CIA analysts mistakenly thought they had found secret al-Qaida messages embedded
in the crawl on the news channel, but the analysis turned out to be wrong, NBC
reported on Monday, citing senior US officials.
According to the report, CIA experts thought they found numbers signalling
upcoming attacks hidden in the information that scrolled across the screen.
"Dates and flight numbers, geographic coordinates for targets, including
the White House, Seattle's Space Needle, even the tiny town of Tappahanock,
Virginia," the report said.
|A janitor mops the floor at the headquarters of
the Central Intelligence Agency in Langley, Virginia
NBC said the CIA would neither confirm nor deny the report, but said it is
the "agency's job to run all plausible theories to the ground, especially
when American lives could be at risk".
NBC said the alleged threats were found through steganalysis, using sophisticated
software to analyse images for hidden messages.
Former secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge was briefed on the analysis and
was asked whether he considered it to be "a little bit bizarre".
"Bizarre, unique, unorthodox, unprecedented. Speaking for myself, I've
got to admit to wondering whether or not it was credible," Ridge told NBC.
Ridge said the possibility of hidden messages could not be discounted, given
other intelligence chatter and an attack on Saudi Arabia.
Asked whether in retrospect it was a mistake to raise the alert level based
on the analysis, Ridge said, "No."
"We informed a lot of people and we acted accordingly based on our best
information and best conclusions and the information that we had at the time."
A CIA spokeswoman referred a call seeking comment to the National Counterterrorism
Centre. Spokesmen for the Director of National Intelligence and the Department
of Homeland Security could not be reached for comment.