The man at the center of the alleged al-Qaida terror plot to bring down a passenger airliner headed to the United States was a double agent cooperating with the U.S. NBC's Pete Williams reports.
Updated at 8:01 a.m. ET -- An insider who worked with the United States and an allied security service to thwart an al-Qaida bomb plot hatched in Yemen was the man picked to carry out the suicide attack on a U.S.-bound airliner, U.S. and Yemeni officials tell NBC News.
An unidentified Yemeni government official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the supposed suicide bomber was working for Western intelligence “from day one.”
The insider also provided information that allowed the U.S. to launch a Predator drone strike that killed the group’s operations chief, senior U.S. officials told NBC News earlier Tuesday.
"It was managed so that it was not a threat," said one senior Obama administration official, who like the others spoke on condition of anonymity. “We were confident that we had inside control over any plot that might have been associated with this device.
“The device never got near an airplane. To our knowledge, it never got near an airplane or airport.”
The bomb -- a refined version of an “underwear bomb” used in two previous failed terror plots -- was driven out of Yemen by the insider into Saudi Arabia. It is now in the hands of U.S. bomb experts at the FBI labs in Quantico, Va., where experts have been examining it for a week, the officials said. The infiltrator also is safely out of Yemen.
Michael Leiter, former director of the National Counterterrorism Center, talks to TODAY's Ann Curry about the dangers of revealing too much information about how the U.S. and its allies foiled the alleged al-Qaida plot to bomb a passenger airliner.
The officials also said that a successful Predator attack that killed Fahd al-Quso over the weekend was related to the plot and was a “part of a 1-2 blow against Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP),” the north African affiliate of the al-Qaida terrorist network. Al Quso, described as director of external operations at AQAP, was “involved (in the bomb plot) in an intimate fashion,” said the senior administration official.
The officials declined to identify the allied security service involved in penetrating the plot, but multiple U.S. sources told NBC News that British intelligence was "heavily involved" in shutting down the plot. Separately, a senior U.S. counterterrorism official said that multiple friendly security services were involved in the operation.
The plot, which U.S. officials described Monday as a plan to detonate aboard a U.S.-bound jetliner a refined version of the “underwear bomb” that failed to blow up a Detroit-bound airliner on Christmas Day 2009. That device, worn by convicted bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, did not detonate.
John Brennan, President Obama's chief counterterrorism adviser, talks to TODAY's Ann Curry about al-Qaida's failed plan to bomb an airliner headed to the U.S. and says the would-be bomber is "no longer a threat to the American public."
The bomb aboard Northwest Flight 253 was the second failure of such a device. Four months prior, a suicide bomber attempted to kill Prince Mohammed bin Nayef bin Abdul Azizbin, director of Saudi Arabia’s counterterrorism program, at his palace in Jeddah. The bomber died in the attack, but the prince only suffered burns to one hand.
The new bomb had a more refined detonation mechanism and was "totally non-metallic," which officials told NBC News would have made it more difficult to detect by traditional security screening processes.
The senior administration official would not comment on whether the would-be bomber, who is believed to be a Yemeni national, was in custody, but did say, “We do not believe the intended user of the device poses a threat."
The official also disputed reports indicating that al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula sought to detonate the bomb around the anniversary of al-Qaida founder Osama bin Laden’s death, saying, “They hoped it would be carried out this month, but (there is) nothing from our insight that it was to coincide with anniversary or in retaliation for OBL’s death.”
Former head of the TSA, Kip Hawley, tells NBC's Brian Williams that the screening procedures at U.S. airports force al-Qaida to use bombs that are less effective
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