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The Boston Globe

Opinion

opinion | Juliette Kayyem

A plot foiled, but a US agency rift exposed

The news that Al Qaeda affiliates in Yemen sought to detonate a sophisticated explosive on a passenger flight is disturbing, though not entirely surprising. It reinforces what we already know: The remnants of Al Qaeda are still trying to kill Americans. US agents stopped this second underwear bomb attack by using an informant who managed to infiltrate Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, volunteer for a suicide mission, and then turn on the terrorists. It was almost perfect counterterrorism. But there was a fatal flaw: Someone in government decided this all made for a fabulous story.

In the fight against Al Qaeda since 9/11, there has never been such a reckless and detailed disclosure of an ongoing covert operation. The stakes are high enough that the Associated Press was willing, after learning of the thwarted attack, to hold the story while events were unfolding. There is much to commend about transparency in counterterrorism efforts, but the level of detail revealed about this mission was jarringly at odds with what’s been released about almost every similar undertaking.

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