Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Fallout Follows Aug. Leak on Plot

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Fallout Follows Aug. Leak on Plot

Article excerpt

WASHINGTON -- As the nation's spy agencies assess the fallout from disclosures about their surveillance programs, some government analysts and senior officials have made a startling finding: The impact of a leaked terrorist plot by al-Qaida in August has caused more immediate damage to U.S. counterterrorism efforts than the thousands of classified documents disclosed by Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor.

Since news reports in early August revealed that the United States intercepted messages between Ayman al-Zawahri, who succeeded Osama bin Laden as the head of al-Qaida, and Nasser al-Wuhayshi, the head of the Yemen-based al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, discussing an imminent terrorist attack, analysts have detected a sharp drop in the terrorists' use of a major communications channel that authorities were monitoring. Since August, senior U.S. officials have been scrambling to find new ways to tap into the electronic messages and conversations of al-Qaida's leaders and operatives.

"The switches weren't turned off, but there has been a real decrease in quality" of communications, said one U.S. official, who like others quoted spoke on the condition of anonymity.

The drop in message traffic after the communication intercepts contrasts with what analysts describe as a far more muted impact on counterterrorism efforts from the disclosures by Mr. Snowden of the broad capabilities of NSA surveillance programs. Instead of terrorists moving away from electronic communications after those disclosures, analysts have detected terrorists mainly talking about the information that Mr. Snowden has disclosed.

Senior U.S. officials say Mr. Snowden's disclosures have had a broader impact on national security in general, including counterterrorism efforts. This includes fears that Russia and China now have more technical details about the NSA surveillance programs, as well as damaged diplomatic ties, like the decision by Brazil's president, Dilma Rousseff, to postpone a state visit to the United States in protest over revelations that the agency spied on her, her top aides and Brazil's largest company, the oil giant Petrobras. …

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