May 12, 2012
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, said: "As for British Intelligence, I suppose, but do not know, that they must be very unhappy. They are often exasperated, quite reasonably, with their American friends, who are far more leak-prone than they.
Not even the New York Times has been able to accomplish so much by leaking classified info.
If Obama is trying to reshape his image as a warrior-president for the election, he's doing more harm than good. No doubt the Brits have been angered by the exposure of their asset who now must come in from the cold or face certain death. And less cooperation with the British - as well as the Saudis who apparently set the whole operation in motion - means that the leaks inhibit our ability to work with them, undermining our security.
A helliuva price to pay to score points with the voters.