Underwear bomb plot: British and US intelligence rattled over leaks


Detailed leaks of operational information about the foiled underwear bomb plot are causing growing anger in the US intelligence community, with former agents blaming the Obama administration for undermining national security and compromising the British services, MI6 and MI5.
The Guardian, while quoting Saudi sources, reported that the agent was not a Saudi national as was widely reported, but a Yemeni. He was born in Saudi Arabia, in the port city of Jeddah, and then studied and worked in the UK, where he acquired a British passport.
Mike Scheur, the former head of the CIA’s Bin Laden unit, said the leaking about the nuts and bolts of British involvement was despicable and would make a repeat of the operation difficult. “MI6 should be as angry as hell. This is something that the prime minister should raise with the president, if he has the balls. This is really tragic,” Scheur said. He added: “Any information disclosed is too much information. This does seem to be a tawdry political thing.”
He noted that the leak came on the heels of a series of disclosures over the last 10 days, beginning with a report that the CIA wanted to expand its drone attacks in Yemen, Barack Obama making a surprise trip to Afghanistan around the time of the Bin Laden anniversary and “then this inexplicable leak”.
Robert Grenier, former head of the CIA counter-terrorism centre, said: “As for British Intelligence, I suppose, but do not know, that they must be very unhappy. They are often exasperated, quite reasonably, with their American friends, who are far more leak-prone than they. The name of the British passport-holder has not yet been released but may come out through al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula. He is reported to have spent time at language school in Sana’a, the Yemeni capital, and been recruited by al-Qaida as a suicide bomber.
Mustafa Alani of the Gulf Research Centre in Dubai told CNN that the bomber had been recruited by the Saudis to penetrate al-Qaida about a year ago, in part because the group would be attracted by the fact that his UK passport meant he could travel to the US without a visa.
“Apparently he was able to convince al-Qaida that he is genuinely ready to carry out the mission,” said Alani, who CNN said had been briefed by Saudi counter-terrorism officials. Alani said his understanding was that al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) intended the would-be suicide bomber to fly through a Gulf country to connect to a US-bound flight.
The Saudi operation culminated with the agent and another Saudi informant — likely his handler — being whisked out of Yemen, Alani said. “My information is that he was pulled out after the device was handed to him, and they ordered the green light to carry out the operation,” he told the US network.
Yemen has been a key target country for the CIA and MI6 in line with the growing strength of AQAP in recent years. But the lead on the ground has been taken by the Saudi intelligence service, the Mabahith, which is best placed to operate in the local environment and exploit links on either side of the border. Both the US and British intelligence communities are known to work closely with their Saudi counterparts and both have liaison officers permanently stationed in Riyadh and Sana’a.