It turns out that the would-be suicide bomber in Al Qaeda's latest plot to blow up a U.S.-bound airplane was actually a double agent feeding the CIA information from the inside. The Saudi Arabian intelligence agent managed to infiltrate Al Qaeda’s affiliate in Yemen, and according to American and Middle Eastern officials on Tuesday, eventually volunteered to wear underwear bomb version 2.0 in the mission that U.S. officials "thwarted" on Monday when they seized the device. Reports the Times:
The double agent left Yemen last month, traveling by way of the United Arab Emirates, and delivered both the innovative bomb designed for his aviation attack and inside information on the group’s leaders, locations, methods and plans to the , Saudi intelligence and allied foreign intelligence agencies.
The CIA has reportedly worked in tandem with the Saudi intelligence service for several years and, in this case, was aware of the unidentified agent's position within Al Qaeda's Yemeni outpost. The Washington Post writes that both the agent and the Saudi intelligence service helped the CIA track the bomb's movement for weeks until the agent handed over the bomb. And the agent helped accomplish more:
After spending weeks at the center of Al Qaeda’s most dangerous affiliate, the intelligence agent provided critical information that permitted the C.I.A. to direct the drone strike on Sunday that killed Fahd Mohammed Ahmed al-Quso, the group’s external operations director and a suspect in the bombing of the U.S.S. Cole, a destroyer, in Yemen in 2000.
The CIA also reportedly killed suspected plotters in a drone strike after the device was seized.
Officials believe that the device is the latest product of the mad lab of 's (AQAP) "master bomb maker" Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri, the man who created the bomb worn by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab in 2009, aka the Underwear Bomber. The bomb recovered in this case was an updated version of that one, designed to pass through check. The FBI is currently analyzing the bomb — a high-grade military explosive "sewn into a "custom-fit" underwear" — at its laboratory in Quantico, Virginia.
The agent is now in protective custody in Saudi Arabia. And apparently, there are more double agents like him. Reports the Post:
Of dozens of AQAP fighters with Saudi backgrounds, “at least five or eight of them are under cover” working for the Saudi service at any point, said a Middle Eastern official. “The Saudis have always had a network” of sources in Yemen, the official said. “Now they are expanding its objectives.”