In a shocking revelation from intelligence sources, the suicide bomber reportedly thwarted trying to blow up a U.S. airliner last month, was actually an informant who willingly turned over the bomb and a top al-Qaeda operative to the CIA. According to a report in The New York Times, the "bomber" was recruited by Saudi Arabian intelligence and worked closely with the U.S.'s Central Intelligence Agency to infiltrate al-Qaeda in Yemen and get close to noted bomb-maker Ibrahim Hassan Asiri. When he learned of a newly-designed explosive device meant to be pass undetected through airport security to take down a U.S.-bound airliner, the informant volunteered for the mission and was given the device, which he then handed over to U.S. officials.
In addition to the intact bomb (which is now being studied by FBI explosives experts), the informant also provided key information that led to the assassination of Fahd Mohammed Ahmed al-Quso during a unmanned drone strike on Sunday. Al-Quso had long been a key suspect in the bombing of the U.S.S. Cole back in 2000.
The Times also reports that there is some anger within the intelligence community that both the plot and the use of an informant were revealed by the media. The first report on the failed mission came from the Associated Press, which was asked not to report on the story by the CIA. They did hold it for several days while the agent — who media reports call a "double agent," though there is no indication he was ever a true member of al-Qaeda — and his family were moved to a safe location within Saudi Arabia. Rep. Peter King, the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said there were concerns that leaks would discourage foreign intelligence services and other possible informants from working with the United States in the future, if the methods and sources for such operations were disclosed publicly.
Even with the disclosure, the operation was a tremendous victory for American intelligence services. Not only were they able to successfully place an undetected agent deep within al-Qaeda's operation, they received valuable and actionable information about its leaders, recovered a newly devised weapon that can now be studied intact, and simultaneously unraveled a major terrorist plot. While they might have preferred to keep it a secret, the revelations will provide a boost of confidence both with the agencies and from Americans who look to them for protection.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.