July 30, 2002

YET ANOTHER REASON TO THINK THE FBI ISN’T UP TO THE JOB OF CATCHING TERRORISTS:

When Web operator Jon Messner gained control of one of al-Qaida’s prime Internet communication sites, he offered it to the FBI ( news – web sites) to use it for disinformation and collecting data about sympathizers.

What followed, he says, was a week of frustration.

FBI agents struggled to find someone with enough technical know-how to set up the sting. By the time they did, the opportunity was lost as militant Islamic Web users figured out the site was a decoy, said Messner of Ocean City, Md.

“It was like dealing with the motor vehicle administration,” said Messner, who runs Web sites, many of which sell pornographic materials. “We could have done something that could have seriously impacted things. It took me so many days just to get somebody who understood the Internet.”

That’s just plain pathetic. There’s no point talking about massive bureaucratic reorganizations, or sweeping new law enforcement powers, so long as this kind of screwup is a regular occurrence.

UPDATE: Here’s more bad news. Louis Freeh — who as many have mentioned has gotten pretty much a free pass — looks quite bad here.