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CIA Disrupts AQAP Airline Plot


By William Tucker

The Associated Press, claiming an exclusive, is reporting that the CIA disrupted another airline bombing plot that was supposed to be an improvement upon the failed attempt over Detroit in 2009. Like the previous attempt, this bomb was constructed to be worn in the carriers underwear, however the design was improved and reportedly did not contain any metal parts. In other words, the device would rely on a chemical reaction for detonation as opposed to an electrical source. These types of improvised explosive devices are difficult to construct, and if this was an improvement, may prove to be a challenge to existing security protocols. The FBI is currently investigating this possibility.

The timing of this attempt is certainly interesting. According to the report, the AP learned of the CIA’s disruption of the plot a week ago, but sat on the report at the behest of the Obama administration. Furthermore, the plot was reportedly scheduled to take place on the anniversary of Usama bin Laden’s death, but the report states that the bomber hadn’t yet purchased an airline ticket. Neither the AP, nor the government, has given a solid timeline of events, but it would appear that the CIA learned of the plot some time ago. This suggests the plot really didn’t have a chance of getting off the ground, nor was it disrupted at the last minute as the AP story seems to suggest.

What is evident is that the CIA is getting a line on some actionable intelligence in Yemen. Just yesterday, the Yemeni Embassy in Washington confirmed the death of Fahd al-Quso, an al-Qaeda operative involved in the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000, via a U.S. airstrike. The timing of the bomb plot disruption and the death of al-Quso may not be related, but it is certainly compelling. Al-Quso is not the only ranking jihadist to be killed in Yemen lately as the U.S. drone campaign has killed other AQAP leaders. Unfortunately, the intelligence has only proven useful to a small extent. AQAP continues to operate with impunity in much of Yemen and has bested the Yemeni military on several occasions. The most recent of which occurred today when AQAP hit an Army base killing 32 soldiers and wounding scores more. This reinforces my previous assessments that relying on drone strikes alone is an inadequate method at combating terrorism.

Earlier, IHS posted about the DOD’s newest intelligence agency and noted that it will likely mimic existing CIA capabilities. If one were compare these recent intelligence successes against al-Qaeda’s continued viability, we would see some significant gaps. Hopefully, the new agency will aid in closing these gaps and help the areas of Africa, South Asia, and the Middle East that are facing the brunt of the jihadist forces. The situation in Yemen shows that even in the face of success, more remains to be done.