The hunt for suspects in Tuesday's terrorist attacks has moved online.
America Online has handed the FBI e-mail records for accounts belonging to
the suspected hijackers, according to a report on CNN's Web site Thursday. AOL spokesman Andrew Weinstein declined to comment on any matters involving the investigation.
AOL Time Warner's online division stores logs of when instant messaging
users are on the network; it also can access e-mail correspondence under
"We are cooperating with (the FBI) in this ongoing investigation," Nicholas
Graham, spokesman for Dulles, Va.-based AOL, said Wednesday. Although Graham wouldn't provide details, he denied reports that the company had agreed to install a Carnivore surveillance system. The FBI developed Carnivore, now renamed DCS1000, to allow it to wiretap communications
that go through Internet service providers.
"We are able to provide them with information on an immediate basis," he
said, stressing that such an ability made Carnivore unnecessary.
On Wednesday, EarthLink also acknowledged that it is working with the FBI to turn over specific information that may be relevant to the case.
EarthLink's vice president of communications, Dan Greenfield, confirmed
that the Atlanta-based ISP was served with a warrant under the Foreign
Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) to turn over information.
FISA limits the ability of intelligence and law enforcement
agencies--essentially the FBI, the CIA and the
military information-gathering National Security Agency--from spying on the
American public. The warrant covers investigations relating to the leakage
of information to a foreign government and requires less burden of proof
than a warrant in a criminal case. The directors of the FBI and the CIA as
well as the secretaries of state and defense are the only government
officials allowed to request a FISA warrant.
Calling the warrant "equivalent to a wiretap," Greenfield also denied that
the company had let the FBI install a Carnivore system.
"We are not installing any equipment," he said. "We are cooperating with a
very specific request. There are concerns from our customers that we are
giving arbitrary access to our network, and we are not."
Most of the clues that have turned up so far in the hunt for suspects have
been dug up through typical investigative footwork, not high-tech sleuthing.
Authorities are searching for the accomplices of a well-organized group of
suicide hijackers who commandeered four commercial
jets Tuesday, effectively turning them into flying bombs. Two flattened the
World Trade Center, while a third seriously damaged the Pentagon. The fourth
plane crashed in a field.
Some of the victims on hijacked aircraft used cell phones to describe the
attacks to people on the ground. In addition, a review of the passenger
lists has offered some leads.
So far, five Arab men have been identified by Massachusetts authorities as
suspects, according to two Boston newspapers. Authorities have also seized
a rental car containing Arabic-language flight-training manuals at the
city's Logan International Airport, where two of the hijacked
planes originated, the papers reported.
U.S. agents served warrants on homes and searched businesses in south
Florida; they also issued alerts for two cars in connection with the
attacks, local media reported.
Jack Mattera, director of computer forensics for The Intelligence Group,
which specializes in corporate investigations and crisis management,
stressed that information technology will likely play a crucial role in
finding out who planned the suicide attacks.
"Using high-tech to investigate is critical," he said. "There are some
things that gumshoe work is just not going to find."
Security experts described Tuesday's attack as low-tech, with reports of
knives being used as the primary weapons in the hijackings. Nevertheless,
many suspect computers and the Internet may have played a critical role in
planning the complex and highly coordinated operation.
In February, George Tenet, the director of the CIA, warned members of the
Senate Select Committee on Intelligence that terrorists were using the
Internet and high-tech tools to communicate.
"International terrorist networks have used the explosion in information
technology to advance their capabilities," he told the committee.
Mark Mansfield, spokesman for the CIA, declined to explain what tools the
agency was bringing to bear, saying "it would be ill-advised for us to talk about (our methods). It would
not be a prudent thing to do."
Both the NSA and the FBI declined comment as well.
However, The Intelligence Group's Mattera said he believed that the
requests for online information may be to check out the people who posted
suspicious information in public
chat rooms or online.
"I think there is some indication that there may have been some information
posted to different groups that didn't specifically alert people at the
time, but now they may be able to go back and connect it to the suspects,"
"Two days ago, a (virulent) e-mail may not have meant anything," he said,
"but today they will run it down and see if it's a clue."
News.com's Jim Hu and Reuters contributed to this report.