Was word of thwarted al Qaeda bomb plot leaked too soon?


(CBS News) The Saudi double agent who infiltrated Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and ruined a plot last week to blow up a U.S.-bound airliner had provided information for two years, and it was shared with the CIA.

The Saudi/CIA operation took a sudden turn when AQAP asked for a volunteer to smuggle a bomb onto an American jetliner.

It was decided that the source would volunteer to be the suicide bomber.

Instead, he delivered the newly-designed bomb to his U.S. and Saudi handlers.

The source was debriefed for days. Information he gave was used to launch a drone strike in Yemen that took out Fahd al-Quso, a key commander for AQAP.

But when the story of the unraveling of the airline plot leaked to the press, it also likely reached AQAP's master bomb-maker, Ibrihim al Asiri.

"The question is - was this operation leaked to the press too early for us to find the bomb maker and, if he's still around in a year, that's going to be a critical question everybody is going to ask about," notes former CIA analyst Phil Mudd.

Asiri is still at large and believed to be training others to build bombs using his designs.

"You've got another wave of bomb makers we need to be worrying about," says Frank Cilluffo, director of the Homeland Security Policy Institute. "So, from my perspective, he's at the top of the list for kill-capture priorities."

Now, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and members of Congress are calling for an across-the-board review of how this information got out.

Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Diane Feinstein (D, Calif.) says, "I don't think those leaks should have happened. There was an operation in progress, and I think the leak is regarded as very serious."

The question remains -- what happens to the source, who's credited with foiling this operation, the 2010 plot to take down cargo planes bound for Chicago with printer bombs, and possible attacks at the U.S. Embassy in Yemen.

Says Mudd, "How do we get not only him, but his family, out into a situation where they're first guarded from any scrutiny, that is, for example, new documents, new life, new names, but second, in a geography, whether it's the United States, Europe or elsewhere, where they're not under constant threat."

AQAP is scrambling to figure out what the source knew, what places he saw, and what accesses he had, because those are all things that give them vulnerability.

To see John Miller's report, click on the video in the player above.

  • John Miller
    John Miller

    John Miller is a senior correspondent for CBS News, with extensive experience in intelligence, law enforcement and journalism, including stints in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the FBI.