More on the German Terrorist Plot

This article is a detailed writeup of the actual investigation. While it seems that intercepted emails were instrumental at several points during the investigation, the article doesn't explain whether the intercepts were the result of some of the wholesale eavesdropping programs or specifically obtained for this case.

The US intelligence agencies, the NSA and CIA, provided the most important information: copies of messages between German Islamists and their contacts in Pakistan. Three people in Germany were apparently the ones maintaining contact. The first was a man with the pseudonym "Muaz," who investigators suspected was Islamist Attila S., 22. The second was a man named "Zafer," from the town of Neunkirchen, who they believed was Zafer S., an old friend of Daniel S., one of the three men arrested last week. According to his father, Hizir S., Zafer is currently attending a language course in Istanbul. The third name that kept reappearing in the emails the NSA intercepted was "Abdul Malik," a.k.a. Fritz Gelowicz, who prosecutors believe was the ringleader of the German cell, a man Deputy Secretary Hanning calls "cold-blooded and full of hate."

[...]

While at the Pakistani camp in the spring of 2006, Adem Y. and Gelowicz probably discussed ways to secretly deliver messages from Pakistan to Germany. They used a Yahoo mailbox, but instead of sending messages directly, they would store them in a draft folder through which their fellow Islamists could then access the messages. But it turned out that the method they hit upon had long been known as an al-Qaida ploy. The CIA, NSA and BKA had no trouble monitoring the group's communications. Two men who went by the aliases "Sule" or "Suley" and "Jaf" kept up the contact from the IJU side.

This is also interesting, given the many discussions on this blog and elsewhere about stopping people watching and photographing potential terrorist targets:

Early in the evening of Dec. 31, 2006, a car containing several passengers drove silently past the Hutier Barracks in Lamboy, a section of the western German city of Hanau. Hanau is known as the home of a major US military base, where thousands of US soldiers live and routinely look forward to celebrating New Year's Eve in their home away from home. The BfV's observation team later noted that the car drove back and forth in front of the barracks several times. When German agents finally stopped the car, they discovered that the passengers were Fritz Gelowicz, Attila S. from the southern city of Ulm, Ayhan T. from Langen near Frankfurt and Dana B., a German of Iranian descent from Frankfurt who, when asked what he and the others were doing there, claimed that they had just wanted to see "how the Americans celebrate New Year's Eve."

Posted on September 21, 2007 at 4:00 AM • 15 Comments

Comments

ThomasSeptember 21, 2007 5:01 AM

The following article (unfortunately only available in german) states the questions if
- either the potential terrorist were absolute idiots ignoring the hints of being observed
- or they acted so uncovered to hide other groups
- or they felt so save because they were assigned by some secret service.
Interessing is, that one contact of Fritz G., the head of the group, was an informer og the german "Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution".
http://www.freitag.de/2007/37/07370402.php

PaeniteoSeptember 21, 2007 5:51 AM

I wonder how these intercepted emails will be used in court.
From a german law enforcement procedures point of view, their obtainment via foreign intelligence services appears "shady" at least.

bobSeptember 21, 2007 7:11 AM

"...and a NOSY Forest Ranger who..." - they misspelled "ALERT Forest Ranger".

This is 1 of several several examples where somebody (obviously pro giving government more power) was spinning words in the article to grind an ax.

I wonder if the bias was inserted by the author or the translater?

guvn'rSeptember 21, 2007 12:35 PM

@A Kamakani Too, I dunno, sounds much more like intentional provocation than the lite-brite incident.

if nothing else she seems intent on proving that she's not smart enough to learn anything from the lite-brite incident. Wearing the gizmo she did up to an airport info desk is asking for trouble. Even an MIT sophomore should be smart enough to figure that out!

Timm MurraySeptember 21, 2007 1:15 PM

"When one of the Islamists noticed a BfV observation team, he calmly stepped out of his car while stopped at a red light, pulled out a knife and slit the tires of the agents' vehicle."

Amateur. Gave up a perfectly good opportunity to feed the BfV misinformation.

"Along the way, the two men discussed the damage they could inflict with their homemade bombs. Airports, one of the men said. Or an American barracks. Or a nightclub, the other man responded, 'a disco with American sluts.'"

This and other facts indicate that this wasn't a particularly sophisticated group (not on the level that al-Qaeda is). They don't have a specific target in mind, and they don't seem sure how to use their bombs most effectively. They're simply lashing out with hatred at the Western world in general and America specifically.

Fortunately, such groups aren't particularly bright, and make a lot of mistakes that alert authorities. They're also far more likely than the more controlled and sophisticated groups that tend to make up al-Qaeda. Al-Qaeda can't be particularly large group, but people with a similar worldview are far more common.

not_KurtSeptember 21, 2007 4:24 PM

The "plot" was not foiled by illegal electronic surveillance or an alert observation team who noticed the hinky drive-by.

According to reports, German authorities were *first* notified of the group by US intelligence who were tracking/monitoring, shadowing/handling them in Pakistani (ISI/CIA?) "terrorist training" camps.

I'm still waiting to hear about the undercover agent provocateur within the group prodding these dummies to do/talk about/plan something stupid that would produce terrorism charges, media hype, press conferences, "a victory in the WOT!", and months later, some quietly dropped-cases or reduced sentences.

Still not enough info, though. More information is needed.

foggSeptember 21, 2007 6:24 PM

@Nicholas Weaver: If I was looking at a set of images, trying to pick the suicide bombers from the innocent bystanders, I'd have to spend more than a couple seconds to distinguish this toy from a suicide bomb (agreeing with you here). If I was at Boston airport and saw those two people, I'd assume the LED thing was a toy, and it might take as much as a minute to figure out the other was a suicide bomb. There haven't been a lot of airport suicide bombs in the U.S. recently, so I wouldn't really be expecting to see one.

Stefan WagnerSeptember 21, 2007 9:08 PM

@Thomas (1st post):
I see a 4th explanation: Maybe the group became under pressure from their IJU-network, and intentionally made mistakes to get cought, without committing suicide.

Richard KempSeptember 26, 2007 4:44 AM

"The "plot" was not foiled by illegal electronic surveillance or an alert observation team who noticed the hinky drive-by.
According to reports, German authorities were *first* notified of the group by US intelligence who were tracking/monitoring, shadowing/handling them in Pakistani (ISI/CIA?) "terrorist training" camps."
Posted by: not_Kurt at September 21, 2007 04:24 PM"

The NSA intercepts being the reason the plot was discovered was the first thing I read about this, so it must have been known since only a day or two afterwards. That was several weeks ago. What is the big mystery here Bruce?

So this German article doesn't say the NSA intercepts started this case. Okay, well it also doesn't say anything specific about them at all. So if you are actually interested in finding this out just read these articles instead:

http://afp.google.com/article/ALeqM5iON6qCHm6X8qlXhuW2XF1SMeNWiQ
http://www.policeone.com/news/1352517/
"LOS ANGELES (AFP) — A US intelligence intercept of suspicious communications between Pakistan and Germany was the initial breakthrough that helped authorities foil a terror plot this week, it was reported."

It even says when these occurred and that there was no investigation until after these intercepts were passed to the Germans. There's nothing complicated about that, so it looks like someone is just playing dumb for some reason.

Let me guess, did Bruce just publish a book called "Why Blanket Surveillence Will Never Uncover A Terrorist Plot"?
LMAO.

Richard KempSeptember 26, 2007 5:07 AM

Um..... even this German article you are citing says this:
"Operation Alberich began last October, when the US National Security Agency, the NSA, began intercepting suspicious emails between Germany and Pakistan."

So you read that and decided that was unclear as to whether the NSA intercepting emails between two foreign countries involved blanket intercepts?
Or that when it says this is how the case began, whether it meant "began" per the common english usage of the term? Honestly, what's going on here?

You cannot possibly be a "security expert" who comments on international terrorism stories who thinks that NSA surveillence is useless in fighting terrorism. Holy crap that's how they caught the 9/11 planners.

So what is the reason you are dancing around acknowledging this? Have you already said that this German plot *absolutely* wasn't helped by US surveillence? Because the US news articles that tell you it was are a lot easier to find than the German one that doesn't state this specifically.

Very odd. And not very credible.

German TranslatorOctober 4, 2007 6:28 AM

It's so terrible. When I was in Germany two months ago, I thought that it is one of the safetiest countries. But after you article I'm a little bit frightened.

steven boultonJanuary 1, 2008 6:22 PM

hello richard you no me boogies boy very interested in what you do been looking at what you do for a few days now would like a chat email me back please. steven

Leave a comment

Allowed HTML: <a href="URL"> • <em> <cite> <i> • <strong> <b> • <sub> <sup> • <ul> <ol> <li> • <blockquote> <pre>

Photo of Bruce Schneier by Per Ervland.

Schneier on Security is a personal website. Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of Co3 Systems, Inc..