Ex-analyst: "Made men" make best double agents

Philip Mudd
Philip Mudd

(CBS News) With the revelation that the man tapped by al Qaeda of the Arabian Peninsula to blow up a U.S.-bound airliner was actually a double agent working for the CIA and Saudi intelligence services, there are questions about just how various agencies infiltrate terror groups.

The answer may lie, not in placing trained agents into the groups from the outside, but in luring disaffected members with the promise of a life afterwards, a former CIA analyst said.

On "CBS This Morning," Philip Mudd said a lot of Saudi members of al Qaeda went down to Yemen after the crackdown in Arabian Peninsula. "Some of them want to go home, some of them retired; some of them have families back home in Saudi Arabia. Those are the kinds of guys, made men in the organization already, who could serve as double agents."

CIA sacrifices valuable intelligence to foil bomb plot

Mudd, a former deputy director of the CIA's counterterrorism center and the FBI's national security branch, said that while "sounds easy" to infiltrate terrorist groups from the outside, it's extremely difficult in practice.

"What you want is somebody who's disaffected within the organization. Maybe someone who's going home seeing that his friends are starting to have a family, realizing that his life as a terrorist is going nowhere. He starts to say 'What's the way out?' The way out is to go to a security service and say I'll serve as a double agent if you give me a live afterward."

The CIA informant is looking at a big payoff according to CBS News senior correspondent John Miller. "We're talking about in the seven figures, and he'll be relocated with his family."

The thwarted plot was a tradeoff for the CIA, losing a valued double agent within AQAP, but one that was well worth the cost, Mudd said.

"When you're sitting at the table running an agent like this and watch the threat develop, you have a simple priority. Even if you want to destroy the organization, you don't put American or other lives at risk. The choice isn't that difficult. If there are lives at risk, have you to lose the source."

But for all the operation's success, AQAP still poses a threat, particularly in the person of Ibrihim al Asiri, the explosives expert behind other planned attacks and believed to be the creative mastermind behind the latest plot.

"There is & another shoe to drop, which is when does the bomb-maker go down? My question wouldn't be, 'Did we stop the plot?' My question would be, 'Did we get enough information to stop the plotter?' That's the bomb-maker still out in the field," Mudd said.