Plan to Infiltrate Al Qaeda Compromised

ByABC News
August 30, 2004, 2:44 PM

Feb. 13 -- When a Somali-born computer student was arrested in Minneapolis last December on suspicion of helping al Qaeda, federal counterterrorism officials thought they might finally have found what they desperately need a way of getting inside Osama bin Laden's shadowy network.

The counterterrorism officials developed a plan to turn the man, Mohammed Warsame, into a double agent working for the United States, ABCNEWS has learned.

"We need people inside al Qaeda, talking to us. We need spies," said Richard Clarke, former counterterrorism official with the Bush administration. "There's only so much you can get from technology, from electronics, from pictures."

Warsame's arrest was supposed to be secret. But within days stories appeared in the Minneapolis Star Tribune about the case dashing the government's hopes of gaining greater insight into al Qaeda activities against the United States.

Federal officials were furious about the apparent leak, and the Justice Department has launched an investigation to determine how the information about Warsame's arrest leaked to the media. Senior officials told ABCNEWS they are very concerned about the implications of the leak.

Government agents believe that Warsame, a 30-year-old Canadian citizen, was a potentially dangerous al Qaeda agent, sent to live quietly in downtown Minneapolis.

Law enforcement officials suspect Warsame has ties to accused Sept. 11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui and Fazul Mohammed, suspected of being a key planner of the 1998 attacks on U.S. embassies in Africa. Authorities believe Fazul Mohammed is still on the run.