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U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and CIA Director David Petraeus testify before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on Capitol Hill January 31, 2012.
A new key detail has emerged in the foiled underwear bomb plot: NPR's Dina Temple-Raston reports that a CIA informant posed as a suicide bomber in order to persuade the al-Qaida branch in Yemen to hand over a new, more sophisticated underwear bomb.
The Los Angeles Times was the first to report the news. The paper adds that the operation was a joint effort between the CIA and Saudi Arabian intelligence and once the informant received the bomb, he "arranged to deliver the explosive device to U.S. and other intelligence authorities waiting in another country, officials said Tuesday."
Officials have said that the bomber had been instructed by al-Qaida to choose a U.S.-bound flight to target but that the bomber, who we now know was a double agent, had not yet bought his tickets.
The informant is safe outside Yemen and the bomb is at the FBI's explosives lab in Quantico, Va. The bomb — a new, nonmetallic device designed in order to evade airport security — is thought to be the work of al-Qaida's top bomb maker, a 28-year-old Saudi named Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri.
Dina reports that the bomb "bears the hallmarks of Asiri's work, and appears to be an effort to improve on technology" used during the failed plot to blow up Northwest Airlines Flight 253 on Christmas Day in 2009.
The Times adds:
"The operation had an added benefit, however. It produced intelligence that helped U.S. authorities finally locate Fahd Mohammed Ahmed Quso, a top Al Qaeda operative in Yemen. Quso had been on the FBI's most wanted list for his alleged involvement in the bombing of the guided missile destroyer USS Cole in a Yemeni port in 2000. The FBI had offered a $5-million bounty for information leading to his capture.
"On Sunday, a CIA drone aircraft fired a missile that killed Quso as he stepped out of his car in Yemen, U.S. officials said."