Wiretaps fail to make dent in terror war; al Qaeda used messengers

The Bush administration's surveillance policy has failed to make a dent in
the war against al Qaeda.


U.S. law enforcement sources said that more than four years of surveillance
by the National Security Agency has failed to capture any high-level al
Qaeda operative in the United States. They said al Qaeda insurgents have
long stopped using the phones and even computers to relay messages. Instead,
they employ couriers.


"They have been way ahead of us in communications security," a law
enforcement source said. "At most, we have caught some riff-raff. But the
heavies remain free and we believe some of them are in the United States."


Several members of Congress have been briefed on the effectiveness of the
government surveillance program that does not require a court order.


Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, Pennsylvania Republican,
who was briefed by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales on the matter, said he
plans to hold hearings on the program by February 2006.


"There may be legislation which will come out of it [hearings] to restrict
the president's power," Mr. Specter said.


The law enforcement sources said the intelligence community has identified
several al Qaeda agents believed to be in the United States. But the sources
said the agents have not been found because of insufficient intelligence and
even poor analysis.


The assertions by the law enforcement sources dispute President Bush's claim
that the government surveillance program has significantly helped in the
fight against terrorism. The president said the program, which goes beyond
the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, limits eavesdropping to
international phone calls.


The sources provided guidelines to how the administration has employed the
surveillance program. They said the National Security Agency in cooperation
with the FBI was allowed to monitor the telephone calls and e-mails of any
American believed to be in contact with a person abroad suspected of being
linked to al Qaeda or other terrorist groups.


At that point, the sources said, all of the communications of that American
would be monitored, including calls made to others in the United States. The
regulations under the administration's surveillance program do not require
any court order.


"The new regulations don't require this because it is considered an ongoing
investigation," a source familiar with the program said.


The sources said the Patriot Act was based on the assessment that al Qaeda
had established cells in Muslim communities in the United States.


Documents obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union confirm that the
FBI has monitored and infiltrated a range of Muslim and Arab groups,
including the Washington-based American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee.


But despite the huge amount of raw material gathered under the legislation,
the FBI has not captured one major al Qaeda operative in the United States.
Instead, federal authorities have been allowed to use non-terrorist material
obtained through the surveillance program for investigation and prosecution.


In more than one case, the sources said, a surveillance target was
prosecuted on non-terrorist charges from information obtained through
wiretaps conducted without a court order. They said the FBI supported this
policy in an attempt to pressure surveillance targets to cooperate.


"The problem is not the legislation but lack of intelligence and analysis,"
another source said. "We have a huge pile of intercepts that never get
translated, analyzed and thus remain of no use to us. If it [surveillance]
was effective, that's one thing. But it hasn't been effective."

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