Monday, March 10, 2003

How mobile phones and an £18m bribe trapped 9/11 mastermind

How mobile phones and an £18m bribe trapped 9/11 mastermind (March 11, 2003 Guardian (UK))

The electronic surveillance network Echelon played a key role in the capture of the alleged September 11 mastermind, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, it was reported yesterday - as did a $27m (£18m) payment to an "al-Qaida foot soldier", who may be planning to relocate to Britain. ... Echelon reportedly monitors phone numbers and voices, then uses satellite triangulation to locate the user. The Swiss justice ministry has confirmed reports that the September 11 hijackers used pre-paid Swiss cellular phones, not registered in any name and thus hard to trace, in preparing the attack. ... "Let's say that thing that drug traffickers and terrorists thought they could do to avoid detection are really not effective strategies anymore," said Larry Johnson, a former deputy director for counter-terrorism at the US state department. "The technology being used now [by the authorities] is really pretty effective." ... Other Pakistani intelligence sources said the real breakthrough had come when the FBI had managed to "persuade" an al-Qaida operative arrested earlier to reveal the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden or his close associates.

Echelon is a super-secret (sorta) world-wide wiretap system in use by at least the UK and US intelligence services. It's not often talked about openly. It's interesting the contrast between the ultra-high-tech tools, and that the real breakthrough happened through old-fashioned human interaction (e.g. the "persuasion" of the al-Qaida "foot soldier" to talk).