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E-mail yields clues to reporter's whereabouts

By The Associated Press

The e-mail messages sent by kidnappers of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl 
carry clues about their origins, but tracking down their senders is far from simple.

On Tuesday, sources close to the investigation told The Associated Press that Karachi 
police had arrested three men believed to have sent two e-mails that included pictures 
of Pearl.

No information was available on how investigators may have tracked down the suspects.

E-mail messages are typically far from anonymous. All Internet traffic contains a 
numeric return address that can be used to narrow the origin to distinct Internet 
service providers or physical locations such as cybercafes.

It may even be possible to trace the origin to a specific computer.

"It's a very, very good clue," said Richard M. Smith, former chief technology officer 
at the Privacy Foundation. "Using a computer to commit a crime increases the chances 
of being caught."

But the trail could also run cold.

"If it's really easy, they would have had them within a couple of hours," said Jason 
Paroff, a managing director at Kroll Information Security Group. "The reality is it's 
not so easy."

Pearl was abducted Jan. 23 in Karachi, Pakistan, after leaving for an appointment. 
Four days later, the previously unknown National Movement for the Restoration of 
Pakistani Sovereignty sent e-mail claiming to be holding Pearl. Other messages 
followed.

The e-mail messages in question  two that included attached photos of Pearl and 
others later determined to be hoaxes  were traceable to service providers in 
Pakistan, according to security consultant Mark Seiden, who has seen the e-mails.

The authentic e-mails were sent using Hotmail accounts, which anyone can sign up for 
without proving their identity  and which can be accessed from anywhere using a Web 
browser.

Seiden said the senders did not try to mask their return addresses through anonymous 
remailing servers. Such Internet-based servers, which strip return addresses off 
e-mail, are often used by whistleblowers and human rights activists.

U.S. and Pakistani investigators have refused to discuss details of the cybersearch.

But in order to track down the messages' origin, they would need the cooperation of 
the Internet service providers at the sending end. And they would hope that those 
providers maintain logs that detail who is connecting to their servers and from which 
computers.

Another complication: If the trail leads to a cybercafe, investigators' fortune will 
depend on how well the business keeps records. Prepaid Internet cards  difficult to 
trace  are popular in Pakistan. So, of course, is cash.

And that means a potential dead end for investigators.

Although this may be the highest profile case in which kidnappers have used e-mail to 
make demands, international security experts say e-mail has been used before in 
abductions as well as extortion.

The Wall Street Journal has sent repeated return e-mails in the Pearl case to the 
address from which the authentic messages originated. It is not known whether the 
Journal's messages were opened.

Microsoft, which runs the Hotmail service, has refused to comment on its cooperation 
in the investigation.

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