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One of the suspects, a short, wiry Tanzanian named Ahmad Khalfan Ghailani, had a $5 million U.S. bounty on his head for his suspected role in planning the 1998 Dar es Salaam and Nairobi bombings, which killed more than 200. His two housemates, both from South Africa, were also wanted in connection with the attacks. The three Africans arrested in Gujrat were significant, to be sure, but what they had in their house proved to be the true prize. Police gathered up the suspects' computers and 51 discs and passed them on to U.S. officials in Pakistan, who quickly forwarded them to Washington. Over the next two weeks, as CIA, Homeland Security and FBI analysts frantically combed through the data, they realized they had hit the closest thing to a mother lode since Sept. 11. Among other things, the information led to the arrest in England on Aug. 3 of al Hindi, who counterterrorism officials suspect was the leader of the team that, on orders from bin Laden, produced the surveillance reports on New York City financial institutions in 2001. British authorities also arrested Babar Ahmad, 30, who was detained last year after being found to be in possession of documents from 2001 describing the vulnerability of a U.S. Navy battleship group in the Persian Gulf. The U.S. now believes Ahmad, a cousin of Khan's, may have been in on al Hindi's surveillance mission too.
On Friday, July 30, homeland security Chief Tom Ridge was flying from Miami to Port Canaveral, Fla., to meet with cruise-industry executives about their security plans. At 1 p.m., he got a call on an unsecure phone from White House Homeland Security adviser Fran Townsend. She was purposefully vague, saying only some "interesting information" was turning up. When he landed, Ridge spoke again with Townsend, who told him that the Gujrat casing reports, which were still being analyzed, were very detailed and disturbing and that there was another threat to New York City that was worrisome. Returning to Washington later that day, Ridge convened a meeting of his 35 top people to discuss what they were learning and what needed to be done to prevent a possible attack. "It wasn't a black-and-white situation then," said an official. "It was more like a dinosaur bone sticking out of the sand. You needed to do more excavation around it."
On Saturday morning, the Administration's national-security principals, people like the Attorney General, the heads of the FBI and the CIA, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and Ridge, gathered in the White House. The CIA wanted until Monday to continue analyzing the data. Ridge was working at the Department of Homeland Security when Townsend called in midafternoon. The analysts, she said, were rapidly uncovering more significant information; a decision on what to do might be needed soon. At 4 p.m., the principals of the White House's national-security team held a secure video conference for almost two hours. Ridge led the group to a consensus to raise the color-coded threat level to orange but just for the financial-services sectors in New York, Newark and Washington. They were joined for the first time by New York City police commissioner Raymond Kelly, since much of the information that the group had was related to possible attacks in his city.