CIA launches massive hunt for a mole within its ranks
It is the job of the CIA to keep secrets. Like many federal bureaus, though, the US Central Intelligence Agency isn’t all that up to snuff when it comes to doing what they are supposed to.
The United States’ top spy chief, retired Lieutenant General James Clapper, is asking for an internal investigation of the CIA. Clapper’s official title is the director of national intelligence — and he doesn’t take it lightly. Now the uncovering of a clandestine CIA operation involving the installation of double agents inside the ranks of al-Qaeda by the mainstream media over the weekend has left Lt. Gen. Clapper demanding answers about a possible mole within the ranks of America’s supposedly top-secret spy agency.
According to sources speaking with Agence France-Presse on condition of anonymity, Clapper has ordered an internal review of 16 intelligence agencies linked with the US CIA.
"It's an inquiry into whether or not there were any unauthorized disclosures of classified information," the senior intelligence official tells AFP.
The Associated Press has also confirmed the probe by way of a source also left unnamed.
On their part, the CIA has not formally acknowledged the existence of an investigation but a spokesperson for the agency says it is only expected given the latest news involving a double-agent in Yemen. The CIA has worked undercover with a spy that infiltrated al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, only for the media to report on the clandestine operation before it was disclosed that the US was instrumental in orchestrating the mission.
"The entire intelligence community should be concerned about recent unauthorized disclosures, and CIA will participate fully in the DNI's (director of national intelligence's) internal review," agency spokesman Todd Ebitz says of the investigation.
Outside of the CIA’s Langley, VA headquarters, however, other top-ranked Washington elite are saying that something should be done as well. In Congress, leading lawmakers in DC have suggested that an investigation should be considered. Among those also asking for an investigation are Senator Dianne Feinstein, chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
"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," says Sen. Feinstein this week.
Republican Mike Rogers, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, tells CNN that he feels similarly.
"If something bad happens because it was leaked too early, that's a catastrophe and it's also a crime," says Rep. Rogers.
Those with their eyes closely glued to Capitol Hill might not be surprised by Rep. Rogers’ quote — the lawmaker has been in the news in recent months for his role in creating the Cyber Intelligence Sharing & Protection Act of 2011, or CISPA. When he submitted the bill, Rep. Rogers insisted that there is “urgent need to help our private sector better defend itself from” attack on America’s computer infrastructure. Now, however, he is asking for the government to not just go after journalists speaking freely on the Web, but those that are exposing the secrets of America’s enigmatic intelligence services.
Earlier this week it was reported that, separate from the provisions included in CISPA, the US Federal Bureau of Investigation was seeking backdoor privileges to pry into online services such as Skype and Facebook in the name of national security. If approved, CISPA would offer similar provisions; what the FBI wants now, however, opens up a whole new war on the freedoms of Americans.
The AP notes that, if the reportedly new investigation involving a CIA mole can be confirmed, it will mark at least the seventh criminal case launched by the Obama administration involving the leaking of classified documents — something the president insisted on ending while running for office by offering protection for whistleblowers.
Underwear bomb plot: British and US intelligence rattled over leaks
Detailed leaks of operational information about the foiled underwear bomb plot are causing growing anger in the US intelligence community, with former agents blaming the Obama administration for undermining national security and compromising the British services, MI6 and MI5.
The Guardian has learned from Saudi sources that the agent was not a Saudi national as was widely reported, but a Yemeni. He was born in Saudi Arabia, in the port city of Jeddah, and then studied and worked in the UK, where he acquired a British passport.
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.
He added: "Any information disclosed is too much information. This does seem to be a tawdry political thing."
He noted that the leak came on the heels of a series of disclosures over the last 10 days, beginning with a report that the CIA wanted to expand its drone attacks in Yemen, Barack Obama making a surprise trip to Afghanistan around the time of the Bin Laden anniversary and "then this inexplicable leak".
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."
The name of the British passport-holder has not yet been released but may come out through al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula. He is reported to have spent time at at language school in Sana'a, the Yemeni capital, and been recruited by al-Qaida as a suicide bomber.
Mustafa Alani of the Gulf Research Centre in Dubai told CNN that the bomber had been recruited by the Saudis to penetrate al-Qaida about a year ago, in part because the group would be attracted by the fact that his UK passport meant he could travel to the US without a visa.
"Apparently he was able to convince al-Qaida that he is genuinely ready to carry out the mission," said Alani, who CNN said had been briefed by Saudi counter-terrorism officials. Alani said his understanding was that al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (Aqap) intended the would-be suicide bomber to fly through a Gulf country to connect to a US-bound flight.
The Saudi operation culminated with the agent and another Saudi informant – likely his handler – being whisked out of Yemen, Alani said. "My information is that he was pulled out after the device was handed to him, and they ordered the green light to carry out the operation," he told the US network.
Yemen has been a key target country for the CIA and MI6 in line with the growing strength of Aqap in recent years. But the lead on the ground has been taken by the Saudi intelligence service, the Mabahith, which is best placed to operate in the local environment and exploit links on either side of the border.
Both the US and British intelligence communities are known to work closely with their Saudi counterparts and both have liaison officers permanently stationed in Riyadh and Sana'a.
Aqap moved its operations to Yemen in 2007 after the defeat of al-Qaida in Saudi Arabia. The Nigerian "underwear bomber", Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who tried to blow up a flight from Amsterdam to Detroit in 2009, was radicalised in Yemen while claiming to be there as a student.
The US, Britain and the Saudis are likely to have preferred their own intelligence operation to co-operation with the Yemeni security authorities, who are anxious to avoid being seen as a western pawn.
Cables released by WikiLeaks exposed the scale of US covert involvement in the Arab world's poorest country. In 2009 the Saudi deputy interior minister, Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, told General James Jones, President Obama's national security adviser: "The Saudis have been monitoring conversations of al-Qaida operatives in Yemen very closely and whereas before the [recent] attack they were hearing relaxed 20-minute phone conversations over cellphones, after the attack the phones went virtually silent. This suggests that at least for now these operatives are more focused on their own security rather than on planning operations."
Bin Nayef's support for operations against Aqap is unsurprising. He survived an assassination attempt in Jeddah in September 2009 when a Saudi Aqap operative named Abdullah al-Asiri feigned repentance for his jihadi views in a meeting with the prince then blew himself up with a bomb concealed in his anus. Al-Asiri's brother Ibrahim is Aqap's chief bombmaker.
Gregory Johnsen, a US expert on Aqap, pondered on his blog whether the group would now reveal the identity of the undercover agent. "Undoubtedly, Aqap recorded a marytrdom video of the undercover agent before giving him the bomb," Johnsen wrote. "The US and Saudis won't divulge his identity for obvious reasons, but will Aqap?"