Leak of an Al Qaeda Plot Presents Larger Problem for U.S. Intelligence Than Snowden

Snowden, Edward

In the New York Times, Eric Schmitt and Michael S. Schmidt report that documents Edward Snowden released might have caused less short-term damage than leak of an Al Qaeda plot in August. After media reports, Al Qaeda significantly reduced its use of a major communications channel that U.S. intelligence had been monitoring. In the interim, they write:

 One way the terrorists may try to communicate, [an] official said, is strictly through couriers, who would carry paper notes or computer flash drives. If that happens, the official said, terrorists will find it very difficult to communicate as couriers take significant time to move messages.

“The problem for Al Qaeda is they cannot function without cellphones,” said one former senior administration official. “They know we listen to them, but they use them anyhow. You can’t run a sophisticated organization without communications in this world. They know all this, but to operate they have to go on.”

Towards that end:

In the past few months, the Global Islamic Media Front, the propaganda arm of Al Qaeda and other Islamic terrorist groups, has released new software that allows users to encrypt communications for instant-messaging and cellphones. Officials say these new programs may pose fresh challenges for N.S.A. code breakers.

In fact, it sounds like the leak represents a win-win for American citizens: increased transparency and terrorists forced to use couriers as well as divert resources to developing sophisticated encryption. Okay, breaking Al Qaeda’s encryption also means more taking more money out of pockets of Americans to fund the gigantic U.S. intelligence even further.