US seeks greater intelligence cooperation with Yemen

Following mail bomb plot, Washington seeks better counterterrorism ties with Yemen but fears undermining legitimacy of embattled Yemeni gov't.

Yemeni Policeman 311 (photo credit: Associated Press)
Yemeni Policeman 311
(photo credit: Associated Press)
WASHINGTON — The White House is seeking greater and swifter cooperation on intelligence sharing with the Yemeni government and more opportunities to train Yemeni counterterrorism teams in the aftermath of the airline package bombs, a senior administration official said Sunday.
The official also said evidence points to the plot's aim to blow up cargo planes inside or en route to the US.
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The Obama administration's careful response since the plot was foiled shows the White House's concern that pushing Yemen publicly to ramp up counterterrorist cooperation or to agree to a more visible US military presence could backfire. Washington does not want to raise questions among Yemenis about the legitimacy of the embattled government of President Ali Abdullah Saleh and its dependence on the United States.
Cooperation between the US and Yemen on counterterrorism matters is already fairly good and was improving since the White House made the country a priority, the official said.
But now the White House is using the near-miss of the multiple package bombs as a way to "push for more" collaboration, added the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity in order to share the high-level strategy deliberations.
In particular, the US wants more real-time access to intelligence gleaned by Yemeni counterterrorist forces and intelligence services, the official said. The US is also seeking greater access to question detainees in Yemen suspected of belonging to that country's terror faction, al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, also known as AQAP, the official added.
The al-Qaida affiliate claimed responsibility Friday for the airline plot in which two bomb-filled packages were sent late last month — one discovered in Dubai and the second intercepted in the United Kingdom. The industrial explosive PETN was packed into the toner cartridges of Hewlett-Packard printers destined for addresses in Chicago.
The official insisted the push for greater Yemeni cooperation does not include seeking permission to engage in more unilateral military American action against AQAP, such as US special operations kill-and-capture teams on the ground.
An interagency counterterrorism team has evolved over the past year in Yemen, as the administration has tried to determine what mix of US government capabilities is best suited to the mostly clandestine mission. Those elements include the CIA, FBI, and elite US special operations units, according to multiple current and former US officials.
The challenge is getting the Yemenis to agree on who they'll work with, and how much access they'll grant, one former official said.