NYC Tunnel Plot Just Online Chatter

One former intelligence field officer says, and two other CIA officials confirm, that the alleged plot by Muslim extremists to bomb the Holland Tunnel in New York City was nothing more than chatter by unaffiliated individuals with no financing or training in an open forum already monitored extensively by the United States Government, Raw Story has learned.

"The so-called New York tunnel plot was a result of discussions held on an open Jihadi web site," said Philip Giraldi, a former CIA officer and contributor to American Conservative magazine, in a late Friday afternoon conversation. Although Giraldi acknowledges that the persons involved -- "three of whom have already been arrested in Lebanon and elsewhere -- are indeed extremists," their online chatter is considerably overblown by allegations of an actual plot.

"They are not professionally trained terrorists, however, and had no resources with which to carry out the operation they discussed," Giraldi added. "Despite press reports that they had asked Abu Musab Zarqawi for assistance, there is no information to confirm that. It is known that the members discussed the possibility of approaching Zarqawi but none of them knew him or had any access to him."

Two other intelligence officials with experience in the field on extremist operations concurred -- and expressed concern that what could have been an operation to eventually track known extremists (should they eventually make actual contact with funds and training,) seems to have been exposed for political gain.

Some see this latest "ploy" as a direct challenge to a New York Times report earlier this week of the disbandment of Alec Station, the CIA unit responsible for tracking Osama bin Laden since before the September 11, 2001 attacks. Moreover, the article contends that officials say the unit was "disbanded late last year and its analysts reassigned within the C.I.A. Counterterrorist Center."

Some members of Congress have said that they were not informed of the unit's closure and expressed concern.

In response to reports that the unit was disbanded, Senator John Kerry (D-MA), who ran against President Bush in the 2004 election, responded earlier this week with a demand for the immediate reinstatement of the unit.

"I fully support efforts to adapt our response to the evolving nature of the threat," wrote Kerry in a letter to John Negroponte, Director of National Intelligence Office of the Director of National, "but this is not a compelling rationale for curtailing efforts to bring this mass murderer to justice."

The alleged bomb plot, sources suggest, may have been to alleviate Bush administration concerns that the Alec Station story would make them appear to be "weak on terror." It is not clear this early on, however, how much of a real and immediate threat the bomb plot may have been.

Director of Homeland Security Michael Chertof seemed unconcerned earlier today, when the news first broke. Chertoff said at a press conference Friday, "It was never a concern that this would actually be executed ... We were, as I say, all over this."

The FBI, however, contends that the threat was very much real. "This is a plot that involved martyrdom and explosives," targeting the "tubes that connect Jersey and lower Manhattan," Assistant Director Mark J. Mershon told the Associated Press today.

Special Agent Rich Kolko, a spokesperson for the FBI, told Raw Story in a late Friday phone call that, "Mr. Mershon clearly stated the position of the FBI in this case."

"In sum, the plot, if that is what we would call it, was not well conceived, and there was no possibility of flooding Wall Street," Giraldi added. "There was no connection to a cell in the US. Finally, professional terrorists generally do not discuss targeting on open channels. As it was being monitored from the beginning of the open discussion, there was little chance anything concrete would have developed."

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