In late 2001 there was aggressive recruiting, by the FBI and CIA, of Americans of Middle Eastern ancestry. Some of these men and women apparently got sent into action quickly. This is not unusual in wartime, and after September 11, 2001, the CIA and FBI considered themselves in a wartime situation. The current CIA training program for overseas agents takes over a year, but when it was first developed during World War II, it took only a few months. It appears that the old wartime training program was revived. Also revived were the wartime rules, allowing the FBI and CIA to work with any unsavory characters that could get them to key al Qaeda leaders and operatives. Khalid Shaikh Mohammed is considered the leader of the operation that led to the September 11, 2001 attacks. He has a $25 million price on his head. It's not known if anyone will collect that reward, or if American agents simply tracked Khalid Shaikh Mohammed down using contacts and leads from interrogations and investigations.
Al Qaeda's cellular organization makes it harder to shut down, but easier to infiltrate. The relatively isolated cells have to be careful how they communicate, as it is widely known that the United States is very capable when it comes to listening in to any kind of electronic communications, and tracking down people using phones and Internet. Thus it is easy for an agent to walk into a Mosque and use a plausible cover story to establish connections with an existing cell. With communications with other cells so difficult, it is usually not possible to check a new members background story thoroughly.
Moreover, the al Qaeda cells also have Islamic charities that they depend on for funding, and these are also vulnerable to infiltration via compromised cells. The charity organizations have been the victim of sting operations, where charity organization leaders have been lured to Europe, by fake donors, for meetings to discuss large contributions. Outside of their Middle Eastern sanctuaries (Yemen and Lebanon in particular), arrests can be easily made.
The stings, deceptions, electronic eavesdropping, interrogations and field work by the CIA and Special Forces in places like Afghanistan and Pakistan have combined to shut down dozens of al Qaeda cells already. But some that have been identified have probably been infiltrated rather than shut down. All of this work has to take place in the shadows, for al Qaeda members get most of their information about the progress of anti-terrorism operations from the media. Reporting details of how al Qaeda cells are being investigated and compromised just warns al Qaeda members about what they are up against.
The March 1st arrest, in Pakistan, of al Qaeda terrorism planner Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, is another indication of how much al Qaeda has been penetrated after only 16 months of aggressive intelligence operations. Last year, there were several cases, that made the news, of al Qaeda members, or supporters being arrested because of American agents infiltrating the organization. Interrogations of over 3,000 terrorism suspects since September 11, 2001 has provided enough information to infiltrate terrorist organizations, or convincingly impersonate terrorist supporters.
But Khalid Shaikh Mohammed did not heed these warnings. He regularly used cell phones and email, and this apparently led to his capture. He was caught while asleep, and his laptop computer and records were captured before any data could be destroyed. This information, plus whatever can be obtained by interrogating Khalid Shaikh Mohammed will probably yield plentiful details of al Qaeda operations. Khalid Shaikh Mohammed was at the center of al Qaeda's planning of terrorist operations and these plots will be compromised and many al Qaeda activities disrupted. Khalid Shaikh Mohammed was a close associate of Osama Bin Laden and other senior al Qaeda leaders, which means other major figures may soon be picked up, or at least caused to move around more. This will also make them more vulnerable.