According to a Reuters report Wednesday, Western intelligence upended the ambitious al Qaeda plot by infiltrating the jihadist terror cell with a planted agent or one who changed sides early on. The CIA reportedly had the fake protagonist deliver the explosive device outside of Yemen, where the plan was hatched.
“The CIA and its foreign partners tracked the plot for several weeks and then managed to get the informant to deliver the bomb outside Yemen, possibly to Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates, the report said, citing official sources.
The latest plot and its unraveling, while supporting the heightened airport security measures adopted by the Transportation Security Administration, also showcases an intelligence coup.
The U.S. intelligence sources would not reveal further details of the operation, the report said, adding however that a New York Times report has called the informant a Saudi intelligence agent.
The CIA announced Monday it had foiled a plan by operatives of al Qaeda in Arabian Peninsula to bomb an airliner bound to the U.S. or any other Western destination by using an improved underwear bomb that would pass through airport security.
The explosive device seized in the Middle East around two weeks ago was an upgraded version of the underwear bomb that failed to detonate aboard a jetliner over Detroit on Christmas 2009. U.S. officials said the new bomb also was designed to be used in a passenger's underwear, but that the terror cell had a more refined detonation system this time.
The FBI is assessing if the non-metallic explosive material, which could evade metal detectors at airports, can be detected by the new body scanners.
The FBI has possession of the device and is analyzing it, which is a considerable intelligence benefit, Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said, according to Reuters. Collins, senior Republican on the Homeland Security Committee, said the TSA will be able to examine the device to test whether or not it would have been detected, and make adjustments to improve the chances that similar devices would be detected.