Friday 23 March 2018

Ex-CIA boss warns al-Qa'ida plans to bring down transatlantic civilian jet

The hijacked jet striking the twin-towers in September 20111
The hijacked jet striking the twin-towers in September 20111

Raf Sanchez in Washington

Al-Qa'ida could succeed in destroying a civilian airliner flying from London to New York at any time, the former deputy chief of the CIA has warned.

Michael Morell, the recently-retired number two at America's lead spy agency, said he would be "not surprised at all" if the terror group's Yemen offshoot was able to bring down a transatlantic passenger flight.

"To put it bluntly, I would not be surprised if al-Qa'ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) tomorrow brought down a US airliner travelling from London to New York or from New York to Los Angeles or anywhere else in the United States," he writes in a new book.

The grim assessment is one of many in 'The Great War of Our Time', which recounts Mr Morell's career in counter-terrorism, from briefing George W Bush on the morning of September 11, to being in London during the July 7 attacks, and at the White House the night Osama bin Laden was killed.

He was the CIA's chief liaison with British intelligence between 2003 and 2006 as the US and UK dealt with the fallout of faulty intelligence on Iraq and the aftermath of the terror attacks in London.

While Mr Morell warns about the threat from the Islamic State (Isil), he said the greatest danger to the US remained AQAP and its sophisticated chief bomb maker, Ibrahim al-Asiri. Asiri was responsible for the "underpants bomb" that nearly brought down a flight to Detroit on Christmas Day 2009, and turned his own brother into a human bomb by inserting explosives into his rectum in a failed effort to assassinate a Saudi prince.

"He may well be the most dangerous terrorist alive today," Mr Morell said. "He is a master at his craft and he is evil."

Mr Morell's book describes what were known in the White House as "Mickey Mouse meetings" - the secret discussions leading to the raid against bin Laden.

Desperate for intelligence confirming that the terror leader was inside the Abbottabad compound, the CIA considered tapping into nearby sewage pipes and testing "the outflow" for traces of bin Laden's DNA.

Analysts also pored over satellite pictures of the man they called "the Pacer" - a lone male who would walk around the compound's hidden garden path - before concluding it was highly likely it was bin Laden.

Mr Morell was also there for the chaos aboard Air Force One in the hours after the September 11 attacks and the build-up to the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan. At one point it was suggested to Mr Bush that the US try to negotiate with the Taliban to get it to hand over Osama bin Laden. "F*** diplomacy. We are going to war," Mr Bush reportedly replied.

Mr Morell said he was among a group of CIA agents who objected to the Bush administration trying to justify the invasion of Iraq using a faulty British intelligence report that said Saddam Hussein had tried to buy "yellowcake" uranium in Africa. The British intelligence was not credible for "a variety of reasons", Mr Morell said, but Mr Bush's speechwriters still made the "disastrous" decision to include it in a major speech justifying the war. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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