Double agent again exposed al Qaeda´s use of undetectable PETN explosive (DEBKAfile) Special Report 05/09/11 2:36 PM (GMT+02:00)
The White House and US intelligence agencies are furious over the
French News Agency AFP’s revelation Wednesday, May 9, that a Saudi
double agent working with the US led to the discovery of an upgraded
underwear bomb for blowing up US jets, and also the US drone air
strike Sunday, May 6, in Yemen which killed Fahd al-Quso, who was
sought in connection with the blowing up of the USS Cole in October
When the improved underwear bombs were ready, one or more was handed
to the Saudi double agent with instructions from Al Qaeda in the
Arabian Peninsula AQAP to return to the kingdom, board a US-bound
passenger jet and blow it up en route to America.
Instead, he handed the prize to Saudi intelligence which passed it on
The device was more sophisticated than the original underpants bomb
which Nigerian student Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab failed to detonate
aboard an American airliner bound for Detroit on Christmas 2009. It
had no metal parts for alerting airport security detectors and
contained the PETN powder explosive that is undetectable by airport X-
ray machines. The FBI is testing the device now, but officials
question whether it would have been detected without an intelligence
tip-off which most likely came from Saudis, according to US officials.
The Saudi mole is reported to have succeeded in infiltrating the AQAP
cell in Yemen as a volunteer suicide bomber and reached close to its
bomb-maker Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri, the Saudi who also designed the
bomb that failed to explode over Detroit and the devices planted in
ink cartridges put aboard US-bound cargo planes in 2012 in Britain
which too failed to detonate.
The entire episode was kept under wraps until Monday, May 7, when the
White House disclosed that the CIA had foiled a plot to bring down a
US-bound airliner by means of an improved underwear device close to
the May 2 anniversary of Osama bin Laden’s death. The statement
stressed that there had never been any real danger to an American or
an allied flight.
DEBKAfile’s intelligence and counterterrorism sources say that the
way the story was released and Washington’s dismay over subsequent
revelations raise three intelligence-related issues:
1. Why did the White House release the first, incomplete story if it
was so important to keep the highly sensitive US-Saudi penetration of
a key Al Qaeda cell in Yemen veiled in secrecy? And why state that
the attack on an American jet was foiled when it had not gone beyond
the planning stage?
2. US intelligence rightly feared that this publicity would
compromise other Saudi double agents, present and future. So why was
the White House permitted to go public even with an abbreviated
The disclosure occurred shortly after security was proved to have
been seriously wanting for President Barack Obama’s May 2 trip to
Kabul to mark the anniversary of Bin Laden’s death and sign a long-
term military and strategic cooperation agreement with Afghan
President Hamid Karzai.
His precise timetable had been leaked in advance – no one knows how –
so that less than two hours after the US President flew out of Kabul,
insurgent suicide bombers and gunmen launched coordinated attacks on
the Afghan capital, demonstrating the real value of the agreement
Did the White House and the CIA release the underwear bomb affair to
underscore a second feat against al Qaeda and therefore a reminder of
the Obama administration’s success in liquidating its master in
Abbotabad? The answer is most probably affirmative.
3. As for the follow-up leak which has so incensed Washington, that
may have indeed been planted by the Saudi intelligence agency
itself, or some Western or Arab clandestine service which worked with
the Saudis and the Americans in running the double, or perhaps
triple, agent. Because the upgraded device could only have been
stopped with the help of prior intelligence, the damage caused by
exposing sources of information is inestimable.
Running double agents or moles on sensitive undercover missions is
extremely tricky and hazardous. None of the parties involved,
including the double agent knows everything going on in his vicinity,
least of all about the strings being pulled outside his purview.
Take, for example, the upgraded underwear bomb. Who really developed
it? From the limited information available it does not seem likely
that the al Qaeda bomb expert Ibrahim Hassan al-Asir was responsible.
It is not beyond the bounds of possibility, that the advanced
technology was developed by American or Saudi intelligence and given
to the double agent to offer the Al Qaeda cell in Yemen to win its
trust as a suicide bomber volunteer. It would also have given him the
chance to evaluate how far the cell’s bomb-making capacity had
The way that these revelations spilled out indicates that not all
parts of the US-Saudi collaboration running the agent had agreed on a
policy of publicity. Ideally, nothing at all about the operation
should have been revealed in the first place. But since the cat was
let out of the bag, it can’t be put back. (Copyright 2000-2012
Return to Top
MATERIAL REPRODUCED FOR EDUCATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY