its subsequent incarnations is believed to contain encrypted messages and provide an ongoing avenue for terrorists to communicate, so is the information (if any) gained from leaving the site up worth the possibility of the pages being used to plan future attacks against the United States?

When the sites do eventually get shut down, they quickly reappear under a different name or with a different internet service provider, possibly a foreign one, over which the U.S. government has no control. Or in the case of the site formerly known as alneda.com, its operatives just decide to hack yet another site.

So why the apparent lying by this anonymous author on 60 Minutes? Did the show's researchers just get it wrong; did the author lie to them about what happens, or could it be, as my colleague Johnathan Galt wrote that the false information was provided, "to give their vast audience the false sense of security?" I hope that it was nothing more sinister than a simple mistake but I can't say I'm totally convinced that was the case.

Jeremy Reynalds is a freelance writer and the founder and director of Joy Junction, New Mexico's largest emergency homeless shelter. He has a master's degree in communication from the University of New Mexico and is pursuing his PhD in intercultural education at Biola University in Los Angeles. He is married with five children and lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico. His work can be viewed here and weekly at www.americasvoices.org. He may be contacted by e-mail at reynalds@joyjunction.org.

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