UndieBomb 2.0: Defying the Trend

In his story describing the lowered standards for drone strikes the other day, Greg Miller described multiple officials admitting that we’re increasing the number of drone strikes in Yemen even though there’s no evidence more people are “migrat[ing]” to join AQAP.

U.S. officials said the pace has accelerated [in the last five months] even though there has not been a proliferation in the number of plots, or evidence of a significantly expanded migration of militants to join AQAP.

That may conflict with John Brennan’s claims that AQAP has tripled in size since the UndieBomber 1.0. It may suggest that that growth all took place before the last year. Or it may suggest–particularly given the use of the word “migration”–that these officials are distinguishing between non-Yemenis and local insurgents allying with AQAP.

Whichever it is, the NCTC just reported, last year attacks from AQAP didn’t go up either–in fact, they went down slightly.

Attacks by AQ and its affiliates increased by 8 percent from 2010 to 2011. A significant increase in attacks by al-Shabaab, from 401 in 2010 to 544 in 2011, offset a sharp decline in attacks by al-Qa‘ida in Iraq (AQI) and a smaller decline in attacks by al-Qa‘ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and al-Qa‘ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).

Everyone but John Brennan–who has a history of lying about drone strikes–seems to be saying that the risk from terrorism, while still real, is going down in Yemen, not up.

UndieBomb Plot 2.0, to the limited degree that it was a general plan of Ibrahim al-Asiri and not a plot from Mohammed bin Nayef, appears to defy the trend.

Which brings me to something that’s been gnawing at me about the public claims about UndieBomb 2.0.

Imagine you’re Ibrahim al-Asiri. A Saudi-Brit shows up, trains, impresses the trainers. He offers to do a suicide mission and–while you don’t meet with him personally–the trainers decide to send him off on UndieBomb Plot 2.0. He leaves and you wait, and wait, and wait. And … nothing. That is, according to all the people complaining that the AP reported the government had thwarted a plot, what the government had intended.

If you’re AQAP, wouldn’t it be more suspicious hearing nothing about the guy who just walked off with your UndieBomb than hearing John Brennan boasting that he had thwarted the UndieBomb. Not bragging that the Saudis had infiltrated AQAP, which is what Brennan ended up bragging about. Just a big dog-and-pony about thwarting an attack, as the Administration did when it intercepted the toner cartridge plot.

Probably, the AP’s version of the story is correct and the Administration planned a dog-and-pony show, which would have left Asiri with the impression that the Saudi-Brit was what he appeared to be, an aspiring suicide bomber that got caught.

One alternative is that UndieBomber 2.0 actually absconded with an UndieBomb, but intended to go back into AQAP and continue to collect information. I wonder, though: Giving the increasing number of targets in Yemen, you’d think it’d be at least as important to collect information about AQAP plans in Yemen as to obtain the latest UndieBomb in the guise of an attack on the US.

But I’m puzzled by the claim that the Administration wasn’t going to announce they had thwarted the plot. That doesn’t make sense.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

6 replies
  1. Jim White says:

    But I’m puzzled by the claim that the Administration wasn’t going to announce they had thwarted the plot. That doesn’t make sense.

    I’ll toss out two possibilities:

    1. It’s the wrong time of year. People aren’t paying that much attention now, so maybe they wanted to sit on this until the election season heats up. Say, maybe a nice Ignatius column in September.

    2. Now that they are going after even more people for recent “leaks”, their case is stronger if they claim they weren’t going to say anything.

  2. emptywheel says:

    @Jim White: I agree they decided to claim they weren’t going to say anything is CYA–though I suspect it’s CYA form the Saudis, not Congress. It just shouldn’t be classified.

    But the Ignatius? Nice touch.

  3. Stevie "Guitar" Miller says:

    Everyone but John Brennan … seems to be saying that the risk from terrorism, while still real, is going down in Yemen, not up.

    don’t know who your “everyone” is, but according to this linked reuters report, its sources say the usa is “ramping up” its efforts in Yemen, in a BIG way.

    As violence rises, usa “pulled” into Yemen


    note the passive “pulled” – cannot resist the gravitational pull of a black hole these days.

  4. Kathleen says:

    At the recent Univ of Colorado’s 64th conference on World Affairs I was able to ask Sarah Holewinski a panelist on “Bots on the ground War with out Soldiers” How many civilians have been killed by Obama drones…a “ballpark figure” I asked. Sarah could not answer. This was after she had just said that “there was no way that drone killings could be swept under the rug with a 24 hour 7 days a week news service.” Sarah is executive director of CIVIC (Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict) She could not even give a ball park figure of those killed. She fumbled..totally fumbled. What is the point of a job or a title like this?

  5. MadDog says:

    OT – Via the AP:

    Book: military feared use of taped comments

    “A new book says Justice Department prosecutors were stunned to learn three years ago that the U.S. military had secretly tape recorded incriminating comments that alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed made to fellow detainees during daily prison yard conversations but was not planning to use them at military tribunals.

    In “Kill or Capture: The War On Terror And The Soul Of The Obama Presidency,” journalist Daniel Klaidman says Mohammed was caught on tape boasting to other detainees about the 9/11 attacks. According to the book, Mohammed mentioned specific pieces of evidence, documents and computer files that could be tied directly to him through his voluntary statements to other detainees at the military detention facility in Guantanamo Bay…”

    I guess I’ll have to get Klaidman’s book.

  6. newz4all says:

    Mighty Mighty usa offers millions in bounty for Somali Islamists

    The current administration will offer $33 Million in rewards for information about top members of an Islamist group in Somalia allegedly linked to al-Qaida, anonymous usa officials said Wednesday.

    The rewards for seven leaders of the al-Shabab militia movement will be announced Thursday by the State Department.

    The bounties will be administered by the department’s Rewards for Justice program. It will be first time the program has offered rewards for members of al-Shabab, which is accused of terrorist attacks in Somalia, Uganda and Kenya.


    seriously? the Mighty Mighty usa is actually SCARED of a bunch of guys from what has to be the Poorest part of the world on this planet??? (note cannot refer to Somalia as a country as it is not a country – just a wasteland.) the day that the world finally stands up to the usa’s Bullying will be a sweet day.

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