A conference call, during which al Qaeda’s top guy told underlings scattered hither and yon to “Do something,” according to Eli Lake.
Several news outlets reported Monday on an intercepted communication last week between Zawahiri and Nasser al-Wuhayshi, the leader of al Qaeda’s affiliate based in Yemen. But The Daily Beast has learned that the discussion between the two al Qaeda leaders happened in a conference call that included the leaders or representatives of the top leadership of al Qaeda and its affiliates calling in from different locations, according to three U.S. officials familiar with the intelligence. All told, said one U.S. intelligence official, more than 20 al Qaeda operatives were on the call.
To be sure, the CIA had been tracking the threat posed by Wuhayshi for months. An earlier communication between Zawahiri and Wuhayshi delivered through a courier was picked up last month, according to three U.S. intelligence officials. But the conference call provided a new sense of urgency for the U.S. government, the sources said.
Al Qaeda members included representatives or leaders from Nigeria’s Boko Haram, the Pakistani Taliban, al Qaeda in Iraq, al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, and more obscure al Qaeda affiliates such as the Uzbekistan branch. Also on the call were representatives of aspiring al Qaeda affiliates such as al Qaeda in the Sinai Peninsula, according to a U.S. intelligence official. The presence of aspiring al Qaeda affiliates operating in the Sinai was one reason the State Department closed the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv, according to one U.S. intelligence official. “These guys already proved they could hit Eilat. It’s not out of the range of possibilities that they could hit us in Tel Aviv,” the official said.
Lake points out that al Qaeda thought its conference calls were secure, but now that the Obama administration is disclosing that we’re listening in on them, the terrorists will stop using them. Ditto the courier that we’ve disclosed intercepting. So we’ve jeopardized a potential gold mine of intelligence.
The conference calls do point toward central al Qaeda control and management of its far-flung affiliates, which is something the Obama administration has insisted is not happening after Osama bin Laden’s demise. They’ll probably go on insisting that it’s not happening. They’ll insist that “core al Qaeda” is still on the run, despite the fact that its conference call caused the Obama administration to go on the run from embassies across about a quarter of the planet, more or less.
Long-time intel hands are looking at the closures and
evacuations ordered departures as a “crazy pants” move. Disclosing the fact that the US had tapped into al Qaeda’s “Legion of Doom” conference call is just as crazy pants.