LONDON (Reuters) - The revelation that a mole within al Qaeda was exposed after Washington launched its "orange alert" this month has shocked security experts, who say the outing of the source may have set back the war on terror.
Juan Cole sums it up nicely:
In other words, the Bush administration just blew the cover of one of the most important assets inside al-Qaeda that the US has ever had.
The announcement of Khan's name forced the British to arrest 12 members of an al-Qaeda cell prematurely, before they had finished gathering the necessary evidence against them via Khan. Apparently they feared that the cell members would scatter as soon as they saw that Khan had been compromised. (They would have known he was a double agent, since they got emails from him Sunday and Monday!) One of the twelve has already had to be released for lack of evidence, a further fall-out of the Bush SNAFU. It would be interesting to know if other cell members managed to flee.
Why in the world would Bush administration officials out a double agent working for Pakistan and the US against al-Qaeda? In a way, the motivation does not matter. If the Reuters story is true, this slip is a major screw-up that casts the gravest doubts on the competency of the administration to fight a war on terror. Either the motive was political calculation, or it was sheer stupidity.
Wolf Blitzer had a report Sunday about the al-Qaeda double agent whose identity was revealed on Monday:
Blitzer discussed the Khan case with US National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. She admitted that the Bush administration had in fact revealed Khan's name to the press. She said she did not know if Khan was a double agent working for the Pakistani government. (!!!)
If Rice is right, it means that it was indeed the U.S. who blew Khan's cover, and if Rice is well informed, it means that it was done without even knowing that the Pakistanis were still using him.
I'm a little surprised that Rice would say something like this, so I think I'll wait for further confirmation on this story. But it sure looks pretty bad at the moment.