Two days after the White House announced an al-Qaeda plot to blow up a passenger flight using a new kind of underwear bomb, intelligence officials have revealed that the attempt was foiled by a double agent the CIA planted in al-Qaeda.
The BBC reports that officials said there was never any risk to the public. The planned attack was foiled before a specific target was chosen and before a plane ticket was purchased.
According to CBS News, the man al-Qaeda chose to carry out the underwear suicide bomb attack actually was a double agent working for the CIA and the Saudi intelligence services.
ABC News reports the Saudi intelligence service helped the CIA plant the agent inside the Yemeni branch of al-Qaeda and also possibly provided the double agent.
The double agent, according to ABC News, spent weeks with the Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and acquired vital information that allowed the U.S. to launch a drone strike on Sunday in which Fahd al-Quso, leading figure in the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen, was killed.
CBS News reports the double agent delivered the non-metallic explosive device, designed to evade airport metal detectors, to U.S. intelligence officials and provided information on the whereabouts of Fahd al-Quso. BBC reports that Fand al-Quso was killed by a missile as he stepped out of a vehicle.
U.S. intelligence faced a difficult decision in foiling the bomb plot. They had reliable intelligence that al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) was looking for a suicide bomber. They knew that the target was an American jetliner. The decided the best way to manage the unfolding scenario was to plant an agent in al-Qaeda who would volunteer to carry out the suicide bombing and then hand the bomb to the CIA. The ran the risk of losing the agent with vital information he had.
According to Richard Clarke, ABC News consultant and former White House counter-terrorism adviser :"It's quite an accomplishment to be able to pass yourself off as an al-Qaeda terrorist to the terrorists, when in fact you're working for a US or allied intelligence agency."
CBS reports that the alleged double agent is now safely outside Yemen.
The explosive to be used in the attack, unlike the one used in the failed Christmas Day 2009 bomb attempt, had a failsafe in case the primary detonation method failed. The main charge in the new bomb was a high-grade military explosive that would have brought the aircraft down, officials say. A senior U.S. official explained that the the bomb was sewn into a "custom fit" underwear that would have been difficult to detect in even a careful pat-down at an airport. The bomb was made of plastic and did not contain metal, implying that it probably would have been undetected by airport metal detector.
The bomb maker was identified as Ibrahim Hassan Taleh Al-Asiri. Asiri is also believed to have made the bomb used in the Christmas 2009 foiled attempt by Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. According to a senior U.S. official, the device has the hallmarks of previous AQAP bombs used in a failed 2009 assassination attempt on Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, a top Saudi counter-terrorism official, and in the failed Christmas Day bombing.
According to BBC, Ibrahim al-Asiri, 30, is believed to be hiding in Yemen. Los Angeles Times reports experts are analyzing the explosive device at the FBI’s bomb laboratory at Quantico, Va., to determine if it could evade current security measures.
US. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, said the plot reveals al-Qaeda's determination. She said: "They keep trying to devise more and more perverse and terrible ways to kill."
The White House said the plot was disrupted at an early stage. U.S. intelligence officials acknowledged the vital role of Saudi intelligence in uncovering this and previous AQAP plots. According to Fran Townsend, a former counter-terrorism official under Georg Bush: "The Saudis have the best insight to al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula."