The one leak with bigger fallout than Snowden’s combined

A leak about an August al-Qaida plot reportedly has left U.S. intelligence reeling

Topics: Ayman al-Zawahri, Al-Qaida, Edward Snowden, NSA, Leaks, Whistle-blower, Terrorism, Counterterrorism, Nasser al-Wuhayshi, Yemen, , ,

Those of you who, like me, see Edward Snowden’s whistle-blowing as a brave public service, revealing important information about the government’s often unlawful spycraft, will admit too that his leaks have caused significant fallout and P.R. damage to the government.

According to the New York Times this weekend, however, another top secret government leak, concerning a foiled al-Qaida plot, has created greater fallout for the U.S. intelligence community than Snowden’s combined.

Via the Times:

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 the authorities were monitoring. Since August, senior American officials have been scrambling to find new ways to surveil the electronic messages and conversations of Al Qaeda’s leaders and operatives.

“The switches weren’t turned off, but there has been a real decrease in quality” of communications, said one United States official, who like others quoted spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence programs.

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 N.S.A. surveillance programs.

… American counterterrorism officials say they believe the disclosure about the Qaeda plot has had a significant impact because it was a specific event that signaled to terrorists that a main communication network that the group’s leaders were using was being monitored. The sharpest decline in messaging has been among the Qaeda operatives in Yemen, officials said.

Natasha Lennard
Natasha Lennard is an assistant news editor at Salon, covering non-electoral politics, general news and rabble-rousing. Follow her on Twitter @natashalennard, email nlennard@salon.com.

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