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The intelligence reports fitted the suspicions of the time: al-Qaida sleeper agents were scattered across the US awaiting orders that were broadcast in secret codes over the al-Jazeera television network.
Flights from Britain and France were cancelled. Officials warned of a looming "spectacular attack" to rival 9/11. In 2003 President Bush's homeland security tsar, Tom Ridge, spoke of a "credible source" whose information had US military bracing for a new terrorist onslaught.
Then suddenly no more was said.
Six years later, Playboy magazine has revealed that the CIA fell victim to an elaborate con by a compulsive gambler who claimed to have developed software that discovered al-Jazeera broadcasts were being used to transmit messages to terrorists buried deep in America.