The Post reports: “The CIA and overseas intelligence partners disrupted an al-Qaeda plot to blow up civilian aircraft using an advanced explosive device designed by the terrorist network’s affiliate in Yemen . . . U..S. officials said the CIA and other agencies tracked the plot for about a month before moving to seize the device in recent days in the Middle East outside Yemen, where the bomb was built.”
No Americans were in imminent danger, the report said. “Officials said that the bomb or its components were in transit when intercepted, but that the device was not seized at an airport and that al-Qaeda had yet to target a specific flight, let alone take steps to smuggle the explosive onboard.”
The incident raises a few points. First, while al-Qaeda in certain countries is in tatters, it is alive and well in Yemen, an increasingly chaotic, failed state. (“U.S. officials said the explosive appears to have been assembled by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP, a Yemen-based affiliate that has been linked to high-profile attacks against the United States.”) And the terrorist are becoming more sophisticated.
Yes, this is an awful lot like Afghanistan, which hosted the 9/11 plotters. Do we have a comprehensive strategy for dealing with Yemen and the other failed states cropping up in the region and North Africa? We’d better. (It is astounding that until recently the Obama administration was releasing detainees to Yemen.)
Second, given threats like AQAP and AQIM (Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb), we know that our national security challenges are mounting. From Syria to Iran to Russia to China we see undemocratic regimes that are increasingly brutal at home and aggressive internationally. So why are we savaging defense? (Tomorrow the House is set to take up a reconciliation bill to come up with alternatives to the sequestration cuts for defense.)
And finally, we should recognize that many of the tools put in place by the Bush administration (e.g., the Patriot Act) are now essential tools in defending the country. But as we have bugged out of Iraq and are racing to the exits in Afghanistan, we are also losing eyes and ears on the ground. Coupled with the drones-instead-of-interrogation philosophy of anti-terrorism, you have to wonder if our well of intelligence information will run dry. Lawmakers responsible for oversight should be asking hard questions.