Bomb plot leak worries security experts

2012-05-11 20:30

kalahari.com

London - Counter-terrorism experts expressed concern on Friday over US leaks about an undercover operation that foiled a suicide bomb plot, saying its exposure may deter agents from volunteering for the risky job of infiltrating al-Qaeda's network.

While electronic methods are increasingly used in espionage operations of all kinds, human intelligence remains crucial because al-Qaeda's best operatives try to avoid the use of any electronic communications to minimise the chance of detection.

British intelligence played a central role in the operation targeting al-Qaeda's Yemeni offshoot, counter-terrorism sources said, by recruiting the informant who obtained the bomb and handed it to Western intelligence officers.

The undercover operative in the plot linked to Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP, was a British citizen, possibly of Saudi origin, the sources said on condition of anonymity. The informant was working in co-operation with Britain's two principal spy agencies.

The operation appears to have been a joint venture between the British, Saudi Arabian and US intelligence services, some analysts say, and its exposure in the US media has caused widespread concern in the US intelligence community.

The Saudis and British appear to be concerned too.

'Potentially harmful'

"The Saudis are not happy with the leaking of this information," said Mustafa Alani, a security analyst with good contacts among Gulf Arab governments.

"It is potentially harmful for future operations. And it is the Saudis who have the agents on the ground to get these things done."

A spokesperson for Prime Minister David Cameron declined to discuss the matter, but said: "Clearly we think that sensitive information should be protected."

Nigel Inkster, a former assistant chief of Britain's Secret Intelligence Service (SIS), said in a Twitter message: "The revelations about the British agent in AQ [al-Qaeda] remind us that Beltway leaking is a major security threat."

Patrick Mercer, a British Conservative Party lawmaker and a specialist in security matters, said: "If this is not a deliberate disclosure done for an operational purpose, then it is a shocking example of a leak posing risks to highly sensitive and important work."

The operation appears to have been a notable counter-terrorism success for the United States and its allies, with the adroit use of an agent inside al-Qaeda ranks likely to provide particular satisfaction to Washington two and a half years after the second most deadly attack on the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

Special temperament


On 30 December 2009, a Jordanian double agent, Humam Khalil abu Mulal al-Balawi, blew himself up inside Forward Operating Base Chapman, a well-fortified US compound in Khost province in southeast Afghanistan, killing seven CIA officers and a Jordanian intelligence officer.

The attack showed militants were keener to kill Western spies than to infiltrate their networks, underlining the daunting challenge for Western services seeking to plant an informant among al-Qaeda's senior ranks.

And yet the disclosure of the latest operation may make it less likely that others will come forward to undertake such undercover work against al-Qaeda in future, analysts say.

In the latest case, Alani said AQAP had been duped into recruiting the informant because, among other things, he held a Western passport and appeared to have a militant cast of mind, making it easier for him to be allowed to board a US-bound aircraft without undue suspicion.

But by definition individuals who have the temperament, background and training to infiltrate the militant network are few.

This is not the first time such leaks have disrupted operations involving British and Saudi intelligence.

Faster than they wanted


The most notable case where US leaks potentially jeopardised a British investigation was that of an al-Qaeda plot to blow up financial targets in the United States and carry out "dirty bomb" attacks in Britain.

The eight-man cell, now serving long jail terms, were arrested in daylight swoops by British police in 2004 after US officials revealed details about a Pakistani agent who was involved in a sting operation.

The men had been under police surveillance and the release of the Pakistan agent's name in US newspapers prompted the British to act faster than they wanted.

Security analysts say British police were also forced to arrest suspects believed to be planning to down transatlantic airliners in 2006 earlier than they had wanted because US security agencies were putting them under pressure.

A lack of evidence meant the suspects were not initially convicted of being involved in planning to target airliners and led to a number of re-trials.

In a speech in 2010, SIS chief John Sawers said: "Agents take serious risks and make sacrifices to help our country. In return, we give them a solemn pledge: That we shall keep their role secret."

Internal review

Secret organisations needed to stay secret, he said, even if they occasionally presented "a public face".

"Agents take risks. They will not work with SIS, will not pass us the secrets they hold, unless they can trust us not to expose them. Foreign partners need to have certainty that what they tell us will remain secret - not just most of the time, but always."

The director of US National Intelligence has opened an "internal review" of US intelligence agencies to determine whether there were leaks of classified information related to the underwear bomb operation.

Separately, the FBI is conducting a separate criminal investigation into leaks, a law enforcement official said in Washington.

Read more on:    al-qaeda  |  uk  |  us  |  security
NEXT ON NEWS24X
SHARE:

Read News24’s Comments Policy

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
0 comments
Add your comment
Comment 0 characters remaining
 

Inside News24

 
/News

Jobs in Cape Town [change area]

Property [change area]

Travel - Look, Book, Go!

Magical Massinga

Spend 5 nights at the gorgeous Massinga Beach Lodge in Mozambique and only pay for 4 from R13 220 per person sharing. Includes return flights, accommodation, transfers and romantic turndown. Book now!

Kalahari.com - shop online today

Up to 40% off fashion accessories

Save up to 40% on selected handbags, purses, watches, jewellery and more. Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now!

Save up to R2000 on top electronics

Get every day mind bowing savings on top electronics. Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now!

As seen on TV - New book releases at only R199 each

Get mind blowing book savings on new titles. Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now!

Save up to 50% on Women’s month treats!

Celebrate the awesome women in your life with awesome treats like beauty products, fashion accessories, bestselling books, electronics and more. Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now!

Up to 60% off - clearance sale!

Save up to 60% on appliances, books, electronics, toys, movies and more. Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now!

OLX Free Classifieds [change area]

Samsung Galaxy s4

Mobile, Cell Phones in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 24

Best bargain in big bay

Real Estate, Houses - Apartments for Sale in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

VW Golf 6, 1.6 Trendline (Excellent condition)

Vehicles, Cars in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

Horoscopes
Aquarius
Aquarius

You are in a curious mood and you want to be the first to know what is happening. You may find yourself drawn into cyber chatting...read more

There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.
 
English
Afrikaans
isiZulu

Hello 

Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.


Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Settings

Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.








Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.