Editors Note: Jane Harman is director, president and chief executive officer of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. She was a nine-term congresswoman from California, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee from 2002 to 2006, and a principal coauthor of the Intelligence Reform Law of 2004 and the FISA Amendments of 2008.
By Jane Harman, Special to CNN
The October 5 takedown of Nazih Abdul Hamed al Ruqai – an alleged perpetrator of the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya, a long-standing occupant of the FBI’s “Most Wanted” list, and alleged one-time member of Osama bin Laden’s security team – surprised many.
It was a brilliantly successful operation conducted by our military under strict legal guidelines for capture, interrogations, arrest and now transfer to New York for trial. This process may be the new gold standard for CT operations going forward.
U.S. officials hope he will provide useful information about his al Qaeda colleagues and plots being planned against Western and American targets so we may be able to thwart future attacks.
But while this capture was picture-perfect, al Ruqai was only one of many terrorists currently on the loose.
By Barbara Starr
New details are emerging about some of the communication between al Qaeda leaders that prompted so much concern among U.S. officials about an imminent terror threat they decided to close nearly two dozen embassies in the Middle East and Africa.
CNN has previously reported U.S. officials intercepted a message between al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri and a top ally in Yemen, Nasir al-Wuhayshi, with al-Zawahiri telling al-Wuhayshi to "do something" - an inference to a terror plot.
Now, two U.S. officials tell CNN that in his communication with al-Zawahiri, al-Wuhayshi, who is the leader of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), laid out a plan for a plot; then, al-Zawahiri acknowledged the communication. Al-Wuhayshi, the officials said, was not asking for permission from al- Zawahiri - but rather informing him of his plans.
This scenario - that al-Wuhayski presented al-Zawahiri with a plan - was first reported Friday in the Wall Street Journal.
By Paul Cruickshank and Tim Lister
For al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, keeping a grip on a far-flung brand and staying relevant while avoiding a visit from a Hellfire missile or U.S. Navy Seals brings multiple challenges.
For a start, his authority derives from his long stint as Osama bin Laden's deputy; he certainly lacks the Saudi's aura among jihadists. He has lost many of his management team to a remorseless drone campaign.
Al Qaeda central doesn't have the money it did in the good old days before the U.S. Treasury started going after beneficiaries in the Gulf. And all the action nowadays is among the franchises in places like Yemen, Somalia and Libya.
To put it kindly, Zawahiri is like the CEO of a company where local franchises do what they want.
By Barbara Starr
A message from al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri to his second in command in Yemen told him to "do something," causing U.S. and Yemeni officials to fear imminent terrorist action, CNN has learned.
For weeks, U.S. and Yemeni officials watched a rising stream of intelligence about the possibility of a major terrorist attack in Yemen but grew increasingly alarmed after intercepting a message within the past several days said to be from al-Zawahiri, who is believed to be in Pakistan. The message was sent to Nasir al-Wuhayshi, the leader of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the terror group's Yemeni affiliate. U.S. intelligence believes al-Wuhayshi has recently been appointed the overall terror organization's No. 2 leader.
U.S. officials cautioned that there may be multiple sources of intelligence including intercepts of electronic information from phone calls, web postings, but also interrogation of couriers or other operatives.
CNN had the information over the weekend and decided not to report the details about al-Zawahiri's involvement based on U.S. government concerns about the sensitivity of the information. Now that it has been widely reported in other media, including the New York Times and McClatchy, CNN has now decided to report it as well. FULL POST
By Barbara Starr
In what may be a disturbing sign of al Qaeda’s resurgence, U.S. intelligence believes the Yemeni head of its affiliate in the Arabian peninsula is now the overall terror organization’s No. 2 leader.
A U.S. official with access to the latest intelligence said that Nasir al Wuhayshi was appointed over the past few weeks by al Qaeda chief Ayman Al Zawahiri.
Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is widely thought by the Obama administration to be behind the latest terror threat that prompted the closure this week of U.S. diplomatic facilities in the Middle East and North Africa.
The official declined to be identified because of the sensitive nature of the information. The source also would not say how specifically Wuhayshi’s appointment may be related to the new developments.
What started as an unprecedented move to close almost two dozen diplomatic posts for a day has broadened to week-long closures for most of them as the United States mulls the threat of a possible attack.
A trio of factors prompted officials to extend most of its embassy and consulate closures until Saturday: an intercepted message among senior al Qaeda operatives, the end of Ramadan, and concerns over several major prison breaks in the region.
Originally, officials decided to close 22 embassies and consulates this past Sunday - a day when they would normally be open for business.
But Sunday afternoon, the State Department extended embassy and consulate closures in 15 of the locations through Saturday, and added four other posts - all in Africa - to the list. This brings the total to 19.FULL STORY
CNN National Security Analyst Fran Townsend tells CNN's Chris Cuomo what the latest security and terror threat warnings mean both here at home and abroad.
By Paul Cruickshank
CNN Terrorism Analyst
There may be a link between what sources tell CNN is evidence of final-stage planning for an attack against U.S and Western interests by al Qaeda's affiliate in Yemen and the reported recent appointment of the affiliate's leader as the new general manager of the global al Qaeda network.
Seth Jones, a senior analyst at the Rand Corporation, told CNN's Barbara Starr on Friday that there are indications that Nasir al Wuhayshi, the Yemeni leader of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), had recently been appointed into the role by al Qaeda leader Ayman al Zawahiri.
The appointment would effectively thrust Wuhayshi, a Yemeni national, into the No. 2 position in the global al Qaeda terrorist network, a position previously held by the Libyan Abu Yahya al Libi before his death in a drone strike in Pakistan in June 2012.
It would also provide a broader foundation to al Qaeda's top leadership at a time when the center of gravity of the group has shifted from the Afghanistan-Pakistan region to the Arab world. And it would potentially allow the group to retap fund-raising opportunities for the group in Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries where Wuhayshi is more popular than Zawahiri, al Qaeda's less charismatic and sometimes divisive Egyptian leader.
Wuhayshi's appointment would almost certainly have required back-and-forth communication between the AQAP and al Qaeda Central. Given al Qaeda's past track record, that would most likely have involved couriers traveling back and forth between Yemen and Pakistan, where Zawahiri is presumed to be hiding.
This would have given Wuhayshi plenty of opportunity to inform Zawahiri of any plan in the works to hit American targets in the region. This possible foreknowledge in turn may explain Zawahiri's impassioned plea in a message posted on jihadist websites earlier this week for followers to hit American targets in the Middle East and beyond.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the latest in a series of stories and opinion pieces previewing the upcoming Aspen Security Forum. Security Clearance is a media sponsor of the event which is taking place from July 17-20 in Aspen, Colorado. Follow the event on Twitter under @aspeninstitute and @natlsecuritycnn #AspenSecurity. John McLaughlin was a CIA officer for 32 years and served as deputy director and acting director from 2000-2004. He currently teaches at the Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies and is a Non-Resident Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution.
From John McLaughlin, Special for CNN
Terrorism experts inside and outside the government have been caught up in a debate about how close we may be to defeating al Qaeda and associated groups. As events have demonstrated so vividly in recent years, we are living in an era of continuous surprise, making this one of those questions that cannot be answered with confidence.
What can be said with absolute confidence is that today’s al Qaeda is fundamentally different from the one we knew for years. It has evolved from the hierarchical organization of September 2001 into what might be called a “network of networks.”
Interconnected, loosely-structured organizations are run by a series of al Qaeda affiliates scattered across the arc of South Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa. Some declare fealty to Osama bin Laden’s successor, Ayman al-Zawahiri, while others merely take inspiration from the legacy his organization represents.
By CNN's Carol Cratty
A New York man admitted trying to travel to Yemen to join the terror group al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, according to newly unsealed court documents.
Justin Kaliebe, 18, was arrested on January 21 at John F. Kennedy Airport as he tried to board a plan for Oman with plans to travel from there to Yemen. Less than a month later Kaliebe pleaded guilty to attempting to provide material support to terrorists and attempting to provide material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization.