Terrorism: February 14, 2002


: At 19.30 hours EST on 11 February 2002, the FBI released the names of 13 suspects who were allegedly planning to attack the United States as early as the following day. The FBI called on 18,000 federal, state and local law enforcement officials to stop and detain the men. This was quickly followed by photos posted on the FBI's web page (http://www.fbi.gov/mostwant/seekinfo/temp021102.htm). 

Law enforcement officials said the alert was prompted by information obtained in the previous few days from interviews of detainees in Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, but did not determine until the evening of the 11th that the information was credible enough to warrant a public warning.

However, this alert was based on "raw data, not evaluated". The bulletin (http://www.fbi.gov/mostwant/seekinfo/2-11-02.htm ) issued to law enforcement agencies listed the names of 17 people, most Saudis or Yemenis and one possibly from Tunisia. Law enforcement officials knew nothing about the suspects whereabouts, backgrounds or whether they were affiliated with any known terrorist organizations.

Officials admitted to the New York Times that they had not fully evaluated the information, nor had they given security services from other countries an opportunity to analyze the information. These same unnamed officials hoped that other countries would help find or provide more information about the people identified in the security alert.

The FBI's mass-announcement also resulted in some criticism from local law enforcement agencies, who only heard about it on the news. The Philadelphia Police Department was particularly vocal, since FBI headquarters never told them and apparently neither the FBI's Philadelphia office. Philadelphia Commissioner Sylvester Johnson told the media that it was a clear lack of communications and that "we're gonna straighten this problem out." 

However, the FBI is willing to take the risk that some folks will see terrorists under every rock and their call for citizen vigilance remains in place. This event illustrates a fine line in the Intelligence game, between getting unverified information in the hands of those who can make a difference and waiting until information is confirmed but published too late to be of value. Now, do your part in this war and go look at the photos one more time. - Adam Geibel


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