The recent leaks from the U.S. government regarding al-Qaeda’s new underwear bomb plot might have possibly damaged future operations. The public revelation that the double agent was, in fact, a British operative is being described as an intelligence disaster:
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.
Robert Grenier, former head of the CIA counter-terrorism centre, in an article for al-Jazeera, said the spies of the US intelligence community “rather than quietly celebrating success are wistfully shaking their heads … As the director of national intelligence launches an investigation, he does so knowing that the real culprits – in the White House and on Capitol Hill – are beyond his reach.”
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.
After all, the agent was reportedly evacuated from Yemen two weeks before the appointed date for his attack. He might have remained quietly operational for that entire period, contacting his colleagues and passing on their location. This leak appears to have frustrated a painstaking and risky operation, of the sort that cannot come around very often.