Foreign and Defense Policy, Terrorism

Julian Assange: Al Qaeda’s Best Friend

julian-assangeIt will take some time to assess the full scope of the damage that has come from WikiLeaks’ latest illegal disclosures of classified information. But certainly the release of this cable may have devastating repercussions for U.S. counterterrorism efforts. The New York Times reports:

It has been previously reported that the Yemeni government has sought to cover up the American role in missile strikes against the local branch of Al Qaeda. But a cable’s fly-on-the-wall account of a January meeting between the Yemeni president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, and Gen. David H. Petraeus, then the American commander in the Middle East, is breathtaking. “We’ll continue saying the bombs are ours, not yours,” Mr. Saleh said, according to the cable sent by the American ambassador, prompting Yemen’s deputy prime minister to “joke that he had just ‘lied’ by telling Parliament” that Yemen had carried out the strikes.

Yes, there has been reporting that Yemen has tried to cover up U.S. missile strikes. But until now this has never been confirmed with the words of Yemeni officials themselves. And it is hard to fathom the damage done to our counterterrorism cooperation by revealing that a Yemeni leader told U.S. officials he had lied to his own legislature.

How could this reverberate? Yemen is the home base of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, a terrorism network that has succeeded twice in the past 11 months in getting bombs onto planes headed for the United States. In response to these attempted attacks, The Washington Post recently reported, the United States has “deployed Predator drones to hunt for al-Qaeda operatives in Yemen for the first time in years.” But the weapons have not yet been used because of a lack of actionable intelligence and the hesitation of Yemeni leaders. The Post continues:

Yemeni officials said the United States had not yet pushed for the use of Predator-fired missiles and indicated that they had deep reservations about weapons they said could prove counterproductive.

“Why gain enemies right now?” said Mohammed A. Abdulahoum, a senior Yemeni official. “Americans are not rejected in Yemen; the West is respected. Why waste all this for one or two strikes when you don’t know who you’re striking?”

Instead, Yemen has asked the administration to speed up shipment of promised helicopters and other equipment for its own use, and to recognize the backlash that a more visible U.S. campaign could cause.

How do you think Yemen is going to respond now when the United States locates a top leader of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and requests permission for a Predator strike? If such a request is denied, we can thank Julian Assange. At this moment, al Qaeda leaders hiding in Yemen are busy planning their next attack on the American homeland. By revealing our confidential counterterrorism discussions with Yemeni officials, WikiLeaks just made al Qaeda’s job a whole lot easier.

Image by Darryl Yeoh.

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