Revealed: The origin of the dirty bomb threat to New York

Douglas J. Hagmann, Director

14 August 2007: Proper analysis and assessment of Islamic terrorist postings is one element of a larger and more complex puzzle in the field of threat assessment, but it is by no means the sole element. Such is the case of the dirty bomb threat to New York City last Friday, a threat said to have originated primarily from the reports of Internet postings made public by the Internet web site Debka. According to media reports, the massive response to the alleged threat to New York City was a result of the information provided by that web site in the days leading up to the August 10, 2007 threat. In a statement published on their web site yesterday, Debka explained their purported role in the New York City threat, describing their findings of threats made by al Qaeda “mentioning New York, Los Angeles and Miami as targets of attacks by means of trucks loaded with radioactive material.”

The truth is, however, that Debka had little, if anything to do with the ramping of security in New York City last Friday night relative to the dirty bomb threat. In fact, very similar if not more specific information was posted on this web site in an article dated 18 May 2007 outlining threats published on Arabic language forums against New York, Los Angeles, Miami and other cities. (As you read further, it is important that you keep in mind that it was the analysis of Randy Taylor that the threats outlined in that report appear to have been initially written in English, translated into Arabic, and then posted on Arabic language web sites). Subsequent to that article, the Northeast Intelligence Network published other reports concerning the use of radiological bombs in the weeks and months that followed, a legitimate and very real concern admitted by federal authorities. What then, was the reason for such a strong and tailored response last weekend?

A federal investigator speaking on condition of anonymity to the Northeast Intelligence Network provided the “story behind the story” about the massive response to the New York City “dirty bomb” threat. He explains: “We know that there is a very real threat of terrorists detonating a dirty bomb inside the U.S. In all probability, it will be more than one and will happen in more than one city. This has been a concern of ours for some time and remains a concern,” he added.

“But, the specific threat to New York on Friday came from an informant,” stated this official.

“This informant has proven reliable in the past,” he added, and “we’ve had progress in the investigations related to the information he provided. The information he has given to us was not exactly “low level,” stated this investigator, who described the informant as a U.S. citizen of Middle Eastern origin and a former active member of a mosque known for its ties to “extremists.”

As authorities set out to gain more information about the active investigation from this informant through additional interviews last week, he began talking about a planned dirty bomb attack using vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices (VBIEDs) laced with radioactive material against New York City and other locations. “All information he gave us to that point checked out, so we had to take him seriously,” stated this federal official. We mobilized the appropriate agencies and assets to respond to the information he gave us based on the timetable he outlined, which was pretty specific. When nothing was found to substantiate any portion of the information he gave us about the New York City threat, we revisited this matter with him. It was at that time we discovered that he was ‘playing us,’ possibly for his own entertainment or possibly to assess our responses to the threat, perhaps in conjunction with others.”

The federal official described the claims that the multi-agency response was generated because of general threats published on an Internet forum and then published by a web site as ludicrous. He stated that many people are missing the bigger picture of the asymmetrical war we are fighting. “We have foreign enemies on our own soil who are constantly trying to launch attacks against us, both big and small [attacks]. They are also seeding the intelligence that we collect for a variety of reasons. And they are also sticking together more than most people realize, while pretending to assist us in weeding out the terrorists,” he added.

“There is a lesson to be leaned here, one that I have been trying to get others to understand and a lesson that we have seen play out in numerous cases in the past. There is a strong loyalty among terrorists to see that their common goals are achieved. Their loyalty is to their ideology, and they will use every method of deception just to keep us interested and bogged down in busywork. Even in the best cases when informants are given opportunities to lessen their [legal] troubles, they can never be trusted. Their behavior is rooted in their ideology. They don’t think like we do in the West,” stated this official. “For the most part, we cannot rely on their cooperation, and any perceived cooperation must be treated with suspicion, from the top down.”