Computer Geeks Scoop Al Qaeda

This still from an undated video carrying the logo of al Qaeda's production house as-Sahab and provided Sept. 11, 2007 by IntelCenter, a U.S. government contractor monitoring al Qaeda messaging, shows Osama bin Laden raising his finger while speaking. (AP Photo/Intel Center) EDS NOTE: "INTELCENTER" AT RIGHT TOP CORNER ADDED BY SOURCE THE ASSOCIATED PRESS HAS NO WAY OF INDEPENDENTLY VERIFYING THE CONTENT, LOCATION OR DATE OF THIS VIDEO **
AP Photo/Intel Center
The Skinny is Keach Hagey's take on the top news of the day and the best of the Internet.


Ever wonder how Osama bin Laden videos move from the Internet to the television in your living room?

The Washington Post has a fascinating story today about the community of private individuals and companies who troll the Internet in search of such videos, usually managing to get hold of them before the government's intelligence agencies -and often before al Qaeda intends them to be seen.

Yesterday's Bin Laden tape, for example, was publicly aired thanks to the efforts of a 50-year-old graphic designer working from her South Carolina home who goes by the pseudonym Laura Mansfield.

The al Qaeda dispatch was downloaded and handed to the government by the SITE Institute a full day before the terrorist organization publicly released the video.

The hackers use "a combination of computer tricks, personal connections and ingenuity to find and download password-protected content" from al-Qaeda-affiliated Web sites, according to the Post.

The woman who calls herself Mansfield is a self-described "computer geek" and an Arabic speaker who said she was inspired by the Sept. 11 attacks to "look constantly" online for such messages. "The video may be in an accessibly place for only 15 minutes, and if you're not there at the right time, you might miss it," she said.

Rita Katz, founder of the SITE Institute, a service offering access to an archive of terrorist-group image and materials, declined to comment on the methods used to obtain the footage.

She told the Post that al Qaeda's "propaganda team is getting larger and more sophisticated." When the terrorist group was ready to release Friday's video, for example, it made the vides reading for downloading with nearly 650 different and user-friendly Internet addresses in a variety of versions like for cellphones or with audio only.

But so far, al Qaeda is almost always scooped by groups like SITE, who distribute the videos as much as 24 hours ahead of time.

So, while the U.S. might not be able to find bin Laden, we can at least take heart that we are managing least stick it to his terrorist group by breaking their news embargoes.

Hsu's Money May Have Come From Woodstock Founder

Just when you thought the story of fugitive Hillary Clinton fundraiser Norman Hsu couldn't get any weirder, it gets downright acid-trip surreal, thanks to this morning's Wall Street Journal.

While the rest of the papers are stuck pushing forward the by now well-known story of how Clinton must give back the tainted cash she got from the accused embezzler, the Journal gets hold of some documents that may answer the mystery of just how the apparel magnate got all that cash.

A company controlled by Hsu recently received $40 million from a Madison Avenue investment fund run by Joel Rosenman, one of the creators of the Woodstock festival in 1969, the Journal reports. And that money, Rosenman told investors this week, is missing.

Rosenman got into the investment business in the 1960s, when he and a friend with a big trust fund, John Robert, decided to pitch a situation comedy about a hapless duo who hatched a new business plan every week.

Looking for material, they placed an ad in the Wall Street Journal and New York Times that said: "Young Men With Unlimited Capital looking for interesting, legitimate, investment opportunities and business propositions."

They got thousands of responses. One of them was for a three-day concert. They decided to become venture capitalists instead of screenwriters, and produced and organized Woodstock in 1969.

Decades later, Rosenman was still in investment business. He began investing in Hsu's apparel company, and making money. Then in 2005, he launced Source Financing Investors, an investment pool that would "lend U.S. private label designers that needed interim financing to fill orders for a select group of well-known, high-end U.S. apparel retailers."

They made a deal with Hsu, who pledged to give the investment firm a check that Source Financing would deposit once it matured. But when Rosenman went to deposit the check recently, he was told there were insufficient funds.

He recently warned his investors that "recent revelations led us to believe that payments due on our recent transactions with . . . Hsu may not be made."

For those keeping track, some of those "recent revalations" include California authorities' demand recent that Hsu turn himself in to face 15-year-old grand theft charges. He appeared in court and was released on $2 million bail, but then skipped his next court hearing before re-emerging in a Colorado hospital last week. He's under arrest there and expected to be extradited soon back to California.

Americans: Waking Up Earlier, Retiring Later, Paying More Rent

Today's papers are filled with stories culled from new census data. The stories covered a wide range of topics, but the news is almost uniformly dismal.

USA Today led with an onomotopoeically long and dread-inducing piece about American's lengthening commutes, more and more of which are staring before dawn. In 2000, 1 in 9 workers was out the door by 6 a.m., new data says. By 2006, it was 1 in 8. That may not sound like a big change, but it put 2.7 more drivers on pre-dawn patrol.

Other businesses are adapting to serve them. Local stations have gone from airing news at 6:30 a.m., before the network shows come on, to 6 a.m., to 5:30 a.m., now to 5 a.m. McDonald's used to start serving breakfast at 6 a.m. Now, three quarters of McDonald's unleash the McMuffins at 5 a.m.

The early commuters may beat the traffic, but they exercise less and spend less time with their families, the paper reports.

The New York Times reports that housing costs ate my more of the monthly paycheck for millions of Americans than the year before, despite signs of a looming housing market crisis. Nationally, half of renters and more than a third of mortgage holders spent at least 30 percent of their their gross income on housing costs, the level government agencies consider the limit of affordability.

Meanwhile, the paper reports that more Americans over 65 were continuing to work last year, whether by choice or economic necessity. Nearly one quarter of Americans from 65 to 74 - 23 percent - were either working or looking for work, up from 19.6 percent in 2000.

The Washington Post reported that the D.C. region leads this trend, with about a third of 65- to 74-year-olds working.

As the white-haired Henry Behrens, 63, said of his second career as a security guard, which he's been working for 12 years since his retirement from his military career, "Being handsome doesn't pay the bills."

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