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June 25, 2006
How Secret Information Can Catch Terrorists

Ha'aretz shows how secret information can catch terrorists when it remains a secret. The US got Western Union to assist our intelligence services and the Shin Bet in order to catch Palestinian terrorists attempted to move money through their network:

From the spring of 2003 until autumn 2004, the Shin Bet security service tracked down Palestinian terror cells in the West Bank thanks to information from the Western Union money transfer service, which was passed on by the FBI. ...

In early April, 2003, an Islamic Jihad activist went to a Western Union office in Lebanon and ordered a money transfer to Hebron. The Justice Department authorized Western Union to release this information to the FBI and the CIA, and eventually to the Shin Bet. According to Suskind, all this took just minutes, enabling Israeli intelligence to track the person who collected the transfer in Hebron and to uncover the terror cell.

According to the book, this method was used successfully many times over the next year and a half, until autumn 2004, when Palestinian operatives realized that their Western Union transfers were being used to trap them.

Ron Suskind revealed this operation in his book, The One-Percent Solution, and Ha'aretz's sources confirm it. The operation started with Western Union's parent company, First Data, offering its assistance to the FBI in order to help in the war on terror. The existing relationship allowed the FBI and Shin Bet to quickly capitalize on their intelligence, and for over a year First Data's help allowed American and Israeli intelligence to track Islamist terrorists and their funding. This money could not have been tracked through the Swift program, nor through any surveillance focusing on banks.

The terrorists eventually learned through hard experience that the wire transfers had been identified and used by Western intelligence and stopped using it. That explains why Hamas has had to rely on suitcases to move cash into Gaza and the West Bank; every other means of financial transfer has Western eyes watching it. At least it did until the New York Times blew the Swift project out of the water; now that they have exposed it, Swift will come under pressure to end its cooperation from at least some of its clients.

Suskind did no damage to our national security by revealing a long-defunct but successful program in tracking terrorist money. Eric Lichtblau, James Risen, and Bill Keller have done great damage by exposing the specific methods of a successful and ongoing program, one that broke no laws and had no impact on individual civil liberties, for no other reason than notoriety and profit. We can only win this war if we keep our national-security programs clandestine and quit tipping our hand to the people who want to kill us.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at June 25, 2006 9:44 AM

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