Who leaked details of underwear bomb plot, and why?

Debriefing session

Brief(s) debriefing session

Following the dramatic revelations last week about a foiled “underwear bomb plot”, and the startling news that the “bomber” was in fact an undercover British agent, US intelligence agents together with MI6 and MI5 are furious that the news was leaked at all, and are pointing fingers of blame at the Obama White House.

The Guardian reports:

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.

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.

“In their place, I would think two and three times before sharing with the Americans, and then only do it if I had to. The problem with that dynamic is that you don’t know what you don’t know, and what opportunities you might be missing when you decide not to share. The Americans are doing a very good job of undermining trust, and the problem starts at the top.”

Shashank Joshi, writing in the Daily Telegraph, confirms the anger of the intelligence communities at the American-sourced leaks, but raises the possibility that the leak emanated from the CIA:

This week began with news of a remarkable intelligence coup. It has ended in ignominy, and a reminder that the pathological leakiness of the American bureaucracy has consequences for counterterrorism.

According to the Associated Press (AP), the CIA foiled an audacious plot by Al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) to attack an aircraft using an upgraded version of the underwear bomb that failed three years ago. The AP had, apparently, shown great responsibility in delaying publication for days at the request of the White House.

Then, the story grew both muddier and more remarkable still. The would-be bomber was in fact a mole. He was a British national of Saudi Arabian origin, recruited by MI5 in Europe and later run, with Saudi Arabia, by MI6. This is a testament to the unimaginable courage of the agent in question, and the ingenuity of British intelligence.

But the emergence of this story, with a blow-by-blow account of operational detail, is the result of reckless, impetuous leaking that could cost lives and compromise operations in the future.

For a start, the story appears to have trickled out far too soon.

One US official has noted that “this operation could have gone on for some time … when it was cut off by a leak”. Even once the agent turned up in Saudi Arabia, it was clear that his intelligence was helping to target a spate of crucial drone strikes within Yemen – including one that killed AQAP’s head of external operations, a man responsible for the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000.

If the group learnt of their member’s defection from the media, who knows what countermeasures they took? How did that stymie further arrests or airstrikes? AQAP’s chief bomb-maker, Ibrahim Al-Asiri, might even have escaped as a result.


Second, it’s possible that the story shouldn’t have been leaked at all, at least not in such detail. Agents work with intelligence services because their anonymity – and therefore safety – is guaranteed. AQAP now knows the name and location of their traitor.


Third, and finally, it’s one thing to leak your own organisation’s role – but it’s another thing entirely to implicate your foreign partners, and thereby jeopardise their future operations too.

The Telegraphreported earlier this year that the CIA was angered by the British courts’ disclosure of secret information, and had reacted by thinning the flow of information. If that is correct, it is doubly shameful that the role of both Saudi Arabia and Britain should have been plastered over the newspapers.

The CIA, and its overseers in the other branches of government, are known to leak like sieves. After all, just look at the operational detail that emerged less than a day after the raid for Osama bin Laden. But their foreign partners are entitled to a shade more discretion.

The fear for the safety of the British double agent is very real and very serious. Security chiefs fear the agent’s identity will be exposed within a couple of weeks:

MI5 fear that militant Islamists will attempt to exact revenge on the British spy, who penetrated al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsular (AQAP), by publishing his photograph on the internet – a move designed to incite extremists to hunt him down.

Sources have described the British spy as “gold dust”, adding that he was one of just a handful of agents in the last ten years to have successfully penetrated one of the groups aligned to al-Qaeda’s concept of global Jihad.

AQAP now represents the “greatest operational threat” to Britain and America, according to senior Whitehall sources.

The group is known for its use of modern communication techniques including the publication of an English-language magazine, Inspire, which is distributed to supporters over the internet.


A former security official told The Sunday Telegraph that although the mission to penetrate AQAP was a success, the agent was now “burned” and would never be able to take part in covert operations again.

In all likelihood, the official said, the agent will have to be relocated outside of the Middle East and provided with a new identity.

It can also be revealed that al-Qaeda believed that the British double agent came from a family with radical Islamic ties and was recommended by a close relative who was trusted by leaders AQAP, the network’s Yemeni wing, according to US intelligence.

“He apparently came from what AQAP regarded as a good family, meaning that they believed he was a radical Islamist in his DNA, and was brought in to the group by a close male relative,” said Dan Goure, a Pentagon consultant and vice-president of the Lexington Institute, a national security think-tank.

The whole story reads like something out of James Bond, only without a conclusively happy ending (and minus the beautiful girl of course). Let’s hope both sides know how to plug their leaks and keep their secrets to themselves in future.

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24 Responses to Who leaked details of underwear bomb plot, and why?

  1. ealha3 says:

    The tragedy of disclosure of classified information has been recognized for decades. Unfortunately, we have ignorant and irresponsible government officials charged with protecting our national secrets who either are too stupid, too gutless or just too lazy to charge individuals and organizations – i.e., news services, with violations of Title 18 of the United States Code, section 783(e) that makes criminal the disclosure of classified information. And there’s no public outcry for this government irresponsibility. Each and every American, as well as those Europeans who benefit from these secret services should have a civil cause of action against any entity that wrongfully discloses classified information. A single successful prosecution would send to prison and bankrupt that person and/or organization for their criminal action and would send the right message to anyone or organization tempted to seek to profit at the cost of our national security.

    • anneinpt says:

      Thank you for your comment ealha3. The other option would be to institute censorship laws like those that still apply in Israel. The press may object loudly, but it is sometimes the only way to prevent leaks.

      • R. Thompson, aka Aridog says:

        Anne … we have the laws here, but they’re no longer enforced. In the times we were under existential threat, even a twit like PFC Manning would have long ago been tried & convicted…as well as those superiors responsible for his actions. Not wishing to sound like a conspiracy wacko, but … does anyone really believe that a lowly PFC was able to dump such a wide range and depth of information unaided? At least by inept oversight? Nope, years later we still are arbitrating Manning’s crimes, hell …we can’t even seem to try Kalid Sheik Mohamed (sic?) in orderly fashion. Please note, however, it IS prosecutable if the federal authorities come to you and question you, if you reveal this fact to anyone else. Period. And those prosecutions are carried out post haste.

        What passes for a Department of Justice here today is merely a pale wing of an agenda driven administration, selective in prosecution in the absurd degree….and I fear the military version under the UCMJ is similarly institutionalized and emasculated. Today we try to convict baseball players for fibbing to Congress, home economic mavens for fibbing to the FBI, but you’ll not find us prosecuting government officials for lying … I have to assume that is because lying is what they do, thus for bureaucrats and politicians, it is de facto no longer a crime to reveal secrets or endanger anyone else. .

        We Americans as represented by the progressive thought today still seem to think we are protected in “fortress America” by two large oceans. Further, we seem un-alarmed by the fact our government now operates without any formal budgetary process, a primary Constitutionally mandated function of our Congress, which by defaulting on budget passage has in effect rendered itself irrelevant. In short, with our courts mocked and Congress by-passed, we today operate as an executive autocracy that makes rules as law and governs by edict.

        When folks get a laugh about Israel’s tumultuous politics, I often wish we’d had a bit more of it here. Today we’ve got the #Occupy movement, now spreading around the world as well, that reflects the very things Cathy Jordan, of Dervish, says in her message on another thread, is the beast that eventually consumes itself. She’s right.

        … A few years ago I used to be “against” this and “anti” that, which ended up just filling me with anger and frustration when things didn’t go my way. Anger is a dangerous thing. When left unchecked, it can turn into hate which spreads like a cancer until it has consumed its host. … [Cathy Jordan, of the band Dervish]

        • anneinpt says:

          You paint a very depressing picture Aridog. What can I say? I can only wish you and all Americans a new administration very soon, one that understands how the world really works and not how they wish it would work.

  2. cba says:

    LMAO at the cartoon…

  3. Rob Harris says:

    One of the articles Anne quited stated: “The CIA, and its overseers in the other branches of government, are known to leak like sieves. After all, just look at the operational detail that emerged less than a day after the raid for Osama bin Laden”

    I’m not knowledgeable on the CIA but I find it hard to believe they would from on high willingly destroy the possibility of major successes in the future even if they wanted a bit of revenge against MI6. Such a leak would just be shooting themselves in the foot in a major way. The “Ben Leaded” assassination was lauded as a major success for Obama so I wonder was this leak a deliberate act by Obama and company seeing as we are so close to November’s elections?

    BTW great cartoon as CBA says. Reminds me of the cartoons a while back of burka clad women saying “Does my bomb look big in this”. Hey baby I got me some WMD in my pants etc… 🙂

  4. R. Thompson, aka Aridog says:

    @Bob Harris … The “Ben Leaded” assassination was lauded as a major success for Obama so I wonder was this leak a deliberate act by Obama and company seeing as we are so close to November’s elections?

    No need to wonder, you’re right.

    They’re just doing it again with the recent “new underwear bomber story.”

    With the notable exception of Phillip Agree, who decamped to Cuba and wrote a scurrilous book of half facts and outright lies, the CIA is not very “leaky” in its own right, and I do have a tiny bit of experience with them. However, … in our system here the various intelligence agencies must reveal a lot to politicians, who can also inform aides … and the “leaking” begins … for political purposes.

    Sure, others have written about their time in the CIA or related agencies, but none, to my knowledge, have done so on current events nor revealed identities of clandestine operators, endangering them and their contacts. We ask for transparency here, but it has become a self-confessor cult now. Old timers can cite the Pentagon Papers (well summarized in Neil Sheehan’s book “A Bright Shining Lie” ), but we have to acknowledge that the story was post-facto.

    Today, the stories are not post facto, they are current or nearly current events. There lies the difference. It is a political difference. We in the USA are well on our way to a governance by Executive Edict, where the courts are mocked and the legislature is by-passed. Once the 3 branch system is rendered irrelevant, we’ll again have everything a closely held secret. Our future then will also be irrelevant. And short.

    • R. Thompson, aka Aridog says:

      I might add here, that the first “Detroit Christmas Underwear Bomber” incident occurred almost directly over my house. We are on the final approach path for DTW on certain days determined by the FAA. That Christmas was one of those days. I have yet to decide whether I should be grateful for the incompetence of the terrorist bomb makers, the bomber himself, or that of our intelligence agencies who missed him altogether, even though his own father outed him to the US State Department. All I know for sure is that incompetence saved the day … along with some angry passengers aboard that flight.

      • anneinpt says:

        Sheesh! I hope you have your tin helmet handy!

        Thanks for all your very informative and interesting, if rather depressing, comments further upthread. They give us much more insight into the machinations of American politics. And I thought Israeli politics were convoluted!

        • R. Thompson, aka Aridog says:

          Heh …I wish it was less serious. Here is one version of Israeli politics here, with self-hating “Jews of Convenience” leading the way. And another one.. Hat Tip to The People’s Cube … admittedly a sarcastic exaggeration site, bordering on “The Onion” in concept, except a lot of what they allege is “False, but Accurate.” Give new meaning to Dan Rather’s famous concept, which, in interviews last month, he still says he told the “truth.”

          • anneinpt says:

            I wouldn’t go so far as to call those sites “Israeli” politics. Those are American liberal Jewish (not necessarily in that order) politics – i.e how they would wish Israeli politics to look like but aren’t. Or to be more exact (having had a closer look. Ugh) these are American liberal barely-Jewish organizations who would like Israel not to exist as it exists today. They want Israel to be a reflection of themselves. Which ain’t gonna happen.

            What a bunch of idiots.

            Please don’t read those sites, for the sake of your own mental health. They represent no one but themselves.

            • R. Thompson, aka Aridog says:

              Those sites are useful only to reveal how inoculated we’ve become here to reality. Yes, they represent no one but themselves, but with enough noise they get heard by some, then by more … I believe Mssr. Goebbels, and Mssr. Stalin before him, had a theory about that some time ago.

              I think CBA’s right; the way to combat all this is to compare Israel’s record with that of other developed countries … and in most aspects Israel will be the more honorable example.

          • anneinpt says:

            Sorry about your comment being pre-moderated. That’s what happens when there are 3 or more links in a comment. Perhaps I’ll adjust my settings.

            • R. Thompson, aka Aridog says:

              Leave your settings alone. I’m not put off by moderation. I’m usually not saying anything I’d not say face to face.

    • R. Thompson, aka Aridog says:

      Dang …make that “Phillip Agee” …not “Agree”. Dislexic fingers ya’ know.

    • Rob Harris says:

      Interesting point about the leaks coming not so much from the CIA but the politicians above, and how the stories revealed previously came out a good while later. Its a remarkable story alright, and one that there should be an enquiry or investigation over.

      BTW I hope someone got the “Ben Leaded” joke! 🙂

  5. reality says:

    well ,maybe its time that not only Israelis who are fed up with Obama speak out. Perhaps its time for other countries to call him to task. He thinks he’s above everything as he’s the “leader of the free world”. only the free world is becoming more & more pro Islam & eventually will shoot themselves in the foot. Take a stand against him those of you who are brave enough, as now with the upcoming elections you can get rid of Obama. I wonder if he’s just stupid or really showing his true colours & is really much more Islamic minded than we all originally thought.

    • R. Thompson, aka Aridog says:

      …now with the upcoming elections you can get rid of Obama

      Even if he loses the election in 2012, being rid of him won’t be so easy. He has 2+ months lame-duck time in office, and will no doubt challenge multiple adverse vote counts through our Dept of Justice. The last two elections where the Democrats did not win (2000 & 2004) were fought over in court. One went all the way to the Supreme Court. If Obama appears to lose in November, even if by a large margin, there will be contention and political fights that could go one for months. Or more.

      So you are quite correct. This is a very serious time for Americans and the rest of the free world. We Americans are not nearly as safe in our traditional protections as most of us believe. As for Obama, his only deity is himself, as invigorated by his handlers….I seriously doubt he’s ever had an individual original thought in his life. He’s spent all of it trying to determine just who he is and his apostles have given him the answer he wanted.

    • R. Thompson, aka Aridog says:

      … Obama … I wonder if he’s just stupid or really showing his true colours & is really much more Islamic minded than we all originally thought.

      He is a foolish Leninist due to his upbringing and his associations. His only use for Muslims per se is fodder, in so much as they serve his purposes more than Jews do. If he, or his handlers like Ayers and Dohrn, et al ad nauseum, ever achieved the society they say they seek, their first surprise would be that they’d be the first killed under the new order. The word “comrade” is similar to the term “old buddy” …. most yanks will tell you “‘old buddies’ eat crap, run rabbits and bark at the moon.” Same for Comrades.

      I gotta stop these comments, now before I turn completely in to a crazy conspiracy wonk.

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