Video: 'Actionable' intel from jet bomb suspect

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    >> meteorologist paul goodloe .

    >>> officials are reportedly learning key details about al qaeda and gaining actionable intelligence from the so-called underwear bomber. 23-year-old nigerian suspect abdulmutallab is accused of trying to bomb a flight on christmas day. authorities say he's turned on his former mentor, a radical cleric based in yemen and that he is cooperating with the fbi . nbc news terrorism analyst joins me now. roger, let's set aside the debate over the miranda rights . he's talking. we understand that it's in part because the fbi brought in his family to help convince him to tell authorities what he knows. what does this mean, actionable intelligence?

    >> it means two things. one, he's providing historical knowledge of how operations happen in yemen , what the role is. this is an increasing priority for the intelligence community . he's giving context of how does al qaeda recruit now, how do they train, how do they prepare an individual like abdulmutallab. that is current information that will help understand what future plots may look like.

    >> could he be giving valuable information, let assay, on something they were plotting in the near future ? i know this is all based on speculation but would a lone wolf , as he's been described, have that kind of intelligence or does this terrorist organization work giving piece meal to different people?

    >> he probably doesn't have specific credible information about plots per se but what he can do is provide context. he can talk about individuals he met. he can talk about how the command structure worked in yemen while he was being trained. all of that is very valuable information. and give the fbi credit here, tamron. they did a fantastic job in identifying who the individuals in abdulmutallab's familiy are that could talk to him and get him to cooperate even more. there's a real case study in how to do it right.

    >> this radical cleric's name came up with the ft. hood shooting with the military man who was charged in that and now, yet again, this man who used to live in the united states , this radical cleric, coming up in this case.

    >> the important thing is we used to think of him as putting messages on the web. now to identify, track, and have the yemenese take him out or we do it is a priority now.

    >> thank you, roger.

    >> you bet, tamron.

updated 2/4/2010 5:49:04 PM ET 2010-02-04T22:49:04

The Nigerian suspect in a failed Christmas Day airliner bombing turned against the cleric who claims to be his teacher and has helped the U.S. hunt for the radical preacher, a law enforcement official said Thursday.

Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the 23-year-old Nigerian who faces terrorism charges in the Christmas bombing, has been cooperating with the FBI for days, providing information about his contacts in Yemen and the al-Qaida affiliate that operates there.

His cooperation talking about U.S.-born Yemeni radical Anwar al-Awlaki is significant because it could provide fresh clues for authorities trying to capture or kill him in the remote mountains of Yemen. Al-Awlaki has emerged has a prominent al-Qaida recruiter and has been tied to the 9/11 hijackers, Abdulmutallab and the suspect in November's deadly shooting rampage at Fort Hood.

The law enforcement official would not say what information Abdulmutallab provided, but al-Awlaki himself said in a recent interview that he and Abdulmutallab had kept in contact. A senior U.S. intelligence official said al-Awlaki represented the biggest name on the list of people Abdulmutallab might have information against. Both spoke on condition anonymity to discuss the sensitive ongoing investigation.

Political dispute
Abdulmutallab's cooperation with U.S. authorities is at the center of a political dispute in Washington. Democrats say it proves the Obama administration was correct to handle the case as a criminal matter. Republicans accuse the administration of leaking details for political purposes.

Abdulmutallab agreed to cooperate after FBI agents flew to Nigeria and returned to the U.S. with Abdulmutallab's family members. In a federal prison outside Detroit, Abdulmutallab's father and uncle persuaded him to cooperate with the FBI, according to a U.S. official briefed on the talks who also spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the ongoing case.

A month before the attack, Abdulmutallab's father warned the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria that his son might be dangerous, a warning that officials failed to connect to other evidence that intelligence officials had gathered. President Barack Obama has said the U.S. had enough information to prevent the attack.

Al-Awlaki, who once preached in mosques in California and northern Virginia and posted fiery English-language Internet sermons urging Muslims to fight in jihad, said in an interview released Thursday that he taught the Christmas bomber and supported his efforts but did not call for the attack.

"Brother mujahed Umar Farouk — may God relieve him — is one of my students, yes," al-Awlaki said in the interview, which Al-Jazeera reported on its Web site Tuesday. "We had kept in contact, but I didn't issue a fatwa to Umar Farouk for this operation," al-Awlaki was quoted as saying.

He added: "If the jet was military or the target was for the American army, it would be better."

Asked whether he believed the Yemeni government was trying to kill him, al-Awlaki replied, "The Yemeni government sells its own citizens to America in order to eat bloody money it received from the West, with their blood."

Timeline of terror suspectUnderstanding Al-Awlaki's connection to Abdulmutallab and to al-Qaida in the Arab Peninsula is a key to the U.S. investigation of the attack and its effort to disrupt other plots.

British cabled U.S.
On Nov. 11, British intelligence officials sent the U.S. a cable revealing that a man named Umar Farouk had spoken to al-Awlaki, pledging to support jihad, or holy war. The cable did not contain Abdulmutallab's last name, an omission that made it harder for analysts to connect it to the warning his father would make one week later.

The contents of the cable were described by intelligence officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter.

There were other early warnings, too. A U.S. wiretap referred to a Nigerian being trained for a special mission. And another intercept mentioned "some type of operation on December 25th," Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., said.

Awlaki's family and many members of his powerful Awalik tribe deny the 38-year-old is a member of al-Qaida. They depict him as a victim of Yemeni and U.S. persecution. The Yemen government, which is increasingly working closely with U.S. intelligence, is negotiating with tribal leaders, trying to persuade them to hand over al-Awlaki, tribal members have said.

While officials are concerned about the eloquent cleric's ability to recruit internationally, U.S. authorities have been especially concerned about his ability to inspire within the United States.

According to a January 2009 intelligence document obtained by The Associated Press, about 11 percent of visitors to al-Awlaki's Web site are in the United States. In December 2008, U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents intercepted a computer disk full of lectures that his wife sent to an Islamic publishing house in Denver.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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