Sunday, August 08, 2004

More Khans

Another Khan is in the news: Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan, an al Qaeda agent who was captured in Pakistan, and who has reportedly been helping America by sending false emails to other al Qaeda agents. It was reportedly Khan's information that, in part, led to the latest terror alert. In brief:
The revelation that a mole within Al Qaeda was exposed after Washington launched its "orange alert" this month has shocked security experts, who say the outing of the source may have set back the war on terror.

Reuters learned from Pakistani intelligence sources on Friday that computer expert Mohammad Naeem Noor Khan, arrested July 13, was working under cover to help the authorities track down Al Qaeda militants in Britain and the United States when his name appeared in U.S. newspapers.

Canada's foreign affairs department is investigating the as-yet unconfirmed reports that Khan, 25, is a Canadian citizen, says CTV.

"After his capture he admitted being an Al Qaeda member and agreed to send e-mails to his contacts," said a Pakistani intelligence source.

"He sent encoded e-mails and received encoded replies. He's a great hacker and even the U.S. agents said he was a computer whiz."

A kerfuffle has arisen among Bush's critics, because the latter Khan's name (as should be obvious) has already found its way into the press. The critique is that the Bush administration "blew Khan's cover." (See here, for example, or here.) As Juan Cole says:
Why in the world would Bush administration officials out a double agent working for Pakistan and the US against al-Qaeda? In a way, the motivation does not matter. If the Reuters story is true, this slip is a major screw-up that casts the gravest doubts on the competency of the administration to fight a war on terror. Either the motive was political calculation, or it was sheer stupidity. They don't deserve to be in power either way.
Not so fast. How do we know that it was the Bush administration that initially leaked Khan's name to the press? To quote from the above story:
The New York Times obtained Khan's name independently, and U.S. officials confirmed it when it appeared in the paper the next morning.
It sounds as if the New York Times got Khan's name "independently," whatever that means, and the U.S. involvement was just to confirm his name after the damage had already been done.

Moreover, this story implies (on what basis, I don't know) that Khan may have already been spotted as a double agent anyway:
Kahn was captured on July 13th. His capture was kept quiet initially. This was apparently so that information captured with Kahn could be used to round up other al Qaeda leaders and operatives. Once these arrests were made, al Qaeda members began to suspect that their guy Kahn was working for the other side. The New York Times identified Kahn as captured on August 2nd, thus confirming for all al Qaeda operatives that the communications network Kahn operated was no longer safe.
If that story is accurate, Khan may have outlasted his usefulness as a double agent anyway, and once the New York Times story leaked the information, the Bush administration saw no problem with confirming his name. Perhaps they thought it would strike a psychological blow, if nothing else, for al Qaeda to have confirmation that they had been penetrated.

P.S. A while ago, I posted about two suspicious characters, both with the last name of Khan. There was Niaz Khan, who lives in Britain and who claims to have been offered a part in the 9/11 attacks. Then there was Jamal Khan, who was indicted for wiring money to Pakistan, and whose plea agreement stipulated that he could still be prosecuted for any involvement with 9/11.

Is Khan that common of a name? I'd like to know.

UPDATE: Two interesting comments from this post:
Folks, I suspect you haven't read enough spy novels, because there's an entirely different explanation that (AFAIK) fits the facts and makes sense: we might be playing with Al Qaeda's heads by making them think that one of their guys was a double agent. Hitler's spies did this to great effect in the late '30s, when they let Soviet spies gather faked and semi-faked evidence that Soviet officers were spying for the Germans. This played to Stalin's natural paranoia and helped induce him to execute a huge percent of his own officer corps, just before the war.

Remember that we are in the middle of a war fought largely in shadows, and won't know the full story for years to come, if ever. It's stupid and unhelpful to jump on every bit of news as if it were evidence of Bush incompetence or perfidity.

Comment by: PapayaSF at August 7, 2004 01:31 PM
And this:
We have no idea what's really going on here. Perhaps there is a real mole deep in al-Qaida, and the administration used Noor as a plausible explanation for how they got the information about the attacks to protect the other mole. Or maybe they had gotten all the use out of the man that they could get, and they announced his name just before the attacks were suspected of happening so that fear of being compromised in other ways might disrupt them.

Or maybe they never got anything useful out of the computer guy at all, but they want al-Qaida to think they did, thereby casting doubt on any operation that the computer guy ever had knowledge of or details of stored on his computer.

This is just armchair quarterbacking by all participants. We're not in a position to be fair judges. And Howard Dean should be ashamed of himself.

Comment by: Dan H. at August 7, 2004 03:29 PM


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Khan is a very common last name - it is used by all male line descendants of Genghis Khan. I have read somewhere that 12% of the population in some Central Asian countries are male line descendants of his. However, apparently not all people with the last name Khan are his descendants.

4:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Khan is a name used by Saudi Intelligence. It is a common last name in places like Pakistan, but family ties is to Central Asia what football club loyalty is to Europe. Many Saudis that have been married into Pakistani families have taken the name on at behest of Saudi Intelligence. It grants them many connections inside and out of the Defense districts of Pakistan.

6:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is just armchair quarterbacking by all participants. We're not in a position to be fair judges. And Howard Dean should be ashamed of himself.Absolutely, we don't know exactly what's going on, therefore the person responsible for a gratuitous slap at Howard Dean ought to be ashamed of itself.

7:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Google “hollywood Kahn” and you’ll get 800 hits. My favorite is Madeline Kahn.

10:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Stuart Buck: "It sounds as if the New York Times got Khan's name "independently," whatever that means"

"Independently" means the NYT got it from a Pakistani Intelligence official. Read their original story.

here's a detailed explanation.

1:33 AM  

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