Friday, August 11, 2006

Vague But Valuable

Philadelphia Inquirer showcases tip that spawned investigation.

It all began with a tip: In the aftermath of the July 7, 2005, transit bombings in London, British authorities received a call from a worried member of the Muslim community, reporting general suspicions about an acquaintance.

From that vague but vital piece of information, according to a senior European intelligence official, British authorities opened the investigation into what they said turned out to be a well-coordinated and long-planned plot to bomb multiple trans-Atlantic flights heading toward the United States - an assault designed to rival the scope and lethality of the Sept. 11, 2001, hijackings.

By late 2005, the probe had expanded to involve several hundred investigators on three continents who kept dozens of suspects under close surveillance for months, even as some of the plotters traveled between Britain and Pakistan to raise money, find recruits, and refine their scheme, according to interviews with U.S. and European counterterrorism officials.

"It's not like three weeks ago all of a sudden MI5 knew about this plot and went to work," a U.S. law-enforcement official said, speaking of the British security service. "They'd had a concern about these guys for some time, for months. Details started to emerge, and it became clear over the last couple weeks the nature of the threat and the individuals." The official, like others interviewed for this article, spoke on condition of anonymity.