an area of the map for world news.
March 2002 issue of
World Press Review
(VOL. 49, No. 3)
Footprints and Dragnets
Talk about luck:
A reporter on assignment in Afghanistan, looking to get his
computer fixed in Kabul, winds up buying a used laptop and a
hard drive and discovers that they hold more than 1,700 files
comprising the records of an Al-Qaeda scout with the code name
After consulting with his editor, the reporter allows U.S. military
personnel to download the contents of the hard drive and turns
over the laptop with its journalistic and intelligence windfall
to U.S. authorities.
As the reporter, Alan Cullison, and his colleague Andrew Higgins
wrote in the Jan. 16 Wall Street Journal, the computerized
log parallels what is known about the pre-Dec. 22 activities
of accused shoe-bomber Richard C. Reid. Announcing the federal
indictment against Reid in mid-January, U.S. Attorney General
John Ashcroft stressed his e-mail trail, alluding to evidence
from the Kabul computer files.
Every journalist dreams of a great story falling into her lap.
Virtually none of us imagines handing the information over to
security agencies. Not exactly adversaries, the press and government
institutions in a democracy generally exist in a state of creative
tension. But the case of the Kabul computers is a story peculiarly
suited to the zeitgeist, in a time when individuals, institutions,
and nations alike are taking a fresh look at the ethical and
strategic valences of intelligence-gathering and -sharing.
The list of countries cooperating in tracking and snaring alleged
terrorists has grown steadily since Sept. 11. Hardly a day passes
without news of an arrest stemming from some collaborative venture
within the nascent global intelligence network.
Given their historical antipathies, some of the countries on
this list make pretty strange teammates. Yet doing their part
in the post-Sept. 11 dragnet seems almost irresistible, since
many nations see their self-interest served by pitching in for
Unexpected instances of bilateral cooperation have emerged from
this new consciousness, such as the Israeli/Indian alliance
on anti-terrorism initiatives. In the wake of Sept. 11, both
Israel and India have wielded the anti-terror club against their
antagonists to strategic advantage, attracting widespread empathic
It didnt seem to be playing out that way in Sept. 11s
immediate aftermath, when the Bush administration needed to
court Pakistans cooperation in the war against the Taliban
and Al-Qaeda and for the same reason spoke sotto voce about
Palestinian suicide bombings against Israeli civilians. But
even Washingtons fancy footwork couldnt sidestep
the fact that its worldwide war on terrorism had to address
the bloodbaths repeatedly visited upon India and Israel, regardless
of how sticky a predicament U.S. condemnation cre-ated for anti-terror
allies Pakistan and the Palestinian Authority.
The U.S. global footprinta favorite term of
U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powellhas only grown larger
and more ubiquitous. The Bigfoot role may seem an odd one for
a U.S. administration that proclaimed its intention to tread
lightly in involvement abroad back in the Edenic era before
Sept. 11. But the realities imposed on George Bush and his foreign
policy experts late last summer have impelled the United States
into complex kinds of engagement with a surprising array of
Footprint turns out to be an apt metaphor for the
moment. It evokes the sleuthing that by all appearances is making
intelligence work more intelligent, as the dragnet to snare
terrors operatives goes global.