With the announcement today that not only had the CIA foiled a second “underwear” bomb plot that was conceived by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) terrorists located in Yemen, but the White House also announced that the individual who was to have boarded an aircraft bound for America was, in fact, a CIA informant.
Good job, CIA! And of course, good job, Mr. President.
A good job, but possibly the dumbest handling of sensitive intelligence information since the last time the president “spiked the football” after the killing of Osama bin Laden.
Last year, after the SEALS stormed Osama bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan, there was some dissemination of classified materials that were captured during that raid. Material such as announcing to the whole world that we now had in our possession a list of Al Qaeda safe houses. Like the iconic MasterCard advertisements would have said, how much is that information worth to us in terms of hunting down and neutralizing Al Qaeda? Priceless!
Of course once Al Qaeda knew what we knew, it had an adjusted value. Zero.
The information leak regarding the alleged fact that this second underwear bomber was a CIA informant does several things. In terms of having the least geopolitical importance, the informant’s life is now in serious jeopardy. He is a person known to AQAP assassins. If he is a native of Yemen, what sort of witness protection program could accommodate him? Does any rational person think he could just “blend in” no matter where he was located? Reports indicate that the informant is a Saudi national, but going home doesn’t seem like a good idea either.
It would have been better to leave the CIA connection with this faux terrorist unmentioned. Announce the attempt was foiled, but simultaneously report that the would-be terrorist lost his life during his capture. The chances of AQAP, or any other branch of the terrorist network finding a “dead” man approach zero. Who looks for someone who’s already dead?
Because of the wording of the announcement, that the informant was “the” CIA operative, it conveys to AQAP that there was only one CIA mole in place. The administration lost another “priceless” opportunity here as well.
If an announcement had to be made, it should have been announced in this way: “…the designated underwear bomber was one of the CIA’s operatives…” Phrasing the announcement to indicate the informant was only one of several would most likely result in an internecine bloodbath as AQAP worked to discover the other CIA operatives. Purges in ideologically motivated dictatorships are not exactly an unprecedented phenomenon. The United States and its allies could have watched as AQAP self-destructed, or at the very least crippled itself for at least months and possibly years before it could reconstitute itself.
The announcement was amateurish and destroyed whatever hopes intelligence professionals might have had of creating collateral damage among the Al Qaeda terrorists operating out of Yemen.
But it sure is a great way for the president to have another chance to dislocate his shoulder patting himself on the back for a success against Al Qaeda and the war on terror, indirectly reminding voters that he made that “gutsy” call to kill Osama bin Laden almost exactly a year ago. Well that’s a coincidence, isn’t it?