UK unhappy after underwear bomb spy exposed as British
Involvement of British spy in operation that led to an assassination is potentially embarrassing
THE US has opened an investigation into leaks that have exposed Britain's involvement in an operation to avert an al-Qaeda plot to blow up an underwear bomb on a US-bound airliner.
Yesterday, NBC reported that the agent who infiltrated the militants before delivering the bomb to Western intelligence agencies in Saudi Arabia was a British man of Saudi origin and that UK intelligence was "heavily involved" in the operation.
Further details have come out in The Daily Telegraph, which claims that MI5 recruited the agent and that MI6 then worked with Saudi intelligence, whose own operatives have previously infiltrated the Yemen-based al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).
A senior British official told The Times that at a meeting held in Whitehall about the leaks, people had been "slack-jawed" at the detail that has been reported in the US media.
British intelligence is unhappy that its part in the operation has been exposed and is worried that it might jeopardise the recruitment of future agents.
The Guardian suggests another reason for the reluctance of MI5 and MI6 to take any credit for the operation, saying it might be related to the fact that information given by the British agent led to a US drone attack in Yemen that killed Fahd al-Quso, the al-Qaeda militant allegedly involved in the attack on the USS Cole in 2000.
The Guardian notes: "The revelation is politically and legally awkward for MI6 and MI5 whose agents, unlike American ones, are banned from missions that lead to assassinations." It is thought that the British agent was also tasked with finding the location of infamous al-Qaeda bombmaker Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri – presumably with a view to mounting a US drone attack.
The UK government reportedly asked the US not to reveal the role of its intelligence services in the underwear bomb operation.
US defence secretary Leon Panetta said: "When these leaks take place, they damage our ability to be able to pursue our intelligence efforts." The US has instigated two investigations: an "internal review" of US intelligence agencies to determine that classified information has been leaked and a criminal investigation by the FBI.