WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. intelligence agencies are scrambling to salvage their surveillance of al-Qaida and other terrorists who are working frantically to change how they communicate after a National Security Agency contractor leaked details of two NSA spying programs. It's an electronic game of cat-and-mouse that could have deadly consequences if a plot is missed or a terrorist operative manages to drop out of sight.
Terrorist groups had always taken care to avoid detection — from using anonymous email accounts, to multiple cellphones, to avoiding electronic communications at all, in the case of Osama bin Laden. But there were some methods of communication, like the Skype video teleconferencing software that some militants still used, thinking they were safe, according to U.S. counterterrorism officials who follow the groups. They spoke anonymously as a condition of describing their surveillance of the groups. They now know to take care with Skype — one of the 9 U.S.-based Internet servers identified by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden's leaks to The Guardian and The Washington Post.
Two U.S. intelligence officials say members of virtually every terrorist group, including core al-Qaida members, are attempting to change how they communicate, based on what they are reading in the media, to hide from U.S. surveillance. It is the first time intelligence officials have described which groups are reacting to the leaks. The officials spoke anonymously because they were not authorized to speak about the intelligence matters publicly.
The officials wouldn't go into details on how they know this, whether it's terrorists switching email accounts or cellphone providers or adopting new encryption techniques, but a lawmaker briefed on the matter said al-Qaida's Yemeni offshoot, al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, has been among the first to alter how it reaches out to its operatives.