The stage was set for this other leak in the early summer of 2004. The presidential campaign was heating up. The Democratic National Convention was just around the corner. And George W. Bush was sinking in the polls. His job approval ratings, which had been in the 80's and 90's just two years earlier in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, had fallen below 50% for the first time. The American public was even beginning to lose faith in the ability of the Bush Administration to protect it from terrorists. Most polls now showed more than 40% of Americans disapproved of Bush's handling of the war on terror. Significantly, a June 2004 ABC News/Washington Post poll even had John Kerry inching ahead of George W. Bush on the question of which one was better able to deal with terrorist threats, an issue where Bush had once held a formidable advantage.
The administration needed a break, and in June 0f 2004 it got one, or so it evidently thought. On June 12, 2004 Abu Mus'ab al Baluchi was arrested in Karachi, Pakistan. Baluchi was a nephew of alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, and he was said to be a terrorist "facilitator" who helped others move and plan their attacks. News of his capture was a closely kept secret.
Information provided by Baluchi led Pakistani investigators to Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani whom they captured on July 25, 2004 on the eve of the Democratic National Convention. Ghailani, an occupant of the FBI's "Most Wanted" list had a $5 million price on his head. He was suspected of involvement in the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in which 224 people had lost their lives.
Though Ghalani was apprehended July 25th, his capture was not made public until four days later on July 29th, when it was revealed amid much fanfare by Pakistani Interior Minister Faisal Saleh Hayat, in what The Washington Post described as "an unusual late-night announcement on Pakistan's Geo television network." The Post also noted that similar high-profile arrests of terrorist suspects were usually reported to the media "almost immediately." "What difference will it make if we do not rush to make a hasty unconfirmed claim?" the Post quoted Hayat as saying, adding that Hayat "said he saw no connection between the late announcement of Ghailani's arrest and the Democratic National Convention in the United States, where Sen. John F. Kerry of Massachusetts was about to accept his party's nomination for president." [Emphasis added]
Virtually no one in the mainstream media mentioned an article that had appeared in The New Republic ten days before on July 19th entitled "July Surprise?" by John B. Judis, Spencer Ackerman and Massoud Ansari, excerpted below:
...This spring, the administration significantly increased its pressure on Pakistan... to do more in the war on terrorism...
This public pressure would be appropriate, even laudable, had it not been accompanied by an unseemly private insistence that the Pakistanis deliver... high-value targets (HVTs) before Americans go to the polls in November... Introducing target dates for Al Qaeda captures is a new twist in U.S.-Pakistani counterterrorism relations--according to a recently departed intelligence official...- Advertisement -
...an official who works under [Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI)] director, Lieutenant General Ehsan ul-Haq, informed tnr that the Pakistanis "have been told at every level that apprehension or killing of HVTs before [the] election is [an] absolute must." What's more, this source claims that Bush administration officials have told their Pakistani counterparts they have a date in mind for announcing this achievement: "The last ten days of July deadline has been given repeatedly by visitors to Islamabad and during... meetings in Washington." ...according to this ISI official, a White House aide told ul-Haq last spring that "it would be best if the arrest or killing of [any] HVT were announced on twenty-six, twenty-seven, or twenty-eight July"--the first three days of the Democratic National Convention in Boston.[Emphasis added]
The announced arrest of Ghailani just hours before John Kerry's scheduled acceptance speech for the Democratic presidential nomination in Boston diverted public attention and considerable news coverage away from John Kerry and his acceptance speech. Two days later that was followed by the declaration of a new terror alert by then Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge. "We have no specific information that says an attack is imminent," Ridge declared in a 2pm press conference on Sunday, August 2nd. He announced that Al Qaeda operatives were preparing to bomb specific buildings in the financial districts of New York City, New Jersey, and Washington, D.C. The timing of the Ridge press conference and the heightened alerts would come under scrutiny only two days later when it was learned that the surveillance upon which the alerts was based had actually taken place three to four years earlier, prompting questions as to just why the U.S. government had suddenly perceived an imminent threat immediately following the official start of the presidential election campaign.
The day after Ridge's "revelations" regarding the financial districts "plot," The New York Times went to press with an Exclusive story: "THREATS AND RESPONSES: INTELLIGENCE; Captured Qaeda Figure Led Way To Information Behind Warning," excerpted below:
The unannounced capture of a figure from Al Qaeda in Pakistan several weeks ago led the Central Intelligence Agency to the rich lode of information that prompted the terror alert on Sunday, according to senior American officials.- Advertisement -
The figure, Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan, was described by a Pakistani intelligence official as a 25-year-old computer engineer, arrested July 13, who had used and helped to operate a secret Qaeda communications system where information was transferred via coded messages.
A senior United States official would not confirm or deny that Mr. Khan had been the Qaeda figure whose capture led to the information. But the official said ''documentary evidence'' found after the capture had demonstrated in extraordinary detail that Qaeda members had for years conducted sophisticated and extensive reconnaissance of the financial institutions cited in the warnings on Sunday.
One senior American intelligence official said the information was more detailed and precise than any he had seen during his 24-year career in intelligence work. A second senior American official said it had provided a new window into the methods, content and distribution of Qaeda communications...