OPED32 Politics trumps security

The recent arrest in Pakistan of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed was a significant blow against Al-Qaeda. Number three in the hierarchy behind Bin Laden and Ayman Al-Zawahiri, he was pegged as the 'operational leader' responsible for the planning behind 9/11. It is hoped that he will be a prolific source of information on Al-Qaeda once he is 'broken' - information on capabilities, planned operations, operatives, etc. that will lead to further successes and arrests. Apparently back from the dead , Mohammed was also found with a computer that might prove to be a rich vein of information to be mined. A fine success in the 'war' against terror!

However, one must wonder about the alacrity with which his arrest was announced to the world. This from an administration that has refused to release the names of most of those arrested and detained in the U.S., even for fairly minor immigration violations - lest "...we help the terrorists..." (per Attorney General Ashcroft.) It would seem that a catch of this magnitude should be kept secret for as long as possible. After all it will take some time to 'break' Mohammed, and keeping his capture secret would decrease the amount of time his co-conspirators would have to change their hiding places, communications, ties, etc. It is unlikely that his capture would stay unknown to Al-Qaeda for long, and word would eventually spread between its operatives in different countries across the world. If the government had kept quiet about the arrest they would have had many possible opportunities to trace some of these communications (the famous "chatter," the increase of which has resulted more than once in an elevation of the homeland security threat level) and roll-up more of the organization! However, the terrorists have not had to risk their fragile communications networks to spread the news - this has effectively been done by all the major media thanks to the publicity.....

So, what is so important that these possible avenues for further successes against Al-Qaeda were foreclosed?? Could it be that this announcement was made to blunt the attacks of some Democrats, who have argued that the administration's complete focus on Iraq has caused them to neglect Al-Qaeda and the 'war' on terror?? "Too cynical," some would say. "Politicians being politicians," others would say. Either way, this is another example of inconsistency of the current administration, which also has the Secretary of Defense blasting anonymous leakers as 'traitors' while others in the administration line up to disclose classified briefings to Bob Woodward!

© SNi 03/04/03