By Greg Richter
WASHINGTON D.C. – Michigan Rep. Mike Rogers, who chairs the House Intelligence Committee, told CNN on Tuesday that members of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula [AQAP] have changed their communications methods following leaks last year about intelligence collection in Yemen.
Video of a recent meeting of 100 al-Qaida members in Yemen, including some of its top leaders, is raising questions about whether the United States was unaware of the outdoor event and therefore unable to strike it with a drone attack.
AQAP is now are more reliant on couriers, much like former al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden used while hiding from U.S. intelligence for more than a decade.
Nasir al-Wuhayshi, the No. 2 leader of al-Qaida worldwide and the head of AQAP, was at the meeting, according to the video posted on jihadist websites. AQAP is considered the most dangerous wing of al-Qaida.
Al-Wuhayshi is seen in the video appearing to make direct threats at the United States.
“We must eliminate the cross. The bearer of the cross is America,” al-Wuhayshi says in a translation of his speech.
“The main problem about this group is that it has a bomb maker who can put bombs on to planes that can’t be detected,” CNN national security analyst Peter Bergen told the network. Bergen was speaking of Ibrahim al-Asiri, who is thought to be behind several attacks on the United States, including the failed 2009 Christmas Day underwear bomber in Detroit.
Al-Asiri is not seen in the video.
Rogers told CNN he is not at liberty to say whether U.S. intelligence knew about the meeting or whether it simply couldn’t get a drone there fast enough. But his blaming the lack of attack on AQAP’s change in communications methods seemed to indicate the United States was unaware it was happening.
“Those series of leaks have had a consequence,” Rogers said.
When asked whether the United States would have attacked the meeting had it known about it, Rogers replied, “It all depends.”
There are policies in place that would prevent an attack on a target that exceeds a certain number of individuals, he said, but added he doesn’t think those policies were the reason the meeting shown in the video was not attacked.
It can be hard to get assets in position, Rogers noted, explaining that intelligence groups have to know where and when such groups are meeting.
Also, intelligence information has to be “exactly right” if a drone is going to target such a large gathering.
“I think they have these meetings more often than people realize,” Rogers said. Al-Qaida is feeling “empowered” because it believes the West is unable to know what they are doing, he said.