Chat inter recial
It’s also possible that US intelligence officials used a decidedly low-tech method to intercept the message between al-Zawahri and al-Wahishi — by planting a spy in the online forum.
That has happened in the past, according to intelligence experts, most recently in a case now in federal court in Miami in which prosecutors say an undercover FBI agent snared two alleged terrorist recruiters in an online chat room by posing as a financial middleman.
Shumukh al-Islam is not an encrypted site, but it requires a password to access and does not frequently accept new visitors.
“Even if there will not be a jihadi operation, it is sufficient that the mujahideen brothers succeeded in putting fear in the hearts of the disbelievers and the human devils,” al-Mawqif wrote, according to a SITE translation of the transcript.
Intelligence officials have suggested that the plot was detected, in part at least, through NSA surveillance programs that have been under harsh worldwide criticism for privacy intrusions in the name of national security.
It’s not clear, however, that even the powerful US spy systems would be able to crack jihadists’ encrypted messages without help from the inside.
Rita Katz, director of the Washington-based SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors jihadist websites, said it’s all but certain that neither al-Zawahri nor al-Wahishi would communicate directly online or on the phone.
It’s highly unlikely that al Qaeda’s top leader, Ayman al-Zawahri, or his chief lieutenant in Yemen, Nasser al-Wahishi, were personally part of the Internet chatter or, given the intense manhunt for both by US spy agencies, that they ever go online or pick up the phone to discuss terror plots, experts say.
“These guys are not living in a bubble,” said Katz, who has been watching al Qaeda and other jihadi communications for years.
“They live in a reality that is facing the American intelligence interception with the best, most advanced technology that can be created.
One of the officials said the threat began with a message from al-Wahishi, head of the Yemen-based al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, to al-Zawahri, who replaced Osama bin Laden as the core al Qaeda leader.
The message essentially sought out al-Zawahri’s blessing to launch attacks.
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That aimed to add another layer of security to the online traffic. 5 discussion about the US embassy closings on a jihadi forum that is directly linked to al Qaeda underscored the need for “complete secrecy” in plotting attacks even while jeering at the American response to the message between al-Zawahri and al-Wahishi.