- The Washington Times - Monday, November 4, 2002

Local and federal law-enforcement agencies are attempting to infiltrate al Qaeda sleeper cells operating in the United States and are using disinformation campaigns to expose and neutralize the terror groups that continue to communicate with one another, U.S. intelligence officials say.
FBI officials say recent electronic intercepts of communications between some al Qaeda groups show that they are "talking to each other."
"The cells are up and active," an FBI official said of the groups believed to be embedded in most U.S. cities with sizable Islamic communities, such as New York, Detroit and Los Angeles.
In a review of ongoing U.S. operations, United Press International was briefed on the al Qaeda investigations by several current and former intelligence officers, all of whom asked not to be identified by name.
Former CIA and Defense Intelligence Agency officials say the terrorists choose run-down neighborhoods because "in a place like that, you are invisible. People don't care about you; they don't want to look at you and don't look at you," as one put it.
A former senior U.S. intelligence official explained: "The members of cells don't think of themselves as raiding parties but as the front end of an invasion."
"If they can attack, blow things up and disrupt society, they believe there will be mass defections to Islam and society will collapse. They can then set up an Islamic state."
The cells, these sources said, are made up of U.S.-born Muslims and immigrants from Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf states, and number in the thousands. Most are thought to have entered the country some time ago and are deeply entrenched in their communities.
To root them out, the FBI has been busy developing a network of informers in Muslim neighborhoods, including nightclub owners, waiters and merchants, a federal law-enforcement official said.
Intelligence is the chief tool in the war on terror, a senior former Pentagon intelligence official said.
"Intelligence is really just a giant research operation where you rely on huge archival files," he said. "It's the most effective weapon you've got."
The next and best weapon in the war against the cells is infiltration. A longtime covert operations specialist said law enforcement is using agents who are Arabs and fluent in Arabic, who then look for ways to get inside the community where the cell members worship.
Their next goal is "to find out about the social structure: Where do they worship, where do they entertain, what do they talk about?" he said.
If it is known where they socialize and there is probable cause, local police might be able to place eavesdropping devices on the premises, he said. The goal is to identify and eliminate leaders, a former CIA official said.
As the FBI and other law-enforcement agencies gain knowledge, any rivalries among group members can be exploited, using disinformation to convince some cell members that others are informers or traitors.
One FBI official explained that the purpose is to "disrupt" hostile organizations, and that FBI tactics go back to 1956, when the FBI established its Cointelpro (counterintelligence program.) This official said the program pitted one group or even members of a single group against another "like gladiators in ancient Rome."
The program has been used successfully against such groups as the Black Panthers and the Ku Klux Klan, he said.

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