Yemen plot exposes new world of U.S. spying
Yemeni militants, suspected of being members of al Qaeda, patrol on their pick ups in the restive southern city of Zinjibar
May 11th, 2012
04:11 PM ET

Yemen plot exposes new world of U.S. spying

By Pam Benson

As details of the foiled al Qaeda plot to blow up a U.S.-bound airline became public, the world learned not only about a daring operation to stop terrorists, but also about the new reality of how U.S. intelligence works.

American and foreign intelligence partners working hand in hand to rid the world of the scourge of terror. You didn't see much of that 10 years ago, but it's exactly what happened recently.

The Saudis infiltrate an al Qaeda terrorist group in Yemen with their own mole, and the CIA and others are brought into the mix to help run an operation that eventually foils a possible bomb attack against an airliner destined for America.

"I'm not at all surprised that the press accounts of this have liaison services, particularly the Saudis, playing such a prominent role," said former CIA Director Michael Hayden. "That's the way I would have expected it to go."

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Counterterrorism center can keep data on Americans for longer
Operations Center at the National Counterterrorism Center
March 23rd, 2012
11:26 AM ET

Counterterrorism center can keep data on Americans for longer

By Pam Benson

The Obama administration has revised guidelines to allow the National Counterterrorism Center access to data about Americans that it can search and store for a longer period of time, even if that information is not related to terrorism.

The revision, announced Thursday night, will allow the center to obtain data from other government databases that include nonterrorism information on U.S. citizens and residents, and retain the material for up to five years.

Guidelines established in November 2008 only allowed the center to keep the information for up to 180 days before permanently removing it.

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Filed under: 9/11 • Clapper • Intelligence • NCTC • ODNI • Terrorism • Umar Farouk AbdulMutallab
Al-Awlaki directed underwear bomb plot
February 10th, 2012
11:01 PM ET

Al-Awlaki directed underwear bomb plot

By Kiran Khalid and Paul Cruickshank

New details about the final plans for the 2009 plot to take down an American jetliner on Christmas Day paint a vivid picture of the significant involvement of Anwar Al-Awlaki, the American-Yemeni militant cleric killed in a drone strike last September.

The information came to light Friday with the release of a Justice Department sentencing memo issued ahead of next week's sentencing of Umar Farouk AbdulMutallab.

AbdulMutallab's trial last year was cut dramatically short when he pleaded guilty to trying to detonate an explosive device in his underwear aboard a Christmas 2009 flight to Detroit. FULL POST

21,000 people now on U.S. no fly list
Airport security screening
February 2nd, 2012
06:28 PM ET

21,000 people now on U.S. no fly list

By Carol Cratty

The U.S. government's list of suspected terrorists who are banned from flying to the United States or within its borders has more than doubled over the past year, a counterterrorism official told CNN Thursday.

The "no fly" list produced by the FBI now has approximately 21,000 names on it, according to the official, who has knowledge of the government's figures. One year ago about 10,000 individuals were on it.

Only about 500 people currently on the no-fly list are Americans, the official said.

The dramatic jump in the numbers resulted from reforms made after a Nigerian man with explosives in his underwear was able to get on an international flight bound for Detroit on Christmas Day 2009. It was later learned the father of Umar Farouk AbdulMutallab had gone to the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria prior to Christmas to raise concern about his son, but that did not result in his going on the no-fly roster.

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Filed under: Airport • Anwar al-Awlaki • FBI • Nigeria • Terrorism • Umar Farouk AbdulMutallab • Yemen
AQAP carries on after al-Awlaki
Anwar al-Awlaki
January 17th, 2012
05:29 PM ET

AQAP carries on after al-Awlaki

The September 2011 U.S. drone killing of American-born Muslim cleric Anwar al-Awlaki has not had a big impact operationally on Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the Yemen-based group in which al-Awlaki served as a spokesman, according to former CIA chief John McLaughlin.
McLaughlin, speaking during a Washington panel discussion, said AQAP now controls, or exercises influence in, about half of Yemen.
"I don't think it (al-Awlaki's death) had a big impact on them operationally," he said. "It's had an impact in the sense that he was their principal spokesman to an English audience. Their leadership is still there."
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2011: A wild ride for the CIA
Compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan where Osama bin Laden was killed
December 30th, 2011
02:31 PM ET

2011: A wild ride for the CIA

By CNN's Pam Benson

The year has been a rollercoaster ride for the CIA–incredible highs coupled with significant lows. But those dramatic ups and downs also underscored how intelligence is evolving and the agency is changing to keep pace. Keeping secrets is becoming more difficult and what the agency now does is sometimes more visible. And– the enemy is getting better.

On the critical counterterrorism front, 2011 was a momentous year. The crowning moment–maybe of even the last decade–was the CIA finally pinning down the location of enemy number one, Osama bin Laden, and then overseeing the raid by Navy special forces on a safehouse in Pakistan which led to his death, bringing an end to the nearly ten year pursuit of America's most wanted terrorist.

The raid is a prime example of the new warfare the CIA is engaged in. The counterterrorism battle is frequently being waged by CIA officers and Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) forces working side by side. Former CIA Director Mike Hayden said "it's clear the Agency and JSOC are now in a privileged position in terms of how we want to fight this war." The retired Air Force general referred to the CIA today as looking more like the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the World War two-era intelligence service that had a more operational, paramilitary role.

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Revelations from the underwear bomber trial
October 14th, 2011
08:13 AM ET

Revelations from the underwear bomber trial

By Paul Cruickshank, CNN Terrorism Analyst

The trial of "underwear bomber" Umar Farouk AbdulMutallab was cut dramatically short Wednesday when the Nigerian pleaded guilty to all the counts against him.

While the prosecution's opening statement contained significant new detail about the Christmas Day 2009 plot to blow up an airliner approaching Detroit - mainly from AbdulMutallab's initial 45-50 minute, tell-all interview with FBI agents at the hospital where he was treated after the attack - the short duration of the trial also left many questions unanswered, most notably the role played in the plot by Anwar al-Awlaki, the American-Yemeni militant cleric killed in a drone strike last month.

After his death, senior Obama administration officials emphasized al-Awlaki's operational role within al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), al Qaeda's affiliate in Yemen, labeling him the head of the group's external operations and stating he played a lead role in planning and directing the "underwear bomber" plot.

U.S officials had already warned about his growing role in terrorist planning earlier in the year. "Let me underscore, Awlaki is no mere messenger but someone integrally involved in lethal terrorist activities," State Department counterterrorism coordinator Dan Benjamin warned in April. FULL POST


Filed under: Al Qaeda • Anwar al-Awlaki • AQAP • Intelligence • Nigeria • Umar Farouk AbdulMutallab • Yemen
Judging the underwear bomber
Shown here is a photo from inside Detroit-bound Northwest Flight 253, after 23-year-old Umar Farouk AbdulMutallab attempted to ignite an explosive device on board Christmas Day.
October 12th, 2011
04:00 AM ET

Judging the underwear bomber

The trial of Umar Farouk AbdulMutallab started on Tuesday in Detroit.  Even on day one, much was learned about the havoc in the plane as the suspect, now widely referred as the 'underwear bomber,' tried to light the explosives hidden in his pants. ( CNN's Deobrah Feyerick wraps the first day of the case.)

Day one of the testimony was not without its slightly humorous elements.  The first witness described how AbdulMutallab's pants "resembled something I hadn't seen before."

"They were bulky, they reminded me of my son's Pull-Ups when he was little.  I assume they looked like adult Pampers.  I don't know what they were, but they were bulky and burning,"  said Michael Zantow, who was sitting a row behind AbdulMuttallab on the plane.

As for the question of what do you say when a fellow passenger's pants are ignited, the answer is a simple "hey dude, your pants are on fire." That's what passengers yelled out, according to Zantow.

CNN Senior Producer Laura Dolan is at the court and provided this breakdown of the jury hearing the case: FULL POST

Underwear bomber's jihadist path
October 11th, 2011
09:01 PM ET

Underwear bomber's jihadist path

By CNN's Deborah Feyerick reporting from Detroit, MI

To those who knew him before he became known as the "underwear bomber," Umar Farouk AbdulMutallab was a quiet, religious man. So how did the son of a prominent Nigerian banker with a graduate degree in engineering allegedly decide to wage holy war?

Federal prosecutors on Tuesday gave a 90-minute opening statement in the trial of AbdulMutallab, outlining a path that they say led to Christmas Day 2009 incident aboard a Detroit-bound airliner, which he is accused of trying to blow up with a device concealed in his underwear.

He was indicted on charges of attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction, conspiracy to commit an act of terrorism, and possession of a firearm or destructive device in furtherance of an act of violence.

Inspired by jihadist preacher Anwar al-Awlaki, the now 24-year-old student set off for Yemen in the summer of 2009, allegedly telling FBI agents he wanted to find al Qaeda and "become involved in violent jihad against the U.S." Once there, prosecutors say, he was recruited in a mosque by a man calling himself Abu Tarak. Together the men would talk daily, prosecutors say, about "jihad, martyrdom, al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden." FULL POST