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How Unusual Was Infiltration Effort That Stopped Bomb Plot?


bjbjLULU JEFFREY BROWN: Dina Temple Raston
has been covering this story for NPR; also with us, Philip Mudd, who had an extensive
career in the CIA, including as deputy director of the Counterterrorist Center, and, later,
he was with the FBI. He’s now a private security consultant. Dina, I will start with you. Do
we know at this point whether this double agent was somehow inserted into al-Qaida in
Yemen, or was he already inside and somehow turned? DINA TEMPLE-RASTON, NPR: Well, my
understanding is what happened is, it’s very much like using what al-Qaida in the Arabian
Peninsula’s strategy was against the United States with the Christmas Day bomber in 2009
against the U.S. — using it against al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula. Specifically, what
they did is, they found someone who went to the group and said, I want to be a suicide
bomber, and I have got a visa to the United States. Will you help me martyr myself? And,
essentially, the group jumped at the chance. One of the few things that al-Qaida in the
Arabian Peninsula can’t seem to overcome is that it just doesn’t have members who have
the ability to travel very freely. And, clearly, even somebody who wasn’t properly vetted,
it was so exciting to them that they might be able to get someone in the United States,
that they ended up accepting an agent into their ranks. JEFFREY BROWN: Philip Mudd, how
does this look to you? How hard is it — how unusual is it, how hard is it to — to infiltrate
and pull off this kind of a double agent effort? PHILIP MUDD, former Central Intelligence Agency
official: My experience is, this is very difficult. If you go back 10 years ago, we were trying
to infiltrate al-Qaida in Pakistan, and there are countermeasures against us with human
sources were quite good. Their counterintelligence programs were excellent. Here, you’re dealing,
though, with an al-Qaida organization on the periphery. I suspect it might be a bit easier.
But, remember, they have suffered over the past weeks and months by drone strikes, some
of which I’m guessing have been caused by human sources who have penetrated the organization.
So they’re looking around for people like this. It’s quite difficult to get people like
this in. JEFFREY BROWN: When you say it might be easier in this case, because of the connection
with Saudi Arabia? Why would it be easier in Yemen? PHILIP MUDD: I think there are a
couple reasons it might be. The first is, you’re talking about an organization in Yemen
that doesn’t have the operational experience of the al-Qaida core guys in a place like
Pakistan or Afghanistan. The second is, we have two states here, Saudi Arabia and Yemen,
but there are tribal connections across the border, very close family ties. So that might
offer an opportunity for someone to be coming from up north in Saudi Arabia and joining
these groups in the amorphous tribal areas of Yemen. JEFFREY BROWN: So, Dina, in this
case, the — how much — it required close coordination between Saudi and American intelligence,
I guess, right? Do we know what the two — the roles of the two countries were in this? DINA
TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, our understanding is that, in fact, that the CIA wasn’t in control
of this plot, but another foreign intelligence agency was. And they were the ones who relayed
everything to the CIA. The CIA knew what was going on, apparently, but they weren’t sort
of directing the plot itself. And I think that’s important to realize, that there was
that — that once removed. JEFFREY BROWN: And, Dina, just to stay with you on this question
of the drone strike, I guess we also learned that — that this double agent, in fact, did
help direct a drone strike. DINA TEMPLE-RASTON: Yes. I mean, what’s interesting is that the
man who gave him his marching orders, the one who told him to go — who gave him the
bomb, essentially, and told him to go on this mission was a man named Fahd al-Quso. Fahd
al-Quso was the chief external operations guy for AQAP. He basically replaced radical
imam Anwar al-Awlaki as the guy who was going to concentrate on the West. And this is the
very man who was hit by a drone last weekend. And we understand that that wasn’t a coincidence.
JEFFREY BROWN: Philip Mudd, how close are U.S. and Saudi intelligence agencies as this
point? How. . . PHILIP MUDD: I would say very close. JEFFREY BROWN: Very close. PHILIP MUDD:
They have been for years, for simple reasons. JEFFREY BROWN: Yes. PHILIP MUDD: When you
work in a security service, there might be on the outside political pressure, diplomatic
pressure. That doesn’t affect security services that are looking themselves at a terrorist
threat and saying, if we don’t cooperate, somebody is going to die. That’s an incredible
motivator for cooperation. JEFFREY BROWN: Is the assumption now that, whoever this person
was, the double agent — and, of course, there d be family members — somehow he must — he
and they must be in some sort of secure situation? PHILIP MUDD: I think that’s a safe assumption.
Remember, we ve got a long history of doing this. If you go back to the Soviet Union,
you had people working full-time to bring in double agents from Russia into this country.
The same kinds of people will be looking at this man and his family and not only giving
him money and a home, but giving him a life. He has got to rebuild an entire life after
this incident. JEFFREY BROWN: Dina, what are people in the intelligence field telling you
about the possible impact of this on al-Qaida in Yemen and our future ability to thwart
them in other possible attempts? DINA TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, Phil Mudd actually alluded to it. Something
happens inside the organization when you get infiltrated. Everybody suddenly becomes very
suspicious of everyone else. And what that ends up doing is sort of slowing up the process
of actually getting a plot off the ground. In other words, they keep looking over their
shoulders to see if there’s someone they ought to be looking twice at, someone who might
be passing on information. And because of that, they’re extra careful, and that gives
perhaps either Saudi intelligence or U.S. intelligence a little more time to thwart
a plot. JEFFREY BROWN: What’s your sense of that? I mean the kind of thing that you can
do once, and then it’s harder to do another time because everybody gets more careful?
What happens? PHILIP MUDD: I would say harder, but not too hard. Remember, these folks are
motivated by a religious conviction. They’re never going to go home again. They can’t and
they won’t. So as Dina said, they might go to ground for a bit, but that’s a short-term
solution. You have people who in Yemen are gaining ground. They’re gaining ground against
the government. They may have more safe haven to plan operations like this. And the bombmaker
who created this bomb and created the Detroit bomb in December of 2009 is still around.
So they might disappear for a few days, a few weeks, a month or two, but guaranteed,
they will come back again. JEFFREY BROWN: And what’s your sense of this question I raised
in the setup about it becoming public in a sort of unusual way, I guess, leaking the
story? Does that have implications? Is that something people are worried or talking about?
PHILIP MUDD: Potentially. And they should. Having sat on these on the inside, you can
guarantee when you’re watching one of these that it will become public one day. The plot
is going to be public. The plotter and the penetration will become public. The question
I would have is whether this was leaked so soon, that we lost any potential to find the
bombmaker. If that was in fact the case, remember, it was this plotter, the fellow on the inside
of the operation, who gave us the operational commander who was killed in Yemen on Sunday.
If he was taken out of the picture so soon that we couldn’t find the bombmaker, that’s
a tragedy. JEFFREY BROWN: Dina, I see you nodding. Briefly, you — that sounds right
to you? DINA TEMPLE-RASTON: It not only sounds exactly right, but also the longer that this
bombmaker, al-Asiri, is in AQAP, the more opportunity he has to train other people — other
people to learn how to make bombs as well. JEFFREY BROWN: All right, Dina Temple-Raston
and Philip Mudd, thank you both very much. PHILIP MUDD: Thank you. DINA TEMPLE-RASTON:
You’re very welcome. hG]I hG]I hzwP hG]I gdG]I hG]I hzwP hG]I hG]I hG]I gdG]I gdG]I urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags
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place JEFFREY BROWN: Dina Temple Raston has been covering this story for NPR; also with
us, Philip Mudd, who had an extensive career in the CIA, including as deputy director of
the Counterterrorist Center, and, later, he was with the FBI Normal Microsoft Office Word
JEFFREY BROWN: Dina Temple Raston has been covering this story for NPR; also with us,
Philip Mudd, who had an extensive career in the CIA, including as deputy director of the
Counterterrorist Center, and, later, he was with the FBI Title Microsoft Office Word Document
MSWordDoc Word.Document.8

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