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August 6, 2004
Naval Intelligence On The Market?

The BBC reports this morning that an al-Qaeda suspect arrested by the British last year but released until this week carried detailed plans of US Navy battle group formations, allowing him to advise other terrorists how to evade American pickets at sea:

Lawyers trying to extradite a British man to the US on terrorism charges have told a court he was found in possession of US naval intelligence. ...

Details of US battleship formations in the Gulf had also been found during an earlier arrest, the court heard. British police had arrested Mr Ahmad, but released him without charge, in December 2003.

Bow Street Magistrates' Court was told documents containing details of battleship formations and vulnerabilities were found near him during that arrest.

Not only could that information aid AQ operations avoid detection by the American Navy, but also could have helped develop plans to attack the ships themselves. Many people forget that our Navy is the primary projection of our global military power. When we need to go somewhere to attack our enemies or defend our allies, the Navy takes the men and materiel where they need to be. AQ terrorists understand this, which is why the attack on the USS Cole was so significant, and why the failure to immediately respond was such a blunder, as the 9/11 Commission mentioned. (As an aside, the response needed to be significant and immediate. Three or four months later would have been far too late and probably would have missed targets of any real value.)

How did AQ wind up with classified US information on battle group formations? It's a question that will need to be answered by the DoD. One dangerous trend this year has been the reckless disregard of security procedures, first at the Los Alamos laboratories, where some of our most sensitive weapons and system design work takes place, and then at the National Archives, where an uncredentialed former NSA was allowed continued access to crypto-classified information even after being suspected of breaching security procedures to remove the reports.

We seem to have forgotten that we are at war, and that loose lips sink ships. In World War II, that phrase was meant to be taken literally. As the attack on the USS Cole proves and this latest revelation also demonstrates, it's just as literally true today as back then.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at August 6, 2004 8:05 AM

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