Double-crossing the CIA sounds like risky business, but a programmer did just that. Dennis Montgomery conned both the CIA and the Pentagon into buying bogus anti-terror code:
In December 2003, DHS secretary Tom Ridge announced a terror alert based on intelligence from “credible sources” about imminent attacks that “could either rival or exceed what we experienced on September 11.” Dozens of French, British and Mexican commercial “flights of interest” were canceled, and news agencies were reporting that the threats extended to “power plants, dams and even oil facilities in Alaska.”
Playboy says the source of the intelligence was never revealed publicly. But the evidence points to Dennis Montgomery, who had convinced the government that Al Jazeera — the Qatari-owned TV network — was unwittingly transmitting attack orders to Al Qaeda sleeper cells concealed in video it broadcast.
Montgomery claimed he decoded the orders using a program developed by his four-year-old Las Vegas firm, eTreppid Technologies. The software found hidden bar codes in Al Jazeera videos that contained latitudes, longitudes, flight numbers and dates for planes being targeted for attacks, he reportedly claimed. He fed the information to a CIA employee at the agency’s Directorate of Science and Technology, who passed it up to CIA Director George Tenet, who in turn passed it to the White House.
“[Tom] Ridge’s announcement, the canceled flights and the holiday disruptions were all the results of Montgomery’s mysterious doings,” the Playboy article asserts.
Over the next few years Montgomery’s intelligence wound its way through the Department of Homeland Security, the Pentagon, the Senate Intelligence Committee and even Vice President Dick Cheney’s office.
But aside from Tenet and a few others, Playboy reports, no one actually knew the information was supposedly gleaned from messages hidden in video broadcasts.
In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, the government was searching feverishly for any information or tools that would help deter additional attacks, and was willing to throw millions of dollars at any prospector who asserted he had a solution. It was this environment that helped Montgomery convince officials at DHS and elsewhere that he was able to detect hidden messages in video that no one else was able to see.
When one CIA officer finally learned the source of the information his agency was being fed, he says he was livid.
“I was told to shut up,” he told Playboy. “I was saying, ‘This is crazy. This is embarrassing.’. . . I said, ‘Give us the algorithms that allowed you to come up with this stuff.’ They wouldn’t even do that. And I was screaming, ‘You gave these people fucking money?’”