The suicide bomber dispatched by the Yemen branch of Al Qaeda last month to blow up a United States-bound airliner was actually an intelligence agent for Saudi Arabia who infiltrated the terrorist group and volunteered for the mission, American and foreign officials said Tuesday.
In an extraordinary intelligence coup, the double agent left Yemen last month, traveling by way of the United Arab Emirates, and delivered both the innovative bomb designed for his aviation attack and inside information on the group’s leaders, locations, methods and plans to the Central Intelligence Agency, Saudi intelligence and allied foreign intelligence agencies.
Officials said the agent, whose identity they would not disclose, works for the Saudi intelligence service, which has cooperated closely with the C.I.A. for several years against the terrorist group in Yemen. He operated in Yemen with the full knowledge of the C.I.A. but not under its direct supervision, the officials said.
After spending weeks at the center of Al Qaeda’s most dangerous affiliate, the intelligence agent provided critical information that permitted the C.I.A. to direct the drone strike on Sunday that killed Fahd Mohammed Ahmed al-Quso, the group’s external operations director and a suspect in the bombing of the U.S.S. Cole, an American destroyer, in Yemen in 2000.
He also handed over the bomb, designed by the group’s top explosives expert to be undetectable at airport security checks, to the F.B.I., which is analyzing its properties at its laboratory at Quantico, Va. The agent is now safe in Saudi Arabia, officials said. The bombing plot was kept secret for weeks by the C.I.A. and other agencies because they feared retaliation against the agent and his family — not, as some commentators have suggested, because the Obama administration wanted to schedule an announcement of the foiled plot, American officials said.
Officials said Tuesday night that the risk to the agent and his relatives had now been “mitigated,” evidently by moving both him and his family to safe locations.